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    Eight Limbs? How about Four Legs?

    Thanks again to everyone who attended last Thursday's class. It was great to be together again after our long break and to find we hadn't lost any of our momentum. People continue to have great experiences with the Yoga meditation, and that of course makes me very happy.

    Even more gratifying is the fact that we have a great group of people coming together to explore the full practice of Yoga and Meditation.

    We're learning to expand and deepen our practice of Yoga and take it more fully into our daily lives. We're learning to live "namaste," not just say it.

    In its simplest sense, Yoga means getting all four parts of us: body, mind, heart and behavior, to work together for the common good. When all four parts of us are together in harmony, we're a better person, more who we always wanted to be.

    That's why there are four main branches of Yoga: the Yoga of Understanding (Jnana), the Yoga of Feeling (Bhakti), the Yoga of Action (Karma Yoga) and most importantly, Raja Yoga, the Yoga of Formal Practice -- the formal Yoga we do together in the studio when we meditate together or practice Vinyasa.

    The four branches of Yoga: Jnana, Bhakti, Karma and Raja, are like the four legs of a table. All four legs work together to provide full support.

    And when we have that support and all parts of us, our beliefs and understanding, our motivations and behavior, align to support our intentions, life flows effortlessly with the full support of Nature. This is the basic promise of Yoga.

    Our weekly Thursday Night Meditation Classes were thus designed with a two-fold purpose: to support a broader and deeper understanding of the full practice of Yoga -- body, heart, mind and behavior -- and to also support a deeper practice and understanding of meditation in the Yoga tradition.

    We've taken out all the mysticism and fluff and replaced it with common sense language and understanding to support all levels of practice. Everything we discuss is practical and immediately applicable to your present situation.

    Each session includes instruction and practice in Yoga Meditation, including two 15 minute group meditations.

    If you're new to this, traditional Yoga Meditation, unlike other practices of meditation, is easy and refreshing, leaving you relaxed and inspired, and the instruction you'll receive will give you all the tools you'll need to continue to meditate successfully at home.

    This week we'll continue the adventure with more discussion of the meaning of energy attunement in Asana and Meditation practice.

    On a personal note, I feel very fortunate that our collective intentions have attracted and drawn together such a wonderful group of people, a true satsang in the Yoga tradition, a wonderful group of caring people who have and opportunity to enjoy and benefit from one another's company and support.

    Thank you all.

    All are welcome. And more good news: We have added new Backjack Meditation Seats to help make the experience even more comfortable and rewarding.

    Feel free to share this with anyone who you think might be interested in attending.

    Date: Every Thursday evening from 7:30pm-9pm; Place: Firefly Yoga, 311 Washington St, Westwood, MA; Cost: $17


    Meditation As The Formal Practice of Gratitude

    We are all truly blessed in so many ways, and yet how easy it is to lose sight of this and fall into feelings of anxiety, regret or self-pity, or worse yet, bitterness or resentment over what we do not have.

    The practice of gratitude, of "counting one's blessings," has long been spoken of as a remedy for all these ills, the idea being that cultivating an attitude of thankfulness and appreciation can counter any tendency to resentment, regret or a sense of lack.

    The question is: how to best instill in ourselves this sense of appreciation and even more important, make it stick? The world is mad with greed and envy. How can we learn to stay grateful for what we have instead of resenting what we don't have?

    An important point needs to be made first: gratitude doesn't mean forced humility or the suppression of desire. Nor does it mean learning to put up with less than what we need. Gratitude is a joyful appreciation of our many blessings but must include a sense that abundance is a birthright, that the blessings of life can expand and all should share them. When gratitude means being relieved to know that our wants and needs have been met and will continue to be met, then with that thankfulness comes a sense of peace and security, as opposed the hollow, anxious sense that it could all be taken away if we're not grateful enough. There is no envy or bitterness, greed or anxiety when all have enough.

    We need a sense that our good fortune is not due to luck nor the result of merit, that in fact we are all worthy and deserving and it is a good thing when everyone gets what they need. But how to train the mind and understanding to this more positive, inclusive, trusting and adaptive way of being? Yoga has an answer.

    (The basis for this concept of gratitude comes from the second and third principles of Yama, the ethical guidelines of Yoga, the two principles of Satya and Asteya, which, properly understood, allow us to feel secure that, 1) what we have is always enough for now and that, 2) with practice still more will be given. We'll be talking more about this topic in future sessions.)

    In both understanding and in practice, Yoga provides us with the possibility of relief from anxiety about lack. The practice of daily meditation using mantra in the Yoga tradition gives us a practical way to formally instill this secure knowing in ourselves by conditioning the mind to naturally maintain this more positive, more adaptive, more secure way of being.

    But not all forms of meditation work this way. Vipassana Meditation, which emphasizes a sense of detachment or neutrality, teaches us to relinquish desire itself and learn to avoid both liking or disliking as a way of avoiding clinging and attachment. But Yoga says desire is not wrong; equanimity is not detachment; not all attachments are bad; and neutral isn't the same thing as good. The mind and heart want to appreciate, to value, to love, to grow, to tend toward the good.

    The kind of meditation that renounces desire makes sense for a renunciate, someone committed to a monastic life, but not for a householder living an active life in the world. That person needs to grow and fulfill the promise of the world, not renounce it.

    Meditation is about releasing resistance, releasing negativity, but it is even more about expanding appreciation and growth. Meditation should support joy and abundance, not indifference and austerity.

    Regular practice of this Mantra Meditation supports the development of an innate discriminating intelligence (prajna) that automatically favors what we like and what nourishes us and releases what is resistive or harmful. The mind is thus trained to move away from what is pointlessly stressful and to move toward that which is is genuinely rewarding.

    This kind of meditation promotes and supports the full range of positive emotions and releases and nullifies the full range of negative ones. The mind and heart become more balanced and clear about what is better for us and what is worse, and we orient more appropriately, making better choices and affirming better values.

    In contemporary Buddhism, perhaps because it has its roots in monasticism, emotions are too often seen as disturbances of the "rational" mind. In Yoga, emotions are not "disturbances" in the mind. They are support systems that motivate, guide and steady us. When they work as they should, they are currents of positive energy that support the cognitive processes (perception, understanding, judgment) in coming to better conclusions and making better, more life supporting choices.

    Positive emotional states like love, forgiveness and appreciation enhance the benefits of meditation, just as cultivating an attitude of gratitude enhances one's experience of living day to day.

    The attitude of welcoming, allowing, and appreciating recommended in the practice of Mantra Meditation trains the mind to see more of the possibilities, less of the limitations; more of the joy, less of the sorrow. The world becomes a better place for us because we can more easily see the good in it and we stand inspired to add to it's abundance of goodness.

    We must accentuate the positive because one cannot remove or resist the negative. Resisting the negative only adds to the negativity. The only way forward is for each of us to recognize and find ways to add our efforts to the good that is already in the world.

    Compassion is a beautiful thing, but it is no substitute for love or joy. Nor is it enough to simply care or sympathize. We must take positive action to relieve suffering, first in ourselves and then in one another. True charity, a profound form of love, is a powerful force, especially when charitable actions are performed from a place of gratitude and joy.

    An article by Dave Mochel recently published in makes some very good points about the relationship between gratitude and meditation, both in practice and in terms of benefits:

    From the article:
    "The biggest challenge of giving thanks is that your brain will give you lots of compelling reasons to resent, resist, and complain about circumstances and people you do not like. Being grateful is not a replacement for addressing injustice, asserting values, working toward important goals, or dealing with challenge. But practicing gratitude is a way to improve your quality of life and relationships while you are doing these things.

    Despite what your brain may tell you, your capacity for being grateful is not dependent on either your circumstances or how you feel. Put simply, gratitude is available to you whenever you choose to practice it. This is why mindfulness and gratitude are powerfully complementary. Mindfulness is the skillful use of attention. When you are caught spinning in a pattern of worry, rumination, self-judgment or blame, it can be very helpful to notice how you are spending your time and energy."

    Mantra Upaya, Mantra Meditation in the Yoga tradition, is a wonderful way to practice gratitude privately, in your heart, so that you are better able to practice it in your daily life.

    Come join us this Thursday, December 3 at Firefly Yoga, 311 Washington St, Westwood, MA, for our regular Thursday Night Meditation Group. Session starts at 7:30pm. All are welcome.


    Meditation Is the Systematic Release of Resistant or Stressful Thought

    Hi Everyone,

    Here's our weekly/preview of the Thursday night group meditation and training. I hope you're enjoying the program and finding it helpful -- I know I am. As always your feedback and suggestions are most welcome and I thank you for your support.

    If you have a moment, I would love to hear from you and learn more about how you're doing with your meditation practice.

    Last week:

    We discussed and practiced the elements of Mantra Meditation: 1. Presence, 2. Being-Awake, 3. Awareness, 4. Idea/Feeling, and 5. Meditating itself -- the process of moving the attention within the mind-field, learning to consistently "favor" the mantra as a path to full meditation, what Patanjali calls Dhyana -- systematically attuning the mind to a more expansive, more adaptive state of awareness and being.

    We define this meditation as the systematic release of resistant or stressful thought (yogas-chitta-vritti-nirodha, YS1:2), which allows the mind-field (chitta) to become more fully attuned and aligned (samadhi) to the energy and flow of Life itself. This is the true goal of Yoga: living in total harmony with Life and Nature without obstacles or resistance of any kind.

    Mantra, in this meditation, is any idea/feeling used as a vehicle to condition or train the mind to a more expansive, more adaptive way of being. In essence a mantra is is a practiced good-feeling thought; a thought that gives relief. It is a safe haven in the mind; child's pose for the mind.

    Proper technique for the use of the mantra in meditation follows the precepts of Yoga: 1. Non-Forcing, 2. Accepting or Allowing, 3. Non-Comparison, 4. Relying-On-Self, and 5. Non-Clinging. In formal meditation we gently condition the mind through daily practice to be more inclusive, more adaptive, more creative and more satisfied.

    Proper technique, meaning, how we use the mantra, is essential for good results, and mastering the subtleties of this technique is far more important than the actual mantra itself.

    Understanding and practicing these five elements of meditation, which is what we are doing week by week, is the best way to become thoroughly grounded in the experience. The weekly sessions are a systematic way to "tune" your meditation technique, making your practice at home more comfortable and worthwhile.

    Last week we also began to explore the metaphor of attunement (samadhi) as a way to understand and guide the experience of meditation. The concept is also useful as a way to guide our development and growth in everyday life itself. What we pay attention to, we attune to. As we focus, so shall we be.

    Yoga is fundamentally an energy practice, a spiritual practice. Alignment/attunement is one of the central concepts of both contemporary energy work and traditional spiritual practice. (See last week's journal entry for more information on this. You can find it below this one.)

    Attunement is a powerful concept but an even more powerful experience. Learning how to seek and favor alignment/attunement in both formal and informal practice is essential to the successful practice of Yoga.

    In the practice of Asana and Vinyasa, we learn to attune to steadiness in position and in flow; one-pointed dedication to the fulfillment of the asana in body, heart and mind.

    In meditation we attune to "the good" in mind, in heart and also on the level of purpose or intention. We systematically release resistance to Life's natural flow,

    Yoga has eight limbs. In physical practice we focus on only one or two of these. Our Thursday sessions broaden our focus to include the fundamentals of the inner practice of Yoga, the "non-physical" practices of Yama, Niyama, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. This full practice of Yoga will takes your personal experience of physical Yoga to a whole new level, inside and out: spirit, heart, mind, body, and behavior all aligned for the common good.

    This week:

    Hope to see you this Thursday night, 11/19 at Firefly Yoga, 311 Washington St, Westwood, MA. Start time is 7:30pm. This coming Thursday's session will focus mostly on the experience of group meditation. We've got enough understanding and flow in the group at this point to sustain longer meditations and that's what we'll be doing.

    The more experienced meditators will hopefully attend to energetically support those who are newer to practice, the way a rising tide floats all boats. And hopefully those of you who can't be there will support/join us in spirit.

    All are welcome.



    Arlington, MA


    Meditation as an Attunement of Mind, Heart, Body and Spirit

    Meditation can mean many things -- many different understandings, practices, approaches and outcomes. In our weekly meetings, we've been discussing everything from Anapanasati (mindfulness of breathing) to Vipassana (mindfulness of thoughts, feelings and actions) to Mantra Upaya and Mantra Siddhi (skilled use of mantra as a Yoga, as a way of aligning one's total self). Our emphasis has mostly been on Mantra Siddhi, the use of mantra as a means for attuning the heart and mind to a more open, creative, harmonious and resourceful state of being.

    This use of mantra is nothing new. What is new, perhaps, is the way we're talking about it. We're using the concept of attunement to describe how the use of mantra in meditation allows one to intentionally cultivate mental and emotional states and habits of mind that are more adaptive, more resilient, and more useful in the pursuit of our aims and purposes.

    Mind is the vehicle through which we perceive, understand and operate in the world. It's not who we are, but it does play a large role in how we are, and what we can accomplish. Our quality of mind and, more to the point, our practiced state of mind, is what determines who we are and what we can be in this world.

    A clear and open mind, a mind that is calm and steady, a mind that is sensitive and perceptive, yet strong and resilient -- who wouldn't want more of that?

    Meditation is a way to condition the mind to be more agile, more strong, more naturally selective in a good and useful way, and overall, since this kind of mind is more adaptive, more able to enjoy life and living, regardless of the circumstances.

    We use the concept of attunement to describe how this happens. First, a definition of what we mean by the verb, "to tune," and what we mean by attunement:

    To tune something is to adjust it to a certain level of performance, the way we do with a musical instrument when we tune the strings to the correct or uniform pitch. Another analogue is the way we tune a transmitter or receiver circuit to the frequency of the desired (or required) signal.

    In the context of meditation, an attunement would be adjusting the mind and heart (through the use of s deliberate, sustained, focusing of attention) to a state or condition of mind (bhavana) that is more expansive, more resourceful, more joyful and more free. We deliberately use the practice of mantra to progressively liberate the mind from a more restricted, uncomfortable state, to a more useful, rewarding and adaptive state. This, over time, conditions the mind to operate spontaneously from a more rewarding "frequency." We train the mind to be more adaptive, more useful. We reduce conflict and resistance.

    The practice of Raja Yoga, as demonstrated in this Mantra Yoga, has been used for thousands of years to support this natural and holistic evolution of mind and consciousness.

    Yoga is about the perfection of the total self, meaning living one's greatest potential, supporting a natural and fully effective way of being through the systematic release of constraint and restriction in heart and mind as well as in the body.


    Preview of this Thursday's Meditation Group

    Hello Everyone :)

    I've written a long message this week. Lots to share with you.

    In our weekly meetings, we've been exploring different approaches to meditation, primarily the Classical Yogic approach of Mantra Meditation and the Buddhist-derived practice of Vipassana or Mindfulness Meditation. As I've said in class, both approaches have their value and both are worth learning. They offer different experiences and produce different outcomes, but the benefits in both cases are very worthwhile. I recommend learning both approaches and choosing what works best for you.

    However, this coming Thursday we'll be focusing mainly on Mantra Meditation, and I'll be sharing insights I originally learned from my three principle teachers: Swami Satchidananda, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Swami Muktananda. Being Yogis, they taught mantra to accelerate and deepen the benefits of meditation, and all agreed that correct meditation is much more than just the mental repetition of a word or phrase. It takes a little while to get the hang of correct practice, but once learned, the technique is unsurpassed in it's power to refresh, restore, inspire and uplift body, heart and mind.

    A little background: one of the fundamental concepts of Vedic thought -- the Vedas being the knowledge base from which all Yoga is derived -- is that perception, experience -- knowing itself -- is different at different levels of mind and consciousness. Expand your mind and consciousness and expand your access to the world, both in terms of experience and capabilities.

    (The phrase from the Rg Veda, and if you're a yoga geek you'll want to know this, is "richo akshare parame vyoman," which translates as, "what or how we perceive and know depends on our state of mind and consciousness.")

    This ancient idea, thousands of years old, is one of foundation teachings of every form of Yoga.

    Simply stated: the world is as you are.

    The idea is that our state of mind operates as a lens or filter through which we see and make sense of the world around us. Our attitudes color our world --

    Click to read more ...


    Review and Invitation to Thursday Night's Meditation Group

    Hi Everyone,

    Last week, in our weekly group, we began to explore the topic of mindfulness, specifically the "mindfulness" approach to formal meditation.

    Up to this point, our series had focused more on approaches to meditation that emphasize the use of mantra.

    To review, we're talking about the the formal sitting practice of meditation. Meditation in a general sense means deliberating or pondering a topic. We do this all day long. But when we sit in the formal practice of meditation, we dispense with everyday thinking and feeling for a while and practice deliberately focusing the mind in a very specific way, with the aim of refreshing, regulating and restoring the body/mind.

    Meditation practice is analogous to vinyasa practice, in that both our minds and bodies are in motion all of the time, moving in a variety of different ways. When we practice vinyasa yoga we move our bodies deliberately, in a highly orchestrated and intentional way. With meditation we sit and move our minds in an orchestrated and deliberate way as well.

    Meditation is the intentional movement of mind, more specifically, it is the movement of attention according to a deliberate method, with the intention of producing a more relaxed, open, adaptive and resilient state of mind and body, and ultimately, insight into the true nature of things.

    Meditation is procedural. One follows a prescribed movement of awareness. It is always a loop or circle. We begin with a focal point, experience distraction away from the focal point, then return to the focal point. There are two movements: focusing (toward a focal point) and releasing (letting go of distraction to return to the focal point).

    Meditation that relies primarily on sustaining a focused awareness using concepts and feeling is called mantra meditation, while meditation that relies mainly on releasing attachments and aversions to concepts and feelings is generally called mindfulness meditation. Both are useful, in different ways, and both are worth learning and practicing.

    In both types of meditation, one is "mindful" or paying attention in a very specific way. One is taught to focus the attention on a thought or sensation, and then, when the mind wanders to some habitual pattern of thinking or judging, to release the attachment to that habit of thought and return to "center," the focal point we began with, breath or mantra usually. This "centering" practice is the basis of all meditation.

    A further step in some versions of mindfulness meditation, mainly *vipassana* practice, is to learn to observe the contents of mind from a frame of "non-judgmental, moment to moment" awareness. Being able to consistently achieve this state of mind depends on our being able to systematically release judgement and fixed ideas, and that's where technique and skill in releasing comes into play.

    We began discussing this aspect of practice last week and we will continue to explore the techniques of releasing in coming sessions.

    Meditation, like asana, succeeds or fails on the basis of technique. Proper understanding of instruction,

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    Four Recommended Articles on Meditation

    If you're interested in either meditation or the teaching or study of meditation, you might want to take a look at these four articles, mostly from mainstream sources: Sam Harris, author of the bestselling "Waking Up, A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion," Aurora Healthcare, Gaiam Yoga. They offer a good, thorough overview of contemporary meditation practice.

    To begin, let's clarify what we mean by meditation. "Meditation" is a broad category. Saying "meditation" is  like saying "sports" instead of saying "tennis" or "football." In essence, any type of sustained mental/emotion focus could be called a meditation. So when we speak of the practice of meditation for the purpose of self-development or self-improvement, what exactly do we mean by that?

    It's complicated. Meditation practices have been a part of every religious, philosophical and spiritual tradition. There are hundreds of different approaches and techniques of meditation, most of them embedded in a cultural or religious tradition, many of them shrouded in mysticism and superstitious thinking.

    Buddhist tradition describes meditation as a sitting practice that allows for insight into the true nature of reality.

    Yoga tradition describes meditation as an internal practice that provides for the systematic release of resistance and stress from the body/mind, allowing one's true nature to shine forth.

    I would define meditation as any formal, internal, deliberate mental/emotional practice (for me, true meditation must engage both aspects of subjective experience) that consistently

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