Monday, January 27, 2014

"That which you are seeking, is also seeking you."

We are nearing the end of the Mahabharata, and the war we’ve been talking about over the last few weeks has finally taken place.  Many battles were fought between the heroes of the story.  In the end, only a few were left standing:  the five Pandava brothers and the head evil cousin Duryodhana amongst them.  Duryodhana flees into the forest and Bhima chases after him and drags him back to the battlefield to settle the score once and for all.  They battle fiercely and are well matched with their maces. At long last, Bhima strikes the fatal blow and Duryodhana is left to die.  

When the blind king Dhritarashtra hears that his 100 sons are all dead, including his favorite Duryodhana, he falls into despair.  His Advisor says to him: “The sorrows of life come only from life itself.... Look for them, and every day you can find a hundred causes for fear and grief…. Dwell on sadness, and it will increase.”

How amazing that even in the time of the Mahabharata the scholars were aware of the Law of Attraction.  Abraham explains it this way in the beautiful book Ask and it is Given: “The Law of Attraction says: that which is like unto itself, is drawn.  And so the essence of whatever you give your attention to is unfolding in your experience.”  Dhritarashtra’s Advisor is correct - there are a hundred causes for fear and grief…but there are also a hundred causes for joy, happiness, and gratitude.  We can choose to dwell on the sadness, or on the gladness, and whatever we choose is what we attract more of into our experience and awareness.

Similarly, Tantra teaches us that the “stuff” that all stuff is made of is the same “stuff”…and we have the power to align ourselves with that “stuff” (i.e. consciousness, god, molecules, cells, vibration, etc.), which gives us the ability to change and shift our own world and the world around us.  Through our thoughts and the energy we send out to the universe through our actions, we make an impression in that “stuff” and, like a magnet, we immediately invite more of whatever energy we are expending to come back to us.  So when we (through our thoughts and actions) send out sorrow, we invite more sorrow, and likewise when we radiate joy we invite more joy, and so on.

This is why coming together to practice yoga is so powerful.  For most of us, our biggest breakthroughs on the mat happen in a class, not at home in personal practice.  Why is that?  Because we are together with like-minded souls, radiating our positive wishes for joy, gratitude, passion, and enthusiasm, and that builds on itself.  Yoga studios are centers of great influence – it’s not only the sacred space created by the owner and practitioners, the physical poses, or the teachers’ knowledge and ability to explain physical or spiritual concept.  The most transformative aspect of our practice is that it helps us to personally align with our highest aspirations.   And when we do that collectively, that energy expands exponentially and that is tremendously powerful.

This is also why we need to choose who we surround ourselves with carefully.  We recognize that our lives are not entirely within our control because there are others around us who desire differently and sometimes their desire is stronger than ours.  So we take responsibility for co-creating with the Universe, but we also have to accept that we live in relationships with our family, community, and culture and, as such, realize that our own desires are not the only desires that have an impact on our lives.  There is an overall Universal picture, it’s not just the picture of our own lives that affects what comes to us. It is especially important to remember this when facing illness or tragedy so that we are not “blaming the victim”.   But it is our choice, dare I say, responsibility to choose to align with our highest vision of ourselves, and to surround ourselves with others who are doing the same, because really what other choice is there?? We need to constantly and consistently be reaching for acceptance and love and gratitude rather than sorrow and unworthiness, even when there is illness, tragedy, and grief, maybe even especially then.  

As Mike Dooley of says: “Thoughts become things, choose the good ones!” (Check out the website and sign up for daily Notes from the Universe – I’ve been getting them for years and they have provided much insight and inspiration!)

And finally, as promised, from the great poet Rumi:
“If you are seeking, seek us with joy
For we live in the kingdom of joy.
Do not give your heart to anything else
But to the love of those who are clear joy,
Do not stray into the neighborhood of despair.
For there are hopes: they are real, they exist –
Do not go in the direction of darkness –
I tell you: suns exist.”

Off the mat practices:
Examine what you are inviting into your life.  There is the conscious level of inviting, where we are aware of our thoughts and actions, and this is an important level, a good place to start.  What are you saying to yourself, and out loud for that matter, day in and day out?  Then there is the subconscious level – do the thoughts and actions of your day to day reflect how you REALLY feel.  Be honest!   As my teacher Todd says, if you’re not sure, just examine what is coming to you and that will usually help you figure it out.  The book Ask and it is Given by Esther and Jerry Hicks, which I’ve quoted above several times, also has some terrific exercises to help this process.

On the mat, for the Anusara junkies:
Open to Grace: Remember that, as Rumi said, “That which you are seeking is also seeking you.”
The Universe wants for you what you want for yourself.
Recognize and align with your Source, which is constantly conspiring on your behalf.
Align your feet with your intention to align with the benevolent flow of the Universe.

Muscular Energy/Hug the midline: Invite in positive thoughts that make you feel good from the outside inwards, from the skin to the very marrow of the bones.
Imagine the midline like a powerful magnet of joy and gratitude, drawing all your energy towards it and letting those feelings multiply.
Draw the muscles in to connect with the deepest desires of your heart for your best life.

Inner spiral: Widen your sit-bones and widen your perspective to see the good in all.
Broaden the base of your pelvis and open yourself to welcome positive thoughts.

Organic Energy: Your nature is one of expansion, and in that expansion is the potential for unspeakable joy.
Let your positive, joyful thoughts radiate outwards to meet every other positive thought in the universe.

Twisting principles: Initiate your movement from the back body, from your connection to Source, and let it guide you deeper into the pose and relationship with your highest self.
In Sanskrit the name of many twisted poses includes the word parivrtta, which translates to  “revolved”.  Another translation of this word is “to turn your heart to something better”, so with each twist turn your heart towards joy, love, and gratitude.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The "Wow, train!" factor

I spend most of my time with the 3 little people the Universe entrusted into my care, and when I allow myself to be totally engrossed in their world I experience adbhuta, which is the Sanskrit word for wonder, curiosity, mystery.  Everything is fresh and new and exciting. 

Over the holidays I took them to the holiday train show at the NY Botanic Gardens and my 16-month old son Rakhi stood by the railing screaming “Wow, train!” like a teenage girl at a Justin Beiber concert each time the train emerged from the tunnel to chug past us.  He didn’t just do it the first time it happened – he did it every time for the better part of an hour. (See video clip above!) Most of us as adults have lost this quality of infinite fascination.  We become mired down in the day to day and life can become tedious and bland. 

Imagine that you could bring that level of awe and excitement to your life – how much more fun and exciting and rich life would be!  I like to run early in the morning just as the sun is coming up.  On clear days, at the moment the sun breaks over the horizon, without fail, I have a “Wow, train!” moment – I am filled with awe and wonder at the miracle of the sunrise each day.  Holy cow, the Earth spun around it got dark and it got light and isn’t that amazing!  I always stop (or at least slow down :-) and let myself be filled with the sunlight and my gratitude at being alive and awake to the beauty of our world.  I find that on the days that I get to start my day this way, I am opened up and throughout the rest of the day I am can see the beauty and wonder that surrounds me so much more easily and readily.  I often snap a sunrise photo like the one below and I keep a collection to help remind me on days when I'm not feeling as awake and aware.

A sunrise run
The human body itself is a miracle of adbhuta (thanks to Danny Arguetty for this list):
·      The left lung is smaller than the right to make room for the heart
·      Every person has a different tongue print
·      Bones are 4 times stronger than concrete
·      The liver performs more than 500 different functions
·      On an average day, we engage more than 26,000 cycles of breath
·      The heart pumps 4,000 gallons of blood daily
We are living a wondrous phenomenon simply by being alive!  Our yoga practice just helps us notice it and engage with our own personal miracle in a meaningful way.
When we open ourselves to being awestruck by the natural world, including our bodies, we experience the inherent shree (life-enhancing qualities of the universe) that permeates all of creation, including ourselves.  When you can bring a child-like sense of wonder to everything you do, it is easy to see the miraculous in the mundane and life goes from black and white to Technicolor.

Rachel Carson wrote “If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.”

Practicing adbhuta requires a slowing down.  Anyone who has ever taken a walk with a 2 year old knows that it might take an hour to walk the length of your backyard.  But what a rich hour it is!  Bring the “Wow, train!” factor to your life this week. Become fascinated with every small part of your being and your world.  See with a child’s eyes, rediscovering awe, wonder, fascination and excitement for yourself and your world.  If you need a small child to help you, feel free to drop by my house anytime.  Or else try these practices to get you started. 

Off the mat:

Start to notice “coincidences” occurring – a friend calling on the phone just as you were thinking about them, walking into a yoga class where the teacher seems to have been inside your brain and hand picked the theme of the class from what she found there, craving a certain meal and then going to a restaurant and learning it is on their specials menu that evening.  When we choose to tune into adbhuta these occurrences happen more frequently – we open ourselves up to them and invite them into our consciousness.
Go out into nature – study snowflakes, ice crystals, the bark of a tree, a pattern of stars in the sky.  Eat a salad and close your eyes so you can really taste the essence of each and every vegetable you put into your mouth. Let yourself be filled with wonder at the miracles that surround us all the time.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe advises “A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”

On the mat:

Open To Grace:
Marvel at the intricacies of your body.
Let yourself be in awe of the miracle that is your human form.
Let yourself be awed by the intricacies if your body as it moves.

Muscular Energy:
Feel the (approximately) 650 muscles in your body hug the 206 bones.
Engage your muscles and engage with awe and astonishment.

Side Body Long:
Expand your sense of wonder.
As you make space in your torso by lengthening the sides of your waist, make space in your life for the miraculous.
Lengthen the muscles between each rib making room for breath and mystery.

Head of the Arm Bones Back:
Plug the head of the arms bones back to plug yourself into the splendor of the Universe.
As the head of the arm bones move back and the chest opens, open to the astonishing gifts nature surrounds us with.

Organic Energy:
Expand your fascination, radiating it out all the way to unknown galaxies.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Acceptance and Courage

We are continuing our journey through the Mahabharata and at this point in the story the 2 sides have squared off against each other in preparation for war, and the battleground is set.  Vyasa comes to report to Dhritarashtra and paints a grim picture of the tableau that the Pandavas and their cousins find themselves in.  In response to this report King Dhritarashtra says:  “Know me for an ordinary man whose sons will not obey him. We cannot dispose our future; we are but wooden dolls, moved by strings.”

Part of the human experience is feeling as if we are wooden dolls, moved by unseen strings beyond our reach and control from time to time.  I have spent much of the last week with my oldest friend and her mother who is in hospice care at home.  It has been of course a very sad week for me, more so for my friend of course, but I am in complete admiration for how she is handling the situation with absolute grace.   She knows there is nothing left to do but just offer love – her hand to hold, her loving words and presence when her mom wakes up from time to time.  There is a total acceptance of things as they are.  Although this is a time of grief I am grateful for the opportunity to practice acceptance. 

I am reminded of the serenity prayer: “God grant me the serenity 
to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can;
 and wisdom to know the difference.”  This prayer is being lived out in my friend’s house right now and what a beautiful lesson to witness. At the end of a life, the changing of things takes a backseat and the focus is more on acceptance.  While we are healthy and living out our day to day there is more of a balance of also seeking out what can be improved upon.

We live out this prayer each time we practice – when we come to the mat we have to honor the limitations and restrictions that our bodies present us with.  Many of them we don’t have any control over, but that doesn’t mean we can’t “do” anything about it.  Every time we come to our mats and close our eyes and feel our bodies, our breath, and the awareness of our inner selves we hone this instinct and become better and better at feeling out when to stay and accept where we are, and when to dig deep for courage to make a shift.  We become discerning about finding the things we can change so we become active participants in our lives.  It's a subtle but invaluable sense that can be sharpened by mindful practice and inner attunement.  

Here is the serenity prayer in action: this week we are working on Bakasana (crane pose).  It is a challenging arm balance and takes a lot of work to get into.  We will work to access the base of the heart, the subtle specific spot where (in Anusara-speak) the Shoulder and Kidney Loops meet.   Two important actions happen here – the bottom tips of the shoulder blades press forward towards the base of the heart, moving the shoulder blades onto the back and keeping our hearts open and self-accepting AND the solar plexus and floating ribs move towards the back plane of the body, strongly engaging the abdominals giving us access to our inner courage and power to change the things we do have control over.  When we can simultaneously do these actions we find the equanimity this prayer so eloquently speaks of and the pose literally becomes effortless.  We can float into it like the graceful bird it is named for.  (Unfortunately until that moment comes, it requires a LOT of effort!)

I don’t know that I would be as graceful and accepting as my friend has been of her mother’s slow slide out of this world.  But I am grateful to her for giving me a vision of how beautiful that transition can be, and to yoga for giving me the practice and tools to approach such situations with as much graceful acceptance as I can, and for cultivating courage and wisdom to live my best life.

For the Anusara junkies:
Open To Grace: Take a breath accept the things you cannot change

Muscular Energy: Draw in from muscle to bone and feel strong enough to change the things you can
Connect to your inner wisdom to "know the difference"

Inner Spiral: As you widen your sit bones, widen your view to see that there are things you can change

Outer Spiral: Sweep tailbone down and tone your belly with the power to shift what you are able to

Shoulder Loop: Keep your heart open and full of self-acceptance for your body however it is

Kidney Loop: Draw your ribs back and connect with your power to change what you are able to

OE: Shine out with grace in whatever pose you find yourself in

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