Water World

Have you ever practiced the physical difference in the qualities of Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space?

Baron Baptiste talks about The Principles of True North Alignment in his Power Yoga practice. These principles are fundamental cues for speaking to our physical alignment, as well as – or in conjunction with – the alignment of our physical, mental and spiritual worlds.

I’ve always felt like quite a grounded individual. I move from my base, I make decisions with my gut and my sense of the spiritual has always been bedded down with a heavy cloak of reasoning and logic. Call me a typical Virgoan – if that’s your thing – but if I had any more earth in my being I’d probably start growing roots and plant myself. I love being close to the ground, this is when I feel the most free, my most authentic. Being a relatively short person most of my life, you’d think I’d be craving length and flight.

And you’d be right. I’ve discovered my body’s own true intelligence. And guess what: it already knows what is best for it.

Throughout this yoga teacher training I seem to have unlocked one of the big reasons why I thrive so much on the kinaesthetic experience of life. In yoga asana we talk about grounding down through our base in order to create space and freedom in our spine. In yogic meditation we speak to sitting in concentration, with focus in order to release our spirit from the burden of the mind. In a spiritual practice we might focus on finding support and stability in our life, to allow our hearts to open to the possibility of the divine.

sthira sukham asanam

– Sutra 2.46: The posture (asanam) for yoga meditation should be steady (sthira), stable, and motionless, as well as comfortable (sukham).

My default is sthira. I’m really good at that. So good, in fact, that I’m also exceptional at inaction. However, through this training I have realised that finding sukham and freedom within this is something my body, and my mind, craves. Possibly one of the biggest shifts in my physical practice has been in exploring a sense of fluidity, a water-like quality. I am now that student who appears like they can’t sit still in class. I’m often adjusting and moving in and out of the edge of my postures because it feels good. It also means that when I do find steadiness, stability and stillness, something lands much more authentically. I actually arrive in the posture, in the moment.

Water in it’s natural state always finds the path of least resistance. It’s not confrontational. It abides by it’s own natural laws, without question, without doubt. It just is. And yet, it is determined to go somewhere, to keep a constant forward motion, to arrive somewhere new. Even upon arriving, it immediately lets that go and keeps on in its relentless quest for something more, something beyond.

Consider this…

You are not that which gives rise to what the body can do. You are not the body, yet it has it’s own intelligence. What comes with this idea is the dread of death, illness and time-wasting. But this is not the case: you are that which is behind your body.

The body needs maintenance and a lot of attention. It gives you a location. But we do not start and end with it. It has its own destiny – it is our vehicle to ride to our own true destiny.

Many people believe that they are trapped in the torture of the ‘cage’ that they are housed in. But if you look at a child, this idea is absent. Children are fluid by nature. They don’t get in the way of themselves. However, what comes with this fluidity is their openness: they are highly impressionable. Tensions that arise in an adult may have been born out of hereditary conditioning. Consider that in later life, you will be moving just as your parents do in their later life. I was relieved to hear my own mother say to me a couple of days ago after struggling bravely through her very first yoga class, ‘You girls (my sister and I) are so much more supple than I ever was at your age’. But this does not mean that either of us escaped playing that mirror game of physical and mental tension with our parents.

Through yoga, we are attempting to lift the veils of maya so that we can see our true selves. While some view maya as meaning that nothing is real, and turn this into a cold-hearted intellectual practice, others view the illusion of maya as being shakti, the creative force of the universe – a divine mist in front of our eyes that obscures our vision of the truth. 

Sutra 1.12 These mental modifications are restrained by practice and non-attachment.

Sutra 1.13 Of these two, effort toward steadiness of mind is practice.

Sutra 1.15 The consciousness of self-mastery in one who is free from craving for objects seen or heard is non-attachment.

Sutra 1.3 The the Seer (self) abides in His/Her own nature.

As adults, therefore we need to come back to that child-like source of fluidity, and for some of us – certainly, me being one of them – yoga is that access point. The promise of yoga is freedom, is Being-ness, is our plug in to our natural state. It allows us to undo these tensions or habits – those that actually don’t even belong to us! – so that we live in our story, not one that we have adopted.  

This is your body, your mind, your life. Here and now.

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The Practice of Teaching

What is yoga teaching?

Are we really what or who we say we are?

Or can we simply allow things – ourselves – to arise and just see what comes up?

 

‘When you teach from your own practice it resonates more profoundly with your students.’ As a primary school teacher, this was a revelation for me as often you need to keep you as ‘Teacher’ and you as a ‘Human Being in The World’ quite separate. Clearly, it is all too easy to be blocked by my own ideas of what ‘teaching’ is or what it should be.

New teachers often have a natural ability to or affinity with trial and error. They don’t necessarily have the density of experience weighing on them. Of course, they have a gammett of other weights dragging them down – am I good enough? Do I know what I’m doing? Will people like me?

We have to let ourselves off he hook to be who we are as yoga teachers so that our students feel they have the space to do the same.

The habits of mind are extremely powerful. What we tend to practice is what our mind is focusing on at any given moment. When we use it as a focusing tool or energy source it can be a very powerful teaching tool. Often students don’t realize they have this access point, but as teachers we can see things that they can’t or may not realize that they are practicing. It saddened me to learn that more often than not people are practicing disgust for their bodies. Furthermore, the amount of information coming at us in today’s technological age is continually reminding us why we should continue to live in various states of fear.

However, if as teachers we can identify this in the moment, our language can ease them off of their self-punishment and direct them somewhere else. In this way, we can take students from distraction to direction. Distraction is our most common state of mind, but often this leaves us in a heightened state of anxiety or fear. The physical practice of yoga can be a great source of releasing students from these distractions.

Teachers are like tuning forks: we vibrate our energy out and others tune in. We make offers and our students are invited to try on these tools and ideas. But as teachers, we are always students. Teaching, in itself, is a practice. The contradiction of teaching is that we have to bring ourselves to the class but also get ourselves out of the way.

The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is yoga – Book 1, Sutra 2

What we practice on the mat as movements of our mind, this is what we take into our yoga teaching.

The books by the mystics say that what we are is LOVE.

Love is being the other.

Love is wanting for the other what they want for themselves.

Love arises when the division of connection is no longer present and we become an expression or extension of the other.

In practice: When we feel separate from our students we feel fearful, but when we are in it together this dissipates. When we want for them what we want for ourselves, then our self-concern for ‘doing a good job’ falls away. In other words, whatever the student’s get, I get too. Often we assume that the role of the teacher is one where they hold a position of ‘I know more than you and/or am better than you and you should listen to me and do things my way.’ Rather, the practice of yoga and of love is such that, as teachers we come to the practice with an attitude of ‘Here I am, sharing this experience with you.’ When we drop the limitations that we put on ourselves, we become more affective. What we are working towards in our personal practice and in our teaching is that the contrast of how we are before class is not so different to when we walk out. In this way we can live as an expression of our yoga, and our teaching.

An offering…

Set an Intention for Teaching Your students leave feeling better than when they arrived. They leave your class and they feel equipped, they feel recharged, they feel more inspired. They feel more capable and they go home feeling better about themselves and their lives. They may not know how or what made it happen but they do know that it happened and if they stay with it their lives will get better.

Iyengar and the Intelligent Identity

Patanjali’s Sutra 1.2 yogah cittavrtti nirodhah

Yoga is the cessation of movements in the consciousness.

The word citta has often been translated as ‘mind’. In the West, it is considered that mind not only has the power of conation or volition, cognition and motion, but also that of discrimination.

But citta really means ‘consciousness’. Indian philosophers analysed citta and divided it into three facets: mind (manas), intelligence (buddhi) and ego, or the sense of self (ahamkara). They divided the mental body into two parts: the mental sheath and the intellectual sheath. People have thus come to think of consciousness and mind as the same. In [Light on the Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali], consciousness refers both to the mental sheath (manomaua kosa) as mind, and to the intellectual sheath (vijnanamaya kosa) as wisdom. Mind acquires knowledge objectively, whereas intelligence learns through subjective experience, which becomes wisdom. As cosmic intelligence is the first principle of nature, so consciousness is the first principle of man.

– B. K. S. Iyengar Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 1993:47

Consciously noticing the ‘self’.

What do you notice when you first wake up? Try to notice your natural ‘self’ before the identity has had time to establish itself for the day.

As an alternative: try going to sleep with gratitude for the day you have just experienced. What do you notice about your patterns of thought? Your ‘self’?

According to yogic philosophy, the world outside is a construct that we must learn to work within. These constructs come in different forms but often reveal themselves through ideas such as cultural differences. However, they are all constructed by the human mind. From the moment we wake up, this mechanism we call ‘the mind’ creates an illusion that screams and shouts at us. However, through yoga and the eight meditational limbs*, we can reach beyond language and mind-made stuff. The only reason the illusion continues is because it feeds off our energy and we continue to feed it with our life source.

Our personal identity doesn’t form until around two years of age. This is when we first notice the conscious thought ‘I am me.’ A sense of separation occurs at the same time as a sense of oneness.

We humans have a deep sense of lack at the core of our ‘me’. This keeps us in a cyclical state where we the following opposing ‘wants’ arise:

I want separation I want oneness
I want safety I want to die
I want approval I want disapproval
I want control I want to be controlled

The mind is wonderful at solving problems. However it is also amazing at convincing us that we are a problem. This tendency is so strong that when there is no opposition, the mind creates one in order to have something to solve. It creates trouble so that it has something to fix. We are then left living the reality of what our mind has created meaning for or opposition to.

As a teacher, and as in all aspects of life, we must ask ourselves how and when these ‘wants’ arise in our own internal dialogue. As we become stuck in the meaning we have attached to them, the core of our ‘me’ conscious generates our emotions. In doing so, we create and recreate the story that ‘I’m not ok’, just in wanting something other, something more. The ‘me’ consciousness is based on nothing but a thought which builds momentum.

Human beings are arguably one of the most violent species on the planet. It makes sense, then, that in recent years practices such as yoga have surged in popularity across the Western world. Yoga is not just about the body but about releasing us from the tyranny of the human mind. Thankfully, these ancient traditions remind us that rather than being or having a problem but we are, in fact, inherently perfect.

I believe that life brought me to yoga – and to its teachings – which is why I choose to explore these ideas through that particular lens. Something about it speaks to me in a way that means I am willing to accept that it was inevitable that I would take this path. The unknown in that equation was simply the ‘when’. We tend to resist what life wants to have happen to us – that being, our own experience of ourselves. Yoga helps me to come back to the natural expression of who I am.

Deep, huh? But so what? ‘Where are you going with all of this?’ I hear you ask. Unless you tuned out after you read the title – not a good time, am I right?

But when is there ever a right time? If not now, when?

So, I ask you…

What is your attention on?

What is your mind (not you) focusing on?

What are you giving your energy to?

Try this: Observe the ‘ME’ going about itself.

  1. Think of a situation where fear was present and you experienced physical reactions
  2. Think of an argument you have had. How did you defend yourself and then justify it afterwards.
  3. Think of a situation where you were dominating or avoiding being dominated.
    • How does your ‘me’ show up?
    • Did it lead to more distance or more closeness?
    • What is the cost to you and your relationships at being right?

When I reflected upon these scenarios, time and time again, I noticed that the cost to my relationships was that they often – if not always – became more distant and more separated. Being ‘right’ is an addictive ‘want’ because often the ‘wrong’ person is diminished, which by being ‘right’ we are ultimately ‘wanting’ to avoid.

Practice Instant Forgiveness. This is possibly one of the most powerful tools I have learnt so far in my yoga teacher training. Feeling guilty about things is just punishment in advance for the belief that you will do the same again. You create the story whereby you recreate the same action again and again – simply because you assume you will. Because you assume you are broken, that you are ‘not ok’.

This does not need to be the case. Forgive yourself for who you are – at the time that the event or action occurs. Not five minutes later, not the next day or the next week. Let it go in the moment. Stop telling the old stories of your ‘self’ and start creating those that you wish to see.

 

Only you can create your own happiness.

Or in the words of Zorba the Greek:

Life is trouble. All you can do is take your belt off and go for it!

*Sutra 11.29 yama niyama asana pranayama pratyahara dharana dhyana samadhayah astau angani

Moral injunctions, fixed observances, posture, regulation of breath, internalization of the senses towards their source, concentration, meditation and absorption of consciousness in the self are the eight constituents of yoga.

This sutra sets out the eightfold path of yoga (astanga yoga). The first five aspects of yoga are individual efforts for the evolution of the consciousness, while the final three are the universal manifestation or the natural states of yoga.

– B. K. S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 1993:142

Dharma Dog’s Addiction

The grooves on the lid of the jar strain against the skin on my hand. Fucking – stupid – bloody – argh! – why do they make them so – fucking owwww! – give up – no! Fuck you I want some fucking peanut butter – fatty – what did you say? – someone will walk in any second now – why can’t I open – you really want them to see this? – FUCK!!!

A squeal from the other room. It pierces my ear and punches me in the stomach, ricocheting up my spine. I leap out of myself, over the toybox, army roll down the corridor and dive over the the bike parked ever so cleverly in the one of the most frequented pathways in the entire house. By the time I have made it through the gauntlet and into the living room doorway, the shrill has dissolve into an infectious giggle. It bounces around her body with boundless energy.

His tail kicks up such a desperate dance. It’s determined to snap off from his backside and fly off back to it’s maker, unaware that it’s already home. He has her tiny frame pinned to the floor with all four paws and a sloppy, wet tongue. He’s strategic – I’ll give him that: he’s got shoulders, hips and face covered – she’s not going anywhere. Not that this ever crosses her mind. She is exactly where she wants to be. Right here, right now, this is her bliss. Her truth. All of her short five years on the planet have come to this moment. And she is all light and love.

“Kitti, you ok there?”

It’s a stupid question, really. I feel sheepish as soon as it leaves my mouth. She, on the other hand, pays it no attention. It doesn’t even make a dint on her bliss bubble. It simply bounces off into the stratosphere, deleted from reality.

Their love is impenetrable. He can’t help but smother her with joy. It’s completely out of his control. She is helpless to it’s power. She can do nothing but surrender herself of it.

I smile and let out a long breath. I realise I am still holding the peanut butter jar. It’s no longer cutting grooves into my skin. Without shifting my gaze from the two friends on the floor, I gently twist open the lid, plunge my middle finger in and scoop out a generous dollop. I wrap my mouth around my peanut-buttered digit, relishing the salty goodness.

Who needs artificial distractions to entertain our minds when life itself shows us when – and how – to shift our focus? The illuminated life is so much more vibrant than we give it credit for. If we would only pay attention.

 

Dharana (focus) is holding one’s awareness in one place – Part 3, Sutra #3

This steady single focus propagating unceasingly is Dhyana – Part 3, Sutra #2

“As a man thinketh, so shall he be.”

It is better to live your own dharma unsuccessfully than to try to live someone else’s dharma. – Bhagavad Gita