Tag Archives: Ganesh

Bhakti as a practice, or using yoga’s texts as a “prop” during down times

Since I got back from my assessment in November, I have to admit my personal asana practice has been on the decline. Holidays, family, my brother and his wife having a baby, caregiving, and work have all contributed, but ultimately it comes down to my lack of discipline and motivation. My mentoring teachers have been patient with me and are encouraging to “get me back on the horse” in preparing for my retake.

One thing that has been keeping me going is reading the texts. Some days I will study the sutra-s, other days I will read an Upanishad and reflect on its deepness. I have been reading the Ramayana and the Bhagavad Gita as well.  The sutra-s speak at length about practice and many methods to attain “yoga” with a capital Y.

I.23 Īśvara-praṇidhānād vā, Or [samadhi is attained] by devotion with total dedication to God [Isvara], is a sutra that always comes back to me. Iyengar, from my studies, puts a lot of emphasis on how the last three niyama-s: Tapas, Svadhyaya, and Ishvara Pranidhana correlate to Karma yoga, Jnana yoga, and Bhakti yoga respectively. From what I have been reading and have experienced it seems like Bhakti is the highest practice.

I don’t think there is a good word in English for Bhakti. It is commonly defined as “love and devotion,” but I don’t think those terms give it the right context. I feel there is a strange tugging a sincere practitioner experiences towards an Ishta Devata, and then giving that Devata one’s attention. Take Ganesh for example. One learns that he is the first Ishta Devata to honor and that he clears obstacles in your path. One starts to utter the mantra “Om Gam Ganapataye Namah” first causally. Then one notices one’s life start to change. Then the mantra is uttered more often and with more conviction. More good stuff happens. Then it becomes a daily ritual. When one is ready, more Istha Devata-s start to come into your life.

Hanuman brings joy. In the Ramayana, he appears to Rama when his wife was kidnapped by Ravana. Hanuman shows how devotion works by using all of his siddhi-s (powers) to help Rama first locate his wife, then battle to rescue her. He also appears to Sita when she is downcast and gives her hope. In dark times in one’s life, one can utter “Om Hum Hum Hanumate Phat”, or listen to the Hanuman Chalisa, and joy comes the practitioner the way that it was brought to Rama in his time of desperation, and Sita in her time of distress.

I am pulling myself up by the bootstraps. I am in less-than-optimal physical shape, but am moving more toward what I need to do to pass my upcoming assessment this fall. But in many ways I feel my practice is stronger than ever in terms of Bhakti. I am coming to realize that Bhakti transcends the body and mind and keeps one pointed in the direction of yoga. I will keep you all updated.

Many blessings!

 

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Sequence as Mantra

It may not be necessary for all yoga practitioners to have a mantra practice. However, I do feel if you are earnest in your practice, you tend to develop one anyway as a consequence. Most Iyengar practitioners have had some exposure to the invocation of Patanjali, which is normally chanted before class. After Iyengar’s passing in 2014, some may have even heard the Guru Mantra which has been added to the end of the Patanjali Invocation.

Iyengar said a curious thing in one of his many writings to the effect that doing asana is like doing japa, or a practice of repeated sound forms or mantra-s. As I am heavily subbing for my teachers this month who are in China doing a teacher training, I have been writing out as many as three times as many sequences to prepare for classes.

Writing a sequence is much like writing an essay, or music composition. It is best to start with a theme. I have been taught to stay within a “clan” of poses or poses of a similar action. For example, standing poses or back bends or abdominal poses. There is a definite beginning, middle, and end to each good sequence. There is also a “sirsasana” and “sarvangasna” in each Iyengar sequence, even though you may do something in lieu of those poses. Typically, dwi pada viparita dandasana is substituted for sirsasana, and setu bandh is substituted for sarvangasana.  I have been studying long enough to see that all rules can be broken, but it is best to stay within logical limits unless there is a deliberate effect you are trying to achieve through the sequence.

ganesa-sculture

As I utter my daily mantra-s I notice too that they have a logical beginning, middle, and end. Take the Ganesh mantra of Om Gam Ganapataye Namah. Most of the times mantra-s begin with the Pranava or OM. Then there is a seed syllable like “Gam.” Then there is a name of the diety Ganapataye.” Then the ending “Namah” which means this is not my “self”  or not my “ego.”

It is said if you utter a mantra enough times, you develop the siddhi of that mantra, or obtain the power that it beholds. Not an easy task. Some mantra-s are said to have be uttered thousands of times before this takes place.

However, if you do a sequence only a few times, you immediately understand its benefits and its limitations. In essence, the “siddhi” of the sequence is revealed to you much sooner than in the mantra practice.

As pictured above, I write my sequences in spiral notebooks and file them away once the book is completed. I have dozens of these filed away through my years of teaching. I like to look in the old ones to see where my practice and teaching have developed, or more importantly how they have stagnated.

Many blessings!