Tag Archives: Ganesh

Not passing last year’s assessment helped my yoga practice grow stronger

2017 was probably one of he most difficult years I’ve had in a long time. I was coming off the heels of two significant family losses in 2016: my grandmother and father-in-law. It was also a year after my mom moved away to the mainland. Since my father-in-law passed, my wife and I share duties as caregiver for my mother-in-law who is in a wheelchair after a stroke in her 50s. This includes being woken up in the middle of the night several times to take her to the toilet. To cap off the difficult year, I didn’t pass the Junior Intermediate I assessment I had been preparing for in the four years preceding. I felt I let my teachers down, my family down, and my students down.

I thought in many ways 2018 would also be a difficult year. We started the year with a false alarm missile alert. We also had two major hurricane scares so far. Sleep depravation is a constant. Plus I am busy juggling a full time job with teaching yoga classes.

As I have stated before, there is a regression toward the mean. That means when things are really bad, they don’t stay really bad forever. Things started to take a turn for the better when my mom visited in July. She stayed with my wife and I which was unusual  because all these years we lived near each other, and when I was in college I would stay with her. My mom would go to the beach every day and invited me to go with her. She reminded me that going to the beach is a major coping skill that I haven’t utilized for years.

Throughout all the past years of stress, I have developed a mantra practice. Before I went for my assessment last year in LA, I did my own puja to Saraswati. She gives those who are trying to study boons to help them. When I didn’t pass, I was perplexed. I wanted to be upset, but I felt that Saraswati was trying to teach me something deeper than just passing a test. I feel she was trying to completely transform me to be ready for something bigger.

I also held puja for Ganesh and Hanuman. Ganesh clears the obstacles in one’s way. Hanuman has all the yogic powers and demonstrates how to use them for the good of humanity as he has done in the Ramayana. There is a passage in the Ramayana where Rama is distraught after his wife has been kidnapped. That is when Hanuman first appears to him and gives him hope. In the same way, these mantras have given me hope when I listen to them and recite them that good news is on the way.

There are so many times I wanted to quit. There was even one time I considered canceling my airline ticket. My wife would not allow me to do so. She has been one of my best supporters through this whole process, even though she is equally fatigued with caregiving if not moreso.

About a month before the assessment, she got good news that her brother was able to take care of her mother during the time of my trip. She was able to come with me! It had been a few years since we were able to travel together. The assessment journey turned into a wonderful week’s vacation. My wife and I finally got a chance to enjoy each other without caregiving duties. We had such a blast!

Since my trip, I do feel transformed. I feel very relieved to have passed this test. Even if I didn’t pass, I feel that the hardship I have been facing isn’t so much gone, but now more manageable. My mantra practice is not as intense as it was before my assessment, and I miss it (even though I still practice). I even have to admit I put more into my mantra practice than my asana practice. But now I see how much it made sense for me at this time. As the Ramayana has many twists and turns, Rama prevails in the end with the help of his wife, his family, and his spiritual faith. I feel that Saraswati now smiles at her handiwork.

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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!

 

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!