Sunday, November 16, 2014

What are you worrying about?

Bhakti sutra #79: “Bhagavan alone is to be worshipped without worry, all the time, with all the heart."

First question – who or what is Bhagavan? The word Bhaga means share, or portion.  It also means benevolence or graciousness.  So Bhagavan is the one who possesses “bhaga”: as Bill Mahony says, "The one who shares divine care, affection and love for the human soul."  So basically it is another name for Love, God, the or Consciousness that portions itself out with benevolent grace to pervade the entire universe. 

What struck me about this sutra was that it doesn't say "Bhagavan alone is to be worshipped all the time, with all the heart." It makes the distinction of "without worry".   To someone who struggles with anxiety (otherwise known as "worry"), this is a striking distinction.  I am a worrier.  It is, unfortunately, how I react in many situations – I’m usually not aware in the moment that I am “imagining the worst”.  It is only later when I’ve had time to step back and bring my rational mind to whatever happened that I realize I've been anxious about something.  When I take the time to  reflect on how I'm feeling and engage my mind and my heart in the in that reflection, what I know is a deep faith in the workings of the Universe.  I remember that there is a greater plan to which I am not totally privy to or in charge of and that my life has proven to me that that plan is intelligent, benevolent and gracious, and not just about me.  My life has proven to me that everything will be okay in the end, that things will work out the way they were meant to (even if not necessarily how I want them to be), and that if things are not okay, it just means it's not the end yet. 

So what am I worrying about?

I think often worry is equated with love.  If someone is worrying about you it must mean they care about you, right?  And if you're not worrying, you must not care  about something or someone enough.  This couldn't be farther from the truth.   When we fall into a paradigm of worry it takes away from our own enjoyment of life, and the enjoyment of life of those we are worrying about, by bringing more stress into what is probably already a stressful situation.  One of our wonderful Shree teachers, Valerie, says it this way: “Worrying is like praying for something you don’t want to happen.”  Because wherever we direct our energy towards is what expands in our lives.  It clouds our vision from seeing what might be possible in terms of where we WANT to go, and instead directs our energy and carves a path towards where we DON”T want to go. 

On paper this makes perfect sense.  In practice, of course, not as easy to implement.   How can we not worry when we or our loved ones are sick, or out of work, or facing other hardship or challenge?  Like all things in a yogic life, we need to find balance.  We need to learn how to engage concern which spurs us to action, rather than leading us into anxiety which can be paralyzing.  The action it should inspire should keep us moving in the direction we wish to go, towards whatever will help alleviate the situation we find ourselves in.  Which might mean a goal or treatment that will move us out of a challenging situation, or moving into acceptance of a situation that is not going to change and we will have to live with.

Yoga practice helps to connect us to all the aspects of our being - those we can see and those we can't, which inspires faith.  Faith helps us to feel certain of realities we can't see, and in doing so dissolves worry.   Every time we focus on the breath we invoke faith by connecting our awareness to the force that breathes us.  Faith allows us to soften, to accept that we are not ultimately in control, and in that knowing, let go of anxious or worrisome thoughts and feelings. When we can let go of those thoughts we live with more ease and joy, and we inspire the same in those we love.
Bill Mahony says: “Faith in divine Love is based in the experience of human love in all of its delightful, poignant, touching, transforming ways, even in a world that does not always seem to express such love.  When there is faith, there is the possibility of movement forward in life within its uncertainties.  The world will always present us with complexities, contradictions and vicissitudes.  Yet, when there is love for God, that love will remain steady and trusting and, in this sense, without worry.”

Off the Mat:
Become aware of anxious or worrisome thoughts.  When they come up, see if you can direct your thoughts to what you want the outcome of a situation to be rather than what you are nervous that it might become.  Sometimes this is just a feeling of acceptance when we know it is something we don’t have control over.  Either way this moves us from the paradigm of worry to an environment of moving forward.

On the Mat:
In asana practice in my classes we worked on opening up the back body, which is our connection to the unknown and to our faith.  We practiced going upside down with the awareness of engaging our abdominals to broaden and stay full in the back waistline (which often collapses in poses like pinca mayurasana or forearm balance, and handstand) and to keep us connected to faith as we turn our world upside down. 

Open to Grace:
Breathe in and fill with faith in the benevolence, gracious goodness that is Bhagavan.

Muscular energy:
Draw arms and legs to the midline, to the place in the middle where we can feel love and compassion without it turning into worry.
Firm your  muscles and affirm your faith in the ultimate benevolence of the universe/Bhagavan

Kidney Loop:
Draw the front ribs together and move the floating ribs back to engage abdominals and trust.
Broaden your back body and your trust in the universal that things will work out the way they are meant to.

Organic Energy:
Shine with the radiance of knowing your connection to love and grace.
Let your pose glow with your connection to Bhagavan

Monday, November 3, 2014

Aligning with the Light

Last week we began our unpacking of Bhakti Sutra #78 by studying the yama of ahimsa (to see last week’s reflections and the text of the sutra click here).  This week let’s delve into one of the niyamas suggested as a way to move us deeper down the path of self discovery and self love.  The niyamas of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra are actions and attitudes we can cultivate to help us realize more connectedness.  The first Niyama is saucha, which is usually translated as purity.  As I yoga teacher I have shied away from teaching this niyama because the word “pure” can be problematic.   If we’re not “pure” then we must be “impure”, right?  In many cultures being “impure” has punitive and shameful connotations.  What comes up for you when you hear that word?  Exactly.

The practices of Saucha in the classical yoga tradition were in part meant to cleanse the body.  Practices like neti pot to flush the sinuses and nauli to cleanse the abdominal organs were part of saucha practice.  Although these practices can be helpful for maintaining health of the physical body, in the Tantra tradition we approach saucha not from the idea that the body is a problem that needs transcending or fixing by “purification”, but that at our essence, we are pure.  And yet we forget that the Absolute is whole, unadulterated light, and that light is pure, clear, radiant and brilliant and it is what we are made of.  One of the reasons newborn babies are so precious is that they exist as closely as possible in human form to that pure state.  As life goes on, the bright pure light gets dimmed by experience, but it’s our job as yogis to reconnect to that light through all our actions.

When we acknowledge that as manifestations of the divine we are at our essence pure, we need to make choices that help us to reveal that pure light – this is the essence of Tantric saucha practice.  As beings with free will it is our choice. So in all we do we must make sure that we are aligned with the purpose of promoting connection, harmony and peace within ourselves and among all those who we interact with.  Since we have a choice, we can act in a way that aligns us more fully with that pure light, or a way that doesn’t.  So there isn’t such a moral judgment related to “purity”, it simply means acting in alignment with the light, or not.  Moving towards the pure light of universal consciousness or moving in another direction.

In yoga practice one of our highest objectives is to move towards spiritual evolution according to each one’s own possibilities, or in terms of the Bhakti sutras, to move towards love.  So what are the practices which bring you closer to that experience?  A friend once said to me that “The moments of greatest spiritual purity are moments in which I am able to act without any trace of moral conflict.” Practicing saucha means engaging in activities, food drink, work & relationship that brings you closer to your true nature of pure, unadulterated light of consciousness, which of course brings you more joy and ultimately more love.

Off the Mat: 
  • Create a Pure body: practice kriyas (cleansing practices) like neti pot, tongue scraping, trataka dristhy (gazing).  Practice nadi shodhana, the channel purifying breath.
  • Eat Pure foods: strive to eat no chemicals, preservatives or genetically altered ingredients, and no highly processed foods.
  • Create a Pure environment: one that is clean, orderly, and keeps outside energies out (for example taking off your shoes and washing your hands when entering your home) to maintain the purity of inner energies.
  • Aim for Pure thoughts: free from judgments of others or yourself, free from worry, doubt, fear and negativity.
  • Have Pure conversations: free from gossip and hurtful comments
On the Mat: 
In my classes this week we did a full-spectrum class, touching on all classes of poses including standing/strength building poses, abdominals, hip openers, arm balances, backbends and inversions.  We did simple, straightforward sequences with the intention to focus on our alignment in every pose to help our bodies line up so that the light within can flow most freely and easefully. When we practice with good alignment we are practicing purity in the body. As a teacher once said to me: “Practicing purity leads you into purity, and then, strong and steady in your own pure light, you become a force of purity. You can walk into even the most wretched place and, just with your own vibration of coherence and clarity, shift it towards light and beauty.”

For the Anusara Junkies:
Open To Grace: Breathe in and let the pure, auspicious light of consciousness at the core of your being fill you up.
Let the breath be pure and clear, easeful and flowing.

Muscular Energy: Onto that light inside, firm the muscles encasing and protecting it.
When we tone the muscles they become more “pure” by acting out their own given purpose.
Magnetize the muscles to the bones as you direct all your actions towards the inner light.

Inner Spiral:  This is a refinement of energy, a more subtle shift towards clarity in the body. As you move your inner thighs in, back and apart, shift your awareness inward towards the untainted light that is your true nature.

Outer Spiral: Direct your tailbone down and your awareness towards the light.

Organic Energy: Let the unadulterated light emanate from the center of your being.
Let your intention to align with the purest aspect of your being shine outwards.
Let the radiant light that is your essence shine out unimpeded.
(In honor of Halloween) Like a jack o lantern, let the light inside shine out.

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