The mind is wild. My favorite analogy when discussing meditation with new practitioners and experienced alike is that of training a puppy. When we are training a puppy we must be gentle yet firm, this is the exact approach we must have with the mind. Without training our minds, our thoughts will take over. The mind has no place of rest, no home base. We instead have "monkey mind" as Suzuki Roshi so well described, where our mind jumps from thought to thought, without stability or a frame of reference. This is how the mind becomes dull and bored, insatiable and irritated. And this bored, irratitated insatiable mind is what we build our lives off of, what we use to make decisions and who we perceive ourselves to be. We inadvertently train ourselves to look for outside stimulus again and again which leads us down a path of reaction and repetition, over and over again.
In Buddhism and Yoga, the skill we practice is in bringing the mind back again and again to the breath. When you practice this technique regularly, you begin to build that foundation of steadiness of the mind. This is where you will find your calm resolve, clarity, patience and space. First and foremost, we must cultivate a steady, balanced mind. Next we bring in insight meditation were we begin to watch our thoughts. We start to see things how they truly are and when we can see clearly, we begin to behave clearly. The key is all in the foundation you wrap around this practice which is gentle and kind. You are not here to fight your ego, but to realize you are not your ego. The ego is, but you are not the ego. If you only practice this occasionally, taking yoga and meditation classes here and there without deepening your practice, you will never find this respite, you will continue your search of insatiability, becoming ever restless and frustrated again and again. You may even lose hope and give up. The answer is to deepen - you must go deeper, practice with a teacher and sangha. Be kind and gentle to your wild mind - this is the only way to find peace and tranquility. It is not through force and competition, achievement and success. To realize egolessness, we must let go. As wise Morpheus said in the Matrix, "It's the difference between knowing the path and walking the path."
"We need to be challenged by life in order to awaken. Some think that if life left them alone, they'd really get somewhere with their spiritual life, but that's not the case. It's the challenges that can help to take you into a higher state of consciousness" - Eckhart Tolle
Mindfulness has been on my mind. I think what's at the root of much pain and suffering is the inability to apply mindfulness. We have great ideas, good intentions and a kind heart, then when a challenge, obstacle or even something that just does not sit well appears in our life - either an email, a headline, something someone says at work or even someone who cuts us off in traffic - we are thusly challenged. Without mindfulness practice, the challenge is pushed, choked and forced into submission and we plow through it, ignore it, placate to it or act in various unskillful ways... lashing out on facebook, gossiping, and it only progresses from there into self-sabotage and outright hurtfulness. Because, when we aren't able to take that moment to honor the challenge, respect our feelings and pause for just a brief bit and create the necessary gap between the incessant, addictive stream of thinking to access all-to-valuable information we've cut ourselves off from, we miss the opportunity all together.
The corporate world is a veritable minefield of unconsciousness. If you rest on your laurels for a moment too long, you feel the wrath of those who are running from thought to thought, slaves to their monkey mind. But it's not just in corporate America you see unciousness, it's everywhere, even at your local health food store and most certainly at your neighborhood yoga studio.
Mindfulness is a meditation practice however it's important to note there is a difference from the concept and the actual practice of mindfulness during meditation. Mindfulness as a concept is rooted in a foundation of values or emotional intelligence, specifically I mean how you act, what you do... how you do what you do in a skillful way. A way that does not bring harm to others or yourself, a way that you have applied care to your actions and words. A way that is in line with your higher self and truth. The time to practice mindfulness is always. When you are faced with challenges and you apply mindfulness, you will see instant results, but even after the challenging event has passed you will still need to apply mindfulness because the body responds to stress and it's natural to feel deflated post-stress response as the hormones leave the body. Practice mindfulness when this happens, nurture yourself, take a break from toxic people and surround yourself with words and people who lift you up, have good intentions and are also practicing mindfulness. You don't have to be a yogi or practice Eastern philosophic traditions to be kind and considerate with your words and actions as they relate to yourself and to others.. this is mindfulness.
This is a question I get a lot these days. Yes - I do, but it may be different than what you think. One of the things that happens to you when you begin a yoga practice is simple - your life will change. However, most new practitioners with less than 5 years under their belts are intently focused on the physical side of yoga and barely even scratch the surface with what is about to begin unraveling within them mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
I like this graphic by Alison Hinks of the 8 limbs. Most of the people I speak to don't even know there are 8 limbs to practicing yoga - frankly Western society is still stuck on yoga being a room full of flexible people just stretching out in their tight yoga pants. And to be clear, many businesses are capitalizing on this ignorance. Those of us in the sangha teaching community smile and say, any yoga is better than no yoga, because we know that even when your intention is to get better abs and a yoga booty, that you will at some point in the class...even if its just a few minutes...begin to meditate, reduce your thought activity as well as focus on your breath. But, as you can see in the graphic above, we haven't even scratched the surface. Yoga practice begins with the practice of the Yamas and the Niyamas, yoga postures or Asana is just one small part of the practice.
The answer to the question above however is yes, I still teach. I teach in the way I practice the Yamas and Niyamas toward myself and others. I no longer punish myself by overindulging in rich foods and drink then go to a hot yoga class to pay for my sins. Instead, I choose healthy foods and plenty of water on a daily basis and I thoroughly enjoy the balance and challenge the 90 minute class brings. It's amazing the difference in this one approach. I practice Satya with my actions and also my words - it IS difficult as I like many others have bad habits that have formed over the years and I have to make note and try again. The hardest type of learning is unlearning, as they say. I practice Asteya with my time and boundaries - I don't run 100 miles an hour with my hair on fire anymore. I share this insight with anyone in my path. I remain calm and when I'm not calm, I acknowledge that and take the time I need to find that vibration again. Yes - I still teach, in fact I teach more now than I ever did when I was solely teaching yoga. And yes, I do teach 90 minute classes from time to time as well.
My question to you is, do you practice? How do you apply yoga in your daily life? How often do you consider the Yamas? How often do you study the Self? Are you aware of what study of the Self actually means? How often do you consider your own contentment and stop wanting, needing, grasping for more? How often do you consider Soucha and your mental diet (what you read, what you watch, what you listen to)?
If rarely, or never... then can you truly say you practice yoga?
"Any negativity or unhappy feeling is contagious. Unhappiness spreads more easily than physical disease."
Unhappiness and negativity triggers unhappiness and negativity in everyone around you. "Recognize the futility of negativity - anything that is done with negative energy will become contaminated by it. In time, it will give rise to more pain and more unhappiness. Are you polluting the world? You are the only one responsible for your inner space. Nobody else is responsible for your level of consciousness. As within, so without. Realize you have a choice. You are not just a bundle of conditioned reflexes.
See if you can catch yourself complaining - about anything. Even the weather. There is an unconscious negativity behind complaining. When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you step into your power. Take action, leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness." - Eckhart Tolle
When you call a yoga teacher for advice, they are going to tell you to get to a yoga class and to practice often.
For some reason, I think folks who call me are surprised when I tell them this… I think that many think I’m some sort of wizard and I have a magic pill or prescription that will work instantly. There are so many things yoga teachers want to share with their students and try to help their students understand. The most important, the biggest one, the end-all-be-all is this… practice, practice, practice.
Yes, we know you are trying to perfect your bow posture and learn how to touch your toes. We want to help you ease your sciatic pain, back pain, knee pain, head pain and every other pain you have. We know you want to lose weight and feel better and get in shape and feel good about yourself. We know and we want to help you, but the simple truth is – only you can help you. We can guide you and advise you, but it’s up to you to get on your mat and into the yoga room because this is how you will learn from personal experience. Words don't teach so we can tell you these things until we are blue in the face. The only way for you to understand and know them for yourself is to get on your mat and practice yoga as often as you can.
A few things your yoga teacher wants you to know:
What is yoga? I've heard the answer as "to yoke" which always makes me giggle because no one has any idea what that really means. I've also heard "the union of the body and mind." That is more tangible and understandable, but it still does not resonate or have much of an impact - no goosebumps from that very literal, linear definition. For years now when I've been asked I emphatically state, "all life is yoga!" To this I usually get a quizzical look and the questioner just kind of walks away, making a mental note never to ask me about yoga again! I also try explaining yoga as a method of breaking contact with pain, but even that doesn't make sense to those living in a fog (the ones who it would most benefit).
The words we use just don't quite measure up to the magnitude of the power behind yoga and what yoga is at its essence, so I believe what helps is to clarify further, first understating what yoga asana practice is also known as hatha yoga and then from there expanding into the big picture of Yoga, which encompasses the traditional 8 limbs (including yoga asana practice) clarifying and expanding into the richness, importance, depth and truth of what Yoga is at it's very core.
First at it's most basic definition, yoga asana practice (no matter if it's power yoga or gentle yoga) is a one-pointed focused meditation technique which creates a gap in the incessant stream of thinking. This allows access to intuition and creativity as well as the ability to form new neuro-pathways and, in essence, the ability to direct your thoughts and thusly change your mind as you wish. It also brings tremendous health and wellness to the physical body, relieving many symptoms of illness and disease. Yoga asana practice is the third of 8 limbs in the tradition of Yoga.
So what then is the tradition of YOGA? Rather than break it down in a linear way, which won't have the impact we're looking for here, let's expand further with Yogi Amrit Desai's rich and valuable explanation:
"YOGA is to realize the truth of who you really are.
"Everything you say after I AM is not you. You made it up! Everyone says something different - we've all identified with something that the ego-mind perceives. Ego-mind is built on the search for good and the fear of evil, but in reality neither exist because good and evil indicates a split and there is no split, no opposite of reality.
So why do you have problems? Because you want to compare, you want to split from and see if your co-worker, neighbor, friend, whoever you are interacting with is a friend or an enemy. Why? Because you only meet people from your past experiences. This is why the practice of hatha yoga is so important - because the mind can not go into the dimension of spirit.
The mind sees everything through comparison. The mind is split, built on the search for good and the fear of evil.
The Ego is not interested in balance and harmony. When you are fearful or feeling negative emotions, your ego is feeding your memory of the past. All fear does is protect your old fears with your body's physical energy, leaving you feeling drained, exhausted and miserable.
You think the other person offended you?
Conflicts are natural, they come from expectations. Expectations are frustrations waiting to happen.
Most people base their relationships with others on conditional external factors - what they want on the outside to happen. So you 'forgive' them but it doesn't work because the cause is still in you - all of your 'problems' live in you because what you are looking for outside of yourself you will never find.
When you feel offended or frustrated by another person, use the 'turn-around technique'. Teach yourself to go inside to solve your problems. Learn acceptance. Forgiveness without acceptance doesn't work, it's not complete by itself. How? Change your perception then you will find acceptance and will truly be able to forgive - feeling the joy, peace and lightness that true forgiveness provides.
All of this is Yoga. It is the Science of the Soul and all lives in your karmic memory. It's based on how we access the quantum field of the undivided whole where there is no division and no time.
This is pure consciousness." - Amrit Desai
A couple of reminders from Eckhart Tolle's teachings:
What is my relationship to the present moment? Am I friendly with the present moment? To treat this moment as an obstacle to where you want to get to is an insane way to live... Because you never actually get there. Because its always now. When you realize this, your relationship with the present moment changes and instead of resistance there is an inner "yes", inner acceptance. This is the foundation for inner peace and any action or doing from this place of acceptance brings about change in the world.
Your entire life unfolds in the present moment. Its all you ever have.
There are two things that make up the present moment:
1. the things that happen in the present moment and
2. the space in which it happens.
The space is consciousness.
THAT is who you really are.
Desikachar explains in The Heart of Yoga that, that while there are many possible ways of understanding the meaning of the word yoga, that one way is "to tie the strands of the mind together":
"Yoga means acting in such a way that all of our attention is directed toward the activity in which we are currently engaged. Suppose for example that while I am writing, one part of my mind is thinking about what I want to say while another part is thinking about something entirely different. The more I am focused on my writing, the greater my attentiveness to my action in this moment.
The exact opposite might also occur: I might begin writing with great attention, but as I continue to write my attention begins to waiver. I might begin to think about the plans I have for the day tomorrow or what is cooking for dinner. It then appears AS IF I'm acting with attentiveness, but really I'm paying little attention to the task at hand. I'm functioning but I am not present."
Eckhart Tolle describes this idea of focusing your attention as so much more than just focusing your focus... he calls it a revolutionary transformation - to be able to perceive the world without the accumulated baggage of the mind. You are FREE of the entire sum-total of your mental conditioning and the heavy idea of "ME."
"It's so simple to become free of the limited, little conditioned person… it's very limiting and it's so simple to go beyond it, to no longer seek fulfillment through the conditioning. To go beyond waiting for the world to tell you that you are important, that you are somebody. It starts with getting out of your mind and thoughts and hold attention in the body. Start with your hands. Feel the energy in your hands. Hold your attention there and while doing this, look around and perceive - you will notice the pureness of your perception when the conditioned is no longer operating." This is how you enter the state of presence. Right now you can be free - at this very moment.
The world we live in is one of form, and the search for peace and happiness is fruitless and ever illusive until we realize that we do not need to "find" joy, to "search" for peace. Peace and joy are there... where they always have been... just underneath form.
Joy does not come from WHAT you do... it flows into what you do. It can not be derived from something like an activity or a thing. Joy is a state of being that flows into what you are doing based on the quality of your consciousness at the time you are doing it. Anything you do where you are fully present allows you to access the joy of being - to experience joy - to be "happy". It's not the action that brings joy, its the deep sense of aliveness that flows into the action. This means that when you enjoy doing something, you are actually experiencing the joy of being, it's not the activity - it's your state of consciousness.
What is consciousness? "The best indicator of your level of consciousness is how you deal with life’s challenges when they come. Through those challenges, an already unconscious person tends to become more deeply unconscious, and a conscious person more intensely conscious. You can use a challenge to awaken you, or you can allow it to pull you into even deeper sleep. The dream of ordinary unconsciousness then turns into a nightmare." - Eckhart Tolle
How? Observe the many ways where you feel tense or discontent, unease or frustration, even boredom. Make it a habit to monitor your mental-emotional state through self-observation. Ask yourself, Am I at ease at this moment? What is going on inside of me right now? Be AT LEAST as interested in what's going on inside of you as what is going on outside - "If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place."
In the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People author Steven Covey, when discussing the three social maps used to explain the nature of humans (genetic, psychic and environmental), that a self-aware being is one who can look as an observer at his very involvement in his life. That he has the freedom or power to choose his response. He can decide within himself how “all of this” is going to affect him. “Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose.”
However, Eckhart Tolle elaborates further when he explains that the conditioned mind can be a person’s own worst enemy and for some who are stuck, whether intentionally or unintentionally, in a mind whose thought patterns are negative, choice may not be apparent.
The good news is you can free yourself of your mind, but how?
Amrit Desai explains that “Memories, emotions, thoughts… these are all ‘modifications of the mind’. We are the observers, witnessing what comes and goes. What comes and goes are thought forms, the objects of perception. Thought forms are objects because they are not constant, they change. Your opinion got insulted? You are NOT that thought or that opinion. You witness that thought and that thought got insulted or your expectation of how that thought was received was insulted. YOU were not insulted. Your car got destroyed? YOU were not destroyed, the object was destroyed. Thoughts forms, memories and emotions are like people walking by the window. You are looking out watching the people walk by. That’s not you walking by. This is Object Consciousness – you don’t change, it’s the thoughts that change.”
To do this, Eckhart Tolle suggests two ways of creating space between the thoughts and accessing the mental quietude between them, thereby ceasing incessant, addictive thinking. First, you can watch the thoughts, like Amrit Desai suggests above. The second way is a yoga practice of becoming intensely aware of the body and sensory perceptions, either by practicing physical hatha yoga or by meditating using a technique such as one-pointed focus.
The only way to become self-aware is to study the self. Practice, practice, practice.
“All creativity, intuition, is sourced from a place of stillness. The mind then gives form to the creative power. Have a look inside… is there even the slightest trace of resentment? Unwillingness? Even something as simple as boredom or a feeling of tired/not interested… have a look inside and feel the emotion. Does it feel pleasant or unpleasant? Then ask yourself, ‘Is this energy that I would choose to have inside me?’
Then ask yourself again, ‘Do I have a choice?’” Eckhart Tolle
ON THIS PAGE
You guessed it. Yoga stuff. Right here from yours truly.
Click HERE for my Yogatta Eat blog, food and nutrition tips dating back to 2010.