Archive for December, 2011

The Spirit of Christmas written December 24, 1999, by Swami Niranjan of The Bihar School of Yoga was forwarded to me by my friend Anahita in India. It was being shared by the Satyananda Mumbai Google Group. This will be an important and meaningful article for many of you. Swami Niranjan is an inclusive, open-minded, forward thinking, universal spiritual head of The Bihar School of Yoga.

In this article, Swami Niranjan equates Christ consciousness to the state of turiya (he calls it the “unified spirit”) in yoga.

He explains what mind, spirit, consciousness mean as these are terms we all use with different implications, not knowing what it means to someone else. What is the difference between Spirit and consciousness? He explains it.

The roads are many but the destination is the same (see What is Yoga?). No matter what our path we are all universally connected.

Swami Niranjan writes:

” Of the five elements in this world, there is one that connects each individual with another individual. That element is air. Who knows, maybe the air that we are breathing in at this moment is the same air exhaled by Christ two thousand years ago? Maybe it is the same air exhaled by Krishna five thousand years ago. It is this air which is connecting us together, globally. And just as in this dimension air is the connecting agent, in another higher dimension, spirit is the connecting agent.”

“We think of spirit as something unique to each one. Maybe it is just like our ability to breathe in. How we breathe is unique to each one of us, but air is universal. Similarly, our experience of spirit can be individual, but it is a universal connection….Therefore, the statement, “My Father and I are One”, meaning that the individual I and the universal spirit, the spirit which I am experiencing within me and the spirit which surrounds the entire manifest and unmanifest creation, are one, and the statement, Aham Brahmasmi, ‘I am that universal spirit’, are the statements of people who have had a vision of the spirit.”

Swami Niranjan further suggests that the opening of the seven doors and seven veils in the Bible,  is the opening of the seven chakras in tantra. Many of you have felt this for yourselves after our years of practice on the chakras and some of the kriyas. Some have referred to the children’s story Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as an allegory on the chakras as well.

The article states:

“Tonight, when you go to the room, don’t go to sleep, but reflect for ten or fifteen minutes and set priorities for your spiritual life. Just as you set priorities for your material life to fulfil your aspirations and desires, set priorities for your spiritual life…. Remember to try and understand spirituality from a practical point of view, because real spiritual life alters the material.”

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Warmest wishes of peace and light to everyone for the holidays and the new year. 

Thank you for being a part of this blog and the mission of peace of http://www.mahasriyoga.com.

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Being in flow is losing sense of self and Daniel Kahneman talks about it in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow. My sons talk about “being in flow” when they are deep in work or a math problem–losing all sense of self, time, space, as they produce their best work that seems to just flow effortlessly from them.

It is another way of describing meditation. There is a lot about the Kahneman book that in my mind connects dots between behavioral economics and yoga philosophy, but that will be another blog post at some future date.

The breath is a constant flow and an awareness of it is Being in the Flow of Being –the state of mindfulness or meditation. This is what Amarnath Mukherjee posts on Facebook: Inhale, and God approaches you. Hold the inhalation, and God remains with you. Exhale, and you approach God. Hold the exhalation, and surrender to God. ~Krishnamacharya

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Holidays and clearing out things is sometimes like opening up a Pandora’s box of memories–good and bad. We dare not open and look inside the box.

We want to hold on to the “good” and avoid the “bad” but the negative has a way of clinging like a limpet in the mind and growing well beyond its origin. It occupies so much space and consumes so much energy in some minds that like a patch of soil, filled with overgrown weeds, there is no room for anything else to germinate and bloom.

Yoga is psychotherapy. Yoga is not a limited mat practice of bending, twisting, flipping. The real practice is life with all its relationships and circumstances.

In the last post, I mentioned avoiding difficult relatives where possible. This is not necessarily running away. We don’t have to deliberately walk into every storm or raging fire. There is nothing wrong in self-preservation, giving yourself and others time out from mutually destructive emotional cycles. Yoga does not mean letting others walk all over you and take advantage of you. We can deal with the situation objectively, firmly, dispassionately, without being consumed by it. To help move back to the stillness that lies right within us, try Calming the Storm and the breathing practice of bhramari.

There are some relationships that will not be resolved by avoidance. They will fester and provide no peace until they are seen clearly, objectively, with some compassion, forgiveness, and humility. This does not have to excuse the wrongs done, but holding on to them does not create a more positive path forward either. By forgiving ourselves as well as others, we are able to free ourselves from the torment of the troubling past and move on.

Often, children continue to hold the hurt, anger, resentment against parents and relatives long gone. So it is no longer the physical presence of the person that hurts but the thoughts in our own mind. The source is the thoughts, our own thoughts that are hurtful and cause suffering–and not that person. The person is just the trigger. It is our own reactions that we nurture and feed with constant attention, illusions, and additions that are hurtful to us. We energize, feed, and grow them.

Yoga and many other styles of meditations require paying attention to our minds–not avoiding the painful and not seeking the pleasant. We watch objectively without labels, and watch the labels (if they appear) without judgment.

This means developing the attitude of a witness (sakshi) and watching with detachment (vairagya). The process leads to an understanding of human suffering and compassion for all beings (karuna), even those who hurt us (Forgive them Lord as know not what they doeth). We don’t hold our young children’s sometimes hurtful behavior against them; we know they are kids and don’t always know what they are doing. We continue to love them! Most of us are very young and immature spiritually.

The detachment of vairagya is also close to non-acquistion/non-possessiveness (aparigraha). Nothing is “mine.” The two help reduce or stop the cycle of desire, aversion, attraction, and that constant production of karma. Equanimity is stopping that cycle or vortex.

Learning this is tough and the only way is to live life with awareness. Life and its pleasant and unpleasant relationships, and varying circumstances, is the learning ground of yoga. We make mistakes constantly and hopefully learn by keeping the ego in check. The equanimity we experience is the sign of progress in yoga. It is so much easier to see the wrong in others and so much harder to see it in ourselves.

Confronted with a tough parent, sibling, child, in-law, we keep the wisdom and teaching of yoga philosophy in our awareness and make an effort to implement it. We do it to seek our own peace.

I do recommend this moving article (A Caregiver’s Guide to Compassion in Yoga International) of a daughter coming to terms with her father after many years. Most of us who have come to yoga will be able to relate to it; most of us have arrived where we are to heal ourselves. Our hurts have been the blessings to peace.

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What is the biggest source of stress for most people? It is not wars and natural disasters. The two major causes are worries about money and family (death, divorce, illness, marriage, children, in-laws, and friction between family members).

Holidays bring out these stresses and a lot of people dread the holidays–gift giving and being forced to be with people they would rather forget. Old wounds, losses, and painful memories well up for many people.

And yet, holidays are traditionally meant to be joyful. What happened for so many people to dislike the holidays and wish them away?

Loss of simplicity. With the advent of department stores, the simple homemade gifts gave way to the commercialization of the holidays. I remember even 35 years ago, life was much simpler. In England, we gave each other a special cake of soap, a pretty handkerchief, or knitted a scarf, or even made a simple cake. No one felt that these presents were “cheap” and there was so much joy over the thought and care each gift signified. The importance was clearly on the sentiment and joy of caring, on the spiritual, and not on the material. This has been a huge shift.

Why is this important? In my personal observations, most people feel that what they give is far more generous than what they receive. So if everyone in a particular family feels that way there is a constant brewing of discontent, inflating of one’s own sense of self-importance and virtue while diminishing that of the others. That leads to resentment and anger which spill over into all aspects of those relationships–the constant accounting of debits and credits but everyone’s accounting is totally different and it is always in their favor.

Giving and receiving. We can choose to opt out of the commercial aspect. In our family, we have no material gifts any more now that the children have grown up. No matter what the occasion, we have no gift giving. If we happen to see something that would be appreciated, we just pick it up and give it without occasion. We do things for each other throughout the year. On special days, we go out for a special meal which does not have to be super expensive. We go on long  family vacations.

So we totally eliminated holiday shopping, guessing who would like what, disappointments related to giving and receiving, and the financial stress. There is no clutter in the house either! It is quite liberating for us and we love to just spend time together freed from what has generally become a warped, spiritless “act of giving.” Our relationships are much more joyful when we give ourselves to each other. This will not work for everyone, but everyone can find what is comfortable for them and simplify life.

The point is to try to give without expectation and receive with joy and appreciation.

Unpleasant relatives? If possible, avoid them! If you cannot, watch them as you would a movie and not react to anything they say or do. Just let it flow away like  a stream. The day will end and everyone will go their separate ways. If people are difficult, it helps to see that it comes from their own stress and suffering.

Holiday meals will be much more enjoyable if they are simply prepared with love rather than elaborately done with stress. If done with the right attitude, food and gifts are symbolic of spiritual giving. It is the attitude of love that makes a meal special, not the expense or enormous amount of time.

Slow down. Instead of revving up for the holidays, it helps to slow down. Hibernate a little and go within–discover the inner space in the quiet, dark stillness of a winter’s night. Discover the light within–after all that is the point of the holiday.  

Take time to be in touch with the light within. Candle Flame Trataka is an excellent way to see and feel the light within. Connect with spirit of the inner guide with the powerful Yoga Nidra : Up to the Summit. For difficult relationships try the Yoga Nidra: Role of Purpose and Beyond. To shake off anxiety and lethargy, try a few rounds of sun salutations. Like public broadcasting, these are all offered to everyone on www.mahasriyoga.com whether they donate or not.

Slow down, look within, connect with who you truly are as you feel the warm glow of the light within this winter solstice. “It’s a gift to be simple, it’s a gift to be free…”

This blog will be slowing down over the next few weeks.

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New Yoga Superpower?

The New Yoga Superpower certainly makes for an eye-grabbing, somewhat provocative headline for an article. It could also make the traditional ashrams in India either squirm or see how to make the most of it. The country referred to as the “The New Yoga Superpower” is China. It is an interesting article. This is what came to my mind after reading it.

Centuries ago, many Chinese scholars came to study at the famous Nalanda University (perhaps the world’s first university) in what is now Bihar. There was an exchange of information along the Silk Route. Perhaps some of those non-threatening exchanges can be revived.

The author of the article, Daniel Simpson, estimates that there are 10 million Chinese practicing yoga versus 16 million in the United States. A 2010 article in The Washington Post placed the number in the United States at 30 million. This is a huge difference in numbers and they could be hard to estimate.  In over a billion people in China, 10 million is a small figure. The fact that they want “American Yoga” says a lot.

First, it confirms that yoga now has numerous “denominations” (if there was any doubt) and American Yoga is distinctly different from traditional yoga. The American denomination is more about the physical and less about the mental, emotional, spiritual as in traditional yoga.

Second, the Chinese are as insecure about the United States as the United States is about China. To the Chinese, American Yoga is associated with success and is an aspirational product along with Gucci, Lexus, Hermes, etc. It is about a slim, sculpted yoga look that is the look of “success.” So it is symbolic of the life of “having arrived financially” and not yoga as a way of living and thinking. But as they hopefully get deeper, the depth of yoga will be experienced. The Chinese may have a natural affinity for the wisdom of yoga philosophy as the Eastern philosphies have much in common.

Third, no matter what “yoga” people choose to practice, the term “superpower” in yoga is just another oxymoron, one amongst many now. The only superpower is the ability to control one’s own vagrant and distracted mind–not anyone else, or any country. Those other powers have been the beginning of a down fall as we are reminded in the old saying, Pride comes before a fall. Yoga has always strongly cautioned about those “superpowers.”

Fourth, many Chinese will benefit from the traditional yoga that is now being taught by masters such as Iyengar. Because of their own Chinese traditions and culture, the people in China will be able to intuitively get the heart of the traditional yogas which is much harder for the people in West. It gives them a spiritual path that is not religious and therefore not censored by the state. It offers them a way to deal with their tremendous stress and social upheaval.

Fifth, perhaps this will lead to better understanding between the people of China and India. Yoga can be an outstanding soft diplomacy.

Lastly, yoga can be expected to be shaped into a Chinese way just as it has been molded and adapted by Americans to suit them–just like there is American Chinese food, American-style pasta, pizza, Tex-Mex, etc. In India, there is Indian Chinese food, Indian/American pasta, Indian Mex, etc.

Yoga’s purpose is to bring harmony and unity within one’s self and within families, communities, and nations–the individual microcosm is a single unit of the extended macrocosm. So peace and harmony have to happen at the individual level. There is potential to extend global peace if it is done with the right attitude. 

The superpower is yoga, not a single individual, organization, or country.

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Andrew Sullivan’s Deadliness of Doing was brought to my attention by my husband, an avid reader of Sullivan’s blog. I think most of you will find it worth your time even though you may associate Sullivan with politics.

In the blog, deadliness of doing is “the phrase Oakeshott used to describe our usual, rational, self-interested selves – engaged constantly in wanting, getting, wanting, not getting, and wanting some more.” That is another way of expressing the cycle of karma!

Hobbes, Daniel Kahneman, and Eckhart Tolle are also quoted. Doing versus Being is what connects them all. Living with awareness, moment to moment, in the state of dhyana, or paying attention is Being. It is a message found in Samkhya. As yoga, Buddhism, and Jainism are all rooted in Samkhya, the same message is found in all of them.

It is what we try to observe in our meditations–the Observer (Seer) and the Observed (Seen). The experience (the Seen), the one who experiences (I), and the awareness (the Seer) are all one, not distinct. Sullivan quotes  from Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow: “I am my remembering self, and the experiencing self, who does my living, is like a stranger to me.”

Kahneman’s notion of two minds within us–the subrational and the rational–remind me of the three minds within us in yoga: conscious, subconscious, and unconscious.

I have not read the book yet, but it is already beginning to sound like the description of the mind and Self in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

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