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    Sunday
    Dec102017

    Yoga Sutra Verse of the Week - YS 1 .38 Inspiration and Clarity from Dreams

    YS1 .38 Also, the mind can be inspired or supported in alignment by the understanding or insight obtained in dreaming or deep sleep.

    Commentary:

    Yoga describes a vision of human being (read “being” here as a verb) that is broader and more holistic than the largely fragmented psychodynamic, biochemical and behavioral models of modern western culture.

    In Yoga, the mind (and everything else) is structured in consciousness (richo akshare parame vyoman) meaning quality and capability of mind is made up of how awake we are, how aware we are, and how we’re focused. Mind exists as a function of awareness and focus, and life flows from that.

    In the West, mind is believed to exist only because there is a brain. Mind is seen as the subjective experience of the function of the brain. Mind health is brain health. And it goes further: awareness and the ability to focus is seen almost entirely as an attribute of brain chemistry. To modern science, everything about a person, one’s character, one’s tendencies, one’s choices all exist as a function of the neurochemistry of the brain. At one point it was believed that there was some agency in the mind that allowed for free will and self-determinism, however the biological model seems to be consistently moving in the direction of reducing human behavior and experience to a product of genetic and environmental factors. We are entirely subject to our biology.

    Yoga sees it diffently. In Yoga, awareness exists independent of the physical manifestations of the world.

    Awareness is seen as giving rise to the world, not just in experiential terms, but in physical terms. The physical world, including both brain and mind themselves are manifestations of the energy field of awareness itself. The primordial awareness field labeled Purusha is self-aware, purposeful, all-powerful and contains within itself infinite intelligence. It exists eternally at the heart of all matter and energy and guides and directs the flow of life that becomes the movements and the laws of Nature. In sentient beings it becomes the mind and in flowing through the mind continuously becomes the body and the resulting body is how we experience, focus on and participate in the world.

    Everything (Prakriti), both physical and non-physical, is structured in consciousness: animated, illuminated, made aware of and supported by this underlying field of energy and intelligence that are the two basic gifts of pure consciousness itself (Purusha).

    Now to the point of the sutra: states of mind and states of consciousness exist in a continuum, from gross to subtle and refined. The more refined, the more intelligent, the grosser, the more distorted and dysfunctional.

    More resistive conditions of mind, here labeled “grosser,” which means high-contrast, dramatic, stressful experiences of mind (more agitated or more dull) are less clear, less pure, less intelligent, weaker and harmful. This is what happens when the mind-stream is contaminated by resistance to the flow of life. (Rajasic and tamasic states of mind)

    Yoga, in supporting release of all mental and emotional resistance to the flow of life, supports clearer, purer, more intelligent (both intellectually and emotionally intelligent) states of mind, states of mind that are naturally comfortable and balanced, and because they exist in harmony with life, are more adaptive and productive.

    Yoga enumerates three basic states of consciousness, waking, dreaming and deep sleep, which everyone experiences, and brings into being a fourth, transcendent, state of mind called turiya. This fourth state of mind is highly refined waking mind blended with pure consciousness or creative intelligence, a product of yoga practice.

    Waking state is where we actively participate in life with others and focus on growth and development. Sleep is where we release the stress and resistance that is a by-product of being engaged in the work of living. It’s where we are refreshed and restored, where the mind and heart are able to heal and reset. As the mind gets pure through practice, deep sleep is less “unconscious;” we are less dull in sleep, we feel more of a sense of pervasive wakefulness and contentment while sleeping deeply.

    Dreaming is a state somewhere between the two, where we experience, in a magnified way, either the stresses that we’re up against or gain inspiration as to how to reach for greater fulfillment— good and bad dreams. In each case, the good feelings give us inspiration as to a purer form of what we’re reaching for, while the bad dreams give us a clearer sense of the anxieties and upset that we’re struggling with. Dreams can be a window, a fresh perspective on the ways we’re focused during the day.

    The insights and inspiration we receive in deep sleep or in happy dreams can be a very useful support to our continuing growth in well-being.

    Dwelling on these inspired insights in waking state, whether in meditation or in daily life, is a way of further refining and clarifying mind and extending yoga practice towards samadhi.

    Thursday
    Dec072017

    Yoga Sutra Verse of the Week: YS 1.15: Explanation of Practice as a Combination of Engagement and Allowing

    YS 1.15 Through allowing, and it's entailment, the systematic release of attachment, one is freed from the sense of absolute lack or need for objective things that are seen or heard of. This demonstrates success in becoming established within the pure unbounded grace and freedom of the subjective self.

    Commentary:

    All things are connected. All things exist and develop in relation to all other things. There is nothing truly independent, truly unrelated. How close or involved one thing is with another is just a matter of degrees of separation. And attachment in this sense, the positive aspect of attachment — that things must work collaboratively with other things in order for life to move forward, is a necessary and good part of the nature of things.

     

    It's good that my hands are attached to my arms, or that our bodies are attached to the earth through gravity. This is not the kind of need or attachment Patanjali is referring to. Non-attachment can't be a false physical independence. To say that we don't need anything or we don't depend on anything is foolish at best. No matter how simply or minimumly we may live, we are still tremendously dependent on and completely interdependent with all that is.

     

    So what is this "attachment" that we are releasing by learning to favor allowing? We find that this attachment cannot be any kind of self-denial or restraint of need or appetite. Nor can it be a shunning of interest or desire for experience or comfort.

     

    A baby should seek and cling to her mother. A wave will cling to the shore. All things exist in an interdependent state, and this need is intrinsic to the flow of life itself.

     

    In the same way, desire is a necessary and good thing. Without desire, there would be no life at all. It is desire that gives rise to growth and expansion. So non-attachment cannot be an independence or a suppression of desire. It's also not some form of restraint, mind over matter, suppression of appetite, need or wanting.

    Granted, desire must be intelligent, guided by perspective and understanding. A baby's growth is rooted in desire, but it also must be supported by, guided by understanding the bigger picture grounded in a proper understanding of the effect the flow of time and the need for cooperation with the others and surroundings. We need to learn what ecology is, and how to channel desire for best results. But simple suppression of desire in an attempt at self-control doesn't work. Desire is the force of Nature itself, urging us forward to grow.

    Understanding of context and insight into interrelationships, learning how things work and how to do things well is a better choice.

     

    Systematic and continuous adopting and favoring of these two core values of Practice: *abhyasa*, or **engagement** and *vairagya* or **allowing** are central to *nirodha*, or nullification of resistance within the mindstream. “Allowing” means not colored by resistance --that we don’t object to or fight with the actual existence of something. We let things be and we engage with them in a collaborative and cooperative way. Allowing, or “being with” and engagement, or “willingness to work with something” are the methods by which the knot of suffering is loosened and untied, making way for the ease, freedom and joy of flowing as a blended, integrated being.

     

    Sunday
    Apr232017

    How to Understand Ashtanga (Eight-Limbed) Yoga

    According to Patanjali's Classical Yoga, Yoga has what are called eight limbs, eight parts -- in Sanskrit, "Ashtanga," (ash (eight) tanga (limbs)).

    And here's where it may start to get a little confusing for some people, because there is also a popular system of physical culture yoga called "Ashtanga Yoga." But Pattabhi Jois' Ashtanga Yoga, part of what's called the Mysore School, is not the same as the Ashtanga Yoga of Maharishi Patanjali, as described in the Yoga Sutras.

    Here we're talking about the Ashtanga Yoga of Maharishi Patanjali, described in his Yoga Sutras, composed almost two thousand years ago, also called Classical Yoga.

    For Patajali, the Eight limbs are not eight separate practices. They are aspects, dimensions, attributes of all Yoga practice, or of any particular Yoga practice. Patanjali seems mainly focused on what we call inner practice, meditation practice: the mental and emotional cultivation of total unresisted flow to foster a state of total freedom he calls "kaivalya."

    It is worth noting 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 relatively modern invention. It seems that originally, Yoga practice focused mainly on training the mind and heart to achieve this state of Yoga, 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 Limbs of 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; flow) 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 (insight; 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 eight limbed practice.

    Wednesday
    Jan112017

    New Workshop Jan 22, 1pm Firefly Yoga, Westwood, MA

    A Workshop on Patanjali's Eight Limb Yoga

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

    Sunday, Jan 22 1-4pm at Firefly Westwood, 311 Washington St, Westwood, MA

    Do you feel grounded in a good way? Comfortable & 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. It’s where we’re coming from in every situation: how steady, confident, comfortable & responsive we are facing our circumstances. Asana means being secure, aligned, ready, willing & able to face life. 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. It’s learning how to be even-tempered, open, loving & happy. In this workshop we’ll be moving beyond breathing exercises & learning to directly work with energy to balance our emotions so we’re calm, even-tempered, buoyant and confident

    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, it’s the Yoga of how to release fixed ideas & feelings in order to be free of negative or unhelpful mental habits. Pratyahara isn’t withdrawal or resistance. It’s perspective. It’s releasing fixations; letting go of old habits & self-stories. It’s being able to look at the same old things from fresh new points of view so you can see possibilities where once you only saw obstacles.

     

    Click here to sign up: http://www.fireflyyogastudios.com/workshops/

     

     

    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