I have often felt betrayed by the Yoga “community”. What I had thought would be a true Sangha, a community of wise souls, has often turned out to be a group of popular “yogis” who hang out with each other and socialize. I’ve learned that it is rare to find a loyal community of supportive people, who are willing to connect deeply and in a mature way…a Sangha that is non-competitive and non-exclusive. Because really, how are either of those words a backbone to how I imagine “community” to be? They are anything but, and in fact, reminiscent of high school.
I don’t want to sound bitter about this, because I’m not, it’s that I’ve been disappointed and have become disheartened. And, as said, have felt betrayed in the past when I discovered this through personal experience. I was most betrayed by an American woman, who claimed to be on the Bhakti path….her façade of the soft appearance, and the compassionate heart was well developed…she even “lived in India” and was always surrounded by people who just loved her. But what I’ve found is, that commonly, the façade of yoga teachers being “caring” and “supportive” within a Sangha, is easy when insecurities aren’t threatened; but the cracks in the teacher’s practice widen when an inferiority complex is touched. And this is where it turns sad, when that lack of self-awareness still requires the old fall-back of impressing it on someone else…even as “a beloved yoga teacher”.
This often turns into power tripping from the person doing it, somehow trying to grasp back whatever they perceive as having been taken from them or lost. What bothers me is learning that yoga teachers who profess Oneness, are still competitive. Don’t claim to be the “yogi” if you can’t Be the Yogi….because most of us aren’t…we’re still on the path.
I’m not one to easily fall for the fake smiles and bouncing around like Life is all light and fluffy, now that we’re all happily practicing yoga…but when I connect with even the senior teachers, who continue a façade of loving kindness, yet are self serving in their ultimate aims, to the disrespect of another…this is where I’ve been had many a time. The number of times I have supported teachers in their work only to receive none in return when the time calls for it, disturbs me. I feel sadness for the fact that they are not only blind to this self centeredness but have a resistance to looking at it. And there is no one to hold them accountable to it, because they gravitate toward the “yogis” who foster all they like about themselves….so there is no challenge in their growth within this Sangha. In fact, they often misread the authentic Yoga of another, simply because of this uplifted view they have of themselves; thinking they’re somehow superior because of the length of time they’ve been “practicing”…no, sometimes the longer we “practice” the more apt we are at practicing the right words, the right body language, the right presence. All of this is easily created.
Any teacher who claims to have removed the self and yet walks a path of destruction over another, is not in Yoga. None of us bring the same qualities into Yoga, so we don’t need to have an insecure fear of someone being “better than” or “taking away from” us in some way. Having like mind around asana and living out our fantasies of a “yogic life” are not necessarily enough to be qualified as Sangha. What are the qualities of a healthy Sangha?...because a popularity contest it is not.
I feel the qualities we bring toward our students are those same ones we ought to bring to our Sangha, our fellow teachers….in support of one another’s growth, development and practice. I have a view of honouring what each teacher brings and being of support to them in their growth as a teacher, as we would in creating a healthy community of any kind. Loyalty, trust and accountability, are all aspects necessary for good healthy relationships, including the healthy body of Yoga, so why not support one another? All of us know the challenge of being an authentic Yoga teacher in the mountain of the yoga industry, so why not help each other grow, make it easier on ourselves and each other. I see community as engaging, responsive, supportive, sharing of knowledge, wisdom and experience…how else do we expect to pass on a healthy lineage? This then becomes a sharing amongst humans rather than holding up a desired image; it fosters being what you are rather than misusing yogic terms and phrases to paint an image that you don’t live behind. As adults we should be able to live up to these standards, if we’re living the practice that we claim to be…these aren’t qualities of perfection they’re qualities of maturity. This issue is just so common in the “yoga scene” that I can’t not address it.--with love, Letters In Yoga www.lettersinyoga.com
My plane was to be in Bangalore, but I was standing at the baggage carousel in the partially constructed airport in Chennai. Three days to go and an email had landed in my Inbox from Air India, notifying me that I would be flying from Bali to Chennai instead of my expected Bali-Bangalore (and yes, this was the time of the famous book, but no, I did not intend to be on the Eat, Pray, Love trail). And so, my send off from Bali was in a VW van, as I whispered prayers for my wellbeing through whatever lay ahead. Rod Stewart’s song, “Forever Young” was blasting from the tinny speakers of this old caravan, ”May good fortune be with you, may your guiding light be strong” became my Mantra.
Getting my bearings in Chennai’s airport, I walked over to the taxi stand and hired a taxi to Pondicherry. I decided this might be a nice place to relax for a few days before my train ride across continent to Goa. I came to the stand and a wordless portly man, Danny DeVito’s Indian twin from his days in “Taxi” (hairstyle and everything), used his pen to scratch down my information. Honestly, he couldn’t have looked more bored with me. My taxi driver appeared, a wiry old man, about my height, stood there in his bare feet, pant legs of his chocolate brown uniform rolled just above the ankles. We went outside and loaded myself and my luggage into the back seat of his wee taxi and spun through the parking lot. I was looking around at how beautifully this man had decorated the interior of his taxi, when, at the lot’s exit we were already making our first stop…his boss, that short portly man who had registered me with the taxi, opened one of the back doors and crammed a life sized, pink stuffed teddy bear in the back seat with me…then he, himself, hopped in the front to ride shotgun. You just never know if you’re going to get where you’re going in some places.
Anyway, a short ways away we did drop him off, along with the bear, and the driver and I faced the road ahead…multiple unexplained stops still within the city limits included. Once we reached the highway though, we began to travel at a good clip, the Indian rain started to come down thick and heavy, could barely see anything. At one point, a flatbed truck started backing onto the freeway from a side road which the rain made impossible to see. My driver was not slowing down and was showing no signs of doing so…his bare foot rested heavy on that gas peddle as he pressed forward through the driving rain. I truly thought I was about to die, I called out to him about the truck, he turned directly around to look at me with a toothless smile and that Indian head bobble, but with the language barrier he didn’t know what I was trying to tell him. My urgent cry grew louder, pointing, he looked forward, swerved the taxi, and we carried on down the freeway unphased…like all was just a part of a normal day.
Getting into Pondicherry required a permit, and so my driver did all the legwork, letting me sit in the taxi for the twenty minutes wait. Once inside city limits, we could NOT find the hotel I had looked up, but he persisted, stopping to ask so many pedestrians if they knew, but no one did. Then out of the mist (the rain was stopping by that time), like an angel, there was a man on a bicycle who happened to be scouting town for prospects to rent his boss’s suite…that was the ticket, I nabbed it. This sweet, gentle soul of a taxi driver took me to the door, carried my bags, and placed them on a chair in my room. He was aiming to leave without any expectation of a tip, but I crammed 1000Rp in his hand, because after all I had been through traveling from Bali to this room we were standing in, his kindness and his generous efforts meant so much to me.
Turns out, I loved Pondicherry…I recommend it to anyone, it is gorgeous. It draws the French traveller, as it was once in the hands of the French; gorgeous remnants of the French influence in the architecture draw you back into a different era (the Indians themselves will speak to you in French before they will attempt English here). I ended up staying about five days or so, which would have been longer if I hadn’t had a due date in Goa. I would walk to the seawall for my morning coffee on the beach, watching the sun climb its heights in the sky over the Bay of Bengal…being a westcoaster I’m used to watching the sun dip into the ocean, so this was new for me. Then I would make my way to the Sri Aurobindo ashram for a while, they allow the public to sit in silence in their stunning courtyard. Somewhere through the day I would end up having tea with my “landlady” who didn’t speak any English, so we relied on my polite French anecdotes (which don’t amount to much). She was born and raised in India, but of Vietnamese descent, she spoke French and wore a Sari…so I spent quite a bit of time looking at her (as she did me).
I left Pondicherry, too soon, but right on time. Took the train to Mysore which is where I had planned to be but cut it a few days short. I was due in Goa, and as it was December, there was zero possibility of hopping a train, so I bussed to Mangalore and taxied to Goa….that my friends, was an adventure in itself. And so, by plane, train and automobile I made it to Goa from Bali. And I honestly don’t know the point of sharing this story other than that man’s toothless smile from all those years ago, came to my heart the other day. Maybe that’s the point, that kindness lasts. May he be well.---with love, Letters In Yoga www.lettersinyoga.com
One of my great teachers once said “If you want to reach for the stars, it is essential that the Soul learns through experience”. The richness that is brought to our experiences through Yoga, is so deep and so true and so vast, it is a universe unto itself. Sounds a bit dramatic, even as I write it. But how can it be anything other? Life, itself, is magical. To put the first Limb of yoga into practice will change things about your Life because the Yoga system changes Your system. You won’t be the same. The Yamas and Niyamas can’t do anything but change you by changing how you choose to see things and experience them. It shakes everything up, it stirs it all up, it loosens it all, it shifts what was reality and a habitual way of treading through life, whether any of it or all of it was learned or self-taught. Practicing the First Limb of Yoga will have you reassessing what is useful to you now, what is really relevant, and what hinders. It’s like a juice detox cleaning out the system of the mind. This is why it is essential to begin at the beginning, to establish a foundation in the practice like having our feet on the mat.
The Yamas and Niyamas being the First Limb of the Eightfold path, are therefore, as our feet are to asana practice….this is our rooted foundation from which everything else unfolds. Every asana engages some muscles actively while others are at ease and passive; likewise, with the Yamas and Niyamas, some are more active in a given situation while others ease back…until it’s time to activate the passive and release those which have been active. This means learning to observe whatever serves as the appropriate stabilizer in any given moment, but always from the foundation. We trust this type of grounding because it is our bedrock…this serves our commitment through fear, while we shake and shimmy through what can be a turbulent practice. Then, at last, sensing the inner calm. Putting the commitment into our practice of the Yamas and Niyamas as we do our asana practice, eventually guides us into the meditation, the peace and freedom that follows any emotional turbulence that moves through as we establish a new norm. So often we feel happier after asana practice because we feel physically lighter and move with more agility…same with the affect of the Yamas and Niyamas on the mind…we feel happier and more at ease mentally, and in the heart.
Like picking them up off the dusty shelves, practicing the Yamas and Niyamas activates them, they begin showing their life, they begin to resonate within you they become living, breathing qualities. They infuse your life with their essence and this is the embodied practice of them. From this point we’ll resonate with their message in layers of understanding and wisdom because they are alive now. We’ve elevated our experience by a notch or two (or more), where the magical connection with Life begins. We’re more in tune, more aligned, the division between the man-made world and Life thins.
It’s so important to walk Ahimsa alongside our practice, so practice it and practice it well. Ahimsa reveals itself in layers and will never force you to practice more than you’re ready for. The only surprise might be that you’re ready for more than you realized. This is where the discomfort is, and this is where your relationship with the Yamas and Niyamas is essential, so you can lean into them with all your trust to get you through. The truth is, you will consider backing out when you hit those edges, as we do when we want to slightly ease out of an asana posture when it starts to challenge us. We’re tempted to cheat here, but the Yamas and Niyamas will hold us in line, because through them, we’ve become more of who we are. So we stay the course. We stay the course because innately that’s what we do, innately we’re reliable, and accountable, and trustworthy, and courageous enough to see things through. These principles are just helping us to rediscover this.
Always be guided by Ahimsa we’ll remember our purpose when the shaking and quivering begins. This shaking is the awe and reverence for the practice; staying the course through this demonstrates our deep respect, not only for ourselves but the practice of Yoga. Practicing the First Limb will make us tremble as we hold true, as anything that is sacred and loving will do. This is where we feel our awe for the practice and what it gives back to us when we commit to the path and all it holds. This is how it gives back, by holding our hand whispering, “I’m here with you”. So lean on them into greater awareness of self, into greater enlightenment of how you fit into all that is; and revealing that you do indeed have a purpose in being here, and that it is your duty to honour that purpose and fulfill it the best you can while you’re here. The Yamas and Niyamas won’t leave you once you are in the habit of remembering them, and how they serve you in the way that you serve them. The First Limb is a system worked progressively; yet as you work them, you begin to see how they fold into one another as though separate but one at the same time.
One caveat, be wary of “Oh I got that”, never lose respect for step one; guaranteed there will be a slip, because the Yamas and Niyamas are bigger than we are, and if we lose that respect for them we lose the practice. They guide us toward our Being, if not into our Being…it’s what got you where you are now…there is always more to learn from returning to the basics. There is such great value within step one, as it reveals more each time we return with the new wisdom and knowledge gained from the steps which follow…which all emerged from step one. Never be too arrogant or too good for step one because it is reflected all around us on a daily basis. Each moment is a new opportunity to step onto that platform and be supported to grow into greater wisdom, compassion, and understanding…a connection to the unity. We have the willingness then to do good…which we often forget when we’re so stressed that we drop the steps. We become self-absorbed in stress, and often do harm in those times. But if we’ve practiced the steps during easier times, the practice will unfold more naturally during times of stress.
We have to know that we are resourceful and the Yamas and Niyamas bring to light that we are…but we have to practice. Life will become lighter, but we need to commit to the practice. Never lose respect for step one because you never know when you’re going to need it.
From the First Limb you will live your life differently because you will approach Life differently. You won’t be able to go back…because you won’t want to.--with love, Letters In Yoga www.lettersinyoga.com
The wonderfulness of the First Limb of Yoga, comes from its capacity to be life changing as it unfolds through us. Its very structure (known as the Yamas and Niyamas) offers us freedom. The anchor that this structure provides means we have the space to be Ourselves, through gaining the trust in knowing our frame of reference. And this is one of integrity. Adhering to this practice engages us in an awareness, and this awareness brings freedom.
The First Limb of Yoga provides a boundary to respect and requires our discipline. Which, in itself means, the freedom from being consistently distracted by our mental and emotional whims. It’s beautiful really, because the Yamas and Niyamas allow us to come into right alignment with our lives, which is what’s necessary to fulfill our dreams. They shield us from the persistent wandering into directions we wouldn’t decide upon, had they been given proper consideration. The longer we carry the awareness of the Yamas and Niyamas within our minds, we will eventually surrender to practice, unable to deny their presence and call any longer. As interaction begins, introductions are politely made…you to them, them to you. You feel each other out, working out the hesitancies and suspicions. You might start by saying “Ok Ahimsa, let’s see what you can do”…and so the relationship begins.
Gradually, growing in responsibility of working the practice, we shift to what it’s really about: “Ok, what can I do? Who am I in this new way?” It becomes a reflection on what we can do for the practice. Unwittingly, we’ve gained a great respect and honour. Over time, this practice comes alive with its own momentum, and there is no going back. Suddenly, you’re on a new road and it’s the Yamas and Niyamas which led you there. The growing gratitude and compassion is merely a fortunate result.
So, let’s start at the beginning, with Ahimsa, the yogic practice of non-harming, the practice which walks along side all other practices. Whether a first timer or an old hand, it’s always a great idea to (re)visit “step one”…of any practice. Ahimsa is the first of Yoga’s ethical practice of the Yamas, and is really the most beautiful practice, the more we interact with it. We come to feel better about ourselves, better about what we feel we have to offer, and better about how we’re treating others. There are the more obvious forms of violence in our world, and as most of us don’t take those kinds of actions, we perceive ourselves a non-violent. But violence is many fold and is often woven into our day without our even realizing it. If we can tune in to these subtler acts of violence, we will begin to notice the daily impact on ourselves and on others. The realization will come more by freeing ourselves up of the violence than by thinking how bad we are for our violent actions, to self and to others. The more we free ourselves from the violence the more options our true nature will provide, to come forward.
People often ask about anger, and how it relates to Ahimsa. Many people in our world unfortunately resort to violence as their only means of expressing anger (mentally, verbally, physically). But anger is not necessarily synonymous with violence. And it is our role to work the violence out of the anger, so anger can be expressed justifiably. It is true and hopefully the aim of most, to be able to express anger in an emotionally mature manner. To experience and express anger in a way that we can sit with the emotion and bring reason to it, then communicating the emotion toward understanding in some way. Giving anger and its relation to Ahimsa such little space in this post is not meant to simplify this issue, but it is an entire topic on its own. Righteous anger expressed respectfully and appropriately is not necessarily a contributor toward Himsa (violence). From this practice, the quality of judgement softens, and/or we don’t rely on it with such haste. We naturally grow in our compassion and empathy because of the empowerment that the choice of Ahimsa provides. Because, practicing Ahimsa is a choice…which we realize when we slow down to consider the consequence of what we’re about to do. These are characteristics of being in right alignment with ourselves, as mentioned earlier. We begin to become aware of how like our fellow man we actually are and we recognize the absurdity of aggression; we soon see aggression’s dominance in society. From where do humans feel it’s necessary for that kind of dominance really? And so, we grow in our self-confidence through Ahimsa. It provides a choice, and it increases our experience of the interconnectedness of all of Life. We begin to experience that Life itself is actually gentle. Life doesn’t require the force of aggression that humans seem to feel is appropriate. The gentleness of Life is fluid and opens our perceptions, which folds into increased Ahimsa. At this point, the layers of violent behaviour start to become more perceptible, and our tolerance of the subtle forms lessens to that of the more extreme…because we see how they feed each other.
Through Ahimsa, we require more from ourselves. Stopping violent or harmful behaviour creates a space to be filled by something intelligent…because violence is not founded on intelligence. Compassion is a critical aspect of Ahimsa; not only investing it in to the practice, but the way it expands as a result of the practice. Ahimsa is internally disruptive, no doubt…because it shifts the old ways. But we can’t let ourselves be distracted by that. We can’t fall into the churning waves of the Self’s pity party of how awful we’ve been. Instead, we continue with the practice, through the discomfort into what unfolds out from that. It’s here that we find the freedom of compassion and of forgiveness…taking right action from there.--with love, Letters In Yoga www.lettersinyoga.com
If we assume that our Asana practice is reflective of our walk through life, then our Asana practice can be seen as an opportunity to really grasp the understanding that ultimately, we are finding our way through life on our own. Sure, we might call on the help of those around us for wisdom and support, much the same as using props in Asana practice…such as straps and blocks and even the wall. But when we take those props away…those comforts that we invite in to our situation which can often represent striving for something other than the moment we are standing in, we begin to discover that no matter how much support there may be, it’s our own understanding and knowledge which needs to grow and stretch in order to find our personal way through.
There is such vulnerability and power in understanding this…that we’re standing on the mat alone. The truth is, that without the props (which can tangle our minds in distraction while we figure out how to use them) we will begin to naturally find the pose IF, and when we’re ready to slow down enough to be still and hear our own voice. We are intelligent beings and this is so easily forgotten….no matter what props we are using in life. We need to have enough faith to test our inner intelligence in order for it to stretch and grow. Being flexible enough to adjust when it’s clear that we need to.
There is intelligence within stillness, from which we unfold in whatever capacity. When we give way to that stillness, we gain the intelligent use of props, deciphering when is the appropriate time to use them and which ones are appropriate to use…allowing them to help us help ourselves. This is far different from relying on them, being distracted by them, and getting tangled up in them.
From this place of stillness (equally intelligence) we take the inner aggression out of our Asana practice…the aggression and therefore the violence, toward ourselves in whatever way we’ve personally chosen to push ourselves beyond capacity, or not push ourselves at all (as laziness is as violent as aggression).
So, next time you’re on your mat, give yourself a chance to feel that exquisite softness of vulnerability of it just being you on your mat reaching into your stillness. Find your way through your practice, understanding the personal strength gained from being on your own mat, stretching that vulnerability into wisdom.--with love Letters In Yoga www.lettersinyoga.com
He was lying on the busy sidewalk, along the wall of a shop which stood across the street from the main market in Mapusa, India. He was on his side, using his arm as a pillow…an old man, paper thin, legs covered in flies which where nestling into the open wounds on his legs. I slowed to one of those lucid stops when you see a Being whose heart shattering situation stands right in front of you, but you don’t want them to feel like you’re staring at them. As the crowds swept past my field of vision, and between me and him, I wondered what to do.
I went to a street vendour and bought a few samosa, some pakora and a bottle of water, then I went into the pharmacy to buy a bar of soap. I brought these to the man, thinking maybe he could use the soap to wash his legs at some point in time, if he could gather the strength to do it. As I lay the packages beside him, his foggy eyes moved slowly, giving me a distant, sideways glance. I carried on with my errands, later returning to my scooter the way I had come. The man had eaten the food I had left, but was now eating the bar of soap as well. I stopped (and I stop again now as I write this), my heart and guts fell to the ground, tears welled in my eyes, what had I done? This man was literally dying in the midst of a crowd, and I had given him a bar of soap to eat. I cried (literally cried) as I went about my next two days following…I just couldn’t stop. When I told two Indian friends my story, each shared their Indian perception…they offered a perspective that my Western mind wouldn’t have been able to conjure up on its own.
The point of sharing this story is, that I have traveled to India a number of times now (each being a stretch of a few months), and every time I go, the journey teaches me something utterly mind bending. Will I ever feel I’ve learned about Indian culture? I have no idea. But my point is, we can’t know an experience like this until we are in it, living it, and hopefully, open to receive what Life is giving us in such moments…it’s these irreplaceable marks in time that mature us, that further engrain compassion, and make us wiser.
Many foreigners travel to India, taking their body but leaving their Souls at home. They’ve “been there” or “learned yoga” there…many say they have lived there for years…but often keep themselves protected by the walls of a foreign owned retreat center, interacting for the most part, with other foreigners who visit their center, and befriending other expats who live in the region…thinking they know Indian culture simply because they employ Indians.
I’ve been asked by a number of people these past months, what I would recommend or advise about traveling India. And I’ve come to say that an authentic journey in India is immensely personal, it’s not a check list of sites seen, yoga learned, gurus heard, ashrams to boast about…it’s a personal exploration which begins at home…finding your own way and your own experience…this is what I did, no one prepared me…and it’s the most Soulful calling to India.
This in itself is Yoga. Finding yourself in the complete unknown is the real practice of Yoga.
I was inspired to write about this because of a post on social media. The woman wrote that two weeks of her yoga teacher training were “done”. Please, never think that you’re “done”. Please know that an authentic yogic path will never be “done”…it bleeds into all of life….nourishing and washing away.
Just as a journey through India, a Yoga teacher training is not an item to mark off your checklist. Please know dear yoga students, the yogic training lasts a lifetime….it never stops…you will always be a student of yoga. The decision to commit to a teacher training should be recognized as an initiation into a lifelong commitment of respect for self, for others, for all that is….and we disrespect this practice and back out of the commitment, when we view our YTT as a checklist item, just something to do and then walk beyond. We’re far more blessed if we honour our commitment than if we choose to back out of it…where we choose instead greater interest in our chipped nail polish, while chewing on a bubble of gum, pondering a fresh colour, saying “ya I’m a yoga teacher now”. Feel the inspiration to step on that road, but get those feet on the ground and keep walking.
Yoga teachers benefit their students more when they’re willing to admit it’s still a practice for them. The rocks on that road are more frequently stones and boulders, than pebbles….and that road isn’t paved and smooth, with a patent all weather safety film atop it. No, this is a dirt road and it’s messy…because it’s Life, it’s You, it’s all of us. Some places are firm where you wish it were soft, and sometimes so sinkingly soft you’re trudging to break free.
But, when you see those breaks in the clouds up ahead, beaming the freshest of crisp sunlight, stand tall and love them. Look at that sky with eyes closed and smiling reverence…breath it in, absorb it, let it refresh you. With gratitude learn from even the beautiful moments, because you know the grey mist of rain will come again. It will torrent again.
Do you have the yogic skills to continue walking, to continue listening to what that road whispers to you? Those skills that teach you that amidst your own private burdens, to still feel deeply and compassionately for all Beings. Looking back only if it’s to be grateful for what it has taught you.--with love, Letters In Yoga www.lettersinyoga.com
We can spend years chasing after it instead of Being it, completely unaware that this is what we’re doing. When at last we hear that first flicker of our heart’s desire, we can become so overjoyed, that we begin to chase after it in the same vein that we chased life before this new awareness. We don’t even know we’re chasing it because we didn’t know we were chasing life to begin with…it was just the only way we knew. Often, we’ll try to use the same skills we used before our heart’s revelation, but they don’t usually apply here. The heart isn’t something to be chased because it is already here, it is already us, it is already our Mastery…and it operates in an entirely different realm.
If there is anything new about this, it is the changed perspective that this is who we are. All that needs development is the being with that, not the finding it. The practice comes to be about giving the heart that space of silence, so it can increasingly come forward into our awareness. We confirm it by listening to it, and we bring it to life by acting on it….so instead of chasing, embody. Because we are literally bringing it to life…like resuscitating something that had been left dormant. And dormant is very different from dead or non-existent. We honour our very Being by activating this heart’s message. It so often feels like such a flicker at first simply because we’ve never developed it before. By developing this, the heart’s call grows in strength and volume, to where it lives us, and emanates from us. There is no chasing in that.
This is a way not often sought after, so there is not really a guidebook. Your heart is the only one that knows the way, and the guidebook begins with the understanding that this is where you’ve landed. You’ve landed in the heart and it is very, very different terrain, so it needs to be navigated in a completely different way. This is where the learning lies, this teaches us how to Be it. Step by step, gem by gem, taking that quiet walk along a very palpable yet unexplored path. Follow the gems that seem so quiet within the clutter of mass irrelevance which has been accumulated over time. This takes wisdom and it does take Grace…Grace while we face frustrations and fears of the learning, and of applying ourselves in a very different way. We’ve moved way out of the box of familiarity.
Selecting what is of value to the heart develops discernment. This is a depth of wisdom not commonly applied in the mainstream way. Initially, this can take huge effort to energize, simply due to the necessary weeding through heaps of information we have accumulated. It is this accumulation which is truly the overwhelm, witnessing where the stray bullets have landed, and coming to heal those or remove them. Now comes the time of allowing that heart’s call through all of that information, becoming familiar with how it speaks to you, how to read its signals and how to hear it. Here there is no overwhelm and no fear because the focus has become hearing and listening, rather than a focus on the enormity of the mundane which has become our reality. The focus has turned into developing a new skill and applying it, rather than looking at ALL we’ve been fed, and believing there is something lost in dropping that. What if you consider that your heart’s desire is not new, that it has been there all along, and is therefore, the most familiar thing in the world now that you’ve heard it. Anything seemingly alien or feared, is merely how it contrasts with your life up until that moment.
It’s natural to fatigue in any new practice, but this is not to be confused with defeat or giving up…it’s the fatigue from being driven by passion. Regularly checking in with “am I ready” makes it easier for the ego to join the journey…because sometimes we legitimately feel that we aren’t ready for the next step that is revealed. Our essence, our heart is ready, always has been…but sometimes we need to slow down to catch up with what has always been there. Being true to that authentic check-in “am I ready”, usually reaffirms that yes, indeed we are. So, look, look within the mass of useless information that has collected within from the outside world, and sift out the gems that are shining and pick those up. The overwhelm comes from assuming that ALL that is there is useful, or needs to be applied, or changed, or something. In reality we’re just seeing clearly all that has been ingested, a lot of which is useless to our heart’s aim. The reality of the heart is usually simple, clear, and quiet…that information is never too much, and it is brought forward in ingestible amounts. What is true is simple, clean, and clear, and the more we acquaint ourselves with it, deliberately look for it, and at it, the easier it becomes to decipher the heart’s message in the mass of garbage that we collect internally, simply by walking through a day in society. Take that slow time each day to learn how to best distinguish your gems and how to hold them and nourish them into your daily existence. This brings a seemingly slowness in time, simply because it doesn’t move at the same crazy pace of information we’ve grown accustomed to collecting….and just because we’ve grown accustomed to it doesn’t qualify it as fitting.
The heart reveals the gems as timing is right…not before and not after. This is because there is Honour in this way, there is Respect and there is Integrity. It’s in the acknowledgement of these gems that reveals more and develops strength. This gaining of strength makes it easier to see the gems amongst the bramble.
When you come to see this with such clarity you begin to wonder how you missed it all along…but how could you not miss it, given the amount of distracting information we’re force fed each and every day. It’s a constant rush of what we don’t need. When we’ve never been taught how to keep the unnecessary at bay, to simply observe it all, and instead tread that soft unbroken path of the heart, then of course we’re going to believe this onslaught is real and that it’s who we are, and what we think, and what we believe. No doubt we’ll take that in as us. How could it be otherwise if we’ve never been taught? It’s up to us to shift, because we can’t stay that way. There does come a time when it is up to us to recognize this and to do something about it. The time to take the reigns in our lives and discipline our practice, led by our own light. Like any muscle, exercising discernment, is not easy at first because it’s rarely given credence in today's world, but the more it’s applied and put it into practice, the stronger it becomes.--with love, Letters In Yoga www.lettersinyoga.com
I tuned into a program the other day…the characters in the show had decided to experience the outdoors for the weekend at a lodge retreat. While fishing, they caught bundles of fish, only to find out from the owner of the lodge later on, that he stocks the lake with fish then seals it off so people can catch fish quickly…”we stock it because people have busy lives, they don’t want to waste all their time fishing, they need to get back to the city”, he explained. Of course, this took away from the entire experience for the characters of the show. But this made me think how frequently we approach Savasana in much the same way.
Savasana is such an integral pose in a yoga class (as a teacher I witness it almost as a sacred integration time). It’s the assimilation of and the experience of, all the energy we worked and worked through, in the asanas which led up to Savasana. And yet, I’m so often perplexed at how common it is to offer only two or three minutes of Savasana (lucky if we get five) “at the end of class”…it’s not a pose which is considered part of the class. It’s squeezed in, before the mayhem of rolling up mats, packing up bags, and hitting the road back to work, or whatever is next in our lives.
Often at the beginning of class, teachers will ask the students what they might like to work on…many lively suggestions for shoulder openers, hip openers, inversions, even scorpion(!) come rolling forward…but rarely have I heard someone request to practice Savasana…and if someone does, chuckling will cross the room, as though it can’t be a pose taken seriously enough for practice.
A long Savasana is critical to a good yoga class. Some people fall asleep, and others are still whirling in their minds, restless in whatever they’re thinking about; but a long Savasana (hopefully 10-15 minutes) allows that time needed, for the breath to rustle through those last edgy bits, before a person’s entire being can settle into the floating space of that stillness of Savasana; that experience of being whole in mind, body, and spirit. I practice with a teacher in India who always says, if you want to meditate, practice Savasana.
Savasana heals deeply, and it ties together all the pieces of a yoga class. Without it, we walk away from a class feeling somewhat off, in a way we might not have words for but in a way of knowing something isn’t quite complete. Unfortunately, it’s easy to shrug this sensation off, as we busy ourselves with what we’ve planned next; but that doesn’t make it right….it makes it the same as what we often do in life…shrug off something which isn’t quite settling in or sitting right. I don’t believe yoga class should leave us feeling in that way. There is already too much of ignoring our own Being in the world. We usually walk into an asana practice somewhat fragmented from our day, it doesn’t make sense to leave a class feeling the same way as when we came in.
Savasana is a pose which we don’t have to “Do”, it’s one which we consciously allow (“consciously” is the “doing”). Allowing ourselves to receive relaxation is not a habit we’re used to. Even the most active mind ultimately surrenders to Savasana if given the time to do it. Give yourself a chance to honour Savasana and the time you spend there. Receive its benefits, its offering, and all that it’s doing for you. So when you get up from your mat, you can carry it with you.--with love, Letters In Yoga www.lettersinyoga.com
“By relaxation of all strain in the yoga posture,
there is a merging with the infinite.”
– Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2:47
To seriously embark on a practice of Yoga Nidra, be sure to gather those skills of stillness and of focus, and of observation. Polish them up the way you would a tarnished, old genie lantern…and dive in to your Nidra practice…all-in…nothing ventured, nothing gained…and when you feel ready to reach, reach far and reach true, because really, there is everything there for you. The power of Yoga Nidra to change your life is far reaching once the decision is made and the mind accepts that decision; because once accepted, the mind will be open to observing anything and everything that fits that new life decision. Gradually and incrementally, these new observations will start gaining familiarity, naturally becoming incorporated into daily life decisions. Before you know it, life is different….OR…maybe, the change will land in one fell swoop (this is less likely…but not to be ruled out).
But this observing style of behaviour begins with, or follows, the ability to be still within. To cultivate not only inner stillness, but dynamic inner stillness (rather than just falling asleep) is the practice of Yoga Nidra. Because it is within that stillness that the statement of intent (the Sankalpa) is set…this is powerful and it’s sacred because it comes from the heart. This can’t be done when the mind is fragmented in distraction. Wrapped within the Nidra practice itself, the whispering of the Sankalpa is heard in our stillness because it is a desired shift that our heart longs for. So if the intent with which we enter into the Nidra isn’t the one our heart longs for, then our heart driven Sankalpa will come forward within the Nidra. This is where the initial practice of Yoga Nidra lies.
The follow through to Nidra practice is to stay alert to our daily waking life…this is as significant as being in the Nidra itself. The Sankalpa is active in our lives through the new decisions we start to make which are in alignment with it, no matter how big or small doesn’t matter….size isn’t relevant. Here is the witnessing of life at work, life in process, and it is being allowed to happen through alignment with the decisions being made. It is the stated intention now infused into our waking life. It is the aspect of the practice we carry throughout the day, being attentive to the opportunities which arrive that are in line with the direction of our Sankalpa. The mind in focus backed up by the power of the heart is an unstoppable mix.
Our lives can be so filled with distraction that we learn to think in a distracted way. And we approach our Sankalpa in the same way, in a mirror image of being tempted to jump from one Sankalpa to the next as a method of consumption, there is the tendency to want to move fast and multiply. But to nurture an individual Sankalpa we need to focus on one at a time…to realize the sacredness of what we’re bringing forward. Stillness develops this cohesion as well as patience, increasing our ability to choose wisely.
We don’t know how long a Sankalpa will take to be realized, nor whether we’ll give credit to the form in which it arrives if it’s not to our exact specifications. But again be open to the possibility of how it shows up as much as you’re open to the possibility of imagining it in the first place. To move toward that shift we desire in life requires sincere efforts and a lot of heart! Giving time each day to the state of Yoga Nidra trains oneness of mind, bringing forward the true essence of your desired shift in reality.
Becoming more open to the increasing possibilities Yoga Nidra brings can feel vulnerable when not used to it. A vulnerability which we’ll naturally want to protect and can therefore sabotage. We tend to want to control and hold on, to steer the outcome ourselves. In doing this…this pushing forward in anticipation of the new…we often miss its actual arrival. We achieve more to strengthen our Sankalpa by practicing the Yamas and Niyamas in our lives, as the quality of our true heart’s desires mirror the quality embedded within the Yamas and Niyamas and the practice of them. They will lead our dream into reality if we’re willing to commit to the process.
Our minds, hearts, and Beings, will give us time to adapt to the changes life commands of making such a sincere commitment to change…time to consider and work it through. Some discomfort is often necessary….that’s usually the best way to recognize that change is happening. So have faith in your Yoga Nidra practice but give it the time it needs, you’re nurturing a fine wine don’t forget. All of us are challenged at times, to let old negative thinking patterns wash away. It’s discipline to ignore those thoughts when they roll in, and instead to refocus on the new, the way you would ignore the rudeness of anyone…like water off a duck’s back…but then, eventually, you won’t be hearing them at all anymore. Your focus turns elsewhere.
As your Nidra practice evolves so does your way of being with yourself, with others, the world…everything. This changes your world because you become changed… making different choices, behaving differently, responding differently…all of these change your world because you’ve evolved your world and your way of being in it. Yoga Nidra is not a practice to be taken lightly, nor is it a practice of sleep. If we continue to sleep our way through Nidra we miss out on amazing opportunities that we can create for ourselves, for a better way of life, a better quality of life…we miss out on the opportunity to witness ourselves creating reality from thought…and this is an immense confirmation of the power we carry as individuals. Once we know this, there is no stopping us! We then witness power as a positive, we learn that power is our creativity, it’s not about having power over another. Power then becomes fuel and sustenance for bringing our beauty into form so it doesn’t lie dormant within our hearts for a lifetime.--with love, Letters In Yoga www.lettersinyoga.com
I repeated myself 108 times before falling silent. In that silence I could actually feel the vibration of my words as a palpable structure around me. This was a breathtaking moment for me. I was sitting in class at the time, on the cold, hard floor in the ashram in Northern India. Earlier we had been learning Yogic Philosophy and Mantra, and I had been leaning in to every grace filled word that Mataji was teaching. But now, we had just recited a mantra through the 108 beads of the mala before moving into meditation. I learned right then and right there, the power of speaking, what we choose to say, and how we say it….it becomes real, because it’s sound, it’s frequency, and it settles into something.
Years ago I read the timeless book “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, who speaks about “Being Impeccable with your Word” (which stands as the first agreement in the book); today, this is further demonstrated beautifully (in my mind) by Nigel Stanford in his video Cymatics. (Please watch his music video here: nigelstanford.com/Cymatics/
Toward the end of the video we see the musicians put on a protective layer as the vibrations become increasingly intense…isn’t this what we wish we could do when interactions with another become more intense?...we want to, or need to shield ourselves if there is an element of threat perceived in those words…an imaginary cloak but nonetheless, that innate reaching for it within a tangle of words is reflective of their reverberating impact. There is a very real impact of sound vibration because of its creative force. So to be “impeccable” with our word offers us the choice, we don’t really have an excuse to blurt out whatever toxic thing slithers off the tongue, not really…we can always choose integrity, even within moments of anger or trial. We can still do the best we can to make that choice. At this point in time are we willing to stop shooting bullets from our mouths…to roll the reel in a bit and make it a personal challenge before we begin addressing the bigger picture?
It’s time…now…to speak with integrity…to begin the healing there…individually…moving that into a collective. Speaking with integrity comes from the heart and most people aren’t willing to speak from the heart… it’s vulnerable there. In truth though, the backbone to this vulnerability is the power of our Being. If we’re going to repeat ourselves over and over and over again (as is the human tendency) then let’s challenge ourselves to say those words from as much love, integrity, grace and movement toward peace, as we can muster in the moment. Are you up for that challenge? Are you up for the challenge of doing your best in every given moment, because some moments are uglier than others, some moments our best isn’t as pretty as other moments, and it can be exhausting…but doesn’t matter…are you willing?--with love, Letters In Yoga