The Urban Yoga Den

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Letting Go and Moving On? August 30, 2013

RockCreekBridgeGreenSpringAlthough I did not plan things this way, it’s no fluke that the next New Moon and Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) coincide with my move from DC to TN.  I have been letting go of DC since the last Full Moon.  On Tuesday, September 3rd, I’ll get in my U-Haul, drive south, and let go completely.

The 2nd-half of my trip falls on Wednesday, September 4th – so I will arrive at my new home in East Nashville on “New Year’s Eve.”  This is the 1st year since September 2001 that I will miss attending Rosh Hashanah services.  Next week, I’ll be observing the opening of the Book Of Life by carrying boxes and furniture up two flights of stairs to my sweet little flat.

Sounds appropriate to me.

Thursday morning, the New Moon will peak and I will rise at 5:36am CST.  I will continue my personal Rosh Hashanah observances by reflecting on my previous year, and considering any amends, resentments, unfinished business to address.  I will repeat “I’m sorry, I love you” many times and probably cry a lot.  (For many reasons.)  And I’ll spend ample time moving things around my new space, deliberating each placement’s energy and meaning.

If that’s not a great way to begin anew, I don’t know what is!

In packing up my books, I’ve left out six, so I can access them readily upon arriving in TN: The Makhzor (a guide-book of prayers and practices for the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, know as the Days of Awe); “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” (the most utilized text in my collection); “The Golden Present” (Swami Satchidananda’s collection of daily reflections); Alcoholics Anonymous (an important recovery text); Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (another); and my journal.

This collection represents the foundations of my life: spiritual and religious ritual and practice, the Eight Limbs of yoga, and the 12 Steps of recovery.

*  *  *

During August, we’ve been exploring the Eight Limbs in my yoga classes.

Swami Satchidananda’s commentary on Yoga Sutra I.50 says, “In this state <the 8th Limb, samadhi> you become a jivanmukta, a realized saint.  Jivan means one who lives; mukta means liberated…”  He goes on, “A jivanmukta may be doing anything.  He or she need not be sitting in samadhi in some cave; this person may be in Times Square, but is still a jivanmukta.  A jivanmukta is involved in the world for the sake of humanity without any personal attachment.”

Judaism’s prayers and recovery’s steps also speak of healing and growing – in order to be of service in the world.

This move to TN would not be happening without these foundations.  Many years ago, when I lived without these influences, my self-centered ego drove all of my attitudes and actions.  I was neither willing nor capable to serve anyone or anything beyond my own needs and desires.  Never in a million years would I have imagined that I would one day move to Nashville, Tennessee to be closer and of service to my aging father.

Today, I can’t imagine NOT going.

So thank you.  Thank you to all of the friends, family members, communities, teachers, healers, helpers, strangers and others who – unwittingly or intentionally – pointed me in this direction.   Who generously offered their authentic selves over these decades and helped me become who, how and what I am today.

As I let go of being physically and geographically close to my DC-area community, and move on to join and cultivate new community in TN, I don’t feel like I’m leaving anything behind.  On the contrary – I feel like everything is coming together…

Much love.  OM Shanti.  h*

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Focus Wrap Up: The Eight Limbs – Yama April 10, 2011

It was 10:38am on Sunday, April 3rd when I started writing this wrap up, and the New Moon hung invisibly above.

In that Sunday’s classes we wrapped up our March focus on the 1st of the Eight Limbs of Yoga – Yama, or, abstinence. I extended the March focus through April 3rd so the New Moon – at the height of its energy of surrender, letting go and dissolving – could reinforce our liberation from what we might refrain from in our attitudes, our actions, our lives.

During the past month, our classes bravely began a journey of self-examination by way of yoga’s 1st limb.  For me, such exploration of patterns and beliefs is a process.  I have grown to understand that I might not be transformed within the period of one class, one month or perhaps one lifetime!  Each time I step onto the path, I am simply opening a door – maybe even just a little crack – to look inside with curiosity and compassion.  Still, this is deep work, and I try to balance intensity with restoration – during my personal efforts and our classes.

In his commentary about Yama (and Limb #2 – Niyama, or observance) in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Swami Satchidananda says: “These points are for whole-time, dedicated Yogis; and so, for them, Patanjali allows no excuses.  For people who aren’t that one-pointed toward the Yogic goal, these vows can be modified according to their position in life.”  So rather than introducing the Sutras’ list of five yogic abstinences (non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, non-greed), I invited students to cultivate their own, personal Yama.  Toward the end of the month, we considered the official Yama from Patanjali’s ancient guidance.

Along with students, I cultivated my own personal Yama based on my “position in life.”  And the position I’ve been playing for most of my life is…

DEFENSE.

Last week, I squarely faced the huge deficit this role has hollowed out of my heart, soul and life.  Ugh.

What happened?

A number of things.  I’ll skip the long story about childhood and other traumas leading to the necessity for self-defense.  If you’ve read my past blogs, you know that I am devoted to looking backward in order to move forward with health.  You might also remember that just last summer I was blind-sided by a serious betrayal that erased all my trust in humans.  My heart was on lock down.  In my yoga practice, with professional counsel and through other spiritual practices, I started to open back up.  More recently, during the Off the Mat Into the World leadership intensive in early March, I revisited my bruised little heart and noticed that it did not feel so safe after all.  It was still in defense mode.  Again, I re-committed to the process of looking inside, taking action, sparking transformation.

But the biggest eye-opener happened last week.

I went through a breast cancer scare after a doctor’s examination.  Thankfully, at the radiologist appointment a few days later, I found out that I do not have cancer.  During those in-between days of fearful anticipation, however, I contacted family and spent a lot of time with friends for support.  Knowing me as well as she does, one friend reached out her arms and said, “Put your hands in mine.”  I did.

Then she told me, with resolve in her voice, firmness in her stance and steadiness in her eyes,  “You are going to be OK.  And you will not be alone.”

I felt my entire body seize up in defense mode.  My stiffened hands could not hold on.  My eyes could barely meet hers.  When I did look her in the eye it was through a hard plate of glass.  I could hear her words but not feel the sentiment in my heart.  I wanted to believe her but could not.  I could not trust for fear of being betrayed again.  I could not accept her love.

What’s the big deal?

If I don’t allow myself to accept love, I will never feel loved.  That’s it in a nutshell.  I don’t think I need to go into the specifics of how humans need to share love; how vulnerability is essential to trust-building; how risk-taking might be the only way to true intimacy.  The fact is, if I don’t take action to continually and consistently address, transform and heal the core wounds of my heart, I will continually and consistently struggle with every relationship in my life – at work, in family, with friends and otherwise.

Realizing this last week, I set a deep intention that will bring purpose to my Eight-Limb work in the coming months.  A Sankalpa.  My own personal Yama:

I aim to abstain from fear-based responses to life’s invitations for connecting, trusting and loving.  I will liberate my icy-cold, walled-up, scared little Anahata Chakra through heart-opening Asana, heart-expanding Pranayama and Bhakti-influenced practices.

Some wounds are hard to heal.  But for the sake of Ahimsa (non-harming – the 1st Yama from the Sutras), I am going to non-harm myself by taking the risk of being vulnerable.  No holds barred, I am rolling my shoulders back, breathing deeply and chanting my heart out. I am abstaining and refraining from, letting go of, dissolving, and surrendering fear.  Damn-it.

Why abstain?

As mentioned in the Intro to this month’s focus, I want to offer my best self in service to the world.  That is what Samadhi (yoga’s 8th Limb) means to me – an interconnectedness that dissolves separation, invites love, cultivates trust.  So in the end, I don’t want to heal my heart so I feel better – although I’m sure that will be a benefit!  In the end, I want to liberate my heart so I can serve others with authenticity, strength and sustainability.

Wishing you peace, joy, love and light.  OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

 

March Focus: The Eight Limbs of Yoga – Intro & Yama April 4, 2011

As I’ve said before, I wouldn’t dare try teaching the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali to my classes.  First, my knowledge of this ancient text is based on my four-week Teacher Training, during which we primarily studied the 1st two books; since then, my study has been on my own.  Second, there are some great Raja Yoga teachers out there whose experience included decades of studying, translating, interpreting and practicing the Sutras; they are the true teachers.

I do, however, like to design yoga classes where (I hope!) our actions on the mat find purpose through the wisdom of the Sutras.  In the beginning of March we embarked on an eight-month exploration of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, as introduced in Sutras 28 & 29 of Book Two of the Sutras.  Drawing from my 2010 blog about the Eight Limbs:

“Book Two of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras lays out yoga’s Eight Limbs.  Probably the most widely known and practiced are Asana (poses), Pranayama (breathing exercises) and Dharana (concentration as a form of “meditation”).

“But there are five additional limbs – and I believe they are in order for a reason.

“The Eight Limbs represent a process of growth from heady self-examination to soulful universal connection. The first two limbs – Yama and Niyama – list the ethical premises of yoga.  After we’ve set our intentions for values and virtues, we move on to Asana, to address physical limitations such as aches and toxins.  Next, Pranayama continues detoxification, awakens our life force energy and balances our nervous system.  With the 5th limb, Pratyahara, the senses are softened to remove outer distractions.  During Dharana, we concentrate intently on one point of focus.  Deepening into the 7th limb, Dhyana, our concentration shifts into meditation, and there is no separation between the meditator that point of focus.  The 8th limb, Samadhi, is generally described as “enlightenment” – but to me, that harkens of apart-ness.  I like to think of Samadhi as one-ness.  It occurs the moment when our practice of yoga’s previous seven limbs brings such peace and confidence that we are selfless.

“For me, Samadhi would be a state of consistently being my best self and offering that self in service to the world.”  (From https://urbanyogaden.wordpress.com/2010/05/21/focus-mayjune-the-eight-limbs/).

*  *  *

The month of March has been an introduction to the Limbs with emphasis on the 1st limb, Yama (or abstinence).

When considering how I might practice the ethical or philosophical virtues of yoga, I ask myself, “Who do I want to be as I walk down the street?  How do I want to treat myself and others?”  In response, I return without fail to the very 1st Yama – that essential virtue that sets the foundation for all other virtues: Ahimsa. Non-harming.

It’s a tough question to ask, “How might I be harming myself and others?”  Ugh.  Do I really want to look at that?  Well, no.  But, yes. And so, when our classes started our journey through the Eight Limbs, I set the deep intention to squarely face my own vulnerability and begin to abstain from whatever harming tendency (or tendencies) I might have.

More will be revealed.

OM Shanti.

*  *  *

Post Script

“An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Frankly.

Lately I’ve been using “we” instead of “I” when teaching and writing.  For example, “When we practice X, we experience Y.”  Hello?  Who am I to decide what anyone outside of myself is experiencing  in practice?  And so, to finish off this particular blog about living yoga in daily life, I want to apologize.  It is wrong of me to take the position of “we” when aiming to simply pass along what “I” have experienced.

I am hoping this awareness will end the pattern.  Feel free to call me out when necessary.  OM Shanti.

 

Focus: May/June – The Eight Limbs May 21, 2010

On July 13th, Past Tense Studio in Mt. Pleasant will celebrate its 1st year of operation!

For me, this year at Past Tense was a wondrous opportunity to practice weekly with groups of adults (vs. periodically with private clients, or, daily with young children).  Adults who are devoted to their yoga practice. I have felt honored to witness the growth of pure beginners into seasoned yogis.  I have watched the MtP yoga community blossom, thanks to newbies and seasoned students alike.  Fellow teachers have inspired and motivated each other.  I myself have transformed immensely from this energy.

Since July 2009, our Bi-Monthly Focus has bounced around the yoga universe, from Anatomy & Physiology (i.e. oiling the hip and shoulder joints), through Health & Wellness (i.e. immune-boosting Pranayama practice), to Philosophy & Ideology (i.e. heart-opening Chakra exploration).  In these final months of our 1st year together, we will discover where all of these concepts originate.

The May/June Bi-Monthly Focus is the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Book Two of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (discussed in the recent March/April Wrap Up post) lays out yoga’s Eight Limbs.  Probably the most widely known are Asana (Limb #3 – poses), Pranayama (Limb #4 – breathing exercises) and Dharana (Limb #6 – concentration as a form of “meditation”).  With yoga classes becoming more and more accessible, we can share these limbs in community and reinforce our practice.

But there are five additional limbs – and I believe they are in order for a reason.

The Eight Limbs represent a process of growth from heady self-examination to soulful universal connection. The first two limbs – Yama and Niyama – list the ethical premises of yoga.  After we’ve set our intentions for values and virtues, we move on to Asana, to address physical limitations such as aches and toxins.  Next, Pranayama continues detoxification, awakens our life force energy and balances our nervous system.  With the 5th limb, Pratyahara, the senses are softened to remove outer distractions.  During Dharana, we concentrate intently on one point of focus.  Deepening into the 7th limb, Dhyana, our concentration shifts into meditation, and there is no separation between the meditator that point of focus.  The 8th limb, Samadhi, is generally described as “enlightenment” – but to me, that harkens of apart-ness.  I like to think of Samadhi as one-ness (like the “oversoul” that Walt Whitman wrote about).  It occurs the moment when our practice of yoga’s previous seven limbs brings such peace and confidence that we are selfless.

For me, Samadhi would be a state of consistently being my best self and offering that self in service to the world.

LIMB OF THE WEEK!

Each Sunday at the 8:30am “Ahhh-some” class at Past Tense, we’ll launch our “limb of the week.” Together, we can deepen our practice by exploring each limb through special poses, breathing exercises, meditations and Sutras excerpts.

  • WKS 1 & 2 (MAY 9 – MAY 22) – YAMA/NIYAMA
  • WK 3 (MAY 23 – MAY 29) – ASANA
  • WK 4 (MAY 30 – JUNE 5) – PRANAYAMA
  • WK 5 (JUNE 6 – JUNE 12) – PRATYAHARA
  • WK 6 (JUNE 13 – JUNE 19) – DHARANA
  • WK 7 (JUNE 20 – JUNE 26) – DHYANA
  • WK 8 (JUNE 27 – JUNE 30) – SAMADHI

To review Weeks 1 & 2, Yama/Niyama:

How do we wish to behave in this world?  In Book Two, Sutra 2.29 spells out suggested “do’s” and “don’t”s for yogic living.  By earnestly setting our intentions on the Yama (abstinence) and Niyama (observance) – and remaining compassionate and patient with ourselves in this goal – we begin to still the mind as promised way back in Book One.  “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah” – “yoga restrains disturbances of the mind.”

There are five Yama and five Niyama – perhaps reminiscent of other spiritual traditions’ moral precepts. The Yama include: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (continence or chastity) and Aparigraha (non-greed.)  The Niyama are: Saucha (purity), Samtosha (contentment), Tapah (acceptance), Svadhyaya (study of spiritual texts), and Isvarapranidhanani (worship of God or self-surrender).

Most of these are self-explanatory.  Still, I’d like to add something about the “G-word.” I don’t think one has to believe in a mystical “god” in order to practice yoga authentically.  For Niyama #5, I focus on the “self-surrender” part.  I play a more ethical role in the world when I dissolve my isolating self-reliance and surrender to the guidance of some kind of “higher power” – whether that HP is my parent, my doctor, my Asana practice, a wise text or nature.  HP is any being or resource whose influence faithfully restores me to my essence.  And to that, I’d gladly surrender.

If these ethical suggestions seem overwhelming, keep it simple. I like to reflect on and set intentions to practice just one Yama or Niyama at a time.  Or, I might generally reflect on my own, personal, well-examined (and life-long reinforced) character qualities (or patterns) that I hope to decrease or increase, one day at a time.  One thing’s for sure – I feel the most peace of mind (aka my “chitta” is free of “vritti”) when I am useful and of service to others.  And the Yama and Niyama outline a design for living that will inevitably lead to that.

Next week…limb #3 – Asana.