My Mental Meditation Pillow

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I’ve been recycling a bit lately because being a good teacher isn’t about finding new things to say all of the time.  Sometimes, it is about restating and reframing.  The path of Yoga isn’t about complicated techniques.  It is about depth; it is not about breadth.  You don’t need to know a million techniques to know the Center of Consciousness.  Whichever path you choose, you have to commit to going to the threshold again and again.

Originally posted August 27, 2014

A few months ago I was being coached by a wonderful teacher, Radhika Shah-Grouven, about how to keep doing “this” when I am so busy.  I know we all feel very busy– and, with regards to scheduling, I am: the family, full-time job, additional clients, commuting, this blog… this list could be endless.  However, I find that I am only as overwhelmed as I believe that I am– of course, this falls within certain physical parameters: I must get sleep (although I get 5.5-6 hours), I must eat well, I must drink water, I must exercise, and I must meditate.

Meditation doesn’t cause me to suddenly have a “stress”-free life.  However, it does cause me to be very aware of my reaction to stress.  It has afforded me enough self-awareness to realize how much I can take on or how much I must put down. I definitely experience times of ambivalence and apathy– times where I would rather sit on the couch and veg-out.  However, I would rather allocate predetermined amounts of “free-time” to meditation.

My lineage recommends four times a day– that may seem daunting to a newcomer.  I would recommend a newcomers dedicate time for one to two sittings.  As I have stated previously, five to seven minutes; but, commit and do it.  In the same way you wouldn’t consider leaving the house without brushing your teeth, commit to going inside.

My teacher, Swami J, says to make it an appointment, like lunch with a friend.  If you are late, you postpone and make it up, as soon as possible– like your lunch date.  Life happens!  But, as Radhika taught me, you have a “mental mat”– it goes with you every where.  She explained that there were times when she just touched the mental mat while riding the train!  The more you return to center, the more it stays with you.  Many times my meditation pillow is in the cockpit of my car and my meditation room is a parking lot.

All Yoga Paths Subscribe to Dharma

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Part 4 of “How Do You Qualify Yoga

Please let me forewarn you, this may be a polarizing post.  Humans, on many levels, enjoy their misidentification with nonself (to borrow a Buddhist term).  We cling desperately to all that we are not–all that we are attached to.  The ego is a collection of false identities, which the teachings of Yoga systematically deconstruct.  The ego gets particularly obnoxious when we perceive we are being told that we are doing something “incorrectly” (or at least differently from how it was intended).

Dharma is a Sanskrit term which is utilized in many traditions; however, it has no true English translation.  Dharma can mean, law, right-way, and order; Feurestein ascribes it to morality.  Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Hinduism are all called “dharmic traditions (or religions)”.  Truthfully, there really is no “religion” called Hinduism.  Hinduism is a term that originated from the British trying to describe the various traditions of the people Sindhu River.  Hinduism is a collection of philosophies, among them: Shaktism, Vaishnavism, and Shaivism–all of whom, like the branches of Yoga, describe the Ultimate Reality in different ways.  Sanatana Dharma means the “Eternal Way” (or law, morality, etc.).  It is the wellspring out of which the dharmic traditions sprung.

Yoga and Sanatana Dharma cannot be separated.  Their lines are intrinsically blurred.  While it’s possible to practice Yoga and still adhere to other religious tenets–Christianity is very much a Bhakti Yoga practice–the origins are one and the same. Conversely, it is possible to be a Hindu and not practice Yoga; however, they originate from the same source.

All types of Yoga (not mere asana practice), have a dharmic component.  In some paths the tenets are spelled out in recommended actions and restraints.  In other paths, there is a call towards looking inward towards ones own moral compass.  Regardless, there are no Yogic recommendations towards: competitiveness, hyper-sexuality, greed, or lying.  However, that is often the case in the contemporary Yoga scenario.  Studios are selling expensive clothing, hyper-mobility is lauded, scant dress is praised, and teacher’s don’t have a personal sadhana.  It’s not a judgement, you aren’t bad if you’re doing these things.

Yoga is not about a punitive deity waiting to judge–it’s about becoming so clear and so aligned that you wouldn’t want to do these things.  Patanjali calls this the “great vow”.  It is not about becoming pious either; but, there is nothing wrong about being aware of what Yoga is and is not.

Yoga Has Many Branches

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Part 3 of “How Do You Qualify Yoga?”

Sorry for the delay in posting this–full-time life happens…

Go back to the bumper sticker I mentioned in post 2 of this series, “I Love Yoga”; we have clarified, ad nauseam, Yoga is the Ecstatic State–Yoga is Union.  But, even in philosophical circles, it can also mean the practices and the path that lead to the State.  If I asked the driver what type of Yoga they practiced they may say, “I do Power Yoga”, “I do Vinyasa Yoga”, perhaps, “I do Ashtanga Yoga” (that is a whole other posting– Ashtanga classically denotes the eightfold-path of which posture is only one rung), or, “I do Bikram Yoga”.  All of these are styles, some debatably more than others, under the umbrella of Hatha Yoga.  Let’s park that for a moment and come back to Hatha…

Again, Yoga is a liberation teaching.  Unquestionably, the goal of Authentic Yoga is to end the continual cycle of birth and rebirth, to realize the True Self and attain Enlightenment.  I know that it’s heavy; but, it’s true.

No how are you going to do that…

The Yogis, in their infinite genius, have devises several avenues to this Penultimate Goal.  They are based on your inclinations and where you are in your life.  But, the goal of all is the same–YOGA.

According to Georg Feuerstein, and other scholars (there is debate of the number of paths), they are: Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Tantra Yoga, Mantra Yoga, Hatha Yoga, and Raja Yoga (Authentic Ashtanga Yoga)–I am focusing on the “Hindu” Yoga Pantheon.  We can debatably add: Buddhist Yoga and Jain Yoga, too.

I will briefly summarize each path and provide links for further reading.  Notice each definition refers to the Ultimate Reality as the Goal.  I would at least need to do a full posting to do each one any justice–let’s see what the future holds…

Karma Yoga: A major branch of Yoga, expounded in the first third of the Bhagavad-Gita, is the liberating path of self-transcending action. All actions are given selflessly (seva) with the understanding that all actions come from the Ultimate Reality.

Jnana Yoga: A major branch of Yoga, expounded in the second third of the Bhagavad-Gita, (and numerous other texts, such as the Upanishads) which is based on the cultivation of wisdom as the path to liberation.  This wisdom is derived through direct experience of the Ultimate Reality as the Transcendental Self (atman) and  through constant discernment of what is real and what is unreal.

Bhakti Yoga: A major branch of Yoga, expounded in the final third of the Bhagavad-Gita, (and numerous other texts, such as the Bhagavata Purana ) is the path of liberation through devotion.   Through cultivation of this deep devotion, Bhakti, the seeker connects with the Ultimate Reality as a Supreme Being or Supreme Person.

Karma Yoga: A major branch of Yoga, expounded in the first third of the Bhagavad-Gita, is the liberating path of self-transcending action. All actions are given selflessly (seva) with the understanding that all actions come from the Ultimate Reality.

Tantra Yoga: By far the most complicated branch of traditional Yoga.  Tantra focuses on the feminine energy (shakti) as the source of the Ultimate Reality.  Broadly speaking Tantra can be broken down into two categories: Left-hand, which uses ritual and deities, and right-hand which is practices internally without ritual and iconography.  However, as with many other traditional teachings, Tantra has often been reduced to a mere mockery of itself with focus on increasing sexual prowess.

Mantra Yoga: A major branch of Yoga, which is sometimes grouped as part of Tantra Yoga.  This path uses mantras as a path to Ultimate Reality.

Hatha Yoga: A major branch of Yoga, the most renowned in the West, which is sometimes considered to be a part of Tantra. Hatha Yoga was developed by Goraksha and expounded in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.  In the HYP, one-quarter of the text is dedicated to postures (of which only four asana are described), one-quarter to cleansing and breath lengthening (shatkarma and pranayama), one-quarter to seals and locks (mudras and bandhas), and one-quarter to samadhi (the direct experience of Ultimate Reality).  

Raja Yoga: A major branch of Yoga, considered to be the most complete methodology of practice.  Raja Yoga is also known as Classical Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga (the eightfold path).  This classic treatise of this tradition is the timeless Yoga Sutras, codified by Patanjali.  The text describes the entire practice and potential experiences of meditation practice.  As well as outlines the eightfold path of sadhana: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi–which lead to direct experience of Ultimate Reality.

Despite the many branches the goal is the same.  If Ultimate Reality is not the goal, it’s not Yoga.  Now what is Ultimate Reality?  That’s for the sadhaka to decide… See the chart at the beginning, it’s a question mark…

Love Maker, Earth Mover

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The old rule, are you ready to break it?
Convention just isn’t strong enough to make it
It collapses under the weight
of a new world order played out in faith
enlightened by a good man worthwhile
An indigo child running wild
sparkling eyes so sweet, noble to the core
No story quite like this has been written before
He speaks kindly and clearly to every man
He’s a language that everyone understands
He’ll stay with you come whatever may
Staring down the impossible, he always sees a way
So simple yet so profound is his gift
No need to struggle, he’ll lend a hand and just lift
this burden into the ether and off your shoulders
He’ll laugh with you as you grow older
A hero that wants only your favor in return
A fireman to rescue you as this world burns
A great example that equalizes the good books
A man that forces you to take a closer look
at the version of truth you’ve chosen to greet
and if you look both ways before you cross this street
you’ll surely see his gorgeous, speeding karma
blow by brilliantly and run right over your dogma

Hand In Glove

Holding each other’s hand
so we are whole, not just a part of.
Shiva and Shakti be damned.
They’ll not survive the night,
when we leave them in favor of
serenity in our guiding light
beckoning from within, not above.
Unravelling dualism’s intricate plan
to decode the illusory distinction
between pigeon and dove.
Arriving at the promised land
of tomorrow, accomplished in love.