Tag Archives: yoga

Guru Poornima notes, or why I went from an asana-based practice to a mantra-based practice

Hi all, today’s full moon hails in Guru Poornima, or the annual event where one’s guru is observed and honored. Although I don’t teach asana anymore, I still honor what I have learned from the Iyengar family, whom I consider my guru. When I was learning to be a teacher, I heard of the time when Prashantji was in a terrible accident. During his convalescence. it was said that the Iyengar family chanted mantras to assist him in his recovery. It is said that prior to that, the invocation to Patanjali was not chanted at all during classes they taught. Not only did Prashant survive, he later became one of the world’s most influential teachers not so much on how he taught asanas, but how he used asana as a means to gain adhyatmik knowledge combining body, mind, and breath. Now the Invocation to Patanjali and Guru Mantra are included in Iyengar classes.

I chanted the Guru Mantra today. Shortly afterwards, a friend who reads my blog reached out to me. I gave him a call and we had a nice conversation about yoga, life and writing. It reminded me that mantras produce daily miracles, much like prayer. In fact Prashantji calls mantras prayers. They are one in the same.

There was a time in my life when I really needed and benefitted from asana. I probably still need them as much, but have not been as focused on them as my nightly mantra practice. I feel they have given me blessings and the fortitude to withstand a lot of pain over the past few years.

If you have read my blog the past few years, I would like to impart that yoga can take you on journey that is only yours alone. You can use techniques from teachers to learn certain skills, but only you can walk your path. Use what you learn in any form of yoga you practice to gain insight to take the next step whatever that will be. For me, this is the path of yoga.

Many blessings during this auspicious day!

Unlike Asana, Mantra is not a step-by-step instructional process

Hi all, just letting you know I am still doing yoga, but mainly with a mantra practice. I would say once I started exploring this practice, it grabbed me and directed me. Reflecting if I could “teach” this to someone, I would say it would be next to impossible. Everyone has a different constitution and that constitution is guided by the practice. Your practice could never be replicated by someone else with the same results.

Mantras give the practitioner a very deep inquiry guided by devatas. Repetition gives them fuel, or a battery charge if you will. Once the power is a certain capacity, things change dramatically. Once you have “been charged” with one mantra, others will find their way to you depending on what you need.

The one result of regular mantra practice is that it accelerates the burning of karma. This can be a painful process. You may lose things that you think you need, but don’t. Relationships may go into upheaval and even end. That is because you are changing.

You never notice the bad habits that get lopped off. You just lose the desire to do them. They are replaced by a feeling of santosha, or contentment. Santosha will radiate through the practitioner who becomes unbothered by worldly things, but maintains them more easily some how.

You become sensitive to the universe. It is painful for a while. Planet placements effect your core being. Then you notice how mantra practice somehow protects you from malefic astrology. You become immune to emotional hardship, and simply radiate contentment.

At least that has been my experience, and as I have read others, it seems to be a somewhat universal experience. Things may change, and I will update you. But for now I have found contentment and power.

I am posting a picture of my amaryllis that blooms once a year. This flower is a good metaphor. I water it regularly and take care of it with faith, and then it rewards me with its annual flowers. When one “waters” their practice with mantra, you too will bloom in a short while. Have faith.

Mantras are adaptable to your life

A good mantra practice requires meditation. First you need to be aware of what you need in life. It is easy to say “money” and then do Lakshmi mantras solely. Given the number of hits on Lakshmi mantras found on Youtube compared to others, this is common for a lot of people. But many who are reading this already have their basic needs taken care of for now and probably need something different.

Always start with a mantra for Ganesh. Om Gam Ganapataye Namah is a good mantra to start even if uttered a few times. After repeating this a few times, really try to “see” what you need in this life. Chances are it’s not money. During the past year, I have focused on mantras for protection from COVID. Like Narasimha and Durga mantras.

Do you need better health? Try the Mahamrityunjaya mantra which is a Siva-based mantra. Do you need help at developing a skill? Try a Saraswati mantra. Do you need courage and strength: Try Hanuman mantras.

I have noticed that my life has “themes” to it and I try to be mindful of what those are and do mantras accordingly.

Please take care not to do mantras during Rahu Kalam, a time span of about an hour and a half each day which is “Rahu” time. To find what time of day that is in your time zone, I’ve found this website helpful.

However, if you want to do Rahu mantras during that time, you will receive benefits.

May you have a blessed practice.

Revisiting Mantra as a practice

About four years ago, I wrote a post on how to start a personal mantra practice. I noticed the date of the blog post, and it was right before a lot of things radically changed in my life: my mother and stepfather moved away, America got very strange with Trumpism, my father-in-law just passed away a few months prior. I wrote about how the pranava, or AUM (OM) can “dissolve” one completely, unless tempered with the assistance another deity. In many ways, after I started my mantra practice, my reality “dissolved” right before my very eyes.

Four years on, my practice has changed quite radically. I am not apt to do asana as much if at all. Almost as if that part of my practice has “dissolved.” The one constant is that I have a mantra practice. Every night I listen and chant silently. The practice has not only helped me cope with the Trump years, and has increased my sense of resiliency. Mantra feels like it is beyond prayers. When one prays, one is apt to ask for personal favors from the divine. Mantras align you with the vibration of the divine, and allow you to realize all you need is within, and you have far more than you can ever realize in this lifetime.

Mantras fall into the most of yoga’s categories, like Bhakti yoga (the yoga of devotion), Nada yoga (the yoga of sound), and Laya yoga (the yoga of absorption). On a broader level, it could be Karma yoga (yoga of action) and even Hatha yoga (as it can work with chakra sound forms). A few years ago when I started, I simply used “LAM” which activates the Muladhara (root chakra).

I am not trying to proselytize here, as everyone is different and will have different results from this practice. I am simply stating that mantras feel like they are working for me at this point in my practice. They are transcendent of all the physical aside from the ability to listen and speak.

Gandhi once said: “One must be completely absorbed in whatever mantra one selects. The mantra becomes one’s staff of life and carries one through every ordeal.” It was a mantra that gave him peace and inner power to face adversity and the greatest of challenges with equanimity.

I cannot tell you how many times in the past four years how many times I’ve faced my personal fears and was at my lowest emotional points, how much mantras have given me strength to face them and emerge victoriously.

If you want to start your own practice, I would recommend just setting time aside to listen to the Ganesh Mantra: Om Gam Ganapataye Namah. Here is a nice version of this chant. Ganesh, always comes first, as he is the breaker of obstacles. Even if one just uses this mantra, it is sufficient. I feel after a long practice with this mantra, others will reveal themselves to you as needed.

Many blessings on your practice.

Hope is on the way

Hi all! We are well into the throes of 2021 with some good things in the air. It doesn’t take much to remember what we were all doing a year ago about this time. We were probably at our job, maybe in an office, maybe in a studio, going to restaurants and public places without a second thought. Maybe we heard some rumblings at this time about the Corona Virus in Italy, but it wasn’t in our collective psyche.

Today is different. If we still have our job, we are either doing it from home or have to put on some PPE just to get through the day. Now most of us know someone who has had COVID, and sadly many know someone who has died from it.

The disinformation campaign continues on FB feeds. We all seem to have a family member or old high school buddy pushing conspiracy theories about the vaccine and downplaying the effects of the virus. As Anthony Fauci said, “we don’t know everything about this virus.” In a recent training, I learned that COVID’s attack on the olfactory nerve may lead to neurlogical complications. But again as Fauci said, we don’t know everything about the virus.

Luckily, the vaccine is being rolled out. My mother-in-law was one of the first wave of people in Hawai’i to get one. Since she has received the Pfizer version of the vaccine, she said she has no side effects. Her arm was sore after the first day, but that’s it. She due for her second shot next month.

When you hear disinformation about the virus, it is best not amplify it. If you disagree with someone, do so on a private chat or text. That way people reading the thread in your conversation aren’t fed untruths which are propagated by those who spread the disinformation.

On a somewhat sad note, I have decided to allow my IYNAUS certification to lapse as I don’t anticipate teaching this year. This is partly due to the reality of safety and partly due to my ongoing challenges as a caregiver and full time employee. I am still practicing, but am taking time for myself to get through this horrible period.

May you all be safe.

2021 can’t get here fast enough

I know it is just December, but what a crazy year it’s been! I thought I would be the first to usher in the first of the “out with old, in with the new” of 2020 blog posts. As we have a month left in this somewhat universally dreadful year, I would like to reflect on a meditation that has helped me in the past few years to cope with the last few years. It comes from Robert Adams, who was said to have studied with Ramana Maharshi:

Look at the second you are in. Is there something annoying you in that second? There is no time to be affected by this because you are living in the second. There is absolutely nothing happening in that second. Take that second and expand it. Now expand it to infinity.

It’s easy for me to share, but I wish I had followed this advice as I have admitted that I let the stress of this year get the better of me at times. I am grateful for my wife, family and friends who have helped me get through it. I am also grateful that I still have my health and practice, however much they have changed.

Shopping for doomsday: Coronavirus edition

Hope all of you are well. As these are trying times, it is best to use what we learned in yoga class to get though this hullabaloo. Remember those times in class, after a strenuous asana, you felt a sense of relief. Try to recapture that moment as much as you can during this time if at least in your mind.

Do your part to “flatten the curve.” If you are not familiar with that term, it refers to the statistical curve of people who are infected and need medical help due to COVID-19. If we can delay or prolong its onset, we will not overwhelm our medical facilities to the extent we have seen in Italy. Here is a very well illustrated explanation my wife found for me. Good advice is to act as if you already have the virus (even though you don’t) and are trying to minimize transmission. Also rely on legitimate sources for news about this virus. Some good sources are:

Centers for Desease Control https://www.cdc.gov

World Health Organization https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

Canada Public Health Service https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection.html

That being said, it is probably not a good idea to go to group yoga classes until the curve flattens. These are extremely trying times for Iyengar studios throughout the world, as student attendance is a major source of income. Try to see if your studio is offering online classes and support them. My mentoring teachers are putting together some videos if you want to practice along with them. There are also plenty of resources on my blog for home practice.

Looking at the larger picture, one of the aims of yoga is for us to stop our mind stuff from overtaking us. As we see widespread panic and people hoarding at the grocery store, we have to ask ourselves if this is really necessary. Get what you need for you and your family and minimize your risks of spreading this virus. Stay safe and blessings to you all.

The Lazy Person’s Guide to Enlightenment

When I first got into yoga about twenty years ago, I collected a whole library of spiritual-related books. Through the years and moves, my library thinned. One book that has stuck with me and I have refused to give away is called The Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment by Thaddeus Golas. Not much of a book really, but more a thin 30 page pamphlet not much longer than Ramana Maharshi’s “I am That.” It was evidently handed out on the streets of San Francisco in 1971 until it was published. It is a backhanded guide to Bhakti Yoga if you will.

The basis is simple: the universe is made out of one type of “stuff” and that “stuff” expands or contracts based on how much we love or withdraw from love. Feeling bad? Just put your love into something. Feeling spaced out and “pourous”? Maybe you are putting too much love into something that is already saturated with love. As I am getting older and more cynical, these types of easy peasey ideas actually break me out of my funk.

The book steers clear of some type of diety or God, but just the act of expanding or contracting your love. If you are of a certain faith, you can apply this to that which you worship. This also works well with relationships, pets and plants. Experiment on your pet. Give your pet as much love as you can in the next five minutes and you will see that this theory holds water. Then try it on humans.

When you practice yoga, you are giving yourself an intense dose of love. Just don’t overdo it or are pushed into getting into some type of Instagram challenge pose.

It seems the world is in a big funk now: political corruption, coronaviruses, homelessness, global warming etc etc. Maybe it is time to start thinking differently. Love is a great tool to change the world and certainly yourself.

 

 

Invocation to Patanjali for beginning students?

In this morning’s class, one student brought printed out words to the Invocation to Patanjali she found on the internet because she wanted to learn the chant.  She distributed copies for all the students. Unfortunately, she ended just printing out the first few lines and cut off a word. We already have printed versions of the whole chant at the studio in laminated cards, but I don’t pass them out. I simply chant when the clock hits seven am.

She asked why don’t I pass out the words? That is a question I ask myself often, but here is what the “words” look like:

patanjali-invocation.gif

They are a bit intimidating for the beginner. Especially at 7 am. In my best voice I chant the words. It is call and response. This is how I always start the class.

Yoga is an oral tradition. This is how it has been taught from a long time ago. People didn’t learn with laminated cards with phonetic spellings. They learned from simple call and response.

There is much more to it than that. The invocation is a skillfully concealed pranayama. You don’t read a pranayama. You breathe it. It is the use of sound to unify the class from the beginning. It gets us on the same “page.”

It is a metaphysical chant. The sound forms purify the nadi-s and spin the wheels of the chakras. The chant generates a field around the student to allow absorption of the teachings.

So perhaps next class I will pass out the laminated copies to compare the experience. You never know, they might just “learn” the chant that way…

 

On a happy note, today marks Iyengar Home Practice’s sixth anniversary. Hopefully there will be many more.

Sometimes Savasana is all you need

I taught a nice class this morning. Five of my regular students showed and it is “standing pose week.” We went through some standard standing postures: adhomukha svanasana, utthita trikonasana/parsvakonasana, vira II, ardha chandrasasna, and prasarita padottanasana. We went through some not so standard variations of utthita hasta padangusthasana with a chair and rope wall. I even threw in a rare salamba sarvangasana for a basic level class using the wall in lieu of chair and omitting halasana.

Standing poses demand a certain rigor that the other poses do not. Because you are on your feet most of the time you can push a bit harder. As we are transitioning to the damp rainy season in Hawai’i, the standing poses offset stiff joints that accompany wetter weather.

After the last active pose, I settled the class into savansana. Out of the corner of my eye I saw one of my students peer in the door. She had thought it was Friday and came for the class taught at that time. She seemed disoriented. In my hush voice, I had her come in and at least do the savasana with the class. After all, she commuted to class from wherever she lives and made the effort to suit up. She reluctantly agreed.

I gave her a nice savasana set up I learned from my mentor Ray many years ago. A “mini” setu-bandha setup with two blankets set long to go under the spine so there is a subtle chest opening more than you’d just get lying on the floor.

I always to a 10 minute savasana no matter what. Most people don’t take that much time in their lives just to commit to doing nothing. I feel it is important with our stressed out society.

After class that student came up to me and said that she had been on the East Coast (six hour time difference than Hawai’i) and was so jet lagged, she thought it was Friday. She said she was stressed because she was preparing for a conference call. The relief on her face was markedly different from when I saw her stressfully peering into class just 10 minutes before. Everything was okay for her now and she could enjoy her day she was “given” by realizing it was Thursday.

Sometimes savasana is all you need….