What is Yoga?

something3What is Yoga? A science? An art? A new exercise trend for people who want their bodies fit and flexible while humming an om or two and tuning in to cool music, inside and out, at least while on the mat?

Magic and myth meld Eastern philosophy and Western mind with subtle fibers, strands of light that connect us all.  Not even light but threads so fine that they can’t be seen with the naked eye that looks through the veil of reality.  And yet in some sense we have to become naked to see through the veil between the “I that I am” and the divine.  ( Om tat sam) A separation that happens time and time again sometimes getting tangled or caught as threads intertwine and bind in patterns of Samskara creating Karma.

In Indra’s net we are all held dear , each special and unique, not bound but supported. Yoga is both the weaving and the unweaving, suturing or sewing as the Sutras say. The Sutras give instructions to tell us how to be the weaver of our Dharma or destiny through Svadhyaya,  rather than caught in others or our own Kleshas, insisting on our Avidya, defedning our point of view to the death.  The Yoga Sutras, and practices point the way to Moksha, freedom,  like sign posts but the teachings are taught only if we learn to read between the lines.

Yoga is both the instructor and the instructions, the teacher and the teachings that speaks in and through the silence occasionally finding a voice. A voice that guides saying “Follow me I know the way,” or perhaps just says, “Look and see where you’re going rather than seeing though the lens of where you’ve been.”   Yoga develops our “I” sight, developing and showing us how to see and how to seed new karma as we practice pulling the weeds from our Garden of Eden: Blessing them for their teaching of hardiness we nurture the little shoots of new growth until they take root reaching down into the earth of our being stretching up to the stars and beyond to embrace, to touch and be touched by the eternal. Life returning again and again. Evolution and devolution till we reach the source that is as near as breath. The whisper of the soul breathing life into the life we live.

What is Yoga, I don’t know . Still Vichara , reflecting on it brings a smile to the heart… and a little song. https://soundcloud.com/shaktimusic-1/simple-but-not-easy-jane-03/s-PpnhR


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Take A breather: Practice

vilomaformPracticing yoga can be as simple as paying attention to your breath.  To release the tension and stress of living on the human scene, lay on your back with knees bent.   First just put your hands on your belly and observe your breath.  Remember, Atah Yoga Nushasanam… Now yoga begins, right where you are.  Note the transformation of breath and the effect of just stopping to be with it. Then once you’ve settled, inhale lift your arms in an arc until hands touch the floor over your head.  Exhale through same arc coming down.  To familiarize yourself with Ujjayi breath, which you may remember from previous posts we also call “Sussura del’anima – Whisper of the soul” breath, exhale softly opening your mouth like steam escaping with a HAAAA.  Feel the connection to this as though the navel moving back towards the spine is squeezing out the breath, and all the old stuff you want to let dissolve.  Once you’ve established the breath, continue recreating this Ujjayi breath.   Inhale and exhale through the nostrils with the breath moving to the back of the throat.  Establish a count and balance inhale and exhale.

Visualize an arcobaleno, a rainbow arc being traced by your fingertips and clear away the cobwebs of attachment to doing and just be.  That’s enough.  Just be. Pause for a moment after inhale, just be .  Pause for a moment after exhale, Kumbakha, Just be.  You may find a mantra effective.  One translation of SO HAM, the mantra of breath, is I am.  INhale SO, EXhale HAM.  Listen as the soul whispers, inhale “I” .  Exhale “AM” In the space between thoughts we may touch the infinity of being, atha yoganushasanam.  After that, what more is there to say.

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OMG, I lost my identity!

Okay, so not to blabber on and on about it or get too personal sharing out the more intimate details of my life,   I decided to share this bit because it was so much on the subject of how changing the way you view something can change everything.  A dear friend and Yoga Teacher Fred Miller used to say after the om, “Now, prepare to leave the real world and go back out into the world of illusion.”  Yesterday was about seeing differently from the same place: how your point of view changes the way you see things.  This morning I woke up in a panic from a dream where I was traveling and all the contents of my backpack disappeared; id, money etc.  In fact, I tried in that half wake state to change the end of the dream.  When I related it to my husband Ed, he said, “Means you don’t need any of that old stuff.”  That perspective changed everything!

asmitaI did this little image. Asmita is as we know the ego identifying itself as something separate and apart . We rely on our sense perceptions and create an identity that ceases to seem an illusion , but rather our reality.  I’ve written in the past about the “I am” without an adjective or noun.  Sometimes in our journey there comes a moment when we feel we have lost or fear losing all that we identify as self or important to self.  At that point it’s no joking matter. but rather can be a dark night of the soul.  But like every dream state, we awaken to a new light and often what seemed the worst possible scene can turn out to be a turning point that we can look back upon with gratitude, and even a smile at how attached we were to who we think we are.  It’s hard work getting to the soul of the matter but if we do it with a sense of humor, the light in our heart will continue to guide us to a place of being which is often quite different from who we thought we were or even wanted to be.  In Sanskrit,”Neti neti, not this not that.” In meditation the breath whispers, “So hum … I am….”My first meditation teacher Will Hoff used to remind us, “Just be, just be, just be.”

So, just for today I celebrate the “OMG I lost my identity” dream and wonder what’s next on the horizon or on the stage I call my life.  I’d love to hear about you on the road to ‘be yoga now’ or whatever path you’re walking.

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Same P.O.V.- different day.

It will come as a surprise to no one that  weather changes. maremosso Sometimes the seas are rough and days are gray, other times calm and sunny blue sea.                                                                                                                                      marecalma         I don’t take these changes personally though I admit they sometimes affect my state of mind.  I’m rather attached to a preference for this sunny day scene when I have a choice.                                                                                   solemare

Of course when it comes to the weather I don’t take it personally when the sun doesn’t shine. I accept the changes, not always happily but with the knowledge that things change.  I still have some work to do when it comes to the waves of my thoughts and the weather patterns of my mind.  Is it possible to observe them without taking their variability personally?  I wonder.

“Sutra 1.36 viśokā that which is devoid of worry and grief  ,  and/or jyotiṣmatī that which is filled by light; that which is accompanied by light. When a state of worrylessness and effulgence manifests directly from inside, it leads the mind to a state of concentration.” (Pandit Rajmani Tigunait – Yoga International May,2013)  Today there is a state of effulgence, the quality of being bright and sending out rays of light.  When that does not seem to be the case, where do we go?  Inside to the light which is eternal, the sun within referred to as Jathara Agni, ‘the fire that knows me.’

For today, calm seas and sun brighten the horizon. It’s a good day to reflect and to remember when storm clouds roll in.   Om.

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Thrival not survival… say yes to yoga today.

pathWalking the path of Yoga is about thriving, to be the best possible you not to be like or imitate but to learn from and emulate those we consider to be our teachers. It’s also of course as much about celebrating life on the journey as it is about arriving to the place of  Freedom, Moksha. There are many paths to enlightenment, freedom from the bondage of self,  and many schools which promise it though all too often with strings attached.  Leather_bucket_of_a_well I continue to struggle with the Brand Naming of yoga with membership and lineage toted out as validation of something special at the same time I acknowledge the value of following a particular teaching rather than trying to draw from too many wells, though along the journey we may have to draw from more than one.  My own experience is that the teacher comes in many forms and that the outer manifestation comes and goes or that we need to move on to find another well along the way.

Ultimately students have the same freedom, to come or go. I see this on a couple of levels personally. I miss students when they no longer come to class . I’m happy when some keep in touch and tell me how the yoga practice is helping them move towards “thrival”, a word I first heard from one of my teachers. Yoga is about thrival not just survival. Survival is at the first two chakra, Muladhara , coming into manifestation or embodiment and Svadishthana, the beginning of finding the I that I am, through ownership. Thrival begins at Manipura, where we find the city of Gems and the wealth of being who we really are. It expands in the heart center, Anahata, where we bring heaven and earth together in sharing. Clearing out a way for the imprisoned splendor to emerge to paraphrase Robert Browning’s Poem Parcellslus, from there we come to Visuddhi,,  Robert Browning’s poem Paracelsus. From there we come to Visuddhi, the power to manifest and Ajna the ability to see that which is unseen. Occasionally, rising to a new perspective Sahasrara , the Lotus with a Thousand petals though it seems to me that it is a difficult place to stay seated and not really up there but where we are seated in “Self”, which we know is the definition of Asana, not just a position but also a perspective.

I’ve studied with and learned from many teachers, choosing one in particular for a long period as a committment to Svyadyaya, self-study and walking the talk. ( I choose not to name names because of the nature of this exploration.) Ultimately it seems to me that attachment to any teacher, and a teacher’s attachment to any student and/ or student body needs to be looked at through the lens of Yoga . Abhyasa is defined as practice with a consistent effort to letting go of distractions and attachments in order to become established in Yoga, the deep and profound essence of being . Vairaya means Non-attachment. It often seems to me that the nature of being human is ‘attach thyself’ and in a certain sense some degree of attachment is part of the condition of being human. Our first attachment the umbilical cord is cut when we are born into this world. But love which is supposed to set us free often comes with strings attached. Sometimes, in my own experience I attach myself to the loved one or thing thinking he,she, it to be the source of happiness. This has been a source of suffering when the object of my love disappoints me, and who hasn’t been disappointed in love?

I can tell you that relationship is where we practice yoga. Or rather maybe we practice yoga in order to be able to form ‘re-elation ‘ rather than having the ‘ship’ founder on rough seas. Ultimately my yoga practice brings me back to basics. I’ve been doing yoga more than half of my life. Last count for almost 40 years. Eaks, yes I began when just a wee toddler. I know far less now than I did many years ago, in fact the more I practice the less I seem to know. I’m no Guru, the term originally for Hindu masters but which has become part of our vocabulary for “Big Cheese”, or expert. Recently the distinction was made to ask whether one is a yoga teacher, embodying principles, or a yoga instructor, teaching exercise. Instead, in sharing Yoga I think of myself as a guide, one who walks the path and is therefore able to share some principles and maybe shine some light so that others may find their own way or path.

I call Ujjayi breathing “sussura da l’anima”, whisper from the soul breath. The official definition of Ujjayi is victorious breath. If we get quiet enough to listen it is certainly a victory. A synonym for Guru is heavy or venerable and one who gives weight can also mean brings one into the present to accept the gift of Yoga. However, an antonym to Guru is amateur, one who does an art for the love of doing it rather than as a profession. We know that Yoga is the place where opposites meet. It is indeed a fine line to walk between being an amateur, which seems closer to being a yogi, and being a teacher, not to mention Guru, an expert. I’d rather be light-hearted, listen to the whisper of my soul and follow the guidance of a loving presence , I, being human, can definitely benefit from the guidance of a teacher. I certainly need communion with like-minded souls, sangha which can be found in a particular school or group of ‘followers’ of a particular tradition. Still, I find myself in a dilemma when asked or offered an opportunity to become certified in a certain school. I’ve been called certifiable in other parts of my life, meaning of course a little or more than a little crazy.

Off the beaten path was once what was associated with practicing yoga but as it has become a business, there is a certain element of being officially sanctioned. I was “certified” by Yoga Alliance back in the beginning because as they said, I’d been carrying my mat round for a long time already. I’ve the ERYT500_200x200.jpg symbol to put beside my name but I generally find that people are attracted by the person or maybe better yet the practice, more than credentials. Sometimes I’ve found myself walking, or running around off the ‘beat and path’, out of harmony with myself and others. This is a time to get silent and ask for guidance rather than stamp my feet and insist on my way. Inside me is a lost and found department. I’ve lost my way many times and found that others have shown me how to find a new  direction by example. I’ve also found that what I’ve lost, or given up and that includes being a success in this world, is not as important as what I’ve found in Yoga , laughter, love, light-heartedness, a journey or companion through the dark times, and a place or way to listen to the whisper of my soul which tells me to sing my song: loud and clear when the occasion warrants being heard and in harmony when it is more important that the chord not the individual note be expressed. heartbeatUltimately, if we listen to the beat of our own heart we may find that we each march to the beat of a different drummer but can walk together.

Back to Om-my-God… or Goddess . Sometimes we do a gesture we call separio, parting the curtains which separate the stage from the audience. Bringing hands together in front of the heart center we part the curtains to let the heart light shine before doing warrior pose and say  “Yes!” Ah, a new mantra… practice yoga to live in harmony and om yes to life and to thrive … May you say Yes to yoga today!

( Jane in addition to being a Yoga Guide, is also a singer songwriter. Some of her songs can be found at her website, www.beyoganow.com. See if you want to sing along .)

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My body is but an island…

“The world is an ocean of bliss, my body is but an island.”   Shankara  grado                      Yesterday my husband, Ed and I took a vacation day .  We put our bikes on the car to drive to Aquileia, now a small farming community but once a prominant Roman city at the head of the Adriatic at the edge of lagoons on the Natissa river.  From there we took bike path 12 km riding by farmlands, along a straight by a lagoon and across a bridge to Grado, once a port city for the Roman Empire then a fishing village where we locked our bikes, wrapped our jackets round our waists and slung our shoes over shoulders to walk along the sandy shore and in the water of the sea.  Grado is also called, L’sola del Sole, the sunny island, and it certainly lived up to that yesterday.  I’ve been doing a bit of ruminating of late, not the best companion to serenity and meditation.  Here I offered up all my concerns about who I am or more likely am I who I ought to be, to once again come to the glory of the present moment …  An island in a sea of bliss, kissed by the sun.  

Recently I had a discussion with a fellow yogi regarding the Sutra .  We were discussing the value of various translation.  I just recently reread The Heart of Yoga by TKV Desikachar.  I’d read it many years ago but it took on new meaning as I now see how developing a personal practice has informed my life, supporting all the changes this life has presented and changing me from the inside out.  I was particularly struck by how relevant the Sutra now seem rather than some far off philosophy or scripture.  My friend said, well it seems that he has interpreted  them to apply to everyday life when they are meant to apply to the practice of meditation.  This seemed to me a strange thing and I said so.  I mean, isn’t the point of yoga that our lives become an expression of it and that meditation is best expressed when savoring the sweetness of its fruits in our life?

I think sometimes the separation between meditation and breathing the joy of the moment is like kumbaka, the silence in the pause between thoughts not separate at all.    Then in spite of all that we can see that is wrong in the world and all the places we see how we don’t live up to our highest aspirations , we can experience what Shankara in his wisdom discovered, “The world is an ocean of bliss, my body is but an island.”  Un’isola con il sole dentro… an island with the light of the sun within.  

We know the sun shines on saint and sinner alike.  In my case, I also know that I’m no saint! In practicing yoga in my life I seek to be a worthy seeker of the Self, whose inherent nature is the fullness of bliss: to wash away the delusions or Samskara the mind has built up which cloud my vision.  I also seek to shine, to be the ground where new flowers bloom as well and share both the sun, the fruit and the flower with fellow seekers.

Here is the second blooming of roses in our garden.  roseJust as the Autumn leaves are falling, these roses bloom a second time before fading away, a reminder of the eternal spring of life.  When I release my attachment to what ‘was’ or even ‘what might have been but never was’ , I begin to be free from the bondage of self.   Going once again going to Shankara’s wisdom, “Like the ether, I spread throughout the world; like the sun, I am marked by my shining; like the hills, I am everlasting and unmoved; I am like an ocean without shores.”

I think in this case the “I” could also be “Yoga” … Yoga is like an ocean without shores, that touches all who are present to be touched and that touches us in the unseen core of our being, bliss. Celebrate the moment. Let your sun shine to guide the way for you and others you encounter along the way… Then even on the cloudiest of day you will see the light and be light-hearted.  I bow to the light within you, Om  Namaste.


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Nidra… awake from unconsiousness

fallcolorsWe all know that there is a time for reaping and a time for sowing.  Right now observing nature reminds me that Yoga Nidra, as Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD says, is “Resting on the cloud of Yoga.”  Rest is essential for the rejuvenation process that is part of our nature and sleep alone is not sufficient.  Laying among the leaves feels like an embrace from Mother Earth.   Trust in the process, let all that is no longer necessary fall away .  The nature of life is change.  When all else fails do Yoga Nidra to remind yourself that your nature is eternal even if the body changes.  During your reflection there is a time for planting those new seeds, sankalpa , while letting go of the old.  Remember, we’re going into a time of darkness.  Respect the seasons and lay among the leaves covering yourself in the cloak of time to be reborn and to awaken from the unconsciousness which holds on to what is gone missing the value of the moment.  Often we are sleeping to our true nature rather than awake in relaxed trust where we ‘rest’ in the moment, in the breath, in the space, our hearts and mind one with the universe… Om tat sam.  Autumn , especially as the leaves fall IS a contemplative meditation.

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