Sri K Pattabhi Jois said, "Yoga is 99 percent practice, one percent theory." This blog is a resource to explore the one percent theory and to inspire you on the mat.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Flowing on the Crooked Path: A Primary Series Guide Interviews

This week I'm out of town working on a project and so I'm posting two of the six interviews that are included on my upcoming Primary Series dvd. They are titled Agastya and Ashtanga and Yoga is Creativity. I hope you enjoy them!

I'll post another written piece next week.

Hari Om,

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Trusting Earth

According to the Vedas the ancient goddess Prithivi is the personification of the earth. That means that the earth is not just the earth; she's a Goddess. She is described as 'great, wise, and energetic, She 'lavishes gifts upon her worshippers', she is 'that which holds everything'. She's 'beneficent and kind to all'. Also she's 'the inexhaustible source of abundance'.

You'll know the truth of each one of these descriptions if you tune to the earth during practice. You'll feel how kind and unstinting she is in her support of you. You'll feel her gift of tremendous power and energy through your feet and legs and how the dynamic expression of each posture is rooted in her abundance. You'll feel how she allows you to tether your self to her so you can soar skyward and thus set your spine free to spin and elongate and coil. You'll find your self plugged into the earth standing in triangle posture praising her gifts of spaciousness in your body and loving the spontaneous affinity between her and your consciousness. Also you'll find that a magnetic bond develops between you and the earth especially when you practice the primary series With each forward bend and vinyasa you get low to the ground, you prostrate, you pray with your body again and again to Prithivi, the nourishing, caring source of abundance.

Gravity is the downward force that pulls anything that has weight towards the center of the earth. One way to deepen your connection to the earth is to become conscious of its gravitational pull on your body. You can actually sense your weight being drawn irresistibly downwards. Go with it, enjoy it and let your self be drawn closer to the earth. And feel how she reaches for you, how she actively supports you. This way of tuning in involves letting go, becoming receptive, and feeling an almost lazy heaviness within the body. You relax and suspend effort. When you allow this combination of qualities to inform your posture, you're movements become more circular and cohesive . You are present in a deep rooted, whole, yielding way.

During practice, allow the parts of the body in contact with earth to widen, sink, and increase their connection to the ground. And see how in return, the ground increases her connection to you by supporting you more. By this awareness you create a powerful magnetic affinity between you and the earth. Your posture becomes immovable, super grounded, and energetically alive much more than when when you try with your will or when you try to apply intense physical effort to achieve a posture. Paradoxically, the softer, more spacious, and receptive effortless qualities that accompany trusting the earth give you the strength and power that you won't be able to find by willing or excessive effort. It can be thought of as a more feminine or yin way of being in a posture. You're receptive. You give way, let go and become expansive. You just are. And yet your posture will also express powerful strength and energetic vitality.

Two more of Prithivi's gifts to her devotees are feelings of spaciousness and timelessness within. Take time to contemplate these qualities and how the connecting with the earth gives them to you when you invite her into your practice. Connecting with earth in a posture brings a dynamic sense of spaciousness inside the torso that allows the tidal ebb and flow rhythm of the breath to reach its full expression. During practice the lungs and ribcage need to be able to expand and contract to their full capacity with ease. Also the spaciousness that results from tethering your self to the earth through the legs frees the spine to elongate, coil, spin, and stretch; Prithivi gives you the ability to enjoy the spine's full range of motion.

Overall, the strength of your posture comes from the earth and enables you to loosen up, become spacious and find satisfying, large, circular patterned movements that integrate the entire body into your posture. The body is cleansed and healed by these wholesome, earthy, deep patterned movements and life force pervades your inner world. Perhaps you arrive in a place where you really belong in your body and your inner world, from the boundary of skin to the core of the bones, becomes your sanctuary.

Timelessness implies that time ceases, that the passing flow of moments seems to slow down. Or maybe your concern diminishes for what time it is or what happened or is going to happen. You become timeless because you go to a deeper level of consciousness where you cease to give importance to the mesmerizing temporal sequence that ordinarily seems so concrete, so rational and so real and thus dominates. One of the most beautiful images associated with the awakening of Kundalini (the coiled one), is that when she enters Shushumna Nadi (the most glorious channel) and travels up the core of the body from base to crown, she swallows time. Perhaps swallowing time indicates that the moment NOW suddenly moves into the foreground. The past and future fade into the background. NOW opens up an entirely new world. Now is complete, precious and needs nothing added to it or subtracted from it and thus stretches out and lasts. When you strike a pose that is truly rooted in the earth, time ceases just like when Kundalini travels up the core of the body. Indeed connecting with earth awakens Kundalini, helps you to slow down, to be weighty, to tune into center, and become a vast, spacious, container that holds large stores of life force.

When you awaken your life force by bringing the earth clearly into your body in your practice, meditation results; your inner world becomes animated, vivid, and clear. You begin to understand and listen to your heart wisdom. You tune into your own unique style of unadorned bliss. You are happy to linger there.

But also turning your body into a vessel for life force, requires working with and accepting whatever comes. Thus it is equally necessary to learn to sit with and accept your pain. The reality is we are constantly causing pain to ourselves and others through our ignorance and inability to be fully awake and responsive to the present. Our mind attacks us with all manner of guilt, blame, and criticism; we're either too lazy and 'good-for-nothing' or we're exhausting ourselves striving for that never-to-be- reached perfection so we can finally be somebody or have some worth. The pain comes on all levels: physical, mental, and even the deep level of soul longing. Getting in touch with earth gives you the rock steady firmness and patience to feel, endure, and accept your pain and thereby transform it.

You tap the earth's support and use your power to contain and accept all the various aches, physical injuries, ailments, diseases, the toll of aging, and eventually even the terror and perceived pain of death. And through the earth, you create the space to contain and accept your bouts of mental anguish ranging from mild inner nagging and low level worry to highly agitated vicious, attacking mind that surges with aggression. You even have to accept familiarity of clinging to your habit patterns that are based in fear and result in unsatisfying, harmful repetition.

Daily you have to come back and face your same tight places, same blockages, same weaknesses. It is essential to remain receptive and firm rooted continuing to nurture your self in the midst of it. Yoga and Prithivi teach you to cultivate the patience to keep on giving and giving to your self, to keep forgiving your pain and ignorance. So as you step on the mat each day anew, you bring in the earth and keep on cultivating patience, rock steadiness and nourishing, caring support for your self. These gifts from the earth are the bedrock foundation of Yoga practice. Remember that to be in touch with the earth IS to be nourished, like a child who finds comfort in the close vicinity of her mother, feel how your body gravitates towards the comfort of Bhu Devi the Earth, the 'great, wise, and energetic' Goddess.

I have provided an exercise for you. You can either listen and practice to it on side bar player of the blog or you can read it and practice it on your own. The intent of the exercise is to help you tune into the qualities of support and generosity that the earth gives. Stand in Samasthiti or sit in lotus (or an equivalent seated posture). Let your posture be a prayer to Prithivi the great earth mother who feeds and bestows benevolence on her children. See her as a beautiful woman with rich green skin and four arms.

Imagine, not that you are on the earth but rather, you are part of the earth like an out cropping, an island that has thrust up from the ocean bottom. You ARE earth from your feet, legs and hips all the way up the spine and through out the entire body. Allow the parts of the body in contact with earth to widen and sink and increase their connection to the ground. In return, feel the ground increase her connection to you by supporting you more. Allow your weight to rest on your bones. And feel that the bones are buoyant and eager to receive your weight. Intentionally lower your center of gravity by letting your body be irresistibly drawn down wards towards the earth's center.

As you plug in, merge with earth more and more. Cultivate the feeling that you are earth, that you are the nourisher and supporter of all the life within you. Naturally you create space and care for everything within you, all your emotions, thoughts, moods, actions, reactions, pain, and dreams. You continuously bestow nurturing care and benevolence upon your self. Glimpse the power of the earth, of being infinitely generous and supportive of all life and enjoy your connection to that source.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Befriending Hanuman

In order to provide some background to this weeks post, here's a super short synopsis of the great spiritual epic The Ramayana. God (Visnu) incarnates as a man (Ram) in order to destroy the demon Ravana. The story goes that Ravana, through performing rigorous austerities, became the undisputed king of the 3 worlds. Practically invincible, he became wildly corrupt and wreaked havoc on the balance of the universe. Earlier he had won a boon that ensured that almost nothing in existence could kill him. However, in his excessive pride, he neglected to include a human being or a monkey in the list of what could not kill him. So Visnu incarnated as Ram, in order to put an end to Ravana's tyranny. And Visnu's wife, Laksmi, incarnated as Sita. Thus Visnu and Laksmi were married on earth as Ram and Sita. After many twists in the story Ram and Sita were exiled to the forest for 13 years. Ravana heard of Sita, her renowned beauty, decided he must have her, abducted her through trickery, and carried her to his kingdom on the island of Lanka. Ram met Hanuman, the monkey God, during his search for Sita. Hanuman became Ram's devoted servant and ally; he led a search party for Sita and found her held captive within the Ravana's fortress on Lanka. Ram assembled an army made up of men, monkeys, bears and others who went to Lanka and defeated Ravana and his forces. And thus the Universe was restored to balance.

The Ramayana can be viewed from many perspectives; from one perspective, called the esoteric Ramayana, it is said that all of the characters and events take place within the body, within a person's psyche. Ram is the Self and Sita is buddhi; the great intuitive intelligence. Ravana is the ego with its attachment to all the organs of sense (thus he has 10 heads). Symbolically the ego steals away buddhi the intuitive inner wisdom causing a separation between intelligence and Spirit. This split brings darkness and pain and a feeling of lost emptiness void of Self. Yoga practice leads to rejoining intuitive intelligence (Sita) with the Spirit(Ram). Hanuman, leader of the search, is the main instrument in bringing Ram and Sita together again; he symbolizes breath, an unswerving devoted ally and servant who helps rejoin Intelligence with Spirit.

This weeks theme is on Hanuman and his connection to the breath in practice. Hanuman's connection to the breath can be traced to his father, Vayu, the wind god. Vayu is known as the 'life breath of the Gods'; as a wanderer, an explorer and a messenger of the gods. The word vayu means 'to blow' . When Prana (life force) enters the body it is known as Vayu and gets divided into 5 regions (Prana, Apana, Samana, Vyana, and Udana). The vayu's are directly in play when you work with the cycle of the breath using ujjayii and bandha's during practice. Metaphorically speaking Vayu is breath within the body and Hanuman is the child of breath. Thus Hanuman represents the fruits of working with breath, your energy, your urge to serve the Self. Hanuman epitomizes devotion to the highest possible degree; he is in many ways more revered in India than Ram due to his loyalty and complete self surrender to Ram. One time Hanuman was hanging out around a campfire with his monkey buddies. They started chiding him about his 'appearance' of total devotion to Ram. Hanuman listened for a few minutes and then simply stood among the monkeys gathered in the circle and ripped open his chest exposing his heart where a miniature Ram and Sita were housed. When Hanuman exposed his true heart, it only revealed his beloved, Ram and Sita. Working with breath as the center of your practice eventually gives you the gift of a fierce, loyal and strong ally devoted to Spirit.

From studying, enjoying and trusting breath, little by little you win strength, clarity, and stamina to cultivate free breathing in asana practice. You intelligently employ Ujjayii Pranayama, uddhiyana and mula bandha's, awareness of the piston like movement of the diaphragm and tuning in to the rhythmic action of the pelvic floor. By observing the cycle of the breath, the expansion (inhaling, Prana) and contraction (exhaling Apana) of the two polar opposite Vayu's, Prana and Apana, you harness the potency of Prana, of Shakti, of powerful life force carried on the breath. You become a shaper, a sculptor, a connoisseur, a scientist, and a lover of breath and move from the surface to the depths of the heart where your real longings are lodged waiting for you to find the courage and receptivity to listen to and respond to them.

This shift of inward movement can be reflected in small ways. Your capacity to immediately experience and feel what is happening within and around you changes profoundly. You care more in present time (instead reflecting days, weeks, months or years later) about what is happening inside of you. You watch to how you respond and get clear where your responses lead you. You understand where your attention is engaged and for how long and on what sorts of objects, emotions and thoughts. You learn to gauge the value of where your energy goes and to direct it more at will to whatever you choose. An acceleration of feeling, thought and awareness takes place and your capacity for intimacy and love increases as well as the ability to tolerate loneliness and being alone. These small steps of inward turning can lead to a deep flowing towards center, to spiritual knowing, to the creative expression that you are meant to bring forth to share. You are literally more alive and more intimate with your self and everyone and everything.

But notice the risk involved in this----when you breathe you really FEEL; when you really FEEL, you feel more expansiveness and joy and connectedness, but you also feel more pain, more grief, more of the hurt and loss that the world continually spins out. Once you dive in, you are in---you engage fully with whatever comes. To free your breath is to risk everything---love and pain. Bliss and grief. However risking is the only real option along with learning to face the independent, solitary path you are on. Authentic practice requires risking and opening to where breath leads you. Such openness and gambling gives you an emotional and physical power reflected in your stance towards everyone and everything you encounter. You become loving, unshakeable, rooted, centered, receptive and fierce; you belong here in this body and finally can walk the razor's edge that is required to continually ride the breath.

The demon Ravana represents the ego and the world and all that pulls towards mundane power. There is an irresistible attraction to that power. Ravana himself though an arch demon is known for his charisma and beauty, his learning, his skill in battle, also a fine musician, and even an ardent devotee of Shiva. The benefits of power that go with money, fame, position, even of partner, family, friends cannot not be ignored or underestimated. Your health and evolution partially depend upon your successful attaining and wielding of these powers. However, these are still lesser powers that don't compare with the ultimate power of Spirit.

You are Spirit and are meant to realize and express the unique little piece of individual Spirit that you are. It's built in to the challenge of the game that we are bound to hanker after the lesser powers and spend too much of our time and energy caught up in them either trying to win them or hating and somehow rebelling against them. Maybe we resist turning inward because the path of Spirit appears to be so lonely, independent and solitary. The power of Spirit is found within as opposed to the polarized outside where people and things can appear to dazzle and captivate our senses and longings; or the opposite where we respond to power by rejecting or being apathetic towards it. But either way, our energy is dissipated. Additionally, the negative aspects of ego are tough to root out as evidenced by the fact that each time one of Ravana's heads gets chopped off in battle, another head immediately sprouts anew to replace the old one.

When you undertake Yoga practice to awaken the healing energies that can guide you forward the only direction to go is inward. To be alone with your self. Yet the path seems so impossible to tread without help. And that is the necessity and appeal of Hanuman, the egoless servant who exists to serve the bent of the Spirit within. To access such an ally within ourselves is vital to our progress. Intimacy with breath and reflection can play a significant role in that connection, in realizing you are compelled to find your unique and original heart and Spirit. When you learn to focus with stamina and access your breath, when you feel fully plugged in to your body by the flow of breath, where breath is the center, where you feel breathed by the breath, then you become Hanuman, born to serve Ram; you become the unswerving, loyal servant and ally whose sole mission is to reconnect your intelligence with your Spirit.


Hello Students,
I have decided to post a weekly blog every Sunday that will discuss significant topics about the practice. Through the blog I hope to connect with those of you that are in Philadelphia where we spend most of our time together in silence in the Mysore class, as well as those of you whom I have the opportunity to teach in my travels. Thank you all for the honor of teaching you and here's to going deeper into Yoga together. Om Shanti.