Some of My Life Lessons

Although yoga is about being present, I find that New Year’s Day is a good time to reflect on the past and set an objective for the future. I dislike using the term “resolution”, but I do like to set an intention for the coming year.

This time last year, I had no idea how much my life would change. And how it changed! I now wake up in the city where I longed to be, but I had to give up teaching yoga in Boise and have not yet determined whether I’ll be able to teach in Phoenix. At the beginning of 2018, I wanted to reflect on some lessons I am learning and decided to post a meme each month. These lessons helped me keep my focus on things that really matter and I continually come back to them when I start to stray. That New Year’s goal was accomplished and here’s the collection of memes that I compiled.

January
01 meme
Has someone ever told you they liked the blouse you are wearing and you reply, “What? This old thing?” or “I got it at a 50% sale at Walmart”? Or, have you listened to what you tell yourself: too old, should be thinner, not pretty enough, etc. I’m becoming aware that there are many ways I have put myself down in order to appear humble, but what it really does is destroys my self-esteem. Instead, I am working to not attach myself to the image others may perceive about me, good or bad. It’s a hard habit to break, but there’s inner peace if I can do it.

February
02 meme
Whenever I fail at a task, it’s so easy for me to feel like I’m just not up to it and give up. But repeated efforts reveal lessons learned, sometimes a little bit at a time. Tenacity pays off. Now, I do not call these attempts as “fails”. I call it “practice”.

March
03 meme
Yoga does not remove negative emotions nor does it bring happiness. But with yoga, we can acknowledge the presence of strong emotions and learn to not attach ourselves to them so we can find equanimity. And that brings peace.

April
04 meme
I have witnessed people who have neglected their dreams in order to conform to what is expected of them or to be accepted by others. Many times, this is subconscious and, as I look back, I have been unwittingly guilty of this myself. But through the practice of yoga, I am connecting with my true self. And I am learning that it is possible to be steadfast on your path without being selfish.

May
05 meme
Yoga asanas teach us about being equanimous: in between strength and flexibility, in between happy and sad, in between fearful and bold. In that middle space are calmness and peace. The same applies to how I treat myself. If I’m too hard on myself, I lose self-confidence. If I’m too proud of myself, my ego becomes inflated. The middle way is where I strive to be and it’s a constant balancing act.

June
06 meme
It has taken me most of my adult life to accept and like myself. Giving up on trying to be like someone else was a hard lesson to learn, but so worthwhile. If I were someone else, I wouldn’t be me!

July
07 meme
For me, the scary part of change is the unknown future it presents. Having faith that things will work out the way they are meant to be is a hard thing to learn. Until my faith becomes strong enough to alleviate my anxiety, I find the present mindfulness and surrender of the yoga practice to be beneficial at such times. If nothing else, just focusing on my breath for a few minutes can take away some of the stress. Take a deep breath and exhale. Everything is going to be alright.

August
08 meme
Unless you combine a hip, groin, and shoulder opener into one! Seriously, through my yoga practice, I have learned that it is not the QUANTITY of tasks, but the QUALITY of the task done that brings a feeling of fulfillment. Focusing leads to a clear sense of concentration which helps to quiet the mind. This is hard to do when my focus is spread to too many tasks at the same time.

September
09 meme
What real purpose does judgment serve? If I were to reflect my judgment back onto myself, what would I see? Often times, I find that it is not really other people I’m judging, but myself.

October
10 meme
As leaves change color and fall to the ground, Autumn reminds me of the impermanence of life. And while the trees shed their leaves in a spectacular and dramatic fashion to prepare for their dormant season, I find myself thinking how wonderful it would be if we humans could celebrate change in a like manner.
.
Change is unnerving
Change is unavoidable
Change is inevitable
Change is necessary
How I handle change is up to me.

November
11 meme
I have never liked competition, except when I compete with myself. When I compare myself to someone else, I either feel inferior or superior. Neither is helpful to me.

December
12 meme
Forgiveness is needed in order to move forward and grow, but I can be my harshest critic. If I’m truly honest with myself, there are no excuses when it comes to my past mistakes, no justification, no blaming others. I can’t change the past, but if I can learn from my mistakes and not repeat them, then I realize that these mistakes served a purpose. Guilt only holds me back.

These aren’t the only lessons I am learning, but ones that have really stood out during the past year. As we move into 2019, I will test my patience and be present. The future will unfold when its time comes.

A Dozen Ways to Dog Pose

dozen 7

For people born between Feb 18, 1958 and Feb 7, 1959, we enter into an auspicious year. Not only do we have the honor of turning 60 sometime in the coming year, but we celebrate the year of the Earth Dog with this Chinese New Year! This is the first time since we were born that the Earth Dog has come around and in recognition, I present a dozen ways to dog pose.

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For fun – Personality and Horoscope for the Earth Dog

Earth dogs generally cannot inherit much wealth from their forefathers, so most of them rely on their own efforts; they have the ordinary luck in youth and it’s hard for them to accumulate wealth; their luck becomes better in middle age and they have sound luck in old age.

Earth dogs are broad-minded, faithful, considerate, well-disciplined and they stick to principles. Also, they are grateful, chivalrous, brave and have the courage to take the blame for what they do, thus it’s easy for them to offend somebody. Earth dogs always have clear goals and they are self-poised towards success and failure, never compromising their conscience to do things. They are persistent and never give up. They believe in the life philosophy of taking their own road in a down-to-earth manner. Although earth dogs are very capricious sometimes, they never hurt others arbitrarily and they respect the other’s position and attitude rather than forcing the other to accept their opinions. Earth dogs don’t like to interfere in the life of others, vice versa.

Earth dogs have the artistic spirit, so it’s not suitable for them to work in industry and commerce circles with fierce competition and internal strife. It doesn’t mean that their physical strength or fighting spirit is inferior to others, but their practice and personality cannot cater to others in this complicated society.

In work, earth dogs are always meticulous and responsible and they are committed to their work and try their best to finish the work. Due to their serious and responsible attitude, they are more likely to succeed.

In terms of love, earth dogs are tongue-tied in the face of their loved ones. The most headache thing for them is the romantic love because they don’t know how to create the romantic atmosphere, or how to answer back when the partner takes the initiative. However, they will give all they have for their loved ones and they are very faithful.

Generally, earth dogs have favorable luck in making money but they need to avoid the money matters between friends and sign the agreement in advance to avoid the unnecessary loss in cooperation.

The Chanting of AUM

Om

From the beginning of my yogic journey, I have often wondered about the chanting of AUM.  In my studies of yoga philosophy, I can get lost in the vastness and depth of the subject.  So I attempt to keep it on a simple level and reflect on the effect it has on my own consciousness as my understanding slowly grows. When chanting, especially in the company of others, I feel a vibration deep inside that suggests that there is so much more than I currently realize. That sparks my curiosity and I think that is what keeps me coming back to my mat.

To give an example of what the chanting might feel like, here is a video from the 2016 IYNAUS convention.

 

The best explanation and instruction of the chanting of AUM I have found is from BKS Iyengar himself.  Below is a passage from an October 14, 2005 interview by filmmaker Mira Nair with Guruji, courtesy of the Iyengar Yoga Institute of New York.

Guruji:
All of you sit straight. I don’t want you to stand. Think that you are standing though you are sitting on the chair. Treat your tailbone as the feet – as the center of the feet. And the two buttock bones are the actual feet. So sit on the buttock bone from the back to the front, the center like an arch – reverse arch – touching your seat. When you stretch your body, the torso – close your eyes, drop your eyebrows down; when you close your eyes the upper lid should come down, not the lower lids going up – again open your eyes: slowly bring your upper lids to come and touch the lower lids along with the eyebrows. Don’t bend the head down.

Hear the inner sound from the ears and take the vision – reverse the vision of your eyes to the inner space which you cannot measure either through physical eyes or intellectual eyes. It is so deep inside. As you descend the energy of the brain from the four hemispheres let the energy touch the stem of the brain or the egg of the brain so that the four hemispheres’ energy recedes to the center. And from there, it has to dip down towards the seat of the heart which is the seat of the mind. And as you are sitting, see that your feet, the buttock bones are firmly established on the seat. Gradually stretch the frontal spine – do not jerk the back spine – but the frontal vertebras, creating space on the anterior part of the spine which is known as the physical energy.

Ascend the physical energy from the front of the tailbone to reach the core of your being which is exactly just near the diaphragm, the center of the diaphragm. Similarly, bring the intellectual energy from the head to descend so that both the physical energy and the intellectual energy reach at the seat of the intelligence, the heart. At the same time your vision should follow the descendence of the energy of the intelligence as well as the ascending energy of the physical body. And you will know where they meet.

Take your ears inside. Release your tongue. Do not touch your tongue to rest on the upper palette. As you are in sleep, as the tongue is completely quiet, non-moving, here also learn to relax the tongue and let it rest on the lower palette. Remain quiet. Passively look within, not only with your eyes, but with your ears, so that the mind becomes quiet and your brain becomes silent. In the silence there is auspiciousness. In that auspiciousness the incantation has weight. Look within. Let your inner layer of the skin also look within without dropping the height of the spine.

Along with me, after I say AUM, I request you all to sound AUM.

AUM is not a Hindu mantra. The first word to open the mouth is akara – A – you cannot open the mouth without the word “A” – you cannot speak without rolling the tongue – that’s why “U” comes – so silence comes from the “M”; so it has nothing to do with Hindu religion. AUM is the three words which makes one to speak. Therefore the importance of AUM and they call it as “shabda brahma” or brahma, the creator, in these three words where the language has come to existence. Therefore the Hindus use the word AUM as a bija mantra, as a seed for talk. Therefore let us all pay respects to these three words which makes us to live, which makes us to create, generate, protect and destroy what should not be used.

Slow, soft exhalation. Do not do an inhalation. If you inhale you disturb the vision of your eyes. So let the vision be deep inside.

AUM chanting going on.

Hear the sound of silence. Let your ears move in to feel the source of the vibration. And that is self.

Wish you all the best in yoga.

[end of passage]

The Story of Patañjali

Patanjali

In Iyengar yoga, we often begin practice with the chanting of the Invocation to Patañjali. This sets the stage for a quiet and humble mindset which I find quite nice, especially in the company of fellow practitioners. Patañjali wrote the Yoga Sūtra, 196 aphorisms that describe the eight limbs of yoga.

patanjali_invocation

The translation of the Invocation in Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali by BKS Iyengar is:  Let us bow before the noblest of sages, Patañjali, who gave yoga for serenity and sanctity of mind, grammar for clarity and purity of speech, and medicine for perfection of health.  Let us prostrate before Patañjali, an incarnation of Adiseśa, whose upper body has a human form, whose arms hold a conch and a disc, and who is crowned by a thousand-headed cobra.

Also told by B.K.S. Iyengar in Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Pataṅjali is the story of how he came to be.

It is said that once Lord Viṣṇu was seated on Ādiśeṣa, Lord of serpents, His couch, watching the enchanting dance of Lord Śiva. Lord Viṣṇu was so totally absorbed in the dance movements of Lord Śiva that His body began to vibrate to their rhythm. This vibration made Him heavier and heavier, causing Ādiśeṣa to feel so uncomfortable that he was gasping for breath and was on the point of collapse. The moment the dance came to an end, Lord Viṣṇu’s body became light again. Ādiśeṣa was amazed and asked his master the cause of these stupendous changes. The Lord explained that the grace, beauty, majesty and grandeur of Lord Śiva’s dance had created corresponding vibrations in His own body, making it heavy. Marveling at this, Ādiśeṣa professed a desire to learn to dance so as to exalt his Lord. Viṣṇu became thoughtful, and predicted that soon Lord Śiva would grace Ādiśeṣa to write a commentary on grammar, and that he would then also be able to devote himself to perfection in the art of dance. Ādiśeṣa was overjoyed by these words and looked forward to the descent of Lord Śiva’s grace.

Ādiśeṣa then began to meditate to ascertain who would be his mother on earth. In meditation, he had the vision of a yogini by the name of Goṇikā who was praying for a worthy son to whom she could impart her knowledge and wisdom. He at once realized that she would be a worthy mother for him, and awaited an auspicious moment to become her son.

Goṇikā, thinking that her earthly life was approaching its end, had not found a worthy son for whom she had been searching. Now, as a last resort, she looked to the Sun God, the living witness of God on earth and prayed to Him to fulfill her desire. She took a handful of water as a final oblation to Him, closed her eyes and meditated on the Sun. As she was about to offer the water, she opened her eyes and looked at her palms. To her surprise, she saw a tiny snake moving in her palms who soon took on a human form. This tiny male human prostrated to Goṇikā and asked her to accept him as her son. This she did and named him Patañjali.

Gonika

Pata means falling or fallen and añjali is an oblation. Añjali also means “hands folded in prayer”. Goṇikā’s prayer with folded hands thus bears the name Patañjali. Patañjali, the incarnation of Ādiśeṣa, Lord Viṣṇu’s bearer, became not only the celebrated author of the Yoga Sūtras but also of treatises on āyurveda and grammar.

Pranayama in the New Year

New Year Resolutions.  I always have one or more every year.  Sometimes, I achieve my goal and sometimes I don’t.  The objective is that I move forward in the New Year with the intention of improving myself.  I will never become the perfect person, but I can always work towards being a better person.

Yoga is like that.  No one will ever perform all asanas (postures) perfectly, but the work we put in will pay us back by improving our physical health, calming our fears and anxieties, and bringing more peace in our lives.

One of my New Year resolutions this year is to deepen my practice in pranayama (controlled breath).  This practice is a more subtle form of yoga and therefore, one I have found hard to incorporate into my private practice.  However, the calming effect of this practice always amazes me.  For a sample of how breathing can affect your frame of mind, follow along with the picture below for a few minutes.  Observe how you feel before and after.

 

breathe1

 

As a fire blazes brightly when the covering of ash over it is scattered by the wind, the divine fire within the body shines in all its majesty when the ashes of desire are scattered by the practice of pranayama.”  Geeta Iyengar

The pranayama practice is more involved that just deep breathing.  In my beginner class, I’ll introduce you to different asanas each week and one week a month the focus is on restorative postures and pranayama.  Come and join me and experience what yoga can do for you.

Saucha and a DIY tip

The foundation of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs Yoga are the Yamas and Niyamas. Saucha (cleanliness) is the first Niyama.
Here is my DIY formula for cleaning my mat. Spray it on and wipe off at least once a week to prevent the build up of sweat and body oils so mat stays sticky.  Don’t spend money on prepackaged cleaners when this simple formula works well and without toxins.

diy cleaning solution

 

The Story of Virabhadra

I share with you the story of Virabhadra written by Karen Smith for an Iyengar publication in the UK.  My apologies, I can no longer find the website to give proper credit.
The People Behind the Poses, by Karen Smith

While many of the names of yoga poses are based on the Sanskrit words for parts of the body and how they are worked (such as Prasarita Padottanasana ‘extended stretched leg pose’) or the shape made during the pose (Ardha Chandrasana ‘half moon pose’), others have their basis in Indian mythology. In this article I look at the character behind Virabhadrasana, the legendary warrior Virabhadra.

Brahma, the Lord of Creation, made ten sons to carry out his tasks of creation and destruction; two of these sons were Siva and Daska. Siva was the more powerful and the jealous Daska resented his brother’s supremacy. To make matters worse, contrary to Daska’s wishes, his daughter Sita had chosen the reputedly mattedhaired, alcohol drinking, cremation-ground frequenting Siva to be her husband.

Daska organised a yajna, a ritual sacrifice, to which all were invited. When Daska entered the celebration the guests – great sages, philosophers and demigods – stood in respect for their host, with the exceptions of Brahma (his father: so, understandable) and Siva (not so understandable). Daska was offended because as Siva’s father-in-law he believed himself superior and worthy of more respect. As a stickler for etiquette and rules, Daska decided to snub his daughter and son-in-law at his next yajna to teach them a lesson.

The day of the ritual sacrifice arrived, and Sita saw people making their way to her father’s house. She asked her husband where they were going and when she found out that there was a party to which they had not been invited, Sita was determined to go and confront her father. Siva advised her not to, but his wife was strongminded and she rode to the yajna on her husband’s white bull. When she arrived her father asked why she had come, since she had no invitation. He began to insult Sita’s husband calling him the ‘king of goblins’, ‘beggar’, ‘ash-man’ and ‘long-haired yogi’. Sita was humiliated, hurt and, above all, ashamed to be Daska’s daughter; consumed by anger, she threw herself onto the sacrificial fire where she preferred to die than be associated with Daska.

Hearing of his beloved wife’s death, Siva became enraged. He tore a hair from his matted locks and threw it to the ground, where it became the powerful warrior Virabhadra. Siva equipped his warrior with an army and sent him to destroy Daska and his ritual sacrifice.

Virabhadra arrived at the party like a hurricane, brandishing swords in both arms. He reached way up through the earth from underground and we get the pose Virabhadrasana I; then he spied his opponent, Daska, and the pose is Virabhadrasana II; finally he cut off Daska’s head, Virabhadrasana III. The head was thrown into the sacrificial fire; those who tried to defend Daska were killed, and, needless to say, the party was ruined.

Virabhadrasana a 16-05

Siva went to the scene of the yajna to inspect Virabhadra’s work and there he absorbed Virabhadra back into his own form. The other gods begged Siva to bring Daska back to life, fearing the consequences if he did not. Siva’s anger had now gone and his sorrow had turned to compassion, so he agreed. Since Daska’s head had been burnt, Brahma substituted the head of a goat, cut off at a sacrifice. Daska therefore bore the mark of his foolishness for the rest of his life.

Still feeling grief for the loss of his wife, Siva fell into deep meditation until the time when Sita was reincarnated as Parvati to become his wife once more.