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    Saturday
    Nov192016

    Repost of the Article on Niyama from 2009

    This is the second in a series of articles about the Eight Limbs (Ashtanga) of Yoga. You can read the first article, on Yama, by clicking on "Yoga" in the subject list on the left side of the page.

    This article explores the second limb of Yoga, Niyama, which consists of the five traditional observances of yoga. The five observances are purity, happiness, radiance, self-knowledge and surrender.


    "Saucha," or "Purity" is the first observance of yoga.

     

    In 1847, the great philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote a book entitled Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing -- one of those books you don't really have to read because the title says it all.1

    Purity in yoga, as in life, means being one thing -- and to be one thing is to will one thing, because being and will are not separate, not two things. As we focus, we are, and as we are, we do.

    Yoga is a joining, a coming together, of everything -- all the differences resolved into a single orchestration -- a return to the one from the many. It is a return from conflict and differentiation to a single, uninterrupted focus.

    Living purely means living in the world as one being -- and that one being a blend, a joining, of universal Two hands, one heart -- purity means all things aligned as one.and particular, part and whole, simultaneously. The person can see life from the broadest, most inclusive perspective, and at the same time from the narrowest, most specific perspective, without contradiction. This is yoga.

    Being pure means having a clear and consistent purpose in living -- one vision, with all parts of the mind working together. It means willing one thing, wanting one thing, living one thing, moving life forward, one moment at a time.

    Purity means integration of all parts into one seamless whole -- this is, in essence, what yoga is.

    From a operational perspective in the practice of yoga, purity means reducing internal conflicts, and aligning one's focus toward one, simple aim. It means bringing disparities into alignment and coherence, the way we bring all the frequencies of light into harmony to become one laser beam.

    Diversity becomes unity -- understanding ourselves as one while celebrating differences. The joining of the one and the many, without losing either, is the miracle of yoga.

    The one force powerful enough to bring everything together, to make everything whole again, to bring all of us into alignment, into "purity," is the power of love. When we eliminate oppositions and polarity through love and reconciliation, when we stop resisting the flow of love and appreciation in life, yoga comes into being and impurity becomes a thing of the past.

    Purity is a gift of yoga, of self-alignment -- purity comes into being as a result of yoga. Purity is not a means to yoga, but an attribute, a fruit of yoga.

    Purity as a "way of being" turns fear into understanding. Confusion becomes clarity and weakness becomes strength.

    Being purely oneself means that the flow of life that is coming through us is orchestrated in such a way that it culminates in one life-giving focus.

    According to the Yoga Sutras, purity conveys the attributes of clarity and transparency, simplicity and basic goodness. When we are pure, we become fresh and new again.

    Purity is traditionally associated with cleanliness -- it is much more than that -- but cleanliness is a good metaphor for purity. When we clean, we remove the things that don't belong, and restore something to its original freshness.

    The practice of yoga is the practice of alignment with Self, and the concept of purity needs to be understood in this context.

    Yoga happens on on all levels, but we usually emphasize four main areas: physical, or the body, mental, or thoughts, emotions, or feelings, and spiritual, or energy and abstraction.

    Purity of spirit means we are aligned with our original, basic purposes and aspirations -- we are restored to a sense of goodness, of generosity, and we are learning to live in peace by appreciating who and what we are, and who and what everyone else is, too. Pure of spirit means life-loving, life-appreciating.

    Purity of mind means our thoughts are aligned and harmonious. In meditation practice, we are actively releasing and letting go of mental conflicts and dissension. We are preferring that our thoughts be directed toward what we appreciate and what we want, and we are releasing any tendency to argue or push against things. We are not pushing against what we do not prefer and what we do not want. See the articles on meditation for more on this.

    Purity of emotions means we are cultivating feelings of happiness and peace. We are focusing on the glass being wonderfully half-full. We are loving, we are appreciative, we are humble and grateful. We are actively valuing experiences and life around us. We are faithful and hopeful in our focus -- in our thought, word and deed, and consequently our emotions and feelings are positive and good-feeling.

    Purity of body means we are appreciating and taking care of our body, paying attention to what works and what doesn't, and doing our best to stay healthy. Mostly it means not criticizing the body, but appreciating all that it is and does for us.

    The word "purity" means unadulterated, unmixed, clear, sheer, simple, perfect, free. It means the thing itself, without interference, without conflict or resistance or modification.

    Think about it -- pure sugar means nothing but sugar. One substance, not two or four. But what about being purely oneself? We are multifaceted, complex, integrated beings, diverse, composed of a multitude of different parts and aspects.

    A sparrow is purely a sparrow, even though the bird itself is composed of many different parts -- and all the parts come together as one to be a sparrow, to exhibit the being and the nature and the behavior of a sparrow.

    In a similar way, when we are purely ourselves, all of our parts, all of the different sides of us, all of our contrasts work together to manifest as a coherent, integrated being. There are no internal contradictions or resistances or roadblocks.

    To be purely oneself does not mean that you are all one thing, all the same. It means you exhibit or manifest one coherent recognizable focus. It may be a broad focus, multifaceted, as you are, but there are no internal contradictions or conflicts to interfere with you simply being you.

    Children are naturally pure, innocent, unself-conscious, full of themselves. They are our teachers of innocence and purity. Aboriginal people, country people, tend to be this way as well. Yoga is returning to this kind of simpler, more natural way of being. Uncomplicated. Straightforward. No divisions. Just pure enthusiasm, pure love, pure joy.

    In action, purity means steadiness -- like the zen proverb: when sitting, sit, when standing, stand, above all don't wobble.

    Yoga means reducing internal conflicts, eliminating internal resistances to our own flow, to our own unfolding "story," to life. In many ways, yoga practice is getting everyone and everything else out of our head and returning to ourselves, recovering what we know, celebrating what we want, and enjoying doing what we do, without internal resistance or conflict. Purity is how we began in life, and yoga is a return to that simple innocence.

    Purity begins with the understanding that a human being is composed of lots of different elements, like a chorus of voices, and all the elements have to be trained to align and sing together as one.

    Yoga is not a training of the body, but a return of the body to a more natural way of being. Yoga is becoming like a child again, but from the perspective of being an adult. This is why yogis often appear more youthful.

    Yoga sees the human body the same way it sees life itself, as a wonderful gift -- the body is not an asset, or an object, certainly not a hindrance or obstacle. The body is a platform for experience. The body is not the self, but an expression, a manifestation of the self. When the self is aligned, the body is harmonious and healthy and happy. Exercise is useful primarily because it gives us a way to care for the body, and the self-care helps bring us into harmony -- this is why its important to do exercise from a place of self-appreciation and self-support, not from a place of self-criticism or worse, self-rejection.

    When our body is healthy and working well, it becomes "transparent," problem-free. It is only when there are internal resistances, aches or pains, that the body stands out.

    Working with the body in yoga means focusing, finding a experiential "center" that helps us to begin to sense and organize and align the self. Asana practice is not really meant as a direct way of improving the body, even though a healthier body is one of the benefits. The purpose of asana practice is to provide a "seat" for alignment to occur. The improvement of the body and the health that happen as as a result of asana practice happen not due to the external practice of movement or posture, but instead, as a direct result of the improved internal energy alignment during and after asana practice, which, in turn, facilitates the improved flow of prana, or life energy, throughout the entire physical system. (I will be discussing this topic more in weeks to come, when I get to the section on asana.) In short, it is the mental and emotional focus, the internal energy self-alignment that occurs during asana practice that produces most of the health benefits of yoga -- they are not primarily due to the physical workout itself. The same is true of Tai Chi Chuan, a form of chinese yoga -- mind, breath and body-feeling working together produce all of the beneficial effects.

    Asana and vinyasa practice (physical yoga exercises) are primarily important for the energy effects they facilitate -- the improved flow of prana, life-energy, not for the muscle and bone exercise itself. But again, more on that topic in weeks to come.

    Saucha, purity, means that our thoughts, our feelings, our purposes and our actions are aligned, unmixed, free of conflict -- harmonious. We fall back on ourselves, on our simplicity and natural way of being.

    In observing the arising of saucha as a result of yoga practice, we feel ourselves coming together, heart, mind, and body, as one being, and we become simpler, more harmonious, less resistant to the expansion and flow of life.

    We feel transparent, seamless -- "at one" with life. We feel fresh, and "new again."

    When we are purely ourselves, we're less concerned with physical things, or material things. We appreciate life as a set of experiences rather than seeing it in terms of acquiring more things. Life becomes more about appreciation of the experience of living, less about desiring or needing to cling to material things.

     

    The second Niyama is called Samtosa.

     

    "Samtosa," Contentment

     

     

    Samtosa, usually translated as "contentment" is the second niyama, the second observance of Yoga.

    Contentment is being satisfied. It is being pleased and happy with one's situation in life.

    Life is a fairly unpredictable experience -- there are lots of ups and downs. Lots of things can go wrong. As much as people like to think they can get life under control by being smart or careful or disciplined, the evidence seems to point to the fact that, in truth, no one can control circumstances, at least not for long. The unwanted is often a part of our experience -- our best intentions and best efforts notwithstanding.

    So how are we to be happy and content? Some commentators have interpreted this niyama as the deliberate cultivation of equanimity and fortitude, disciplining oneself to remain dispassionate amid loss and gain by lowering one's overall expectations and numbing desires.

    Others have said learn to be selfless and live only for others -- renounce pleasure and happiness and know the contentment by only wanting happiness for others.

    Contentment is not a dispassionate equanimity, nor is it a begrudging acceptance or ignoring of the ups and downs of life. It isn't resignation and it is not the disciplined attenuation of desire.

    Neither is it a practiced self-denial and elevation of the self-hood of others. Contentment is not being content with self-sacrifice. There is a certain ease and freedom in being unselfish and non-grasping, but this is aparigraha, not samtosa.

    Contentment is being truly pleased and satisfied with one's situation. It is being happy.

    Samtosa is being purely and simply happy with life -- as it is, as one finds it. It is not getting life under control, or getting life to "turn out" the way you want it, and then being happy. It is the fruit of the practice of minute-by-minute selectively focusing on the goodness and beauty in life and seeing the negatives as nothing more than the future locations of happiness. Contentment is the result of having the courage, the determination to see life as a growth curve, not a gamble.

    Real yogis are happy -- vividly, joyously, irrepressibly happy -- like children. One who is in samtosa is truly appreciating and enjoying life. Life is a pleasure.

    Samtosa is seeing life, the world, through the eyes of Source -- seeing the world from a broad perspective, and being focused on the evident goodness and beauty or the greater goodness or beauty that is to come. Every shadow is seen as a temporary absence of light, every lack is seen as a container that needs to be filled, every hurt as a wrong that needs to be made right. In yoga we see only the wonder of life, the opportunity in life, the freedom in life, the future happiness of life, and we are happy. Spontaneously, innocently, joyously happy.

    When we practice yoga, we deliberately decide reduce conflicts and resolve stresses and release fears and doubts. We learn to value good feelings above all. In doing so, we cultivate and steep ourselves in happiness.

    Contentment, true satisfaction in life, is the emotional correlate of the state of yoga, deliberate alignment with self-as-joy.

    The practitioner of yoga deliberately cultivates feeling of friendliness, optimism, enjoyment and good cheer, because he or she understands that the positive emotions such as liking, valuing, appreciating, and having fun and taking pleasure, are indicators that the energy systems of the body are coming into alignment, and that the universal and the individual streams of energy are becoming more harmonious.

    Yoga sees life as naturally blissful (ananda), naturally enjoyable, and teaches that when we see the world from the broad perspective, we come into alignment with that natural joy spontaneously.

    And yoga teaches that negative emotions, such as sadness, anxiety, frustration, concern, upset or overwhelm, are indicators that we are at cross purposes with ourselves, that we have one line of thought set against another. When we are troubled emotionally, worried or hurt, it means that we have unwittingly set ourselves against nature and our own best interests. We have temporarily lost the sense of faith and trust in the goodness and wholeness and balance of life itself.

    Restoring ourselves to yoga, or alignment with the larger life around us, means restoring positive feelings and emotion. And that happens when we let go of trouble, when we let go of worry and fear, and embrace the goodness inherent in every particle of life itself.

    You can't fake contentment or happiness, by the way, and call it yoga. When you're happy, you're happy -- and you know it. Pasting a smile on an unhappy face, or practicing dispassion is not happiness -- its more like spraying floral room spray to cover a bad smell. Better to open the windows and air the place out. Better to release the reasons you have for being unhappy.

    Contentment, like everything else in Yoga, isn't work and it isn't discipline. It's the fruit of appreciation, the result of finding value in oneself and the world around you. When you find the perspective or point of view that supports you in accepting and appreciating first yourself and then others, contentment arises in you naturally, effortlessly.

     

     

     

     

    "Tapah," Radiance is the third observance, the third niyama.

     

     

    The word tapah is traditionally translated as "austerity," but there is no austerity in yoga. Yoga is peace, joy, abundance and success, on every level. Yoga is life affirming, not life-denying. There is no discipline, no austerity, no denial in yoga.

    In Western cultures, the taking on of suffering or hardship is so basic to our religious and cultural heritages (and it is part of most everyone's thinking whether they're "religious" or not) we fail to recognize that we see all growth, all development in terms of a need to suffer. Words like discipline (which really means to be a good disciple) or sacrifice (which means to make sacred) or duty (which means to be focused on one's purpose) get subsumed into a larger practice of being willing to sacrifice and suffer in order to progress.

    Western thinkers and writers, and western-influenced eastern thinkers and writers have projected the Judeo-Christian ideal of intentional suffering as a path to the good on to some of the ancient spiritual traditions of the east and distorted them.

    Tapah means the heat (energy radiance) that goes along with focus of mind. When the mind is focused in yoga, a coherent radiant energy is produced, which literally influences the physical world. In modern thinking, this is the yogic equivalent of what we call "energy work."

    I believe the ancients used the word concept of heat to convey the idea of radiance. Tapas means radiation of coherent energy.

    Heat is a non-mechanical energy transfer between a system and one of the elements in that system. A radiator heats a room. In the same way, a yogi shed or radiates yoga, alignment.

    A yogi is a coherent being -- pure, focused, aligned and energetically very powerful. And simply by "being" a yogi radiates alignment, health, intelligence and healing.

     

     

    "Svadhyaya," "Self-Knowledge" is the fourth observance of Yoga.

    A yogi practices appreciation of the self, cooperation with the self, and alignment with the self, and in doing so comes to fully know the self.

    In time, one eventually comes to understand the world itself as an expression of the self -- this is the real flowering of Yoga.

     

    To study yoga is to study the self -- to study the self is to come to know all things.

    In everyday life, people are disconnected from themselves. They are taught to understand themselves as a social or a worldly "identity" always trying to "be somebody" by achieving individuality as a state of social distinction and status. Identity is always a sense of self in relation to others.

    The state of self-knowing in yoga is a sense of knowing oneself that is rooted in being oneself, purely and completely, without any need for reference or comparison to others. We recover the sense of knowing ourselves the way a child "knows" themselves, without a false sense of identity imposed by others.

    We know ourselves the way we come to know that water is wet -- we put our hand in it.

    A yogi knows themselves experientially, directly, without mediation. A yogi is completely at peace with themselves, totally self-accepting and self-enjoying. The way a cat is a cat, purely and without any need for external validation or approval.

    In yoga, our work lies primarily in releasing resistance to ourselves. We first release resistance to our own thoughts and feelings, to the flow of life in our own individual being, and we then learn to release resistance to the the flow of life in the world around us.

     

    "Ishvara-pranidhanani," Surrender to our own source, our own largest purposes, is the fifth Niyama, or observance. It is traditionally translated as surrender to God, devotion, or alignment of one's purposes with those of God.

    Ishvara-pranidhanani begins with our willingness to surrender with and align to our own nature. And our own nature is seen in yoga as connected to a a larger Nature that is the basis of the world around us.

    Yoga is not religious in the Western sense, but it does hold that life has an intelligent source deep within it that creates and becomes the world we know. This source is not described as an entity or person, but functionally, as source and material and manager of life itself -- hence the most common translation of Ishvara: Supreme Controller.

    Ishvara is not a personal god -- it can be instead seen as that creative intelligence in us, in life, that becomes us, becomes life.

     

    Ishvara is a word used to make understandable the intelligent and creative aspect of life itself -- the nature of Nature. It is that aspect of all-that-is that manifests as the world, that becomes the world and enters the world as us.

    Ishvara is described in the Taittiriya Upanishad in the following way (the use of the pronoun "he" is obviously metaphorical -- source, nature, is neither he nor she):

    "He created all this, whatever is here. Having created it, into it, indeed, he entered it. Having entered it, he became both the actual and what is next what is beyond, became the defined and the undefined, the founded and the unfounded, the intelligent and the unintelligent, the true and the untrue."

    Ishvara as the creative intelligence that lies at the heart of all manifest life, continuously streams forth as life, becomes differentiated as all the different forms of life, and eventually becomes us. It is the self with a capital "S," that core presence-awareness, core energy, that becomes me and you and everything else.

    Think of it as the essence of life, existing as an energy vibration at the very heart of all physical manifestation, which is continuously streaming forth as the world.

    It is the core "self" that we ultimately align with in yoga. The intelligence, the "knowing" that becomes us and then rediscovers itself as we rediscover it through yoga.

    Ishvara-pranidhanani means complete alignment with the universal value that underlies and supports our individual existence. It is being in harmony with Nature, and having the support of Nature.

    The promise of yoga is that when we are aligned with the power that creates worlds, we also gain access and begin to harness that power -- thereby fulfilling our highest purposes.

     

    1If you'd like to read the book, though, you can find it here: http://www.religion-online.org/showbook.asp?title=2523

    Wednesday
    Sep212016

    Core Concepts of Yoga Pratice: Satya

    Hi Everyone,

    Hope everyone’s doing well this beautiful Monday evening! As promised, I’ll be getting back in the habit of writing these weekly reviews and previews of our Thursday talks. This is the second in a series.

    To begin, here’s our revised list of the Five Core Concepts at the Heart of Yoga Practice:

    -Satya: Loving What Is
    -Ahimsa: Cooperation
    -Asteya: Respect for Differences
    -Brahmacharya: Personal Responsibility
    -Aparigraha: Flow

    I’ve revised a few of the translations and changed the order slightly. I’ll explain my reasons for doing this when we meet this Thursday evening.

    Our first two core concepts, Satya and Ahimsa, work together to describe both the nature of Life itself and our correct relationship to it. They are the ground of everything that follows in Yoga.

    The second two core concepts, Asteya and Brahamacharya, also work together, supporting individual differences in a context of mutual respect.

    The fifth core concept, Aparigraha, is a natural entailment of the four that come before. It pulls them all together and unifies them. But more on that in a future session. Today we’re focusing mainly on Satya, the first principle.


    Satya

    The word “satya” literally means “what is true.” On a basic level, Satya is truth in the sense of “what is the case.” Satya is a description of reality, and as such, it isn’t a static “what is.” Since Life flows, satya or “what is” flows too — ever changing, ever evolving. The truth of “what is” in this is never the same twice. It’s always more than it was before. Truth changes, truth evolves, just like Life does.

    Satya, in terms of practice, refers to an deep insight into the nature of Life itself that forms the basis of all subsequent understandings of Yoga.

    The following three bullet points describe just some of what Satya, “what is,” means in Yoga:

    - Life, “what is,” is a single, indivisible, evolving whole, with no one and nothing left out, and the purpose of Life as a whole is evolution and expansion and growth.

    - Life, “what is,” is a stream, a flowing forth of energy and intelligence — eternally expanding and evolving towards the greater good. This streaming forth of Life is eternal, unbroken, and as was said earlier, never the same twice.

    - We are not separate from Life; we are one with it. Our nature has it’s basis in Nature, and when we love Life, or "what is" and are able to align with it, we live and grow naturally, in harmony, peace, freedom and every kind of well-being.

    To see and experience Life in this way, as one life, one vast eco-system composed of an infinity of diverse but interdependent parts is Vidya: true knowledge, true seeing. This is the Yogi’s point of view, a perspective that is free from all restrictions, inherently rewarding and wonderfully adaptive.

    The alternative view of Life, (one that is unfortunately all too common in today’s world,) is to see Life as an arbitrary, chaotic assemblage of competing elements bound together by mechanical laws, with no inherent purpose other than survival. In Yoga this is called Avidya, ignorance, the first of the afflictions Patanjali warns us about in his Yoga Sutras. This perspective brings only distress and suffering, conflict and all manner of difficulties.

    Life grows and flourishes for the greater good. Life gave rise to you and provided you with everything you now have and hold dear. And when you love this Life that gave you life and and learn how to live in accord with these five principles of Yoga, Life is good and gets better for everyone.

    Unfortunately, too many of us see Life as something threatening, something to be managed and used, it’s resources to be exploited merely to advance our own individual agendas and needs. We don’t, as a rule, tend toward the common good; we tend instead toward aggregations of individual power and control. We compete in ways that don’t foster mutuality or aren't sustainable . We too often fail to live in harmony with ourselves or with Nature; often we live in conflict with both.

    All of this, from Yoga’s point of view, is rooted in Avidya, the ignorance of our true nature and the false belief that Life is a chaos that must be tamed by heroic individuals. Yoga describes these beliefs as adharma, life-destroying.

    The practice of Yoga — the whole practice of Yoga, which includes mind, heart and behavior, not just physical practice — is designed to remedy this, by aligning you first within yourself and then within the great stream of being that Life is. Through daily practice, we learn how to live in peace and freedom, guided by dharma (natural law) and fully supported by Nature.

    This is what the guidelines for practice (Yama and Niyama) are meant to do — to teach us how to live well on every level. In essence the principles of practice are a comprehensive and practical framework to help us make good and life-positive choices, moment by moment, each and every day.

    We’ll be learning more about these deeper teachings of Yoga each and every week, putting what we’re learning into practice, which will help us make better, more life-affirming choices.

    And when you’re making better choices on a regular basis life tends to flow more easily. You feel better. You’re healthier. Your relationships and life circumstances improve. Why? Because you’re living with the full support of Life itself.

    This is the true promise of Yoga: life lived abundantly, in health, in peace, in freedom — in love with and in service to the goodness of Life itself.

    This is why we’re meeting each and every Thursday night, to support one another in practice, and to support one another in realizing all the blessings Yoga has to offer.

    Join us this Thursday, 9/2216 and every Thursday throughout the Fall as together we explore ways to take our Yoga practice off the mat and into the world.

    Firefly Westwood, 311 Washington Street, Westwood, MA at 7:30pm All levels of practice are welcome.

    Much love and hope to see you soon,

    Dennis


    ——————————————-

    Definition of Yoga:

    “The practice of Yoga is the practice of aligning ourselves with the stream of Life itself through the systematic release of all resistance to the flow of Life.” (YS 1:2, paraphrase)

    Sunday
    Sep112016

    The Five Core Concepts at the Heart of Yoga

    Our theme for our Thursday sessions at Firefly Westwood this Fall will be:

    Yoga in Life: Living in peace and harmony with self and others.

    Last week we introduced what We are calling:

    “The Five Core Concepts of Yoga:”

    1. Non-forcing; Cooperation
    2. Loving What Is
    3. Respect for Differences
    4. Personal Integrity
    5. Mutuality; Sharing

    These values are based on the precepts of Yama, the first limb of Yoga. You could say they are a modern way to understand and practice the full value of the precepts, the full value of Yoga.

    Yoga is a path to freedom and well-being on every level, but Yoga doesn’t happen simply because we move on our mat.

    It happens as we learn what Vinyasa has to teach us: how to be, how to move — first on the mat and then in life — with grace and strength, with ease, balance and flow.

    Finding our center on the mat, finding our “ease and steadiness,” physically and emotionally, teaches to find that same ease, comfort and clarity as we move through everyday life.

    The same is true for Mantra Meditation. Learning to attune to the mantra and to release internal stress and conflict teaches us how to do the same thing in life. Attuning ourselves to life-supporting values in our meditation promotes healing, peace, freedom and well-being, and teaches to attune to life-supporting ways of being in the world, and energetically supports harmony and well-being in the world around us.

    Through formal Yoga practice, Vinyasa and Mantra Meditation, we come to live from a place of harmony, peace, joy and well-being, free from suffering or distress, and not in some far distant future but in small ways, more and more each day. Yoga is incremental. Yoga is cumulative.

    Our practice of Yoga may begin with the physical or meditation practice, but if our practice is to fully take root and realize it’s real potential to fully transform our lives it must extend beyond physical practice to include the attitudes, emotions and behavior we cultivate off the mat.

    We live what we value. Our values become who and what we are, and we share who and what we are in all we do. For example, when we value being “right” we make everyone else “wrong.” When we value argument and force, we live in stress and enmity and fear.

    But when we instead value “us” more than “me” (with “me” included in “us”) we learn to live at peace, in community, in love and in support. When we come to value compromise over conflict we find ways to get along with one another without stress and anxiety. And so on.

    It’s not enough to just pay lip service to these values. They must become part of us, part of who we are or we’re just pretending to practice — saying one thing but doing another.

    Yoga is about peace, it’s about love. It’s about respect for differences, not being right. It’s about compassion and mutuality, forgiveness and support, not complaining or finding fault with others. Yogis don’t complain. Yogis don’t resent. Yogis don’t fight. Yogis don’t have enemies.

    The five core concepts listed above are pointers to the core values of Yoga. They need to be lived. They need to be supported. They need to be practiced. They need to be more than just loosely held beliefs. And that’s never easy in today's world. But with a firm resolve and support of a like-minded community it can be done.

    We practice them first by understanding them and then second by making them our own, committing ourselves to putting them into practice in our everyday life.

    We practice them by choosing them over and over again. In this way they become second nature, they become part of us.

    And to the extent that we live them in the world we set a good example and make the world a better place for all of us.

    Feel free to join us, each and every Thursday evening at 7:30pm. All are welcome

    Firefly Westwood, 311 Washington St, Westwood MA


    Sent from my iPad

    Wednesday
    Aug102016

    Upcoming Workshops Fall 2016: Eight-Limbed Yoga

    Overview:

    The Yoga Sutras of Maharishi Patanjali, the ancient treatise on Yoga, describes Yoga as having eight core elements, each of which is essential to the practice of Yoga and living a meaningful, purposeful and stress-free life.

    Understanding and living these eight core elements deepens and accelerates our progress in Yoga. It is the foundation of all practice.

    The practice of Eightfold Yoga aligns mind, heart and body, but more than that, it supports and fosters the spiritual aspects of our nature: our sense of freedom, strength and purpose in dealing with of the drama and demands of everyday life.

    The main goals of Eightfold (Ashtanga) Yoga are relief from suffering and full alignment of body, heart, mind and spirit (kaivalyam) and also support for a meaningful and purposeful life (dharma).

    In these three workshops we'll be exploring each of the eight parts in turn, beginning with the first two: Yama and Niyama.

    —————————————————————————

    First Workshop: Yama and Niyama

    Yama and Niyama: the Core Understanding of All Yoga Practice

    If youre thinking of making a deeper commitment to Yoga or want a deeper understanding of the core concepts that make Yoga work, on your mat or in your everyday life, this is a workshop that will help you do that.

    Many teachers and students have a narrow understanding of the core principles of Yama and Niyama and as a result arent fully able to use these ideas to transform their practice or their lives. As a result, the concepts remain abstract ideals; not lived practices.

    Yama and Niyama are more than a list of ethical guidelines, more than a series of dos and donts. They are the core concepts, the essential principles of all Yoga practice: ten simple ideas that can provide a basis for the optimal practice of Yoga and living your best life.

    Experiencing the transformative power of the ten principles of Yama and Niyama is the single most important step you can take in taking your practice and your life to a whole new level of peace and freedom.

    The five principles of Yama (non-forcing, loving what is, respect for differences, responsibility for self, allowing) teach us how to practice Yoga and live in peace and freedom. The five principles of Niyama (purity, contentment, radiance, mindfulness and harmony with Nature) unlock the true power of Yoga to change our life and the lives of the people around us for the better.

    Join us as we explore each of the teachings of Yama and Niyama in depth. The program will include guided meditation, pranayama, discussion and natural energy attunement and is suitable for all levels of practice.

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    Second Workshop: Asana, Pranayama and Pratyahara

    Asana, Pranayama and Pratyahara: Attaining Emotional Ease, Comfort, Balance and Stability

    Do you feel grounded in a good way? Comfortable and steady in life? Asana in Yoga usually refers to being steady in physical postures, but in the context of the Yoga Sutras it has a much broader meaning.

    Asana in Eightfold Yoga means our overall stance in life. Its where were coming from in every situation: how steady, confident, comfortable and responsive we are facing our circumstances, whether theyre good, bad, or in between.

    Asana means being secure, being aligned, being ready, willing and able to face life feeling ready for anything. Not shaky, not dependent, not uncomfortable, and certainly not anxious. Asana is feeling comfortable and steady in every situation.

    Pranayama is more than breathing exercises to steady your nerves. Its learning how to be even-tempered, open, loving and happy. In this workshop well be moving beyond breathing exercises and learning to directly work with energy to balance our emotions so that were calm, even-tempered, buoyant and confident ready to face any challenge with ease and grace. Thats how Yoga should make you feel. This segment will include natural energetic attunement exercises to move you along the path to balanced emotions, which means more choices, more freedom.

    Do unhelpful habits of mind drive you crazy? Do you obsess or perseverate? Or have fixed ideas or feelings that weigh you down? If so, then you need to learn more about the limb of Yoga called Pratyahara. Simply put, its the Yoga of how to release fixed ideas and feelings in order to be free of negative or unhelpful mental habits. Pratyahara isnt withdrawal and it isnt resistance. Its perspective. Its releasing fixations; it’s letting go of old habits and self-stories. Its being able to look at the same old things from fresh new points of view so that you can see possibilities where once you only saw obstacles.

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    Third Workshop: Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi

    Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi: Focus, Flow and Understanding

    Dharana is the limb of Yoga that has to do with managing attention, managing focus. We all know about the millions of things that distract us from things that matter most: our peace, our well-being, and being able denjoy our daily lives without frustration or sacrifice.

    If youre lost in multitasking, finding it hard to focus, or feeling pulled in a lot of different directions, then Dharana, the Yoga of Focusing, is the practice that will teach you how to prioritize, release distraction and stay on task.

    Dhyana, the Seventh limb of Yoga, is usually understood as meditation. But its really the ability to stay with tasks in an effortless, flowing and productive way. Living without any resistance. Its "flow" in its best sense moving through situations with grace, ease and purpose. Its "going with the flow," in a mindful, smart and purposeful way.

    We practice meditation in order to practice both Dharana and Dhyana, so well be teaching and practicing traditional Yoga meditation in this workshop in order to demonstrate the concepts and help you train the mind to focus and stay focused in and effortless and enjoyable way.

    Samadhi, the Eighth limb of Yoga is something youve already experienced to some extent. Its peak performance: all parts of you positively aligned around one purpose, with no resistance and no reservationsSo any time youve been overjoyed, or thrilled, or blissfully happy, content without self-consciousness, youve dipped your toe into Samadhi. The Yoga practice of Samadhi just refers to the deep and deliberate and intentional experience of Samadhi in the context of practice (abhyasa) of daily life.

    Samadhi has many levels and there are lots of different kinds of Samadhi, but simply put, its the experience of mental and emotional and physical alignment experiential and intentional flow taken to its full extent.

    Samadhi is a natural outcome of the alignment of all Eight limbs in any Yoga practice, and in this workshop, were not just going to be talking about it, well be experiencing it, naturally, effortlessly, as a result of practice.

    Dates and Times to be announced. Send me an email if you'd like to be included in my mailing list.

     

     

    Sunday
    Jul102016

    Ashtanga (Eightfold) Yoga

    There have been few questions from members of the group this week about the term "Ashtanga Yoga," so I've written up a general outline to provide a context for how I'm using the term in the discussions we've been having in class.

    Our approach is based on Classical Yoga, traditional Yoga, which is not the Yoga being taught in most contemporary studio settings. That type of Yoga, what tends to be more of a physical culture Yoga, is usually called Modern Yoga. That brand of Yoga -- Bikram, Iyengar, Baptiste, generally termed Vinyasa or Power Yoga or Hot Yoga, is a late 20th Century phenomena. It didn't exist in antiquity. There is also a specific brand of Vinyasa Yoga called "Ashtanga Yoga," developed by Pattabhi Jois, but it's a modern variation on Yoga and very different from the Yoga that Patanjali calls Ashtanga Yoga in his Yoga Sutras.

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    What follows is a general synopis and orientation to Patanjali's Classical Ashtanga Yoga, as delineated in the Yoga Sutras almost 2000 years ago.

    According to Patanjali's Classical Yoga, the traditional Yoga, Yoga has called eight limbs, eight parts -- in Sanskrit, "Ashtanga," (ash (eight) tanga (limbs)). I'm coming to prefer to use the term "eightfold" Yoga, since the eight parts of the Ashtanga system are meant to go together. They're not separate steps.

    For Patajali, the Eight limbs are not eight separate practices. They are aspects, dimensions, attributes of all proper Yoga practice. Patanjali. in his sutras, is focused mainly on inner practice, meditation practice: the mental and emotional transformations that result in freedom from limitations and suffering and and promote total flow in every part of a person's life. Yoga, for Patanjali, and for most of it's history is entirely a spiritual path, a path to wholeness, not a journey to personal power or achievement, Nor is Yoga merely a system of stress management. This is not to say that those benefits do not accrue in Eightfold Yoga. They do. It's just that they're not the primary objective. The primary objective is alignment to one's true nature in every sense of the word, and that alignment allows for freedom from all limitation on every level: mental, emotional, physical, psychological and behavioral.

    For Patanjali, the Father of Yoga, Yoga is not a merely physical culture process. It's a total transformation of one's way of being in the world. As such, it must engage every part of the person.

    It is worth noting at this point that there is virtually no mention of any physical practice of Yoga anywhere in the Yoga Sutras. What we know as Asana or Vinyasa practice is a modern development, one that has great value, but it seems that originally, Yoga practice focused mainly on training the mind and the heart to achieve this state of Yoga or total harmony with Nature. Yoga-on-the-mat came later.

    For Patanjali, Yoga practice entails the concurrent development of all of the eight limbs together. The Eight limbs describe the inner dimensions of the practice, as opposed to the external aspects of the practice. Properly practiced and understood, they align mind, heart and spirit to support, energize, complete and fulfill the external practices of Yoga (physical and behavioral practices).

    It's worth noting that while Patanjali focuses mainly on meditation practices, the eight limbs he describes equally apply to any of the other formal Yoga practices that came later on -- to Vinyasa, or Bhakti, or Jnana or Karma or Raja Yoga practice. All Yoga practice benefits when it conforms to the eight limbed model.

    The Eight Elements of Eightfold Yoga are as follows:

    1. Yama (principles or precepts) -- a list of five concepts that comprise the main principles (guidelines) of Yoga Practice. All practice should conform to these five principles. They are non-aggression, acceptance, non-comparison, self-sufficiency and non-clinging. These are to be learned, understood and implemented.

    2. Niyama (observances or attributes) -- a list of five concepts that describe the main manifestations of successful Yoga practice, things we observe in ourselves and others as a result of practice, things that show us we're on the right track. They are purity, contentment, radiance, self-understanding and surrender to God or Nature. Again, we learn, observe and understand these principles.

    3. Asana (foundation) refers to one's attitude or disposition on every level: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. It is one's basic disposition, foundation, or framework of being, and it should be steady and feel comfortable, whether we're on our mat, in our meditation, in the supermarket checkout line, or anywhere else in our everyday life.

    Patanjali's use of the word Asana is not to be confused with the physical postures of Hatha Yoga, also called Asanas. His use of the word Asana is much bigger, much more fundamental and all-encompassing.

    Yama, Niyama and Asana form the basis for the next two limbs. They are the platform on which the next two limbs rest.

    4. Pranayama (energy control) Prana is life-energy; it is also the breath. (Much like the the two uses of inspiration in English: referring to both the breath and the spirit.) Achieving balance in the flow of energies (experienced mostly as attitude, mood, motivation and vitality) throughout one's system is essential to Yoga. Working with the breath is only the beginning. Next we learn to work with emotion and then intention to produce a steady state of even-temperedness and equanimity relative to loss and gain (samapatti). The three stages of pranayama are mood balance, energy balance and intentional energy attunement (shaktipata).

    5. Pratyahara (de-identification) Refers to the ability to withdraw from mental/emotional identification with the objects of perception.

    We could also understand it as disengagement from the kleshas, the barriers to Yoga: identification with the finite, the temporal (avidya); identification with the individual ego (asmita); attachment and aversion, (raga and dvesha); and clinging to life (abinivesha). Patanjali lists these five "afflictions" as the chief barriers to Yoga.

    But on a simpler level, Pratyahara means being able to shift mental frames of reference to allow for free movement of attention, allowing for freedom regarding mental/emotional attitudes and choices. It means a mind with no fixed attitudes or ideas, free movement of attention.

    Pranayama and Pratyahara are necessary to stabilize and free up the mind and attention in support of the next three limbs. They make the last three limbs possible.

    6. Dharana (focus) the ability to naturally and easily hold one's attention on a specific point; to hold a specific attunement of mind and heart energy. We use a mantra or mental theme to develop and strengthen Dharana.

    7. Dhyana (attunement) The ability to maintain that focus so that rapport and polarity develops between the individual and the universal, allowing for a deeper, more profound experience of attunement and energy exchange between the two.

    Dhyana also refers to the systematic development of alignment between mind, heart and spirit. This experience must be a part of any and every practice of Yoga -- vinyasa, meditation, service, study or devotion. The proper use of mantra is an easy way of learning to achieve and maintain a state of dhyana.

    8. Samadhi (absorption) The collapse of subject/object separation and the experience of unity or oneness between observer and observed. Profound intimacy and inter-subjectivity. Total flow. There are many different levels to samadhi, but the two main distinctions are samadhi with thought (savikalpa) and samadhi without thought (nirvikalpa). Both are the product of full engagement of all eight limbs in practice.

    According to Patanjali, the last three limbs are three parts of one process he calls Samyama. Becoming able to enter into Samyama (total unrestricted flow) is the fundamental objective, the main mechanism of all formal practice of Yoga. It's where the real benefits start to happen. All else is preliminary to that.

    Each of the eight limbs (eight aspects, attributes or dimensions) of practice must be present to some extent in order to fulfill the practice and the promise of Yoga -- physical and material well-being; enjoyment and happiness; life-supporting and life-supported behavior; and liberation. They must all be brought forth together for Yoga to take place.

    They are not to be understood as separate practices, steps, or rungs on a ladder, but rather as eight aspects of one complete practice -- eight limbs of one tree. All eight limbs must be active in practice if the promise of Yoga is to be fulfilled.


    Any and all formal practice, Vinyasa or Meditation, for example, must rest on, include and conform to the eight limbs in order to be complete and effective.

    We learn and understand them one at a time; we practice them all together. This is Ashtanga Yoga. This is Patanjali's eightfold practice.

    Saturday
    May212016

    Pranayama: the Fourth Limb of Yoga

    In contemporary life, when most people hear the word "yoga" they think only of the physical poses and exercises of Vinyasa, the physical practice of Yoga. The physical poses and movements of Yoga are, however, only one small part of Yoga, the total mind-body system first delineated by Maharishi Patanjali over a thousand years ago.

    Yoga, as a total system, has many components, many practices. There are practices that work with the conscious mind (inquiry, discrimination, study), practices that work with the emotions (pranayama and bhakti or devotion), practices that work with the awareness, that train the attention (mantra meditation) ethical practices (yama), behavioral practices (seva) and so on. All these practices are designed to work together to bring all parts of the person into alignment, into harmony, into well-being.

    Pranayama, the fourth limb of Yoga, is a series of practices designed to support emotional equanimity and well-being, beginning with breathing exercises that soothe restlessness and anxiety.

    The next set of practices take Pranayama to a deeper level, working directly with the emotions to harmonize them, resolving the habitual negative emotions (fear, anger, sadness) that block the full expression of life and spirit. This is what Patanjali called "the harmonizing of polarities."

    On a more advanced level, Pranayama is a way of working directly and intentionally with the energy systems of the body (shaktipat), systematically releasing (nirodhah) interference patterns (vritti) that inhibit and limit the flow of life energies (chitta, prana) throughout the entire mind/body system.

    We begin with the breathing. That's the first place to start. Soothe the breathing and the whole system comes more into alignment.

    As a side-note, anti-anxiety breathing exercises, like deep belly breathing or the breathing exercises of the Lamaze Method of prepared childbirth are western practices that work in the same or similar way as ancient Yogic breathing techniques like ujjayi, nadi shuddhi and bastrika. The Chinese have Qigong breathing exercises as well. Every culture seems to have found it's own version of pranayama.

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    A couple of relevant quotes:

    "The elegant shapes and impressive contortions of the asanas may be the most eye-catching element of hatha yoga, but yoga masters will tell you they're hardly the point of practice. According to yoga philosophy, the postures are merely preludes to deeper states of meditation that lead us toward enlightenment, where our minds grow perfectly still and our lives grow infinitely big. But just how do we make the leap from Downward Dog to samadhi? Ancient yoga texts give us a clear answer: Breathe like a yogi.

    "Pranayama, the formal practice of controlling the breath, lies at the heart of yoga. It has a mysterious power to soothe and revitalize a tired body, a flagging spirit, or a wild mind. The ancient sages taught that prana, the vital force circulating through us, can be cultivated and channeled through a panoply of breathing exercises. In the process, the mind is calmed, rejuvenated, and uplifted. Pranayama serves as an important bridge between the outward, active practices of yoga--like asana--and the internal, surrendering practices that lead us into deeper states of meditation.

    "My first American yoga teacher, a guy named Brad Ramsey, used to say that doing an asana practice without a pranayama practice developed what he called the Baby Huey syndrome," says Ashtanga teacher Tim Miller. "Baby Huey was this big cartoon duck who was very strong but kind of stupid. He wore a diaper. Basically what Brad was trying to say was that asana will develop your body but pranayama will develop your mind."

    --Claudia Cummins, Prescriptions for Pranayama, Yoga Journal
    http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/673

    "Pranayama is derived fron two Sanskrit words - prana (life-energy) and ayama (control). Pranayama is therefore life control and not "breath control." The broadest meaning of the word prana is force of energy. In this sense, the universe is filled with prana; all creation is a manifestation of force, a play of force. Everything that was, is, or shall be, is nothing but the different modes of expression of the universal force. The universal prana is thus the Para-Prakriti (pure Nature), immanent energy or force which is derived from the infinite Spirit, and which permeates and sustains the universe."

    "Yoga works primarily with this energy in the body, through the science of Pranayama, or energy control. Prana means also "breath." Yoga teaches how, through breath control, to still the mind and attain higher states of awareness. The higher teaching of yoga take one beyond techniques, and show the yogi, or yoga practitioner, how to direct his or her concentration in such a way as not only to harmonize human with divine consciousness, but to merge his or her consciousness into the infinite."

    --Paramahansa Yogananda (1893 - 1952) Source: God Talks with Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita

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    All of the “limbs” of Yoga — all of the precepts and practices of Yoga work together to bring all aspects of ourselves into harmony and alignment.

    Yama and Niyama support right understanding, right lifestyle. Asana and Vinyasa focus on the physical practice of yoga, working with the body to produce a stable physical platform. Pranayama, the fourth limb of yoga, works with the breath, and also with the mind and emotions to produce a state of equanimity, serenity amid loss or gain (samapatti). Pratyahara clarifies the relationship of the mind to experience, and helps us learn to manage the undue influences of the world around us.

    The practice of Yoga begins with an understanding which becomes a physical practice which becomes a mental and emotional practice which eventually becomes an energy practice, and all these levels of practice work toward reconciling the fundamental polarities of experience and existence.

    Energy work is about balancing polarities -- yin/yang, positive/negative, here/there, sadness/joy, self/other, tension/flow, and this is the ultimate focus of yoga. As the sutra says, the yogi is unperturbed by the play of opposites. All duality is reconciled in yoga.

    Pranayama, the fourth limb of Yoga, deals with energy beginning in the most obvious way: we work with the basic cycle of intake and outflow of breath -- and in harmonizing and balancing the breath, we "tune" the basic polarity of mind and body, inside and outside. Pratyahara, the next and fifth limb of yoga, has to do with removing the innappropriate influence of the outer world -- it lessens the intrusion of outer influences on us, and restores us to a balanced sense of subjectivity.

    The term "pranayama" is used in the Sutras to describe both the practice of pranayama (the process: breathing exercises) and the state of pranayama (the goal: balanced energies).

    The first three sutras, YS II:46, YS II:47, YS II:48 describe the prelimary conditions necessary for the successful practice of pranayama. The remaining four describe, in general terms, the practice of pranyama itself.

    First, one's asana, or physical foundation, must be steady and comfortable. The body should be made to be as comfortable and as steady as possible. The mind should be, again, as much as possible, one-pointed -- free of distraction and conflict. The emotional state should be one of calmness and well-being. The practice of Yama, Niyama, and Asana, all work together to produce this stable platform, allowing the yogi to begin the practice of yogic breathing with a sense of stability and well-being.

    Second, one needs to understand how to relax unceasingly -- physically, mentally and emotionally -- to continuously surrender all effort, all struggle, let go of and release all tension and strain. This is to be done until one is utterly relaxed and free from all sense of duality, all sense of struggle and effort. When we let go of all physical, then mental, then emotional tension and resistance, our sense of being expands. We "open up" and recover a profound sense of security and well being.

    Ahimsa, non-aggression, the first precept of Yoga, becomes our way of being -- in fact all of the yamas and niyamas begin to arise in us spontaneously.
    Then breathing becomes free and effortless, relaxed and comfortable. There is a sense of "breath taking place." The various types of pranayama, alternate nostril breathing for instance, allow us to focus on the breath in a gentle, natural ways, observing its movement in and out, becoming more aware of where the breathing takes place (abdomen or chest), the duration of the breath, and in the mind observing the breath in this way the breath naturally becomes more subtle, more peaceful, more extended.

    This, in turn, gives rise to a deeper, broader perspective, a spaciousness of mind: thoughts become more soft, subtle, less conflicted, less compelling. We grow calmer, unperturbable. And our sense of conflict, struggle is reduced greatly. With the calming of the mind, the barriers to the shining of awareness diminish, and consciousness expands.

    The mind grows steady, capable of focus and deliberate thought.


    From the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali:

    YS II.46 sthira-sukham-asanam
    (steady-comfortable-position)

    Asana is steady, comfortable.

    YS II.47 prayatna-saithilya-ananta-samapattibhyam
    (effort;tension)(relaxation;loosening)(endless)(coinciding)

    And unceasing relaxing of effort renders the arising of non-dual, comprehensive awareness.

    YS II.48 tato-dvandva-anabhighatah
    (thus)(two-two;opposites)(unassailability)

    As a result, one is unperturbed by the play of opposites.

    YS II.49 tasmin-sati-svasa-prasvasayor-gati-vicchedah-pranayamah
    (from this)(state)(breathing in and out)(flow)(cutting off)(energy-control)

    To abide in this state of unceasing flow, throughout inhalation and exhalation, (is the state of) pranayama.

    YS II.51 bahya-abhyantara-visaya-aksepi-caturthah
    (inner-outer)(object-subject)(fourth)

    (The sense of) outer/inner, subject/object is transcended. This is the fourth limb of yoga.

    YS II.52 tatah-ksiyate-prakasha-avanaram
    (thence)(decreases)(shining light)(covering)

    Thus, that which obscured the shining of inner awareness diminishes.

    YS II.53 dharanasu-ca-yogyata-manasah
    (concentration)(and)(fitness)(thinking ability)

    And the mind gains the capability of steady focus.

    And who wouldn't want that? A clear mind, a steady mind, a balanced mind that is able to focus. This is the gift, the benefit of the practice of pranayama.

    Wednesday
    May182016

    Healthy Relationships