(part of 10 part series on the Yamas and Niyamas for My Yoga Online)
Truth is liberating. It can also be complicated. And it is always powerful, so powerful that the Yoga Sutras tell us that when we are “dedicated to truth and integrity, our thoughts, words and actions gain the power to manifest.” Truth is full of consequences – positive and negative. That is why so many people avoid it, preferring the convenience of white lies, because as this sutra teaches, truth moves situations and people around in relation to it, and sometimes that much power is scary. So why is practicing truth an important element to the cultivation of a happy and harmonious life?
Quite simply, if we are not living what is true for us deep in our heart of hearts, then we are not living OUR life. We are living someone else’s and we are living a lie. Our inner truth is our guide to right movement on life’s path, and it is found in deep stillness, where we meet our authentic self in clarity and conviction. Only when we live in full integrity are we able to express our unique, integrated, and joyful purpose.
Integrity with ourselves takes courage because we may not always like what we discover within. It may require us to make some difficult admissions and changes. Being honest with others requires courage because they may not like what they hear and they may reject or leave us. However, being honest with others and ourselves is worth all of the above. Anyone who has lived inauthenticly, suppressing or selling out who they are for the sake of relationship or perceived peace, knows that eventually this becomes so painful that resentment obscures any initial loving intention.
When we can stand courageously in our truth, we free ourselves and we free others to express theirs. And they will. We create safe space for each other’s truth by honoring and appreciating the conflicting feelings of the moment, even if they are sometimes hard to hear, not judging but listening with our hearts.
Yoga’s teachings on Satya or integrity often ask us to examine whether telling the truth is kind, necessary, and non-harming. Kindness and mercy are required partners to truth. We cannot spew out all of our truth in a hurtful, vindictive, see-what-you’ve-done-to-me way and expect healing to take place. The essential compass for whether our truth telling is necessary lies in our intention. We must share our truth with a loving intention to foster deeper understanding, and harmony. When shared in this way, truth, no matter how difficult, can be healing, balancing and opening, blessing all the lives it touches.
Truthfulness requires us to take responsibility. It requires us to forgive ourselves and others, to embrace learning through hurt and failure sometimes, and to act courageously even when we are fearful. It is essential to our inner well being, to our ability to cultivate authentic relationships, and to give direction to our path in life.
Accessing inner truth begins through body awareness, for without the wisdom of the body we become like machines and we lose our testing ground for truth. Our bodies are incredible communicators if we just take the time to listen. Truth can be felt in every cell of our being. Slow down and listen to what is happening in the body. By focusing on the quality and depth of the breath and sensations as they arise, our bodies are able to communicate truth in a way our minds cannot. When we listen closely to the body, we can identify emotional reactions in terms of body sensations. For example, anger might feel like a tight fist in the belly, sadness might feel like pressure on the chest, resentment might feel like heaviness on the shoulders. Once we have an understanding of how our body communicates feelings, needs, and directions, then we have a continual meter of truth.
In the same way that ‘knowledge is power’ in terms of understanding something cognitively, body knowledge is power in sensing what is the right and appropriate action or movement at any moment of our life. As we spend time listening to the body’s way of delivering messages, we will attune to a deeper wisdom, an intuitive wisdom that will be a powerful measure of how truthfully we are acting and reacting in our life choices.
Satya sets us free to live the life that is uniquely ours to live and that brings the greatest joy imaginable.
1. Devi, N. J. (2008).The Secret Power of Yoga. A Woman’s
Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras (p. 288).
New York: Three Rivers Press.
About Jennie Lee:
Jennie Lee is a Yoga Therapist and international retreat leader with over 6,000 teaching hours and 17 years of experience in Yoga philosophy, practice and meditation. An active member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, she loves sharing the Self-awareness and consciousness raising process through the ancient science of Yoga. She leads yearly Yoga Therapy and Meditation retreats with themes like Conscious Trust, Yoga of Love and Devotion. Her writing has been published in Yoga Therapy Today magazine, Common Ground Magazine, Conscious Moms.org and YogaFinder.com. Jennie Lee can be contacted at 808-927-8641 or www.jennieleeyogatherapy.com
Para-Ascending – A new Yoga Therapy perspective
Life is all about perspective – whether we feel up or down, fearful or exhilarated, blessed or needy. This became abundantly clear as I hurled myself off a cliff recently, trusting that I would be held by the air currents sweeping into the wing of the Paraglider strapped to the instructor behind me. No ordinary moment.
Earlier forms of this activity were referred to as “Paraascending” and this moment of flinging myself into space reminded me a lot of what we do in Yoga Meditation as we leave behind the limited perspective of the human experience and throw our whole attention toward the expansion of consciousness into the vast dimensions of Spirit.
But let me back up. When I was invited to try paragliding, my first reaction was fear and resistance. Practicing the self-reflection that Yoga teaches us (Swadhaya) I realized that it is common for humans to hold this limited perspective when we face the unknown. Usually more apt to choose the familiar, we ponder new possibilities for a while, weighing the pros and cons. Even if we decide to take a leap of faith, we inevitably second guess ourselves and get afraid. Hopefully though, we receive reassurance, pack up, hike up, get ready and GO! Fortunate for me, my pilot, Joey from Aloha Paragliding didn’t give me a lot of time to reconsider once we were at the top of the mountain. He set up, strapped on and said “When I say run – you RUN!”
I took a few deep yoga breaths, surrendered to powers far greater than myself, and RAN – right off the edge of a cliff! Suddenly suspended in mid-air 1,000 feet above the sea, I spent a few moments in futile fear (what could I have done at that point anyway?) and pointless panic. Then I relaxed and found my perspective. Floating in the exquisite atmosphere of the Great Light, I saw the choice – be afraid, tense and limit the experience – or relax, trust and fly!
In that moment the extraordinary became the ordinary. Every moment of every day is like this. The choice is always ours – in every encounter, decision, relationship, or direction in which we move in life. Expand or contract, appreciate or take for granted, fear or fly. Having ascended to the beautiful perspective from above, I say trust the currents. Take the leap. And when Life tells you to run…RUN!
Meditation and Parenting Have a Lot in Common
I have been parenting for 13 years and meditating intently for only two, but already the similarities are evident. Without a doubt, having a regular meditation practice has made me a calmer, more consistent parent. And the challenges of parenting make me aware of how much I need meditation! Whether you have a regular meditation practice or have just heard that it is beneficial, see if you can relate to these things they have in common.
# 1 Showing up daily and being fully present are required
No one gets anywhere by meditating ‘once in a while.’ And can you imagine if we only made our children’s lunches ‘when we felt like it?’ Both require a commitment to doing what we know we need to do – even when we don’t feel like it. No one likes learning that meditation depends on the discipline of daily sitting to reap any deep benefits. And no one enjoys getting up again and again and again when the baby cries. Yet tremendous amounts of patience are cultivated as we do these daily practices. Through consistent, persistent, and sincere showing up, we catch glimmers of growth occurring over time. Like the tender shoot of new life that grows from a seed planted, watered and protected, one day a bud of joy blooms as we bring our full presence to each moment of parenting or meditating.
# 2 The distractions are endless
Laundry piles, missing homework, undone chores – anyone with kids knows what manner of things distract when we try to get organized. Similarly, when we try to get still, the mental monkeys, roller coasters, and demons show up in full force. The challenge and the gist of the practice of course, is to stay centered amidst all inevitable distractions. If we fluctuate with every wave of chaos that races through our minds or our kitchens, we are done for. By remaining stable regardless of external circumstances, we become an anchor for our children, one that they can rely on when life’s challenges arise. By remaining focused on our breath or meditation technique amidst the swirling currents of the mind’s wandering, we diminish its ability to toss us around in reactivity. In both cases, over time, we find that there is a calm center within – one that is undistractable, peaceful and always joyous.
# 3 Love and devotion are essential ingredients for success
In Yoga meditation, the practice of focusing on one thought of the Divine is a beautiful way to still the ever restless mind. Using something as simple as Light we can perceive the beauty and ever changing magnificence of God’s light on this earth. But usually our focus can burn brightly for a few seconds like the last blaze of a sunset, and then it is gone, elusive as trying to capture a sun ray in our hands. But by infusing the technique of concentration (or whatever meditation technique you use) with love and devotion, we experience what the Yoga Sutras promise: “Boundless love and devotion unite us with the Divine Consciousness.” (translation by Nischala Joy Devi, The Secret Power of Yoga) This distinction is much like attending to our children’s basic needs while thinking of what we would ‘rather’ be doing versus giving them our full loving, dedicated attention. We know the difference – and they do too.
# 4 To experience anything, we must trust the process and let go of the results
Paramahansa Yogananda, master of Yoga meditation, explains that the reason people do not perceive benefit from meditation is because they give up too soon. When we throw a rock into a placid lake, ripples radiate, and it takes time for the stillness of the water to return. The ripples of our restless, egoic minds take more than minutes, hours or days to still. So when we approach stillness, having a ‘goal’ is just a setup for frustration. And as parents, although we might hold ideals for our children’s future, we must trust their daily evolution into that which their Divine Creator has set them here to become. By releasing ourselves and our kids from the suffering born of attachment to specific outcomes, we create a life through which trust and enjoyment can flow.
# 5 Both parenting and mediation lead us to greater awareness
It is okay that the brilliant sunset doesn’t last. And it is okay that our child doesn’t make straight A’s or the Little League team. What matters is that we show up with our full presence, attention, love, devotion, trust and enthusiasm to tomorrow’s sunset, tomorrow’s game, and tomorrow’s meditation. We embrace each moment and see the blessing it holds. And day by day, year by year, we begin to remember ourselves as part of the universal oneness. When our awareness expands in this way, both meditation and parenting become pursuits of pure joy.
Jennie Lee is a Yoga Therapist and retreat leader with over 6,000 teaching hours and 20 years of experience in Yoga philosophy, practice and meditation. Through her teaching and writing she applies the ancient science of Yoga to facilitate self-awareness, higher consciousness and healing. She has been published in Yoga Therapy Today, Common Ground, My Yoga Online, Yoga Finder, and Living the Truth. Her next Yoga and meditation retreat will be held in Hawai’i in February 2012.
Every time I step onto my yoga mat, it is like climbing onto a life raft. I know that no matter what waters of emotional circumstance surround me, I am safe inside my practice. Some days I jump on with buoyancy and glee, other days it takes every last ounce of life force I can muster to barely crawl on. However, no matter how I get to my life raft, with laughter or tears, energy or exhaustion, once there I rest. I rest knowing that like a gently rocking boat, my yoga practice holds me as I flow through the river of life.
There on my life raft, some days I float, basking in the sunlight of joy, chanting with abandon and luxuriating in the sensations of my limbs expanding in downward dog. Other days, feeling no joy whatsoever, I stand in mountain pose before beginning to teach a class. I close my eyes, breathe a restorative Ujayii breath, and pray for Spirit to give me something, anything of value to say to my class…some wisdom to keep me afloat and to link a lifeline to those who have come to me for inspiration. I pray not to fall off my raft into the swirling currents of emotional reactivity. Other days still I am able to be pure witness to the ever changing vistas around me, unattachedly appreciating the beauty of life in its many forms. And sometimes I feel the wonder of a child creeping in as a posture I have done 10,000 times suddenly feels brand new. I discover that truly each moment, each breath, is an opportunity for new life.
People say their practice evolves over the years, but over the years it is my practice that has evolved me. It met me when I was 28, fiery and fast, driven and determined to master my body through this intricate physical discipline. In my 20’s, I explored the wonder of my physicality through yoga, learning viscerally for the first time since being an infant, the sensual nature of my body as a vehicle for pleasure and experience.
In my 30’s I learned how to understand and accept my emotional energies, gazing through the glass of Western psychology into the vastness of Eastern mysticism. I learned to truly feel, but also to let go of the feelings, knowing myself as more than the ebbing and flowing tides. I share this now with my students. More than once as a class has arrived I have found myself just completing my centering meditation, tears flowing down my face from feeling my life as it is unfolding in that moment. I do not choke the tears back and put on a smile, but rather I allow my students to share in my knowing that it is ALL okay, every tear, every peal of laughter. And we laugh….we laugh so much on our mats. In my classes, I challenge my students, as I challenge myself, to find humor in their human ways. And always I embrace them and myself in our silliness with deep compassion and reverence. In the duality of this exposure and acceptance, we know ourselves and we are known to each other.
My practice has evolved me now at age 43 into someone who can sit in stillness with the deepest levels of compassion for whatever is occurring for myself and another, without having to do anything other than love and be. In my 40’s, I am diving deeper into the river of consciousness with the safe support of my life raft. The ever expanding vistas of being that I have beheld along the river of consciousness are numerous, and my yoga practice, provides the structure and the support to keep exploring. As I prepare this year to lead a retreat centered on the theme of imagination, I seek to expand more than ever before. With my students I will explore how the Eight Limbs of Yoga anchor us as we plunge into the depths of imaginative travel through the waters of consciousness. And as I do so, my practice keeps me from getting lost or feeling afraid of the vastness.
The Yamas and Niyamas are our touch points of loving direction like a mother’s warm arms to a toddler who has ventured out to explore the bigness of his new world. The Asanas and Pranayama keep us connected to our particular, unique physical manifestation this lifetime. And Pratyahara, Dharana and Dhyana direct our vision toward the source of cosmic is-ness from which we all come.
Finally and most beautifully, I know that on my life raft, I am not alone. With me is my family. A family that is bigger, broader and older than one could ever know in just one lifetime. From the community of my little yoga studio, to the lineages of ancestors and teachers from thousands of years past, to all the practitioners worldwide, striving to learn and live the same principles I am…principles of peace, truth, generosity, simplicity, contentment and dedication to the Divine. This is my ideal family, the one I always dreamed of, understanding, like-minded, and compassionate. These are bonds of the heart, rather than bloodlines that bind us. And my practice is my essential home, a place I can return again and again, where I am always accepted.
Of course I carry this life raft wherever I go, but the days I can come to my mat in prayer and practice are the best. For an hour or a day, I leave what is “out there” until later and dive into the stream inside. My raft never fails me, any mood, any emotion, any challenge. I always complete my practice feeling better than when I began. Any tears of sorrow or pain are transmuted into tears of gratitude and joy, through an hour or more of breathing, chanting, meditating and moving. And I share this with my students so they will know that yoga is not about some destination or accomplishment, but rather the moment by moment unfolding of experience. My practice finds me wherever I am, asks more from me than I think I have to give, and then when I rise to the challenge, rewards me tenfold with strength, energy and renewed hope.
Over the past 15 years, I have survived some of life’s most tumultuous waters, by holding on to my life raft of yoga. Loss of a child, a marriage, a home, a career, severe depression, anxiety, stress and grief. The more turbulent the rapids trying to toss me off, the more I have clung to my practices of centering breath, mindfulness, pratipaksha bhavana, meditation and strong asanas to move the emotionally stuck energy through my body and mind.
On my knees in child’s pose, I have shed many tears on my life raft, praying to feel connection to my source. And I have stood tall in tree pose, spreading my branches to heights of joy I never could have imagined possible, as my practice has led me to the absolute knowing of my inseparable connection to that source. It is in this knowing that I find the essence of Yoga and I rest.
© 2008 Jennie Lee reprints by permission
“What is being taught (in America today) under the name of Yoga is a minute part of this great tradition, a microscopic focus on the physical. Yoga in its completeness is a way of life that allows for total transformation. But the physical postures, or asanas, can serve as an introduction to this distinguished wisdom tradition. Asanas reintroduce us to our bodies. Once we become friends with the physical, going inward to the spiritual becomes easier. Yoga in its completeness is a way of life that allows for total transformation.”
~ Nischala Joy Devi, author of The Secret Power of Yoga
The application of yogic wisdom is found in eight facets of practice, (also known as Asthaanga Yoga (astha meaning eight and anga meaning limbs). The one that most people today are familiar with, as stated above, is “asana” or postures. However it is the interconnection of all eight that leads us to a place of inner peace and joy. It is said that through these eight limbs, intuitive wisdom dawns and we may realize our inner radiance.
These practices are described in the Yoga Sutras, the sacred texts which describe the nature of consciousness and the path to liberation. It is assumed that these were compiled by the sage Patanjali over 2500 years ago in India. They offer us myriad possibilities for improving our state of being.
There are many translations of the Yoga Sutras. One that I find most beautiful is The Secret Power of Yoga by Nischala Joy Devi, a venerated yogini that I had the blessing of sitting with in May, 2007. Her approach is full of joy, like her name, and compassion for the challenges we all face on the “path.” The reason I especially like this translation is it does not, as many do, lay out the first two limbs, (the Yamas and Niyamas) as commands, but rather as affirmations of our Divine beingness, and ways that we can honor our lives as such. What follows is a summary of Devi’s writings on the 8 limbs.
Coming from whatever religious background and experience you do, I hope that you can accept that when in Yoga, we speak of the “Divine” it means that which is greater than the small “self” – however you wish to name this – Source, Spirit, the Oneness, the Creative Force, Universal Consciousness, God. It doesn’t matter. The Yogic teachings offer us a non-sectarian path which we can travel to find freedom from suffering and reach a tangible realization of the Divine as Self.
The eight limbs of the Yogic path are…
Yama. - reflections of our true nature – qualities we must embrace to know Self Niyama - evolution toward harmony – practices that align us with our highest nature Asana - comfort and steadiness in our physical being Pranayama - control of life force energy (prana) Pratyahara - encouraging the senses to draw within Dharana – focusing of consciousness inward Dhyana - meditation – the continuous inward flow of consciousness Samadhi - bliss, the union with Divine consciousness
© 2008 Jennie Lee reprints by permission
Stop for a moment. Take a breath and imagine. What would a climate of mass love FEEL like?
In polar opposition to the routine greed and self centeredness that so much of our world runs on, a world running on the energy of love would feel relaxing, nurturing even, inspiring and incredibly exciting. Our challenge in embracing an entirely new paradigm of functioning together as a global community is to courageously face the restrictions in our own minds and step past the perceived differences, in order to see the similarities in what we all want and need…namely peace, freedom, harmony and love. The mind running on fear keeps us imprisoned in old ways of being: in conflict, in separateness, in smallness and in lack. Now is the time to invite great change into our hearts, our minds, our lives, and to step toward the next evolutionary cycle of humanity, a cycle that begins with a change in consciousness.
In order to do this we, like any people who have enacted great change, must employ vigilance, effort, courage and the willingness to withstand the chaos of moving from one operating system to another. We must overcome the habitual responses and fearful beliefs based in the survival programming of our collective subconscious and choose instead the power of self reflection that is ours through evolution. Moment by moment, thought by thought, choice by choice, day by day. We must stand strong during these tumultuous times, for if we succumb to the old ways of thinking and relating now, the quest for freedom will never be won.
What is this freedom? It is the freedom to know ourselves and our fellow humans as ONE. It is the freedom to know a collective, harmonious, peace filled world, based on the awareness that conflict serves nothing (except the preservation of the already unhappy ego that falsely believes self protection is the only way to survive.) It is the freedom of knowing our truest safety lies in cooperation and mutual trust. As people of this ONE Earth, we must work as compatriots to see through the illusion of our separateness into the understanding of our oneness.
Evolution occurs as each one of us chooses one step toward unity consciousness, moment by moment, day by day. With one step toward love instead of fear, we contribute to the harmonious healing of our planet and of humankind.
What belief of separateness or conflict are you willing to release today?
What could you do or say today to promote peace?
What small change in the way you interact with others can you shift today toward unity consciousness?
Maybe it is time to eliminate concepts like ‘survival of the fittest’ or ‘the one with the most toys wins’, by opening our hearts and calling in the survival of the most loving. As you go through your day, reflect as to whether your choices are based on fear or on love. Let love be your guide. What could be accomplished through the power of mass love? Maybe soon we will find out.
published in YogaFinder © 2009 reprints by permission
The 8 Steps to Living the Truth with Yoga were formulated for Dr. Keith Ablow to parallel his 8 Steps to Living The Truth book. They are a practical application of the Yogic principles handed down by venerated teachers and taught in yoga classes all over the world for the past 2500 years.
Breathe deep and slow. Tune in to your body’s needs and messages. Accept and respect your body as it is today. Reawaken tense or numb places with movement and breath. Focus single pointed attention on the moment. Cultivate stillness. Establish balance and moderation of your life force energy. Practice peace with yourself and others.
1. Breathe deep and slow.
Breath is life. It is the very fuel we rely upon to function. And yet, most people do not breathe well. They breathe shallow, backwards and ineffectively. Stress, trauma, and deep emotion will often cause us to hold our breath unconsciously. This is because when we stop breathing, physiologically, we stop feeling as much. Holding the breath is an unconscious reaction pattern we learn early in life to minimize pain. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work.
When you embark on a process of reawakening your life and your truth, seeking the clarity to create positive life change, the first step in yoga is to reawaken the lungs’ capacity to take in deep life giving breath, and release fully any stress or tension. Air expands and energizes. It activates, organizes and animates our physical bodies.
Breath is considered the link between body, mind and spirit. Conscious control of the breath lets us bring awareness to patterns of holding in the body and begin to release them. Think of it this way…as the body changes, like when we run, our breathing changes. So in reverse the same is true. If we can change our breath, we can change our body, making it calmer and more focused.
There are many breathing techniques in yoga called “pranayama” designed to help us manage our life force energy optimally, but first we must re-learn natural, deep, slow breath. Try it now.
Place your hands on your belly. Take a big breath in. Was it difficult to get a full breath in? Did your belly suck inward? Or did it inflate to allow for the filling up with oxygen? If it sucked inward, you are breathing “backwards.” The belly should open, like a balloon being inflated when we inhale. With that intake of life force energy, we create space and we refuel.
Now the exhale. Hands still on the belly. The abdominal muscles should engage, expelling all the air out of the body, releasing that which you no longer need. With it, you can visualize tension and stress leaving as well. Was it challenging to really let go of the breath? Or did it explode out in a tremendous sigh?
Clean, clear, spacious, open inhale…..calling in clarity for life change.
Deep, complete, relaxing exhale….releasing tension and old patterns.
You may find it difficult to allow the belly to open, soft and round with these big inhales. Culturally, we are taught to “suck it up” and “hold it together.” We are a culture of control. We want to control our feelings so we “hold it in”, making our bellies hard. The old ‘abs of steel’ mentality.
In yoga, the belly is considered our sacred center, responsible for our vitality, creativity and sexuality. Our core represents our center of right energy, from which we extend into the world and create balance in our body and in our life. If this center is being restricted, held back or sucked in, we limit our ability to function effectively on all levels. The muscles and organs need deep oxygen intake to function properly. Our minds require effective breath for clarity of thought and perception. And our ability to stay calm, regulated by the parasympathetic nervous system, is directly affected by how optimally we breathe.
We nourish the body and the mind with the vital energy of the breath. As we open the channel of the breath, the muscles of the chest relax and we are ready to listen to the sacred beat of our heart.
So take another one now. Inhale deep….exhale slow…. Aaahhhhh.
2. Tune in to your body’s needs and messages.
Once we start breathing deeply again, what often happens is that we become aware of our bodies in a whole new way. Sensations that we had effectively ignored, suddenly call out for our attention. In the same way that you are coming to grips with how your past has been affecting your present life, you will begin to notice how the experiences of your life have become stored in your body.
For example, maybe your neck aches every time you have to deal with your ex-wife. Maybe your lower back acts up whenever you become worried about financial responsibilities. Maybe your eyes itch whenever you start thinking about a problem that seems insurmountable. Our issues get stored in our tissues.
Our bodies are incredible communicators. We just need to take the time to listen. Most of the time however, the mind dictates to the body what it should do, when it should work, sleep, eat etc. We either force our bodies into submission or ignore them altogether, until disease or injury forces us to pay attention. Either way, we have disassociated from our bodies and disassociation from something brings loss of respect, meaninglessness and numbness. Without the wisdom of the body we become like machines and we lose the testing ground for truth.
As you embark on living your truth, reconnecting with the wisdom of the body is essential. Focus on each breath and each sensation. Keep coming back to the body as a guide. Listen to what is happening in the body, what it is communicating, what it needs.
Often what arises when we tune in to the body and its messages, (besides the awareness of tension or discomfort) is fear. If danger or physical abuse was present when we were growing up, fear will be present in our body memory. Fear engages us and gets us ready to respond. The body goes into a state of always ‘ready.’ As we mine the past for what experiences are affecting us today, we can come to understand the fear, where it came from, how it has served our survival up until now. Then we can begin replacing fear (which is based on the belief something bad is going to happen)…with faith (which is based on the belief something good is going to happen). We can begin to let the guard down, breathe deep and slow, and relax.
As we listen closely to the body, we begin identifying emotional reactions in terms of body sensations. For example, anger might feel like a tight fist in the belly, sadness might feel like pressure on the chest, resentment might feel like heaviness on the shoulders. Once we have an understanding of how our body communicates feelings and needs, then we have a continual meter of truth.
In the same way that “knowledge is power” in terms of understanding your life story, body knowledge is power in sensing what is the right and appropriate action or movement in any moment of your life. As you spend time listening to the body’s way of delivering messages, you will attune to a deeper wisdom, an intuitive wisdom that will be a powerful measure of how truthfully you are acting and reacting in your life choices. When you are with someone who is not healthy for you to be with, you will feel it in your body. When you are taking a worthwhile risk, you will know it in the very fibers of your physical being.
Sometimes we need to let go of what we think is true, stop defending our beliefs and striving for control, in order to experience a deeper level of wisdom and truth. Can you feel truth and untruth? Where in your body do you sense this? Have you ever known something was true even before your could prove it?
Breathe and listen. Tune in to your body. A host of answers past and present awaits your discovery.
3. Accept and respect your body as it is today.
Let’s say you tune in to your body and all you feel is pain, judgment and frustration. In addition to identifying the shield strategies that you use to numb emotional pain, now is the moment to breathe into deep acceptance of simply ‘what is’ in this moment. Maybe you are 30 pounds overweight. Maybe you have chronic back pain. Maybe you’ve had injuries or surgeries that limit your ability to move freely. That is simply what is in this moment. Yoga teaches us that resisting the truth of the moment just creates more blockage. Anything we cannot wrap acceptance around causes us suffering. Acceptance on the other hand, creates the possibility for release and expansion.
We would all like to be perfectly fit, flexible and balanced. But because of LIFE! things get a bit mucked up. We feel the effects of our experiences as heaviness, low enthusiasm, pain, tension, or just lack of joy. We can only begin from where we are today. And it all starts with the acceptance of our bodies are as they are right now.
Although the body may have issues or disease that because of years of chronic holding will not release, it is possible to feel lighter, freer and more at home in our bodies again. A deeper level of well being and healing fills us as we become more accepting of who we are today. With acceptance, yoga meets us where we are, and we come home to ourselves, breath by breath, movement by movement. Small, manageable changes, lowering the shields, releasing self judgment, respecting the process of change and what it requires.
Maybe no one has ever held you in this much acceptance and compassion. How we relate to and treat our bodies, often reflects how we treat others or how we allow others to treat us. It is your option to continue the past or choose compassion and acceptance for yourself today. Choice is your greatest power. Healing, reprogramming, awakening, creating change. With respect and honoring, we forgive our bodies their weaknesses and allow them to open, strengthen, express and release.
4. Reawaken tense or numb places with movement and breath.
So you are breathing deep and full now, listening to your body’s messages and needs, accepting and respecting where you are in this moment. Once you start opening these channels, of memories and of the body, energy starts to flow and you need a way to direct it so that it doesn’t run out of control. With yoga movement and breath we can learn to work the edge of discomfort in the body and mind, not pulling back in the “reflex reaction to pain.” Now is the time to take the emotions you are feeling and turn them into ‘e-motion’ or ‘energy in motion’, into the momentum you need to chart the course towards your new truth filled life.
As a physical practice, yoga postures strengthen and stretch muscles, support structural alignment, stabilize joints, increase range of motion, build energy, release tension, rehabilitate injury, strengthen the immune system and organ function, alleviate suffering in the body and soul, balance emotions, and create a state of being that is both energized and relaxed.
To receive these benefits however, you must create appropriate goals. To create appropriate goals, you must listen to your body, respect its abilities in this moment and watch when your breath becomes restricted.
Assess what type of yoga movements or breathing techniques make you feel better and which seem to cause strain. Usually if a person is big energy/Type A, the form of practice that will bring balance is a calm, slow, reflective one. If someone tends toward low energy/depressive states, the form that will bring balance is one that creates fire, heat and motivation.
The physical practice of yoga postures is referred to as ‘hatha’ yoga. ‘Ha’ represents the sun, the masculine energy of heat and intellect.‘Tha’ represents the moon, the feminine energy of cooling and intuition. These correspond to the right and left hemispheres of the brain. If there is too much or too little of either form of energy, the system will be unbalanced. When these are in harmony, we are more balanced, and we feel better.
Unlike the physical fitness model of today which gauges health through measurements like muscle vs. fat or performance ability, the yogic criteria of health are lightness and stability in the body (strength, flexibility and range of motion), ability to withstand change, and ability to focus and calm the mind.
Yogic movement and breath is one more tool that can be used for self awareness and self transformation. We investigate through the laboratory of our own bodies. Find your personal balance between challenge and rest. Find the balance between effort and surrender.
Watch for any tensing which occurs in postures and apply acceptance. Watch for any distraction and apply focus. If your breathing becomes compromised anywhere, anytime, you shouldn’t be there.
Stay present with whatever movement or breath you are doing, with non-reactiveness and attunement. And watch how this spacious attitude allows the body and mind to open and release.
5. Focus single pointed attention on the moment.
Another word for attention is mindfulness. The essence of mindfulness is really our relationship to whatever activity we are engaging with, bringing our full attention to each moment. Sounds easy enough, but rarely, in our overcrowded days, do we hold this kind of attention on anything.
Try this experiment. Next time you are drinking a cup of coffee or tea, just drink the coffee or tea. Don’t drive, talk to a friend, read a newspaper, feed the cat, or catch up on emails. Just sit and savor the taste, smell, feeling, temperature and experience of the tea. Experiment at different times during the day with this single pointed attention. When you are brushing your teeth, just brush your teeth. When you are talking to a friend, focus completely on the conversation. When you are cooking dinner, just cook dinner, nothing else.
By multi-tasking we miss much of the richness inherent in each moment. We also miss the subtle cues our body sends when we are out of alignment with our truth. This single pointed attention will keep you tuned in to your inner truth. It will also strengthen your focus so that you may break free of habituated patterns of thought and behavior that keep you trapped and unconsciously repeating choices which do not serve your highest good.
Whether working through LTT exercises, interacting with our families, or practicing yoga postures, when we bring our full body, mind and heart to the moment, with energy and presence, we transform even the mundane into self awareness practice.
“When we practice awareness, we also cultivate courage. To wake up and confront what is actually happening, rather than just going along with old stories and reaction patterns, is an act of bravery,” writes John Welwood in Journey of the Heart. “Thus the essence of courage is being willing to feel our heart even in situations that are difficult or painful.”
Today, observe the times you are not 100% present in the moment and gently guide yourself back. What took you away? Probably thoughts of the past or worries about the future. But these do not exist. Only this moment exists.
And it is in this moment that we can choose something new for ourself. With each breath, of each moment of each day, we choose our possibilities. Multiple potential futures exist right now, and it is through the choices that we make each moment, that we determine the path of our lives.
As we hold moment by moment focus, not pushing anything away, but embracing everything with an open heart, we experience drops of peace and rest, sometimes just a few seconds. With more practice, we experience an extended sense of inner tranquility and well being. A drop of peace turns into a flow of joy, cheerfulness, energy and power.
6. Cultivate stillness.
In our modern world, to ‘unplug’ is almost unheard of, given that we can be connected at any time in almost any place on the globe through modern technology. We have become addicted to the stimuli and the connection this affords, but what we have lost is the internal check point and connection to our inner self that only stillness provides. We must choose times to unplug, to leave external stimulation behind, and close down the windows to the outside world, turning our focus inward. With the practices we have developed so far; breathing, tuning into the body, focusing with mindfulness on each moment, we create within ourselves the ability to be still.
Making choices about the sensory stimulation we allow in on a daily basis is essential to cultivating stillness. Like forgiveness, this is daily practice, not something we do once and then forget. We are bombarded with noise and distractions all day in our modern world. How can we find the quiet within, needed to hear our own truth? It is again, simply a choice. Turn off, unplug, say no, and get quiet. Use commuting time to be with yourself, rather than listening to radio chatter. Keep the television off while you are eating breakfast. Take a walk by yourself at lunch hour. Carve out quiet moments each day when you can.
We waste a tremendous amount of energy each day in useless, repetitive thinking. As a culture, we are addicted to thinking, which includes planning, assessing, and judging, instead of directly experiencing. In yoga, through focused breath and physical movement, we train the mind, gently calling it back again and again to the chosen focal point, as though calling a small child to sit beside us. We watch thought arise and fall, and we rest in the breath.
By closing off the external stimuli and clearing the internal screen long enough, we begin to see the way we are and hear the way things are. We become witnesses to our own experiences, watching with distance. And this distance offers clarity, perspective, and calm.
Up until now, we have been building active practices. We have been cultivating body awareness and respect; single pointed attention, and acceptance of the moment. Through movement and breath, we channel our life force and bring ease to the body and mind. Now as we rest in stillness, we transform doing into being.
As we practice, focusing and being still, eventually the busy, busy mind quiets down and meditation occurs. Meditation, simply put, is awareness. The ability to just be present with the moment exactly as it is, without running forward in desire, or running backward in rumination. Just being as we are now. We become able to observe everything as having a greater purpose, embracing all with an open heart.
“As we just let experience unfold, the heart opens more and more,” writes Stephen Levine, author of many books on meditation. “And we somehow feel that everything will be all right, that things are working out just as they are supposed to. It’s painful sometimes; it’s ecstatic sometimes; but somehow it’s always perfect.”
7. Establish balance and moderation of your life force energy.
By releasing emotion, confronting reality and embracing your body’s truth, you have freed up more energy and personal power. As you step into the proactive phase of LTT Step 7, visioning and planning your most powerful future, all of your life force energy is required. Now is the time to assess, by again deeply tuning in to body wisdom, whether or not any of that precious energy fuel is still draining into the past or being spent unwisely in the present on old pattern behaviors or other people’s issues.
Once this assessment is complete and you are fully engaged in your ‘now’, learning to moderate and balance your energy is the next step.
Like you budget your money to be sure you don’t overspend in one area and come up short in another, you must budget your energy, your life fuel, not going into debt on things like over working, over eating, or watching too much television.
Notice how and where you spend your energy each day? Are there imbalances? Are you coming up short for the things or relationships that are most important?
As in nature, to be harmonious, we rely upon all things being in good equilibrium. Day and night, work and play, sun and moon, self and other, summer and winter, outer and inner, male and female, intimacy and solitude, growing and resting, mind and body. When nature’s patterns are off balance, devastation occurs in ways like flooding, drought or hurricanes. When we are off balance, similar devastation occurs in our health, work or relationships.
We must regulate the patterns and cycles within us in the same way the earth does. And it is important to make adjustments before becoming completely depleted in the same way that we refill our gas tanks before running completely out of gas and having to walk for miles to the nearest filling station.
Unfortunately, creating balance and moderation for ourselves is not supported by modern life, in which we are constantly asked and expected to do more. We manipulate our environments with light and technology so we can work at all hours of the day and night. And we pay no attention to the seasonal nature of being human, except when the occasional snowstorm shuts down our ability to get to work. Even then, we just power up the Blackberry and work from home.
Our vital energy requires that we re-establish connection with our internal rhythms and cycles and create balance through moderation and healthy levels of self care. For example, say no to the extra commitments or tasks that keep you from taking time for stillness. And set your life truth goals in first priority rather than leaving them until the last thing on the to-do list.
How well do you allow for the natural rhythms and cycles in your life?
How could you honor yourself with more balance?
In our crazy modern lives, balance is often hard to achieve. We achieve a moment of balance and then we fall out again. Then we must employ the tools we have already learned to bring ourselves back to equanimity. Recognizing that balance, as any state of being, is ever changing, constantly in flux, we can breathe, listen inwardly, focus, be in the moment, be still and find it once again.
8. Practice peace with yourself and others.
“There is no way to peace,” said Mahatma Gandhi, Indian political leader and spiritual teacher. “Peace is the way.” Gandhi demonstrated this through his peaceful protests of British rule in India. He refused to meet violence with more violence, and successfully effected change for his country and won the respect of his enemies.
In the same way that you must take positive action to manifest your life dreams, you must also take active steps to create peace in your heart and in your life. Each time you choose a small measure of peace, you create a ripple effect into your circle of family and friends, blessing their lives with more peace and love. This then extends through them out into the greater world. Never underestimate the power of one peaceful word or action.
To actively choose peace and contentment at every turn, internally and externally, no matter what you encounter, is mindfulness practice at its finest. The hurt ego is so quick to react. The tired mind is so quick to snap.
You have already begun preparing the way for peace, applying deep acceptance of things just as they are now, slowing down and being mindful, honoring your body.
In yoga, to practice an active, practical application of peace and reverence for all beings means seeking to create peace where it is not. This is not simply doing no harm, but rather proactively looking for ways to do good each day. Staying neutral is not enough. The old adage, “If you are not a part of the solution, then you are part of the problem” applies.
No peace lies in the future which isn’t available now, hidden in the present moment. And the attitude and application of peace and reverence must always start with ourselves before we can extend it to others.
Some examples of how to create more peace for yourself are:
- Embrace the simple things.
- Treat your body with reverence, take care of yourself.
- Hold yourself compassionately in your thoughts and emotions.
- Allow yourself to rest when you need to.
- Watch for ways you subtly sabotage positive life change.
- Silence the self critical voice within when you have tried your hardest.
- Replace negative thinking with positive affirmations.
- Forgive yourself for something.
- Do less, enjoy more.
- Find humor, even in stressful situations.
- Reflect on your current blessings and abundance.
- Like manifesting your dreams, small steps yield big results over time. Look for ways this week to actively choose peace in your thoughts and actions towards yourself and others.
Some examples of how to create peace for others are:
- Use a soothing tone of voice.
- Express gratitude to someone.
- Yield the right of way to an aggressive driver.
- React kindly even if someone is rude to you.
- Take time to make eye contact and smile at a stranger or store clerk.
- Disengage from a current conflict.
- Make amends to someone you have treated unkindly.
- Spend an hour with a child, seeing the world from his point of view.
- Be patient with someone moving slower than you.
- Give something you love to someone who needs it more than you do.
- Practice being content, even if something is not exactly to your liking.
- Send someone who has hurt you a thought of forgiveness.
- Lend a listening ear to someone.
- Yoga teaches that inside these human bodies and human stories, we are really Divine Beings.
© 2008 Jennie Lee reprints by permission
As we sit most of today watching the devastation reports from Japan, thousands missing and dead, the nuclear alert pending as well as the damage in No. California and on the US east coast , it is just unbelievable what the Earth is throwing up.
It is definitely this kind of event that makes us all reflect upon how fragile life is and how fleeting the things that we ‘think’ are so permanent. This is truly a time for world prayer. Although the imminent crisis is so obviously in Japan, we are all at risk from the disturbance of consciousness that has been at play for so long upon the earth.
Just hours before the earthquake in Japan I was reading this passage from Yoga master Paramahansa Yogananda,
” The vibrations of the thoughts and feelings of thousands being killed in the fighting have caused atmospheric changes that are responsible for these floods and other disasters around the world. War spews out vibrations of wrong that throw all nature out of balance and harmony, causing “natural” catastrophes. God gave freedom to man, and man has misused that freedom., this is the cause of suffering. The misuse of our God-given free will has terrifying consequences.”
In order to even begin to shift the earth energies, we MUST begin to shift our own consciousness….from hatred to peace, from fear to love, and from self-protection to compassion. Yogananda continues….
” As one develops spiritually and realizes his kinship with all that lives, his responsibility to share the suffering of others increases.”
Also Amma (the “Hugging Saint” responsible for humanitarian relief efforts all over the world) teaches that the most important quality humanity needs to develop at this time is compassion. These two modern enlightened masters echo the teaching in the Yoga Sutras that we must “embrace reverence and love for all (ahimsa)” in order to create peace.
There is no time to waste and THIS MUST BEGIN WITHIN each one of our hearts. If we cannot set aside our differences, the “disturbances” of the earth will continue to escalate affecting us ALL. If we can shift to a consciousness of compassion, peace, unity and love, we will change the course of the world.
© 2011 Jennie Lee reprints by permission
If you are like so many Americans, the house is filled with stuff, presents everywhere, chaotic schedules, too long “to-do” lists and people with very short fuses. The holidays look nothing like the holy days they sprang from and are meant to commemorate. Rather they resemble a race against time, money and pressure to do and buy more, more and more.
As yogis, how can we practice a more authentic expression and observance of what is most sacred and holy to us this holiday season?
We can begin by turning to the Yoga Sutras, where the teachings referred to as the Yamas and the Niyamas help us adhere to foundational values, and show us the observances needed to live more harmoniously, with greater integrity, more consciousness and simpler joy.
In terms of bringing the truly devotional aspect of the holidays back, we can look to the Sutra on Iswara Pranidhana that says, “Through wholehearted dedication, we become intoxicated with the Divine.”
To what are we wholly dedicated in our hearts? What aspect of the “Divine” do we most want to celebrate this season?
In order to answer, we need first to become still. Just stop. Sit or stand completely still for five minutes and focus on a deep, slow, belly breath. Even better, lie down and put your legs up a wall with a small blanket under your hips, stretch open your arms, and therefore your heart, and TUNE IN. Take this time to reflect upon what is holy to you this holiday season. Start by remembering the most meaningful holiday memory you hold in your heart.
The one that springs to my mind, is the Christmas morning, when my son had just turned two and the living room was piled high with presents from well meaning family and friends all for our little one. He excitedly toddled in to see what Santa had brought and ripped opened the first thing his hand landed on in his stocking…a jar of Play-Doh. He was thrilled. The texture, the smell, the taste! It was all new, and totally captivating. He sat down right there to explore it with all of his senses.
Meanwhile, the two adults sat next to the tree and the mountain of gifts, and tried to entice him to come back and open MORE! After all, the video camera was all set, the perfect music was playing and we had an agenda for the day. Well, three hours later, he was still engrossed with his Play-Doh – one jar, one color, that’s it. Completely content with this simple joy.
Now there is yoga in action. At age two, my son was naturally living two other Niyamas. The teaching of the need to practice purity or simplicity called Saucha says, “Through simplicity and continual refinement, the body, thoughts, and emotions become clear reflections of the Self within.” He was also deeply in Santosha or contentment as in “When at peace and content with oneself and others, supreme joy is celebrated.”
As the cultural influences of consumerism and indulgence become stronger, we are challenged as modern householder yogis to apply the ancient teachings. It takes more effort to choose simplicity than it does to get swept away in the tide of mass celebration through material goods. Clearly, if we could take as much joy from one simple gift and bring the fullness of our attention to it in the way a two year old can, we would need a whole lot less under the Christmas tree.
And we know the benefits when we do practice! To be truly content and grateful, fully absorbed in one thing at a time, brings our hearts ease, our minds release, and our bodies rest. On the other hand, if we are overscheduled, have more to do than is ever humanly possible, or fall into trying to keep up with the holiday merchandising madness, we feel overwhelmed, exhausted, scattered and often resentful.
So it is up to us, to follow the teachings of the Yamas and Niyamas in order to reap the benefits. We can embrace the teachings of Saucha and Santosha by choosing to do less, buy less, expect less, participate less. By doing so, we step off the treadmill of consumerism and back to the foundation of celebrating the holiness within the holidays.
Now of course, there may arise a rebellious voice that says, “I know, I’ll just do NOTHING! Boycott the whole darn thing.” So then we have to take one step further into the teachings and balance the movement toward simplicity with another Yama – that of Astheya or generosity which states, “Abiding in generosity and honesty, material and spiritual prosperity is bestowed.”
How contradictory you might think? Well only if you need to express your generosity monetarily. The truest generosity we need to cultivate is the generous gifting of our love. And when the mind gets still, and the heart is open, the practice of generosity flows effortlessly and we are able to balance it with simplicity as well as moderation (the Yama of Brahmacharya) and truth (the Yama of Satya). We feel joy, harmony and congruency.
So each time a choice arises this holiday season, we can center ourselves by taking a cleansing breath, and asking some poignant questions. What is the simplest, most authentic, most heart centered and moderate decision? Does this express true devotion to what I consider most holy? Can I be content with that expression, regardless of how it compares to current cultural standards and propaganda?
To receive the benefits of the ancient ways, we must embrace them through our modern choices. This year, may your choices and your holidays be ones of simple joy and deep devotion, and may you experience the peace of truly “holy days.”
Tips for Bringing Simple Joy to Your Holidays
- Spend some quiet time with your family discussing what is important and meaningful to all of you.
- Prioritize and don’t overload your schedule. Say no lovingly, and preserve the joy in what you say yes to.
- Be content and fully present with the activity at hand rather than already anticipating what’s next.
- If the traffic or lines have you frustrated, take breath-breaks, focusing on slow even inhales and exhales.
- Release attachments and be prepared to cancel plans if obstacles present themselves and the kids are melting down.
- Embrace something simple, like sitting under the tree and meditating on the twinkling lights.
Published in YogaFinder © 2009 reprints by permission
A Yoga teacher’s journey through dark territory to personal transformation through the practice of Yoga.
When I found out I was pregnant I was angry. I had just got my life working exactly how I wanted it. A baby meant massive change. Immersed in an exciting career in entertainment, I was 34 and practicing Yoga for all its physical benefits—extreme flexibility, tight abs and the really hot male instructor I hoped would adjust me in triangle pose. Those seemed like the benefits to Yoga. But with a basketball in my belly this would all change—and I didn’t want change! Read on…