Tag Archives: mantra

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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Starting a personal mantra practice

IV.1 janmauṣadhi-mantra-tapaḥ-samādhi-jāḥ siddhayaḥ

“The mystic powers arise due to birth, herbs, mantras, the performance of austerity, and samādhi.”  Edwin F. Bryant translation from “The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali.”

After my last post, I have had overwhelming requests about instructions on how to start with a mantra practice. As a disclaimer, I am indeed a novice in this area and am still figuring it out on my own, but in my toils I would like to share some insights I have gathered about this practice.

Mantra-s fall under the Laya Yoga spectrum of all the yoga-s (Hatha, Raja, Kundalini, Bhakti, Jnana, etc.) Laya yoga is the yoga of absorption. Much like the big bang theory, it is said the universe began with the pranava, or “AUM” and will dissolve in “AUM.”

Traditionally, mantra-s are given from guru to shishya (teacher to student) in what is called diksha (initiation) and are kept in secret otherwise the potency of the mantra will vanish. As we live in an age where this tradition is vanishing, the guru-less aspirant has to find their own way.

That aside, there are many different types of mantras one can chant without diksha and still receive benefits. For those practicing Hathayoga, the bija mantras of the chakras can be uttered. This is how I started my mantra practice. Each chakra corresponds to an element, and each element has a mantra.

Just as one does not start to build a house with the roof or windows, all are useless without a solid foundation. Therefore, it is highly advisable to start with the Earth element. The Earth element is the mantra LAM pronounced LUM. That corresponds with the Muladhara Chakra known as the “root” chakra.

Before moving onto anything else, I would focus on that mantra. I did this mantra for about 4 months every morning for 108 times. Repeating the same mantra is called japa. This was at a time when I was in a stressful low paying job. It seemed that since I had began the practice, I received a sense of stability and eventually a higher paying job in an established company. Perhaps it is just a coincidence, but it has led me into having faith in this practice. As a rule of thumb, one should never expect rewards for mantras as that is not the point. Just like when a child prays to God to get a toy, the likelihood of the child getting the toy will be low (and the best answer to that prayer is denying the toy, lest the child will get spoiled).

The second type of mantra is nama sadhana, or the names of God practice. For me these hold the most power. They require that one be a bhakta, or one who’s yoga is based of faith and devotion. Traditionally, all nama sadhana should begin with a mantra to Ganesh. There is so much lore behind these mantra-s, that I would take a whole encyclopedia to explain. You can research on your own why Ganesh should come first. His mantra is “AUM GAM GANAPATAYE NAMAH.”

Once you utter the Ganesh mantra, then you can utter others. BKS Iyengar, in Light On Pranayama offers the eight syllabled mantra “AUM NAMO NARAYANAYA,” the five syllabled “AUM NAMAH SIVAYA,” the 12 syllable “AUM NAMO BHAGAVATE VASUDEVAYA,” or the 24 syllable Gayatri Mantra which I have blogged about in the past.

There are “masculine” mantras which usually correspond to Ganesh, Vishnu, Hanuman, and Siva (there are many many others), and there are “female” mantras which usually correspond to Durga, Saraswati, and Lakshmi (and many many others). It is said in most of the literature that the female mantras contain “shakti” which has tremendous power. Please use care when using these mantras.

On a final note, it is advisable not to utter “AUM” solely without using the multisyllabled mantras stated above. As said in the beginning, the universe began with “AUM” and will be dissolved in “AUM” and may just dissolve you with it.

Linked here is a tutorial on how to use a mala to count your mantra-s. Hope this is helpful and many blessings!

 

 

Tapasya

I’ve been a busy soul of late. My teachers are conducting a teacher training in Beijing and I have been subbing most of their classes. My normal schedule of teaching three classes per week has now mushroomed to eight. That wouldn’t be much if all I did was teach yoga. But in between teaching I have a full time job and caregiving duties.

On my sub days, I teach a 7 am class, go to appointments and hospitals all day, then return to the studio for a 5:15 pm and 6:45 pm class. I don’t get out until 9:00 pm.

As yoga teachers, we are sometimes called to summon great strength and fortitude. To cheerfully face a class of students after a full day of work is difficult. It is not something that is taught in teacher training. It is something that must be cultivated through practice.

I’m finding the hardest part isn’t so much teaching the classes, it’s maintaining my performance at my full time job which requires me to provide mental health services for needy people in the community.

One of my clients is homeless and stays in a bathroom for shelter. I met this client to fill out forms to get help from community resources. As I was leaving the appointment, the client asked me “do you have anything to eat?” I told the client to wait and scrambled to the nearest convenience store and bought a few Spam musubi-s (think sushi, except with Spam) which is a ubiquitous staple of Hawai’i. The client appeared grateful when I returned with the food.  I am finding that these moments give me the strength to carry on this crazy schedule.

Another interesting part of my practice now is I am using mantra-s to help give me energy, offer me protection, and give thanks for my blessings. As I am driving from appointment to appointment and class to class, I recite specific mantra-s. If I know I will be in a potentially dangerous situation, like an inpatient psychiatric hospital setting, I will recite a Durga mantra. For my long drives to the office, I will recite a Ganesh mantra or a Vishnu mantra. If I am feeling tired, I will chant a Hanuman mantra. All give me a special feeling depending what I need. And of course to express my devotion to the divine who has allowed this all to be possible.

Working through my grief

I have to say its very difficult to go through the grieving process fresh after a tragic event. There are five stages of grief according to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. As a licensed mental health counselor,  I have guided many of my clients through these steps and saw them go on to healing. For some strange reason, I feel like I am leapfrogging back and forth between the “anger” and  “depression” stages.

I have to admit I’m a bit pissed off at my father-in-law. Not because of all of his aforementioned shenanigans, but because I allowed him to matter so much to me. I actually allowed myself to become attached to his constant neediness. As much as I hated having to take him to the ER in the hospital way across the island every week for the past few months (he refused to go the hospital up the block because of a legal skirmish many years ago), I actually enjoyed some of my quiet moments sitting with him by his bedside. During his past few hospital admits, I took some strange comfort in sitting on the floor and playing bija mantras directed at healing him from my laptop, or saying the Gayatri Mantra and Ganapathy japas to remove his karmic barriers. I know Luke had some heavy karma from his war days. In my power I worked to rid him of it in the best of my limited ability.

The past few days I haven’t even gotten off the couch. I prefer to just sit with my family. Sometimes my wife will spontaneously cry. Sometimes my mother in law will say “I can’t believe it.” Occasionally there will be a phone call or Facebook message from a loved one. As I said before, Luke didn’t have many friends. In some ways I am grateful for that. I can barely be strong enough for my own family now. My mother and stepfather thankfully brought us a home cooked meal last night after we have been living on take out pizza and Chinese food since Sunday.

My mentoring teacher Ray Madigan was good enough to take over my classes for today and possibly Thursday. Ray has many qualities of my father-in-law. He is a no-nonsense tough as nails Aussie who also happened to be a labor and delivery nurse (I see a weird comical cosmic pattern here). He texted me this morning:

Just finished teaching your class. 8 students and a good group. Easy to teach them because they are well trained!

I’m not sure why, but I started sobbing after this text. They were tears of joy. Ray is a tough teacher and does not dispense compliments so readily. He also doesn’t sub, so I take it as a great honor he was able to take care of my students. In Ray’s toughness, he is also infinitely kind in his own unique way that would appear invisible to others who were not initiated. Very much like my father-in-law.

Tomorrow, we have the grim task of deciding what we are going to do with Luke’s remains.  Many miles away from the “acceptance” stage at this point…

Finding inspiration and a sense of renewal from the Sloka of Infinitude

There are many resources within Yoga’s literary/oral tradition that help one cope with the maladies of life. Sometimes things can get overwhelming when we try to balance our personal lives with jobs, family, and our Yoga practice. Just like an elixir from the heavens, this mantra is effective for understanding our place in the Universe.

OM PURNAMADAH PURNAMIDAM
PURNAAT PURNAMUDACHYATE
PURNASYA PURNAMAADAAYA
PURNAMEVAAVASHISHYATE
OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTIH

This is the opening verse from Isha Upanishad. It is a deep deep concept. There are many translations of this verse, but the one that resonates with me is:

Om.
That is infinite, this is infinite;
From That infinite this infinite comes.
From That infinite, this infinite removed or added;
Infinite remains infinite.
Om. Peace! Peace! Peace!

It almost sounds like a mathematical theorem. Lately in Savasana in my personal practice, I have been repeating this to myself. Much like the self inquiry of the Ramana Maharsi lineage, the more I repeat and contemplate this sloka, the more my sense of self seems to dissolve and is replaced by an ocean of light and hope which I perceive as the “infinity.”

We don’t need to look for resources outside the practice of Yoga to find direction in our practice. We don’t need to find any new books written about the latest Yoga trend. We also don’t need to “reinvent or rebrand” Yoga. It is here for us already in abundance. It has been around for many millennia, perfected throughout the course of humanity for us to pick like ripe fruits from a tree. It is all written and easy to access in this modern age.

May you have a blessed week!

The pranic body revisited

Alex_Grey-Psychic_Energy_Sy

Artwork by Alex Grey

 

B.K.S. Iyengar was a genius. At the time he reinvigorated Yoga as a legitimate system, he eschewed talk of chakras, nadis, vayus, and other aspects of esoteric Yoga anatomy. Iyengar saved Yoga from becoming an antiquated esoteric practice by putting it into contemporary terms using the physical body as a starting point.

That is not to say that his system stopped using terms referring to esoteric anatomy, it is just not used for students who cannot comprehend them. What Iyengar did was to instruct movements of the physical body to facilitate movement in the esoteric body. For example, instead of calling it a “jalandhara bandha” to the raw beginner, Iyengar instructors teach the student to move the sternum toward the chin to get the “action” of Jalandara Bandha. Instead of basing instructions from the different vayus, instructors teach movement from tangible body parts to create an effect in those areas.

jalandara bandha

I learned a very important lesson recently: because of the gross movements in asana, the subtle body is also receiving the benefit. Let me try to explain from my limited perspective.

First we turn to artwork to see the subtle body. I am a big fan of Alex Grey’s artwork. In his artwork, he successfully fuses the physical anatomy with the esoteric anatomy described in yogic texts. In his Sacred Mirrors series, the viewer quickly understands that there is a physical body and a subtle, energetic body.

sacred mirrors

Artwork by Alex Grey

 

Recently in my practice I have been reflecting on the Earth Element as I am looking for more stability in my life. While in my poses, I recite the sound form “LAM” which corresponds to the Muladhara Chakra which corresponds to the Earth Element. When I breathe out the sound form, I notice a distinct awareness in the areas of the pose that make up the base.  Furthermore, I have noticed after my practices lately, I feel more “grounded.”

muladhara chakra

Muladhara Chakra

 

Is this hocus pocus? Some may think so. But practicing Yoga for me lately has been more of a laboratory, where I am integrating concepts from my readings into my practice. My experiences are perhaps too subtle to describe in this blog post. Although I am not in an authoritative position to describe my experiences accurately, I do notice a difference in my Asana practice when I do the sound forms versus not doing them.

I don’t always practice with the sound forms. Most times I just do the bread and butter practice to address my physical issues that come from driving in Honolulu traffic all day. Sometimes I just go to classes to learn more about Asana (which I have much much more to learn). I may even be overstepping my bounds by practicing with esoteric concepts. But after 16 years of practice, I am always seeking methods to move toward evolution. The practice of Yoga is so deep, I have not even scratched the surface.

LAM