Tag Archives: yoga

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….

Catching up with Navratri

Autumn is young, and that means we are smack in the middle of a wonderful semi-annual Indian tradition called Navratri (nine nights). In late September or early October, manifestations of Durga in celebrated each of the nine nights. As India Standard Time about a day and half different that where I am, I have to guesstimate which “night” is the correct one for each Durga manifestation.

This year Navratri started on September 29th. The first night celebrates Durga manifestation Shailputri who symbolizes the Hamalayas (the rock name “shale” comes from the this). Next is Brahmacharini, celebrated for doing strict tapas, then Chandraghanta who brings peace. The next night is Kushmanda who brings health and wealth. The fifth night is for Skandamata who is the mother of Skanda. One who does puja for her also gets blessings and boons from her son as well. The sixth night is Katyayani who killed the demon Mahishasur and is the first of the “warrior” Durgas. Next is the fierce Kaalratri who wields a bloody sickle. She is also known as Kali Maa and is not to be trifled with. On the eighth night is Mahagauri who had performed austere penance and was covered in soot. After Shiva washed her being pleased with her practice she was a stark white color. On the ninth and last night there is Siddhidatri who is the giver of boons for those who showed devotion during this nine night time period. The very last night is called Dusshera which celebrates Durga’s victory over evil.

My wife and I like to listen to the different mantras of each Durga during the different nights. We may be getting boons as things have been going much more positively for our family lately and our health has improved.

There are much deeper stories of all of these Durga manifestations. StoRyvival, a youtube channel, has wonderful commentary on each of these manifestations of Durga and other Indian traditions. There are also lots of navratri mantras available on youtube as well. Navaratri is twice a year and the other one is during the springtime.

May you get blessings during this time of year!

Jim needs your help

Jim Dillman, long time Iyengar yoga teacher and Vietnam vet, is battling cancer. His friends have set up a Go Fund Me page to assist with his medical bills. In my early days of Iyengar yoga, Jim encouraged me to become a teacher. He has been an inspiration for me because he is a living testament to how yoga can profoundly heal someone and transform them into a force for good. If you have known Jim, or want to help out a wonderful soul, please send him well wishes.

A season of reflection

Hi all! I know it’s been a while. A good friend of mine sent me an email encouraging me to start blogging again. A lot has happened since I last posted both personally and in the US Iyengar community. I felt I needed to sit back and see how things unfolded before jumping into the fray again.

It’s been about a year since I passed my Intermediate Junior I certification. Almost instantly after passing, I was able to relax and just teach the way I wanted to instead worrying about the syllabus. Despite my certification, I prefer to teach basic and raw beginner students. I think I have learned so many modifications trying to get into the Junior I poses, I have applied many of those principles to the simpler poses with nice results.

One thing I have never felt too comfortable with is physically adjusting students. Perhaps it is because of my background in psychology and counseling that I realize people have a lot trauma. Being in an asana can be vulnerable, and to be unexpectedly handled can be like ripping the band aid off an emotional wound.

When I got the notifications that a senior member of our community was ousted for inappropriate adjustments, I felt a jolt. It made me question a lot of things about how we are taught to adjust students in this method. Touching someone is a powerful thing, and can be easily misconstrued. Perhaps that is why I prefer the more basic classes is that many of the asanas don’t require a lot of adjustment if the verbal direction is clear. Long story short, I felt very sad by the news as it put a black mark on this style of teaching which I felt for so many years was peerless.

While all of this was unfolding, I had to sadly give up one of the classes I taught for 16 years because of a road closure that made it difficult for me to get to the class on Saturdays. That, coupled with students who have left the island or became ill left me a little shaken as well. It was almost like having a friend pass away. 

There have been times in the past year I thought about packing it up. I felt like I was going through the motions. My personal practice had deteriorated and my asana ability was crumbling. I was getting fewer students. My health was going downhill as well. I gained weight and my blood pressure was high.  I was constantly exhausted.  Working a full time job and a few side gigs plus yoga classes was taking its toll. And my wife and I are still caregivers for her mom. I saw a doctor who recommended I do a sleep study as my wife said that I snore. As it turns out, I was diagnosed with sleep apnea. I started using a CPAP machine at night.

Shortly after using the CPAP machine, I felt much better. I didn’t have to take naps every day. My blood pressure improved. And most importantly, my mental clarity started getting sharper again. My weight started to go down as well.

My classes started getting bigger. Now I am starting to get six to nine students when before I was lucky to get four or five per class. I started feeling good about teaching again, and have started back on my personal practice. I have been teaching this particular class for about five years now. I feel close to my students as they have supported me through all the years of getting this certification, my father-in-law passing, and my personal struggles. In short, I am tremendously grateful for my students. At the end of class I chant the Guru Mantra that was taught to us shortly after Guruji’s passing. It is for thanking all of my teachers and my students who as it turns out, are some the greatest teachers of all.

Thanks for the email Sonia!