Monthly Archives: May 2015

Can we now retire the phrase #namasteeverydamnday?

conch shell

Would it be too much to ask to retire phrases #namasteeverydamnday and #yogaeverdamnday? I have many reasons for this request, but what made this phraseology hit close to home is in my work as a mental health counselor.

One day I was counseling a client who had a recent suicide attempt. I asked her how often she struggles with depression and anxiety. Her reply: “I struggle with depression and anxiety every damn day.”

At that point I knew that she was speaking of a place of deep pain and suffering. At that moment she felt her existence was cursed with little hope. With therapy she eventually got better and now lives a more normalized life which she feels she does not view every single day as a curse.

When I see this hashtagged phrase on my newsfeed, it reminds me of that woman’s suffering. Those who post this hashtag don’t seem to be suffering. New trendy yoga blogs like DoYouYoga.com use this phrase liberally. People posting this are usually bikini clad and have an attitude like they don’t have a care in the world.

In my own practice, I am extremely grateful when I can carve out an hour or two of uninterrupted practice. I feel like every day is a blessing with yoga, not cursed. I know it sounds like I am overreacting. Some people I see blogging about yoga use foul language without missing a beat. Much like a truck driver.

Recently, I have been practicing with mantras by repeating the names of Narayana, and sacred hymns from the Vedas. I believe these are creating much positive change in my life. Coupled with my yoga practice, the effects have been quantamized. Again, it has given me the insight to know that every word said and written has latent power which like tiny drops of water an eventually take down a massive structure.

So my request is to be careful what you write and say. Soundforms become words, words become thoughts, thoughts become actions, repeated actions become Karma, wrong actions become Samskara.

Therefore: #namasteeveryblessedday

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Laurie Blakeney workshop: doing fewer Asanas with more in them

blakeney and guruji

I am still reviewing my notes from the last workshop I attended with senior teacher Laurie Blakeney which ended two weeks ago. One thing I appreciate about Iyengar yoga is that it does not try to re-invent the wheel with new poses, but takes what is available and makes it better.

There were many new ideas I was exposed to during the workshop, but the one thing that left the biggest impression is the fact that she could have a two hour class and only do a handful of poses.  Like 6 to 10. She would start class with a concept. The large concept was drawing the inner legs into the abdomen. She kept that theme during the whole five days of the workshop, but it never got redundant. Only deeper.

What really took the cake for me was one intermediate level class where we spent 45 minutes working on Jatara Parivartanasa (stomach churning pose). First with abdomen awareness, then with bent knees, then with straight knees, then with a “J” shape, then with the perineum aligned with the crown of the head and a dozen more points. By then end we really had a deeper understanding of this pose and did not feel short changed that we didn’t learn a dozen new Asanas.

jatara parivartanasana

One of my basic level students asked me if intermediate level classes were harder in her workshop. I answered that they were not as hard as her basic level classes, but they had more refinement and awareness that a basic level student may not appreciate as much as a seasoned student. Of course one also had to be able to do a 10 minute Salamaba Sirsasana with variations in the middle of the room as well!

I have noticed in my own practice and teaching since the workshop, I am more apt to repeat a pose a half dozen times instead of two or three like I normally do. Again I notice that each time something deeper and more magical happens.

Thank you Laurie for the wonderful workshop!

May you have a blessed week

Gayatri

As a mental health worker, I can attest that the transition between the weekend and the work week can be one of the most stressful points of the week for people. Mantras can a powerful tool to direct internal energies toward the devine and away from anxious feelings. Below is a link to the Gayatri Mantra. The Gayatri Mantra is considered to be one of the great boons given to humanity. It is a Vedic hymn from the Rg Veda. It is curious in that it is considered both about the object of devotion, and as an act of devotion itself. If that does not fit into your belief system you can at least enjoy the beautiful singing. This particular version offers deep explanation to each word while the mantra plays.

Oṃ bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥtát savitúr váreṇ(i)yaṃbhárgo devásya dhīmahidhíyo yó naḥ pracodáyāt

The gist of the mantra is that it is a request of the devine to provide us with guidance. Also it asks to enlighten our intellect to make proper decisions and provide spiritual wisdom. Enjoy and have a great week!

The Yamas and Niyamas of Śāṇḍilya Upanishad

upanishad

If you give any depth of study to Patanjali, you will find he is often quoted as a “codifier” of Yoga. He was a journalist of the highest order writing down all the practices at his time and also referencing practices of the past. He was quite diplomatic in the Yoga Sutra-s giving a nod to all the different practices. And he put all the practices in terse format, so it would be easier to memorize for generations through the millennia.

One of the references that Patanjali may have drawn from come from the Śāṇḍilya Upanishad, an Atharvavedaic text dating back between 1000-1500 BCE (Patanjali existed around the second century BCE). This is a short treatise that mentions eight limbs of Yoga. It begins with a teaching between Arthavan and Śāṇḍilya:

Śāṇḍilya: “Please tell me about the eight angas of Yoga which is the means of attaining Atman.”

Artharvan: “The eight Agnas are Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. Of these, Yama is of ten kinds and so is Niyama. There are eight Asanas. Pranayama is of three kinds. Pratyahara is of five kinds; so also is Dharana. Dhyana is of two kind and Samadhi is of one kind only.”

The ten Yamas of this Upanishad are:

Ahimsa (not causing pain of anyone both physically and mentally)

Satya (Truthfulness)

Asteya (Not coveting)

Bhramacharya (Celebacy)

Daya (Kindliness)

Arjava (equanimity of mind in actions)

Kshama (Patience)

Dhriti (Preserving firmness of mind in periods of gain or loss)

Mitahara (Taking of only oily or sweet food leaving one fourth of the stomach empty)

Saucha (Both internal and external cleanliness)

There are also ten Niyamas:

Tapas (Empanciation from the body through penance)

Santosha (Contentment)

Astika (Belief in merits or demerits of actions set forth in the Vedas)

Dana (Charity)

Isvarapujana (Worship of God with a pure heart)

Siddhanta-Srivara (Inquiry of the significance of Vedanta)

Hrih (Shame when straying from actions set forth in the Vedas)

Mati (Faith in the paths laid out in the Vedas)

Japa (practicing the Mantras)

Vrata (Regular observance of Vedic actions, and non observance of actions that are not in the Vedas).

The text then expounds on Asanas and Pranayamas. Perhaps that will be another blog post. The scholar/historian in me is fascinated by this text. I find it comforting and reaffirming that these practices have been around for thousand and thousands of years. The fact that we can still access this text in 2015 shows that it is true enough to stand the test of time.