January 4th, 2011
In the spirit of preparing for the New Year, I have been spending more time in my practice dedicated to self-study (svadyaya). I have heard this process of deepening self-awareness described as a process of making the invisible visible. In other words: “What are my patterns (samskaras)? Which ones are serving me? Which ones do I need to change?” Essentially, I am getting ready to make my New Year’s resolution, or in yoga-speak, I’m looking for my sankalpa for the new year.
I have often been amazed at how the yoga practice has helped me on my life path, and on how many levels my practice has given me insight into my samskaras.
On a purely physical level, those new to the practice come face to face with that which was hidden fairly quickly. The posture (asana) practice has a knack for making us aware of our strengths and weaknesses quite quickly. I often see students who find a strength in their practice and want to work on their strengths every time they practice. Many students also prefer to avoid or neglect working on some of their weaknesses. We also tend to, while avoiding weaknesses, sacrifice proper alignment in order to get “deeper” into a pose. We tend to exploit openings and focus on destinations, usually to the detriment of the quality of our breath and other parts of body that often could use more attention. But many of us, over time, also realize that the recognition of these weaknesses, our acceptance of them, and our willingness to work with them, are at the very heart of a yoga practice that is beginning to gain depth. “Sthiram sukham asanam.”
These physical samskaras are easier to identify and address. Where yoga has a largely hidden value is in addressing the more subtle subconscious patterns. Yoga also helps to make the invisible subconscious patters visible and then provides us with the tools, similar to the asana practice, to reshape and re-pattern these, as well.
As a mindfulness practice, the yoga practice helps us observe our mind’s patterns. First, we begin to recognize our narratives on the mat. Then as our practice expands into our lives, our narratives out in the world become more apparent. At least this has been my experience. Some patterns I had, I had become resigned to. I didn’t know how to address them. I simply thought that that was the way I was. It wasn’t until I was presented with the tools to work with my patterns that I realized that I could change long standing behaviors. My first teacher, Yogi Vishvketu taught me that to change a behavior, we need to foster an opposing behavior. In other words, to get out of your rut, create new ones, more positive ones. If you find yourself in conflict with others put yourself in service to people. If you are stuck in your head, move through your heart. Karma Yoga.
As for changing the way I think, changing behaviors will help shift thought. But to eliminate the kernel of the initial thought, the source of the behavior, yoga offers an even more subtle tool. My guru, Rod Stryker, has taught me that mantra is the means by which we can shift on a deeper, more subtle level, the very seeds of our thoughts. Plant positive seeds so that they may take root and alter the landscape of your mind. There are many kinds of mantras. Some, japa-mantras, are given to us by our teachers, these remain secret and have a particular purpose in our practice. Others are mantras we can choose to help us affect change in areas of our lives where we need a shift.
You see, we all have many mantras already. Many of us say: “I can’t”, “I won’t”, “I hate” or something that puts us into a negative or defeated mindset. Others among us fall into habitual patterns like the need to feel wanted, special or even the need to be against. These are attitudes which keep us invested in or attached to the ego and often focused on difference rather than union.
Whatever your own mantras are, we lay the groundwork for our thoughts and behaviors through these kernels or seeds that grow and infect our days and our lives. Adopting a new positive mantra to help you shift a behavior can serve a purpose in shifting your attitude towards those around you, which can in turn affect those around them. Mantra can help you be the change you wish to see in the world.
The mantra I have decided to begin my day with and share with my classes to spread more happiness and peace for the new year is: “LOKAH(HA) SAMASTA(HA) SUKHINO BHAVANTU” – “May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words and actions, of my own life, in some way, contribute to their happiness and freedom.”
My experience with mantra is that, fundamentally, most of them point to the same truth: Through love and understanding for ourselves and others, we come to the realization that we are all divine. Yoga.
Here’s to a successful new year sankalpa!
January 4th, 2011
A very ‘off the mat’ piece in today’s Colorado Springs Gazette on slowing down. “Can you go slow when you’re back in your work pants and heels? Can you breathe deeply when you have to wait through three cycles of a traffic light?” We completely understand – this takes #practice.
The lone Indian in yoga class. Did you hear this fascinating piece on @MorningEdition today?
‘The sweet simplicity of OM’ - @Yoga Journal blogs remind us to keep it real and come back to what matters.
Today we practice gratitude – telling the people in our lives how much they mean because gratitude only does good when it is expressed. What does Manduka help you #practice?
‘Extreme Yoga Positions’ in today’s @LA Times. Love the amazing things the human body can do. If photo 10 looks familiar, it’s because Manduka was there. Some images are ‘extreme’ because of contortionism, some are extreme because of who or where they feature. Still beautiful to look at.
December 17th, 2010
By Denise Cook
When I first came to my yoga mat many years ago I was in pain, but didn’t realize it was more than physical. Resistant and physically stiff I kept my teacher’s suggestions at arms-length and muttered every time she said something that actually made sense to me. The next day I showed up again, I was on a journey, so for thirty days I was committed. I didn’t realize how many facets of pain I would begin to actually unearth on this new journey. It was a new beginning, a “you had had me at Namaste” moment.
Over the next few years the practice of yoga kept coming in and out of my life. I tried several styles of asana and gravitated toward Ashtanga Vinyasa. For a few years it was heaven because I could muscle in and leave feeling rejuvenated and although not knowing why, just loving it.
Then one day on my second day at an ashram, it happened, I went down in chatturanga, and I could not physically push myself up. A voice inside cried, “Stay down, surrender.” I did. I lay there for an unknown amount of time until the urge to finally move crept into my body. When the tears passed I began to breathe. Not only did I begin to breathe, but I began to breathe deep. I felt as if I were breathing for the first time. Something I had been holding onto let go and the pain was startling, but when it passed there was peace, and I could breathe.
It is so true what the Buddha said, “This too shall pass.” Pain is no different. This past Summer I was Rollerblading behind my daughter and fell hard. A passer-by stopped and called 911, but held my hand and reminded me to breathe; if she only knew.
December 10th, 2010
Sometimes, things can happen to us that test our inner character, along with a lot of other virtues we think we have.
Over 18 years ago, I had a surgery performed — soul surgery.
I received a phone call that would change my life forever. My brother Ryan had been in a car accident and he was still alive on the Flight for Life helicopter that was on its way to Madison. His vitals were barely detectable, but he was alive.
In this time of crisis, I discovered who I really was. I walked into that hospital fearful of the monumental decisions I could be facing, yet determined to handle the situation. I was the only family member in town, my parents were away on vacation.
I didn’t have to face any decisions though, because Ryan did not make it. I was left with the ugly job of having to call my parents and inform them of the bad news.
As devastating as reality was at that moment, I knew my brother Ryan was in Heaven. That belief stemmed from a conversation that we had two weeks before.
He told me that I did not have the answers I was looking for and that God was the only one that had them. I asked him how he knew that and how he was filled with faith. He simply told me he knew it in his heart and when he died he was going to Heaven.
Well, that certainly made me search deep inside. My courage came to the surface, and entered my heart and soul.
I took a hard look at the path I was on and the person that I had become. I had to face the fact that the ONLY person I had trusted with my whole self, my authentic and nasty self, was Ryan. I had to own up to the fact that I did not trust people and that I was defiant in every way. I was on a lonely road and was in need of a change. I found that change within my soul and I am forever grateful to Ryan for repeating over and over his faith-filled statement.
Why do I now choose to share this tragedy with you? What is the real purpose?
I have one reason for sharing this private event. First, how do we handle life’s situations no matter what they are? What happens when someone you love more than anything is suddenly taken away from you? What happens when your proverbial life’s rug has been pulled out from underneath you and leaves you sitting on the floor dazed and confused? What happens when you look before you and all you see is black and you feel like you are walking through Jello?
You see, it's in those moments when we discover - perhaps for the very first time - that we have some work to do on ourselves. That's when we must become our own surgeon, our own advisor and our own mentor. The process of personal development is never over, so when adversity strikes, give thanks that you have discovered the need to work harder on yourself than on anything else. This is your opportunity for growth and perhaps this can be considered as a ‘healthy pruning’.
We must trust our faith and know that good will come out of all our experiences. We were made to endure and made to succeed. We must trust that we are made to have abundance. What we are determines who we are, and that disclosure should cause us to look into the mirror and not at the faults we find in our circumstances, our God, or someone else. It is in these deep, dark and lonely moments that we discover our greatest weaknesses and through that, we discover our greatest strengths.
My mat became my sanctuary; a place to uncover and discover the deeply rooted hurt that would be my companion......forever. Yoga helped to clear the sadness and the anger from my being and to see the gifts from my dark valley experience. Yoga helped me to deepen my faith and let go of myself so that God's love could ever so carefully mend my heart. My practice helped me to change my view of life, of myself and of others to a more loving, more forgiving. and more peaceful way. Yoga meets me on my mat and conforms to who I am THAT day in the THAT moment. I am thankful....OH SO EVER THANKFUL for having 17 years with my brother, Ryan, and for having that monumental faith conversation with him. I am thankful that my daughter bears his name and that my son was born on the 10th anniversary of his death, bringing light back to a dark time and space.
We need to understand that we are perfect in our moment, even in our mess, and even through our most horrific thunderstorms we are… and always will be…meant to bloom.
December 3rd, 2010
by Stephanie Stano, Founder of Recycle Your Mat
Aligning passion with purpose is a continuation of yoga in our everyday lives.
One of the reasons I cherish yoga is that it is so many different things to so many different people. You can see this reflected in the responses to Manduka’s #Practice Campaign. It really is quite amazing that in a class where we all are doing the same poses and same breathing techniques, the experience is uniquely personal.
There is at least one thread of continuity that runs between all practitioners and it is the ability for yoga to help us focus internally and tap into that fire that burns within us all. In the body’s stillness and in the space between thoughts, I heard the calling of my divine purpose. Aligning with my purpose helped clarify how I might best serve our culture and our society in a way that is a full expression of the gifts I have to give.
It has been said that a successful culture provides opportunities for its citizens to be able to fully express their potential and understand how it ties into the over whole of the culture. In this time of greater unemployment and chronic underutilization of employees’ abilities, many of us are looking to find other ways to express and fulfill the potential burning inside.
As with yoga, many of us will find our own outlet varies greatly from others. For me, it was creating Recycle Your Mat as an outlet to project and live aligned with my innate sense of environmental caring and reverence for nature. For others it may be service through volunteering, climbing the corporate ladder or pulling away from society all together. We all have value and an opportunity to express our unique internal fire regardless of our employment, financial or social status. Doing yoga has helped me listen to and share the passionate flame that is unique to me. May yoga continue to help each of us find our flame and give us the courage to let it brightly shine!
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