Adventures with David Swenson…

One word for my weekend… Amazing. I loved every bit of the yoga, travel, site-seeing, and food. I have learned more from David that I can put into words. He leaves me with a want to study with him again! David has this amazing fun demeanor that makes you laugh. He has a wonderful way of conveying hard-to-grasp concepts in a fun and easy way. I was browsing his website and found a Q&A section that I liked a lot: Thoughts. His website is http://www.ashtanga.net/.
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We not only learned about yoga asana, modifications, and how to get into harder poses. But we learned that asana isn’t the most important. Will it make your life any better if you can do the Advanced A series? No. David also gave a whole new meaning to bringing awareness into our practice by comparing our bodies to a car. If you are driving down the road and your car starts making a “thud, thud, thud” noise, what do you do? Do you speed up and ignore it? Do you stop and look at it and say, “eh, we can make it 100 more miles?” No, you pull over to the side of the road immediately, change the tire, and go about your way. So why do we ignore our body’s “thud, thud, thuds?” If your knee is hurting it is sending you a message, “Hello Lindsey, this is your left knee speaking. We’re having a little discomfort down here.” And maybe I ignore it because I really want to do that next asana. “Hello Lindsey, just in case you didn’t hear the first time. This is your left knee. Ouch, ouch, ouch!” And I ignore again because I really have to try that jump-through… “HEY! Lindsey! Left knee here! Ouch, ouch, ouch, OUCH!” Not only did this make me laugh, but it really sank in. We’ve all heard our teachers say, “listen to your body” but this made it even more clear.
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In the last class of the weekend we had a philosophical discussion on the 8 Limbs of Yoga. Why do you do yoga? Fitness? Stress relief? Or maybe to make yourself a more peaceful person? If you go to yoga, does it make you a better person? Not by any means. Just because the person next to you in class can put their foot behind their head does it make them a more “enlightened” person? Absolutely not. What if that person is horribly mean outside the yoga studio? In simple terms, the 8 Limbs are about how to apply yoga to your every day life.
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The definition of Ashtanga is “8 limb path.”
  • Yamas: self restraint, vows of abstension, control
    • Ahimsa: Non-Violence
    • Satya: Truthfulness, Honesty
    • Asteya: Non-stealing, or Non-misappropriating
    • Brahmacharya: Chastity, Continence
    • Aparigraha: Without possessions
  • Niyamas: fixed observation, rules, precepts established orders
    • Saucha: Cleanliness, Purity
    • Santosha: Contentment, Peaceful
    • Tapah: Fire of Ordeal, A Burning Desire
    • Svadhyaya: Study leading to knowledge of self
    • Ishvara-Pranidhana: God or Higher Self the target of concentration, surrender
  • Asana: posture comfortably held, seat
  • Pranayama: regulation of breath, restraint of breath
  • Pratyahara: withdrawal of senses
  • Dharana: concentration, fixing of the mind (mono-task, stay present)
  • Dhyana: meditation, contemplation, reflection
  • Samadhi: profound meditation, putting it all together
We had a two and a half hour discussion on all of this so it is definitely not possible for me to explain it all or even explain half as well as David did. But maybe it will spark an interest in your practice.
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David also mentioned that no matter the reason that we come to yoga, whether it be fitness, a simple want to do the poses seen on magazine covers, stress relief or anything else… we all end up in the same place. Yoga has this magical power to make you crave more. Why? We don’t really know, it seems to be magical. But at the same time, “yoga is not easy” (Sri K. Pattabhi Jois). Putting all the 8 Limbs into practice is not easy. Pattabhi Jois is not talking about putting your foot behind your head, he’s talking about applying yoga to your everyday life.
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David ended the discussion with a question that I want to pose to you.
Is the world a better place because of our presence in it?
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Wonderful food at The Laughing Seed vegan restaurant.
After an amazing & enlightening weekend with David Swenson!
New friend! Marian Bull.
Wouldn’t be the same without my best yoga bud! Susan Hall.
Scenic ride home.
In addition to wonderful yoga inspiration by David, I met an amazing new friend. Marian Bull is a fellow yogini in search of yoga and she will be embarking on an amazing journey to Mysore, India in January 2012. Follow her blog posts to “live vicariously” through her experiences in India! www.MarianWrites.com. I love meeting new friends!
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I also have a big “thank you” to extend to my friend, Swapna Gupta. This weekend would not have been possible with out you and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Karma is a wonderful thing and you have a bountiful amount coming your way!
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Love,

Are you a believer?…

I love this definition of “believer.” People seem to be so skewed today about “right” and “wrong” and “my religion” and “your religion.” As long as we’re all believers as this article defines it, we are all the same.

It’s a simple question: Are you believer? However the answer may not be so simple. To answer this it may be better to first answer the question: What do you mean by “belief”?

This is important because meanings of words evolve over time and that the meaning of the word “belief” has evolved too. Karen Armstrong in an interview with Reddit explains:
…the English word belief changed its meaning: beliven used to mean “love, loyalty, commitment, engagement,” It was related to the German liebe (“beloved”) and the Latin libido (“desire”). Only in the late 17th century did it come to mean: “an intellectual acceptance of a somewhat dubious proposition.”
When ancient sages and prophets talked about having “belief” or “faith” they meant something much different from what it seems to mean today. The call for having belief or faith was akin to a call for action. It was not a call for an intellectual exercise. You do not decide to be a believer or non-believer as an intellectual exercise. Instead you decide to act or not to act. To be a believer meant committing to live your life in a particular way.
And what type of life were the ancient sages asking us to commit to when they asked us to be believers? The answer is that all sages and prophets, throughout history, have unanimously asked us to commit to the “Golden Rule”: To do to others what we would have them do to us.
Belief was a commitment to think and act, all day, every day, in a manner that is consistent with the Golden Rule. The promise was that if you do this consistently you would grow closer to God. Belief was a journey towards God; it was not something that you do at the outset of the journey. God was not an intellectual exercise. God was something practical you could do something about and you could grow into.
Ancient sages understood that God is not an intellectual idea that describes something in space-time. Ancient sages understood the limits of language and had a full grasp that reality was not what it seemed and was indescribable using language . This is similar to the limit of language that modern physicists are running into as they try to describe the nature of reality. How do you circumvent this? How can you have religion and spirituality without having the ability to talk about God?
The genius of ancient sages was that they preferred to talk about God only through metaphor and poetry. For a more direct understanding of God, they explained, it was best to be attained through direct experience. The word “belief” or “faith” was used to describe this. The idea was not to ask people to subscribe to some dogmatic set of unproven ideas, but instead to have them commit to live by the Golden Rule. The claim was that doing so consistently led to an upsurge of spiritual force within that made you increasingly God-conscious.
This brings us to the word “Ishvara-pranidhana” in yoga. This is one of the Niyama and has been spoken of byKrishnamacharya and others as one of the most vital aspects of the 8 limbs of yoga. So what does Ishvara-pranidhana mean? The answer to this question will also help us understand what it means to be a believer.
The word Ishvara translates to God and Pranidhana translates to ‘devotion, surrender, concentration, or dedication.’ The word “Ishvara-pranidhana” hence translates to “God-focus”. It means that we should commit to sideline the ego and surrender to God. It means that we should never forget our divine essence and not get lost in the idea that the ego is us. At any given time we have a choice: Either we can be in ego-consciousness or we can be in God-consciousness. Some commentators have likened this as the choice between being in the left hemisphere of the brain (be in ego-consciousness) or being with the right hemisphere of the brain (be in God-consciousness).
But do we have a choice on how we express our consciousness? Can we control from which hemisphere of the brain we are expressing and experiencing consciousness? The answer according to the sages, past and present, is an unqualified yes. This is in-fact the basis of the 8-limbs-of-yoga. The central premise of raja-yoga is that if you practice the 8 limbs consistently then you will increasingly find yourself to be less ego-centered and become more spiritual and God-conscious.
The next question is: Why should you care? What is wrong with being ego-conscious? The reason why sages throughout history have essentially given the same message is that they all saw the ego as the source of our problems. The ego takes us away from our essence and makes us behave in a selfish manner. Ultimately this leads to deep sorrow and suffering. Instead of enjoying the constant and deep bliss of divine consciousness we end up swaying in the temporary cycles of happiness and sorrow, progressively drowning in the morass created by the ego.
A believer consciously says no to living disconnected and divided from the whole. The believer wants to dance to the deep wellspring of joy that comes about by being connected with the whole. The believer wants to be open to the joy of divine grace in every living moment. So what do you choose: To be a believer or a non-believer?
I found this article at MyLifeYoga.com. A wonderful and inspiring website!

Soul’s desire…

I read this article in Yoga Journal and it made me want to share it. We all strive for happiness in life, so we can all take away something from this article.

What is your soul’s true desire?
Uncover your personal blueprint for happiness and let it guide you to bliss…
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Happiness. We all seek it. There is no more basic or universal drive than the desire to be happy. It is inherent, something we are compelled to want by virtue of who and what we are. Everything that human beings have accomplished and aspired to, our every endeavor, has been and always will be rooted in the impulse to satisfy our longing for happiness. We desire love, pleasure, beauty, friendship, accomplishment, wisdom, and power. Each of us longs for an abiding sense of purpose and meaning, peace, health, and security. At some level, we also aspire to freedom, to a greater capacity to shape our destiny, and to a connection with something greater than ourselves, which some call Source, Self, or God.
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As the 13th-century poet Rumi observed: “The wings of humankind is its aspiration.” Aspiration was responsible for the creation of language, society, culture, science, architecture, the world’s spiritual traditions, and even walking on the moon. Everything that humanity has accomplished is the legacy of its enduring desire for fulfillment.
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The yoga tradition provides one of humankind’s most effective systems for achieving happiness in every aspect of life. In the same way that the physical practice of yoga so effectively benefits your body and mind, the larger science of yoga is similarly powerful in unlocking the vast potential of your body, mind, and spirit to help you achieve your best life imaginable. Yoga’s supreme objective is to awaken an exalted state of spiritual realization, yet the tradition also recognizes that this state does not exist in isolation from the world and worldly matters. Thus, the science of yoga teaches you how to live and how to shape your life with a commanding sense of purpose, capacity and meaning. In short, yoga has less to do with what you can do with your body or with the ability to still your mind than it has to do with the happiness that unfolds from realizing your full potential. There may be no more important step to achieving ultimate fulfillment than accepting what the Vedas teach us about desires – that some desires are inspired by your soul.
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The four desires…
According to the Vedas, your soul has four distinct desires, which are collectively described in the tradition as purushartha, “for the purpose of the soul.” The first of these four desires is dharma, the desire to become who you were meant to be. It is the longing to thrive and, in the process, to fulfill your destiny. The second is artha, the desire for the means (such as money, security, health) to help you fulfill your dream. The third desire is kama, the longing for pleasure in any and all forms. The fourth is moksha, the desire for spiritual realization and ultimate freedom; it is the intrinsic desire to be free from the burdens of the world, even as you participate fully in it, and to experience a state beyond the reach of the other three desires.
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According to Vedic tradition, the four desires are inherent aspects of your soul, or essence. Your soul uses them to fulfill its unique potential. Learning to honor the four desires allows you to thrive at every level and leads you to a complete and balanced life. It’s important to understand that, from the viewpoint of the Vedas, all four kinds of desires, including desires for material prosperity, if pursued mindfully, can be spiritual because they can pave the way for your soul to express itself on Earth. Of course, not all desires lead to happiness. Desires can and do result in pain and frustration. However, according to the ancient tradition, attachment to desire, not desire itself, is the underlying cause of practically all of our pain and suffering.
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The tradition also speaks at great length about the necessity of understanding your life’s deeper purpose, because true happiness is dependent on your fulfilling it. Indeed, it is my observation that the failure to develop a clear understanding of their life’s purpose is the reason many people are unable to achieve and sustain the happiness that they, deep in their hearts, seek. The challenge we all face is to learn how to take into account the full measure of who we are and use the positive force of all four of our soul’s desires to lead us to our best life.
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The power of intention…
The place to start harnessing your power to determine your destiny, to achieve any intention as well as lasting fulfillment, is your own mind. According to the Vedic tradition, the most profound way to affect the course of your life is by harnessing the power of resolution or intention, which in Sanskrit is called sankalpa.
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Sankalpa is the compound of two Sanskrit words: kalpa, which means “a way of proceeding” or, more revealingly, “the rule to be observed above or before any other rule,” and san, which refers to a concept or idea formed in the heart. Thus, sankalpa means determination or will: an intention, a conviction, a vow, or most commonly, a resolution – one that reflects your highest aspirations. In practical terms, a sankalpa is a declarative statement, resolution, or intention in which you vow or commit (to yourself, your teacher, a priest, or even God) to fulfill a specific goal.
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The ancient concept of sankalpa is predicated on the principle that your mind has a measureless capacity to affect the quality and the content of your life. The ancient traditions – including Veda, Tantra, and yoga – venerated the mind and appealed to the Divine for the mind to be filled with “auspicious thoughts,” because they saw the mind as the chief architect of our lives. In other words, they viewed your mind as the ruler of your fate. “The mind is everything. What you think, you become,” said the Buddha.
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We are all familiar with the concept of intention or resolution. It is said that the average American makes 1.8 resolutions per year. We create intentions to lose weight, find a more rewarding career, get organized, or attract the ideal partner. We resolve to change our diet, be more disciplined, work harder, work less hard, spend more time in nature or with our families, enrich our spiritual life, stop smoking, be a greater force for good in the world, or do any one of countless other things we aspire to accomplish. However, it’s critical to note that research shows that at least 80 percent of us do not achieve our resolutions. Despite all that you may have heard or read in praise of the limitless power of intention, this statistic means that fewer than one in five of us achieve what we set out to achieve.
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What explains this failure to fulfill our resolutions? One very important reason is that we too often focus on fulfilling our desires without giving as much thought to how our desires serve the greater meaning and purpose of our lives. Another reason, from the perspective of the Tantric tradition, is that there is a science to manifesting intention, and if you don’t apply it, you will likely end up as part of the 80 percent who don’t see their resolutions fulfilled.
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A sankalpa, by definition, focuses your mental and energetic resources and, in the process, the forces of nature, toward a specific end. I’ve worked with people who have successfully applied sankalpa to achieve everything from healing a life-threatening illness to enriching their spiritual life or finding their dream job.
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Now comes the critical question: How do you identify the specific desire that would best serve actualizing your potential? More specifically, what – if you could achieve it in the next 6 to 18 months – would enrich you and, in the process, contribute to fulfilling the meaning and purpose of your life? At first glance, the answer might seem obvious. If you’re financially strapped, wouldn’t you just create sankalpa to make more money at your current job, find a better-paying one, or win the lottery – in other words, a sankalpa that focuses on achieving a desire in the realm of artha (finances and material security)? Not necessarily. When it comes to desires, the obvious answer isn’t always the right one. That’s because until you learn to do otherwise, the obvious answer almost always comes from your intellect, and your intellect isn’t completely capable of knowing which intention will best serve you. Your soul, however, has a way of always knowing what you need to serve your higher purpose and, at the same time, what your next best step should be in order to experience the lasting happiness you seek. The point is, we all know, more or less, what we want; we don’t always know what we need.
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Choosing your right desire…
One of my students, Victoria, was in her mid-50’s when she was told she would never again walk without the aid of a cane or crutches. A few days earlier, she had been hit by a car, which broke her hip and several ribs, and crushed the bones in one of her legs.
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Victoria had, in the past, worked with the process of The Four Desires and fulfilled several sankalpas, including successfully creating and navigating a challenging career transition. Her intention now was to use her power or resolve to help herself heal. Unwilling to accept the doctor’s prognosis, she assumed, quite logically, that her sankalpa should focus on artha – which entails health and well-being. Her goal was to learn to walk comfortably again, resume playing golf, and even dance. In combination with her sankalpa, I suggested to Victoria that she use Yoga Nidra, an extraordinary deep-relaxation technique that empowers sankalpa.
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A month or so later, Victoria and I spoke. The work she was doing was not having the effect on her body that she had hoped for. I was tempted to ask her to be patient but stopped short when she acknowledged something that her relaxation practice had revealed: Being completely dependent on those around her had forced her to see something that until then she had been unwilling to admit, which was that her boyfriend of 14 years had long been distant and unsupportive; now that she really needed him, he was more distant and less nurturing than ever.
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Despite being “together” with him, Victoria had felt alone for a long time. She realized that she needed to heal her relationship with relationship. She recognized that she needed to focus her attention to the fulfillment of kama, the second desire, which relates to love, intimacy, and relationship. The more we spoke, the more obvious it seemed that Victoria’s first step to healing was less about her body and more about her heart.
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If she was going to walk again, she had to be strong enough to “walk away” from a less-than-nurturing relationship. I helped her craft a new sankalpa. Her resolve would no longer be, “I am completely healed from physical injuries.” Her new resolve became “I feel loved. I stand, walk, and dance happily on my own, surrounded only by people who care for me.”
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From the moment she refocused her sankalpa and began to methodically apply it, Victoria’s physical healing accelerated. Almost instantly, she felt different. She was now inspired and uplifted; most important, she was now prepared to face the physical challenge of learning to walk again and stand completely on her own. Less than two years later, Victoria not only stands without a cane but walks, plays golf, and practices and teaches yoga. Her former boyfriend is no longer part of her life. Victoria’s story shows that when you collect your resolve, commit all of your resources, and direct them properly, you can create lasting and meaningful change.
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Seek within…
So how do you know when you’ve chosen the correct focus for your sankalpa? Consider Matthew 6:33 from the Christian New Testament: “Enter the kingdom of Heaven and righteousness and all things shall be added on to thee.” The Vedic scriptural source, Chandogya Upanishad, conveys the exact same principle this way: “His desires are right desires, and his desires are fulfilled.” The terms “righteousness” and “right desires” point us back to the fact that the right desires are in line with our higher purpose. The Sanskrit term for such desires is satyakamna, which means, “true desire.” The will to act on such desires is called satyasankalpa, or “true resolve.” How do you find your satyakamna, your true desire? The answer is to ask your soul. Steeped in soul, you no longer have to try to distinguish “thy” will from “my” will; soul is where universal will and individual desire merge. As Lord Krishna states in the Bhagavad Gita, “I am desire itself, if that desire is in harmony with the purpose of life.”
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If you have little or no meditation experience, you might assume that the soul is accessible only to those few who have dedicated their lives to finding and experiencing it. The good news is that this is not the case. One of the greatest yogic , the Yoga Vasishtha, puts it this way: “This Self is neither far nor near; it is not inaccessible nor is it in distant places: It is what in oneself appears to be the experience of bliss and is therefore realized in oneself.” In other words, anytime you experience profound happiness or bliss in your life, you are actually experiencing your soul. You may not know it, but the joy you are feeling is coming from you. It is you. The key is to learn to be able to access it whenever you want. This is where the practice of meditation comes in.
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It’s possible for anyone, in a single meditation session, to get at least a glimpse of stillness – and of a unique kind of contentment, the contentment that is your soul’s nature. This is a critical point in achieving both spiritual and material fulfillment since, according to Vedic wisdom, we are each born with a blueprint to achieve a full and contented life. Your soul holds that blueprint, and the higher aspects of your mind – specifically, your intuition – are the means by which you can read that blueprint and let it guide you to fulfill its master plan.
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Thus, by learning to apply the simple steps of meditation that I will lead you through (see Inquire Within blog post to follow) and by learning to “see” those desires that are inspired by your soul, your desires can become the means by which your short-term goals, in any of the four categories of desire, become your way of manifesting your soul’s overriding purpose, or dharma.
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The path to a fulfilled life…
“If you cling to a certain thought with dynamic willpower, it finally assumes a tangible outward form,” said Paramahansa Yogananda. “When you are able to employ your will always for constructive purposes, you become the controller of your destiny.” The vows you hold dear, when you are deeply committed to them, speak directly to the universe, compelling it to act on your behalf. When such conviction is linked to dharma, the aspiration to become the best you can be, you will be led to a life of joyous fulfillment and accomplishment. Strengthened and focused by your sankalpa, or resolution, you will eventually learn to see how all things, all experiences – even those that are challenging or might at first appear to be obstacles in the path to achieving your desires – are actually helping guide you.
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In the process, you’ll develop faith. As you become more capable and powerful in the service of a higher ideal, your resolutions will help you become a more powerful force for good in the world and enable you to realize the ultimate promise of yoga, which the Srimad Bhagavatam, one of India’s most revered texts, describes this way: “A human being is born to dive deep into the stream of life, find the hidden treasure, and attain eternal fulfillment.”
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Eternal fulfillment is both an art and a science. When you learn to skillfully apply the science, you become an artist. Your heart’s deepest desires become your brush strokes, and the life you were meant to share with the world becomes your finished canvas.
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Love & happiness,

References: 
Picture: from the article: Seven habits of highly happy people
Article: Yoga Journal, author: Rod Stryker

A Poem…

The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool
for love,
for your dreams,
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon…
I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow
if you have been opened by life’s betrayals
or have become shriveled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your
fingers and toes
without cautioning us to
be careful,
be realistic,
to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can disappoint another
to be true to yourself.

If you can bear the accusation of betrayal,
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless,
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty,
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand on the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
Yes.”

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after a night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the center of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like the company you keep
in the empty moments.

Pay attention to your breath…

Pranayama is that obscure fourth limb of yoga that has not gone mainstream yet. Will it ever? Of course!
And think of the benefits: life extension, maybe a full 100? A focused mind, glimpses of what goes on behind the curtains, peace of mind. What is there not to like?
Starting a pranayama practice is a process, it requires finding right instruction, the blessing of a good teacher, time to dedicate it to a practice, building up a routine, etc. It is a practice just as much as asana, yamas, or meditation is.
And yet, beginning is simple because pranayama starts with awareness, continues with measurement and extension, and results in a focused and peaceful mind.
 However the first step is:

Paying attention
 Here are 32 suggestions on where to place the attention and create the right environment for the magic limb to show up in our lives:

1.- Pranayama beings with noticing. Every time you remember, pay attention to how you are breathing, do not judge, just notice.

2.- Understand what it is. Prana = life force, ayama = extension. Or, prana can also be breath.
Prana is whatever you understand and name that which is keeping you alive right now, your breath, your life force and how we get more of that.

3.- The main purpose of pranayama is to extend life, so we can have those full 100 years and work at our practice for a very long time. Having a longer life is useful in practicing breath extension and with having a better chance at accomplishing or rather, experiencing the other limbs of yoga, the ones that come afterwards, which require a very long time.

4.- Then to teach us slowly, how to extend our breath, and retain it and master it.

5.- The purpose of pranayama is also to remove lethargic tendencies -or tamas-. Pranayama wakes us up and is especially useful for those of us who practice strenuous asana practices, as in some ashtangis who enjoy their series -yes I mean me-.

6.- Then to make us bright and clear in mind. As a consequence be become more clear in our thinking. Also when both nostrils are active both parts of the brain are stimulated which provides a better ability for concentration.

7.- Then to help us focus. A clear mind can withdraw into itself and focus on just one thing, which is the way of the eight limbs of yoga.

8.- Then to aid in the limbs of yoga that follow proper breathing (pratyahara, focusing, merging with the object we focus on)

Noticing:

9.- Notice how the way in which your spine is erected, or not, affects the way you breathe. Change your sitting position or standing position and pay attention to the interrelation of it and the breath.

10.- What nostril is most active right now? How about as soon as you wake up? How about when you wake up in the middle of the night?

11.-If one of the nostrils is blocked see if you can activate it so that both will be flowing by placing a yoga block or a small pillow under the opposite armpit and pressing the arm firmly. Did it work? If not, try laying down on the opposite side of the blocked nostril. Did that open it up? Notice what works.

12.- Is there a difference on how you feel when both nostrils are open together than when just one is open? and if so what are the differences?

13.- When you are agitated or mad, what happens to your breath?

14.- When the breath is shallow and short how do you feel? Observe especially when you feel agitated emotionally.

15.- How is your breathing when you are sick? I tend to do puffs of forced exhalations.

16.- Does your breathing change when you take a bath? I tend to yawn and breathe deeper.

17.- Take a long smooth and slow breath. How long did that take? in seconds? in heart-beats?

18.- How long can you comfortably retain that breath? in seconds? heart-beats?

19.- Exhale and see how long can you make the exhalation. Write that number down.

20.- Have you tried using a neti pot? Try it and make a note of how it feels. Note that if you regularly practice intense asana (poses) then the use of the pot is not necessary as an every day occurrence. Only when you notice that your nose is stuffed.

21.- On your next asana practice pay full attention to the breath, is it reaching every single cell in your body? If not notice the blockages, work to open. Become very aware of how the breath interacts with the pose. Breathe in and lengthen, breathe out and reach.

22.- Do you avoid breathing when you walk on the street near something you consider may smell bad? Are there other moments when you almost unconsciously breathe less to avoid something? bring it all to light, notice it.

23.- Clean your tongue with a tongue-scrapper in the morning. It will change your life to notice what gets stuck there, and you may enhance your sense of smell.

24.- Listen to Richard Freeman’s Yoga Breathing

25.- Try a pranamaya preparation exercise like kapalbhati and begin building the number of expulsions you can do per minute. Rejoice in how your mind gets clear after each round. Think quality, not quantity.

26.- Then practice a basic exercise called nadi shodana, which is safe and can help you calm the mind.

27.- Read about pranayama in the HathaPradipika, this is the commetnary that Srivatsa Ramaswami (a student of Krishnamacharya for 30 years) recommends. It has a lot of Sanskrit on the first part. However, if you are more into the “more English” camp, this is the one I read.

28.- If you would like to take a pranayama retreat here are some suggestions:

In Asia there is Paul Dallaghan.

In North America we have Ramaswami, who studied directly with Krishnamacharya and recently in his Facebook page said: “I studied with Sri Krishnamacharya for a number of years. I do not remember a single yogasana class which did not have a decent dose of pranayama and shanukhimudra (pratyahara) in it and short prayers to begin and end the session”

In India there is O.P. Tiwariji, who is elusive to find as he does not have a website (you will have to google him). He is however offering a pranayama teacher training in Mumbai in November and he is also is teaching with Paul, in October (1st to 14) in Thailand. Blessed are you if you can make it to any of these. He will also be giving short workshops in Paris and Taiwan pretty soon.

There are many teachers, make sure to do your research. Look for quality and lineage.

29.- Read about all eight limbs of yoga so you see where pranayama fits into the map, and the territory.

30.- Begin to investigate the concept of bandhas because they are critical when the retention part starts to happen Do you engage mula bandha during your asana practice (tightening of your anus). Begin experimenting with it if you do not already do so. Get used to it. Learn about Uddhyana and Jalandara bandha. All three bandhas are critical for pranayama practices, especially when they get deeper and they involve retention.

31.- The actual pranayama benefits are reaped through the retention of the breath for longer and longer periods of time. However, the retention has to be done in the proper way, engaging all bandhas, following strict rules, in a right sited position and environment. It takes deep care and dedication, but it all begins with noticing the breath.

32.- Read this book. It is the best I have found, and I have read most.

If you follow these suggestions and begin keeping a diary you will become very familiar with the regular, current patterns of your breath.

You will be in tune, and will become a connoisseur of your own breathing. The deeper your awareness the more prepared you are to go deeper into the fourth limb.

May you be successful on the journey.

I found this article (32 Ways to Pay Attention to your Breath) via Elephant Journal
This is a wonderful website. Visit and browse!

Yoga and Fitness…

I recently dusted off my copy of The Path to Holistic Health by BKS Iyengar and I found this forward about yoga as it relates to fitness. If you’ve been into yoga for a while you know that here in America and most all of the Western side of the world has made yoga into ‘just another exercise’ but it is so much more than that.

“Most types of exercise are competitive. Yoga, although noncompetitive, is nevertheless challenging. The challenge is to one’s own will power. It is a competition between one’s self and one’s body.

Exercise usually involves quick and forceful body movements. It has repeated actions which often lead to exertion, tension, and fatigue. Yoga asanas, on the other hand, involve movements which bring stability to the body, the senses, the mind, the intellect, the consciousness, and finally, to the conscience. The very essence of an asana is steady movement, a process that does not simply end, but finds fulfilment in tranquility.

Most diseases are caused by the fluctuations in the brain and in the behavioral pattern of the body. In yogic practice, the brain is quieted, the senses are stilled, and perceptions are altered, all generating a calm feeling of detachment. With practice, the student of yoga learns to treat the brain as an object and the body as a subject. Energy is diffused from the brain to the other parts of the body. The brain and body then work together and energy is evenly balanced between the two. Yoga is thus termed sarvanga sadhna or “holistic practice.” No other form of exercise so completely involves the mind and self with the body, resulting in all-around development and harmony. Other forms of exercise address only particular parts of the body. Such forms are termed angabhaga sadana or “physical exercise.”

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Stimulative exercise…
Yoga asanas are stimulative exercises, while other endurance exercises are irritating. For instance, medical experts claim that jogging stimulates the heart. In fact, though the heartbeat of the jogger increases, the heart is not stimulated in the yogic sense of being energized and invigorated. In yoga, back bends, for example, are more physically demanding than jogging, but the heart beats at a steady, rhythmic pace.
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Asanas do not lead to breathlessness. When practicing yoga, strength and power play separate roles to achieve a perfect balance in every part of the body, as well as the mind. After such stimulating exercise, a sense of rejuvenation and a fresh surge of energy follow.
Exercise can also be exhausting. Many forms of exercise require physical strength and endurance and can lead to a feeling of fatigue after 10-15 minutes of practice. Many such exercises improve energy levels by boosting nerve function, but ultimately, this exhausts the cellular reserves and the endocrine glands. Cellular toxins increase, and though circulation is enhanced, it is at the cost of irritating the other body systems and increasing the pulse rate and blood pressure. Ultimately, the heart is taxed and overworked.
An athlete’s strong lung capacity is achieved by hard and forceful usage, which is not conductive to preserving the health of the lungs. Furthermore, ordinary physical exercise, such as jogging, tennis, or football, lends itself to repetitive injuries of the bones, joints, and ligaments.
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Such forms of exercise work with – and for – the skeletal and muscular systems. They cannot penetrate beyond these limits. But asanas penetrate each layer of the body and, ultimately, the consciousness itself. Only in yoga can you keep both the body and the mind relaxed, even as you stretch, extend, rotate, and flex your body.
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Yoga, unlike other forms of exercise, keeps the nervous system elastic and capable of bearing stress. Although all forms of exercise bring about a feeling of well-being, they also stress the body. Yoga refreshes the body, while other systems exhaust it. Yoga involves the equal exertion of all parts of the body and does not over strain any one part.
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In other forms of exercise, the movements are restricted to a part or parts. They are reflex actions, which do not involve the intelligence in the execution. There is little space for precision and perfection, without extra expenditure of energy.
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Yoga can be practiced at any age…
With advancing age, physically vigorous exercises cannot be performed easily because of stiffening joints and muscles that have lost tone. Isometric exercises, for example, cannot be practiced with increasing age, as they lead to sprained muscles, painful joints, strained body systems, and the degeneration of organs. The great advantage of yoga is that it can be practiced by anyone, irrespective of age, sex and physical condition.
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In fact, yoga is particularly beneficial in middle age and after. Yoga is a gift to older people when the recuperative power of the body is declining and resistance to illness is weakened. Yoga generates energy and does not dissipate it. With yoga one can look forward to a satisfying, healthier future, rather than reflecting one one’s youthful past.

“Unlike other exercises, yoga results in the concentration of immunity cells in areas affected by disease, and thus improves immunity. That is why the ancient sages called yoga a therapeutic as well as a preventive science.”  ~The Path to Holistic Health, BKS Iyengar. Pg 42-43

I myself am guilty of training for and running a 5K this month… so I am not saying that yoga is the only exercise that anyone should ever do. I just wanted to shed some light on the positive benefits of yoga and share the words of a true Guru. Think about what your exercise really does for you.
Love,

New Year, new Journey…

Yoga philosophy states that by simply moving towards a new direction, you are honoring the change that is yet to fully come; as stated in the Yoga Sutras, “Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness.”

The changes we seek in our lives will come with a devotion, in any measure, to practicing some aspect of a new behavior.

This year, open your eyes to change. Celebrate newness of life.
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Open to Possibility
Change is unknown, and we often cling to old habits because they feel safe. Yet yoga teaches us that change is constant. What first appears to be stillness and constancy in a yoga pose reveals itself to be always shifting, always transforming. The same is true for each of us – while our lives and personalities may seem stable and unchanging, we are actually always unfolding. Yoga teaches us to welcome the inevitability of change, to be curious about where our practice is leading us. When we are open to change, we are better prepared to direct change intentionally.
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A simple breathing exercise can help you find ease with the constant rhythm and change of life. In a comfortable seated pose, close your eyes and draw your attention to your breath. Observe the breath as it enters and exits the body. Rest your hands on your belly, and notice the movement of the breath. On each exhale, pull the belly in and press the breath out completely. Relax the belly on each inhale, and notice how the next breath rushes in. By letting go of the old, you create room for the new. Let go of what you don’t need, and create space for change in your life.
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Expand Your Awareness
Intentional change requires self-awareness. We spend much of our time listening to others, seeking advice, and looking outside ourselves for insight. Yoga teaches us to develop our own insight through careful and compassionate observation. By giving us the opportunity to slow down, yoga helps us recognize what is personally important. A good yoga practice can stir you up, challenge you, and refresh you. What is left, as you settle into savasana or meditation, is clarity. With this clarity, it becomes easy to see what changes will truly enhance your life – and they may not be the kind of changes we habitually pledge in our New Year’s resolutions.
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Through yoga practice, we also become aware of the relationship between our thoughts, actions, and experience. It can be as simple as noticing how your posture influences the quality of your breath, or how a small change in the placement of your hands makes a challenging pose easier. This process of noticing, of generating insight, seems simple. But over time, as you carry this art of awareness into everything you do, every choice will be better informed, every action more intentional, and every response more insightful.
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Balancing poses are particularly effective for developing awareness for a simple reason: without awareness and internal intelligence, we fall. To test your internal awareness in your yoga practice, try closing your eyes in a balancing pose (such as tree pose). Instantly, the unconscious processes that were holding you in the pose will reveal themselves. When you stop looking outside yourself for balance, your internal intelligence will rise to the challenge.
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Find Your Focus
Yoga develops our ability to follow through on our intentions. Each pose is an opportunity to develop concentration. We direct our effort and attention to simple actions: staying aware of our breath and our body as we hold a pose. Each pose is also an opportunity to develop commitment: we learn not to give up at the first sign of boredom, anxiety, or fatigue.
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To achieve true change, focus on the integrity of each action, rather than the outcome you hope to achieve. To find this quality of focus in your yoga practice, choose a standing pose (such as warrior pose) that is challenging but accessible to you. Enter the pose with commitment, but without ambition. Hold the pose as long as you can, without losing the integrity of the pose’s alignment or sacrificing the quality of your breath. End the pose when you feel too uncomfortable or tired to continue, or when you feel a sense of satisfaction and completion. Carry this focus and integrity to every action in your life.
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Surrender Your Timeline
Change happens in increments, sometimes large and sometimes achingly small. When we want change to happen instantly, we often give up. Yoga develops the patience to allow change to unfold at its own pace. With time, yoga shows us that small acts, performed consistently, can create profound change over time.
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To develop this patience in your yoga practice, enter a pose that directly confronts, and slowly unravels, tension in your body. Choose a pose that challenges your flexibility, but that you can comfortably hold. Relax in the pose and wait. Breathe deeply. Commit to holding the pose for five minutes, or as long as the pose remains comfortable. Notice how the body’s tension unravels slowly, but surely. Practice the same pose daily. As your body adapts to your consistent patience in the pose, your starting point in the pose will change as well. Develop the patience to move towards change slowly and purposefully.
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A Practice for Life
Yoga practice is just that – practice for everyday life. Apply these qualities of openness, awareness, focus, and patience to any change that you would like to see in your life. While we cannot control all of life’s many changes, we can act intentionally to shape our lives and experiences. You don’t need an iron will to stick to your New Year’s resolutions – a simple yoga practice is strong enough to guide you, and flexible enough to receive whatever life brings.
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Reference: Yoga for Everybody, January 2005

Miraculous practice…

Has yoga changed your life? It’s pretty likely, since just about everyone who practices yoga has been touched in some way by its transformative power. Maybe you simply feel better in your body. Perhaps you’ve experienced more profound changes in your life, relationships, and worldview. But because these changes often take place over time, as a part of a subtle and organic process, it can sometimes be hard to pinpoint exactly what it is about yoga that helps you to live a better life.

Tantra scholar Rod Stryker says that to truly understand why yoga is so transformative, you first have to understand the concept of transformation. The idea that yoga changes you into someone better than the person you were before is something of a misconception. It is more accurate to say that yoga helps you remove the obstacles that obscure who you really are, that it helps you come into a fuller expression of your true nature. We’re not transforming into something we aspire to, we’re transforming into the very thing that we are innately: our best Self.

One way yoga encourages transformation is by helping you to shift patterns you’ve developed over time, patterns that may be unhealthy. When you put your body into a pose that is foreign and you stick with it, you learn how to take a new shape. Taking this new shape with the body can lead you to learn how to take a new shape with the mind. If practiced correctly, yoga asana breaks down the psychological, emotional, physical, energetic, and psychic obstacles that inhibit us from thriving.

Yoga also teaches you how to make better decisions. Everything about practicing yoga involves intention – you set apart time in your day to do it, you move in a specific manner, breathe in a specific way. And when you are mindful and deliberate in your yoga practice, you create the opportunity to become more mindful and deliberate in your life. The people who stick with yoga realize that they make decisions that are more constructive than destructive. “I often tell my students that one of two things will happen after you do yoga for a few years: Either you will begin to change for the better, or you will stop doing yoga” (Stryker).

Perhaps most important, your yoga practice allows you a glimpse of the joyful and free person you can be. Practicing asana shows you that you can accomplish things you never thought you could. At first, we think, “There’s no way I am going to be able to do a Headstand.” And then, in little increments, we start to gain the confidence. And then all of a sudden we can do it. When you’re lying in Savasana at the end of a yoga practice, after you have worked hard and felt thoroughly present and connected to your body, that sense of joy and freedom you experience is an expression of your true nature. Even though it may be fleeting, it shows you what is possible.

For a look at yoga’s amazing healing power, read Julie Peoples-Clark’s story. Her daughter was born with spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy as the result of mistakes made by the birthing center, and Julie (mom) fell into a deep depression. She says that yoga saved her life. May her story inspire you to trust in the practice and in the answers that arise from getting to know your own Self.

“The only limitations are those in your head. Everything else is just a technical problem.”
~Julie Peoples-Clark

(Reference: Yoga Journal 2010)

Life, on purpose…

Do you see the beauty in life? No doubt, we have our moments where we stop and say, “Wow, that’s beautiful” but are your eyes (and ears) open to it all the time? Are we desensitized? Do we take the beauty of the world for granted?

The following is a study organized by The Washington Post in Washington, D.C.

In Washington, D.C., at a Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007, this man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, approximately 2,000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After about 3 minutes, a middle-aged man noticed that there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then he hurried on to meet his schedule.

About 4 minutes later: The violinist received his first dollar. A woman threw money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

At 6 minutes: A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.
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At 10 minutes: A 3-year old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head the whole time. This action was repeated by several other children, but every parent – without exception – forced their children to move on quickly.
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At 45 minutes: The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.
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After 1 hour: He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed and no one applauded. There was no recognition at all.
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No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell sold-out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each to sit and listen to him play the same music.
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This is a true story. Joshua Bell, playing incognito in the D.C. Metro Station, was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities.
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This experiment raised several questions in my mind:

  • In a common-place environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?
  • If so, do we stop to appreciate it?
  • Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?
  • Why do the children seem to have a better “classical ear” than we do? I think children could teach us something about living in the present moment.
One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made… How many other things are we missing as we rush through life?
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We all have heard that we must “live in the present moment” and there is this amazing “power of presence.” So if it so amazing, why don’t we all try more to live in the moment and live our lives as if on purpose?
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Daily dose of Gratitude…

With Thanksgiving on my mind I started thinking about what I was thankful for… Truly Thankful. This thought actually started when I got a card from one of my preschoolers parents that said, “Thank you for taking such good care of our little angel and for planning fun activities for the class. We are thankful for you.” In addition to the large smile to my face, my insides were glowing. Telling someone how much they mean to you large or small, in few words or many words, will make their heart smile. To this parent the care of her child is most important and she let the teacher know just how thankful she was. What a novice idea!

So this Thanksgiving I challenge you to understand the importance of giving back – and being thankful for what you have – to tie it all together. Gratitude is the antidote to materialism. Materialism is obsessing on what you desire. Gratitude is appreciating what you have, whether it be a person or the roof over your head.

To get more Gratitude into your life, use these words daily; grateful, thankful, gift, lucky, fortunate. Realizing and acknowledging all the wonderful things that surround you will make you feel like the richest person in the world.

Remember, there is always something to be thankful for.