Category Archives: Patanjali’s Sutras

Fear effects our thinking, actions and relationships

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There are times when we must endure life-threatening situaitons and fear is a part of our mechanism for survival. There are also times when something in our life feels threatened, and this, too, can arouse fear and the host of symptoms that go along with it. When fear is operating at the lower levels of the spectrum and the symptoms are more subtle, we may not even be aware of the effect it is having on our thinking, actions, and relationships. But it is. Fear is powerful.

There was the time when my manager thought we should change my class schedule and drop one class. I freaked out. I couldn’t even consider the proposal. I started to worry that I was less popular than the other teachers and no one would come to class ever again and how would I make up the income… I put all my energy into fighting to keep things the way they were. I couldn’t see it any other way.

Since the election, the same thing’s been happening. I’m freaked out, and I keep feeding this fear with news, news, conversations about the news, and more news. It has been obsessive and I’ve been distracted by it. I must also be uncharacteristically short tempered because last week my girls both asked me if I was mad at them. This made me stop and think about my tone of voice and my lack of patience. I pulled them in close and apologized and told them a little bit about what was going on (none of it is their fault). Then I turned off my NYTimes alerts on my phone and started to wean myself off of talk radio.

The yoga sūtras give us a list of five ways that we can incorrectly perceive something, the kleśas (YS II.3-8). Patañjali says there is a general misperceiving, avidyā, we mis-identify, asmitā, we let our likes or preferences decide for us, raga, or we let our dislikes to determine what we do or don’t do, dveṣa. The last one in the list is abhiniveśā, or fear. Patañjali describes this version of misperceiving by saying that when we experience it, it’s like it mounts us and tells us where to go. The rider is directing our action and behavior. The rider is fear and our body, system, mind, responses… those are the horse. (YS II.9)

And that’s totally how it is. That’s what this obsessive behavior feels like. Part of me is watching while I read another alarming article and it’s like the watcher has almost no power to stop the doer from doing it. Something else is in charge. The fear.

So what do we do about it? Patañjali offers two very useful suggestions:

  1. If you see a kleśa, take action! Do something to oppose the symptoms when they are small and make some effort to come back into balance (II.11). This might be yoga practice, taking a walk in nature, disconnecting from devices and connecting to a person you love, or taking care of something – your garden, your pet, your house, someone in need.
  1. Meditate on something that is appropriate (II.12). When you give your full attention to something, as with meditation, your whole system benefits. The appropriate thing might be something that helps you feel connected, safe, or loved. It might be something that gives you hope. If you have a prayer practice or a connection to higher power, this can be very helpful.

I’ve finally had some breakthroughs with my most recent fear. I’m starting to notice a cycle and a process that I go through when something seems new and threatening and that cycle takes time. Neither of the solutions above are instant fixes. They are ongoing and helpful practices. As I start to feel a little less afraid, the concerns haven’t gone away, but the fear-based responses have less of a grip. I imagine they aren’t gone for good, but I find it so helpful to remember and connect with these teachings from the sūtras. I hope you do, too.

Conversations with a tween

The girls are both delighted to be posing with their dad for the Christmas photo!

The girls are both delighted to be posing with their dad for the Christmas photo!

I have a tendency, these days, to talk less. I really value quiet. I like the pauses in conversation to be with what was just said. I like to listen to where people go with their thoughts when given the time. I enjoy being around people and noticing what that feels like, seeing what they do and what I do– maybe listening to breathing.

Though this has been really nice in a lot of relationships, I’m starting to see that it may not be the best strategy with my tween daughter. Hazel doesn’t ask me what I think very often. She’ll tell me something about a friendship or something that makes her laugh, but it’s usually brief and it comes when her mind is there, still with her friend or connected to the funny thing she saw on pinterest. In these moments, I don’t get the feeling that she really wants to talk with me and that leaves me unsure of what to do. If I just sit there quietly, then she’ll eventually wander off. Though she’s not engaging me in conversation with her comments or passing thoughts, she is talking to me. In order to help get a conversation going, I have to push past my enjoyment of quiet and the awkwardness of not knowing exactly what to say and I need to make the effort to engage her. It seems so obvious now that I’m writing it down, which is good. There isn’t much that’s obvious in parenting a tween.

This weekend, I tried it out. Whenever Hazel said something, I thought of it as an invitation to connect. I’d ask her a question or talk about what I thought or a time I felt that way. It rained all weekend, so we spent a lot of time in the house together and I had many opportunities to practice. I’m pretty sure I talked more in one weekend than I average most weeks. It was a different way to be together. I felt closer to her and I could see that this way of connecting was working for her, too. On Sunday night at bedtime, I bent down to kiss her goodnight and give her a big squeeze. She didn’t let go right away, and so we stayed there, quietly hugging, feeling each other breathe. And then, she told me she’d had a really nice weekend. I don’t remember what I said, but I do know that my heart swelled and I felt grateful for her, for the time we spent talking and for all the quiet moments in between.

 


 

Deepen your practice with Yoga Sūtra study in this 8-week Workshop in Austin, TX!
patanjaliThe Yoga Sūtras is an ancient and fundamental text of Yoga. Even though it’s over 2,000 years old, the 196 aphorisms continue to be relevant to our modern day practice and life. In this course, we’ll dive into the second Chapter and right into the heart of the yoga journey, looking at what yoga is and what it helps us overcome. Through chant, discussion and practice, we’ll learn how to cultivate balance, clarity, and more meaning in our daily life.

January 12th – March 9th, 2017 (no class 2/2)

Thursdays, 9:30 – 11:00am

$150* earlybird through 12/15!

click here for more info and to register:
http://www.amandagreenyoga.com/workshops-special-events/

Clean Tweets

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I have to be sneaky when I talk about the yoga with my daughter, Hazel. She has a tendency to roll her eyes if I say anything that she might sniff out as a yoga-teaching, “Mo-om (changing pitch half way through), you aaaaah-lways talk about yoga…” But this week with high profile politicians getting heat for twitter comments, I thought it was worthwhile to talk about śauca, the niyama that teaches us about cleanliness in all aspects of our lives.

The two of us laughed over some clever #trudeauEulogies. We talked about the W. Virginia mayor and city employee who lost their jobs because of a racist tweet-exchange and we talked about Trump’s recent four-word tweet after learning of Fidel Castro’s death. Hazel gets that even though we may have a reaction to something that happens, that’s often NOT what we want to say or send into the inter webs. I didn’t grow up with social media and it’s a good thing, too.  I wasn’t good about restraint or conversational cleanliness, but what kid does? Growing up now, in this time of texting, social media, and the internet, has it’s gifts, but definetly has it challenges. Kids need to embrace śauca, cleanliness, more than ever.

If Hazel doesn’t leave her books, laundry and dishes all over her bedroom floor, she’ll be less likely to trip over them later.  She’ll have fewer stains to scrub out of the carpet and fewer things will get broken because she’s taken care at the front end. Habits of cleanliness are important on the internet, too. All digital exchanges leave a record and internet messes are a lot harder to gather and throw into the washing machine. Digital stuff can be spread far beyond the intended audience. Your peers can hold onto those akward photos sent via text, and they can unearth the inevitable mis-steps or clumsy trial-and-error social experiments long after they should have faded from memory. What pre-teen kids do, say, write, and post can follow them. How can they possibly get the potential impact of that since they’ve only been on the planet for a decade or so? Luckily, we have some fine teaching examples.

The practice of cleanliness is about more than maintaining clean surroundings. The practice has the potential to teach us things about our life and our true nature. If we take care of the stuff we have, we’ll come to understand that the cost of posessions goes beyond the initial price tag. Practices that help us to maintain a clean body, clean thoughts, cleanliness in relationships, and cleanliness in how we conduct ourselves in the world offers other experiential teachings and an opportunity to get to know our tendencies and habits. When we take care in this way, we uncover important truths. In The Heart of Yoga, Mr. Desikachar says this about the result of the practice of śauca (YS II.40), “When cleanliness is devleoped it reveals what needs to be constantly maintained and what is eternally clean. What decays is the external. What does not is deep within us.” Through śauca, we come to know our nature. We can know who we truly are.

Desikachar , T.K.V. (1995). Heart of Yoga, Developing a Personal Practice. Rochester,Vermont: Inner Traditions International

If you’d like to learn more about the teachings that come from the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, please join me for this 8-week Workshop in Austin, TX

The Yoga Sūtras is an ancient and fundamental text of Yoga. Even though it’s over 2,000 years old, the 196 aphorisms continue to be relevant to our modern day practice and life. In this course, we’ll dive into the second Chapter and right into the heart of the yoga journey, looking at what yoga is and what it helps us overcome. Through chant, discussion and practice, we’ll learn how to cultivate balance, clarity, and more meaning in our daily life.

January 12th – March 9th, 2017 (no class 2/2)

Thursdays, 9:30 – 11:00am

$150* through 12/15

click here for more info and to register:
http://www.amandagreenyoga.com/workshops-special-events/

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Signs and symptoms of shock vary…yoga offers a path of recovery

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I thought these lists of symptoms might be helpful as you try and make sense of what you’ve been going through.

Signs and symptoms of shock vary depending on circumstances and may include:

  • Cool, clammy skin
  • Pale or ashen skin
  • Rapid pulse
  • Rapid breathing
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Changes in mental status or behavior, such as anxiousness or agitation

http://www.mayoclinic.org/first-aid/first-aid-shock/basics/art-20056620

Emotional Symptoms of Grieving

A person who is dealing with grief will most likely display some of the emotional symptoms associated with grieving. The Mayo Clinic lists the emotional symptoms found with prolonged, or complicated, grief. These can include:

  • Increased irritability
  • Numbness
  • Bitterness
  • Detachment
  • Preoccupation with loss
  • Inability to show or experience joy

While these emotional symptoms are normal in the days and weeks after a traumatic event, they can be indicators of a more serious disorder if they do not fade over time.

Physical Symptoms of Grieving

It may come as a surprise that grief is not entirely emotional. There are very real effects that grief can have on the body. Some of the physical symptoms of grieving, according to the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, are:

  • Digestive problems
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Chest pain
  • Sore muscles

Though these symptoms are normal during the grieving process, you should remember to contact your doctor if you experience any severe physical symptoms.

http://www.psychguides.com/guides/grief-symptoms-causes-and-effects/

I’ve felt a lot of the above symptoms in the last 24-hours. In addition, I only want to eat toast. I’ve had moments when I believed my legs were going to buckle out from under me. I’ve felt myself dissociate—floating out of my body while I fixed my gaze on this tiny red decoration in my kitchen. And I’ve had eight to twelve seriously messy cries.

In the midst of all this, I’ve also felt something else: A need to take care of myself.

You know those people who have a fine-tuned moral compass? The ones who can identify and support the things that align with their values and call out the things that are not? The ones who have a clear sense of right and wrong and are able to move and act on that inner guidance with clarity and courage? The people who stand up for others and for themselves and don’t miss a beat? The ones who can lead? The ones who can follow a great leader? The ones who dedicate themselves to a cause worth fighting for? I want to be well resourced so I can be one of those people. I want that for you, too.

To do any of this, we have to prepare. It occurs to me that maybe the last eighteen years of yoga practice have been preparing me. Maybe you’ve been preparing, too. We aren’t done. We need to care for ourselves and continue to practice. With this, our ability to pay attention and stay focused will improve. Dhāraṇā —dhyāna — samādhi[1] describe the progression of deepening focus.

Attention is important for several reasons. One good reason? It comes with a side of praśānta[2]peace. Yoga describes peace as a symptom of attention. Peace doesn’t mean that everything around us is perfect. It’s a feeling that we can have on the inside even when the outside looks bleak or threatening. Nirodha — a deep state of attention and the flowing peace that comes with it are felt everywhere in us –in our body, breath, mind, and emotions. This is important because attention with peace can give us equanimity. When we can hold the binoculars steady and bring the little bird in the nearby tree into focus, we have a chance at seeing it clearly.  Attention, like binoculars, is a tool that can help us to see something we couldn’t see without.

Patanjali defines three aspects of a yogic path: tapas – effort, svādhyāya- self-reflection, and Īśvara-pranidhana –acceptance[3]. Do some work. Think about what motivates your actions. Know that you won’t always get everything right, and that’s okay. This is ongoing, moment-by-moment kind of practice. It involves Abhyasa and vairagyam[4]making efforts and relinquishing what gets in the way of those efforts. And you know what helps a lot with this? Śraddhā – a conviction, abiding faith, or something you can believe in. Patañjali says when we know and can feel this deep faith, it is a sign that we are very near our goal.[5]

Acceptance doesn’t mean going along with everything is happening. It does mean that we allow ourselves to see our current situation clearly and accurately. Prāmaṇa[6] is clear and accurate understanding. If we can see and understand a situation, then we can address what’s actually going on. If it’s not a good situation, we can go inside ourselves and listen for the guidance that helps us to know what we can do about it. We need viveka – discernment, to do this work and to make sense of the many things that go on in our inner world and the world around us. There’s a lot going on all of the time and viveka is helpful when we need to discern between the stuff we should witness compassionately or even dispassionately and the call to stand up and act.

Let us really take care of ourselves during these next 4 years and beyond so that we are nourished, resourced, clear, perceptive, and strong. May our efforts and practice continue, re-invigorated by our circumstances. Yoga, or whatever practice you cultivate, is going to be as important as ever in helping us all to be the kind of humans and the nation that we want to be.

[1] YS III.1-3

[2] YS III.9

[3] YS II.1 – kriya yoga

[4] YS I.12

[5] YS I.20

[6] YS I.7

The rewards of yoga practice (It’s not what you think)

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When asked to chose her fav’ Austin destinations, this burger joint was at the top of her list. Extra pickles, two ketchups, please.

My husband makes me laugh harder and certainly more often than anyone else I know. He’s clever and light hearted. He can improvise a catchy song at the drop of a hat and has a knack for an Australian accent. He’s good for a deep belly laugh, but he’ll go for a chuckle, too. He’s good for some word play. Puns make our 12-year-old roll her eyes which makes the whole thing even funnier. This special kind of wit isn’t it’s reserved for the girls. When I come into the room after 20 minutes of Vedic chant practice, Dave finds a way to slip in how en-chanting he finds me. And after my yoga practice, he’s fond of asking, Did you get it right this time? I always smile but that one makes me think…

Why do we practice yoga? Are we doing yoga to get it right or to achieve some level of mastery? Are we going through the steps and ‘climbing the ladder’ because we believe there’s a reward wating for us at the top? Will yoga make us more deserving or more loveable? Is there something magic about the techniques that if we just get them right, they will transform us?

Even though I couldn’t have put these words to it before, this approximates my attitude. I’ve been bartering with my yoga practice. I put in my time, and yoga will repay me with more peace, ease in my body, more insight. The harder I try, the further I’ll go. Even though I know it doesn’t really work that way, it’s hard to give up the belief that I’m in control of yoga and what it does for me. It’s hard to let go of the sense that I can make it happen.

Lately, I can feel myself wanting something even more from my yoga practice. Through yoga, I can have feelings of profound connection to some deep essential part within me –a part that’s inextricably linked to the special thing inside of everyone else. This experience is an antidote to my long-time attachment to loneliness. I want more of that connected feeling. I want to remember that essential part. And, even though I don’t know exactly what it looks like, I want whatever comes next…on a tray… with pickles and two packets of ketchup.

Because I’ve been wanting more, I can feel myself trying harder. There’s a quiet urgency as I come to my mat in the morning. I’m reading books in hopes of uncovering a secret key hidden between the lines. I’m doing the stuff that I think I’m supposed to do, because I want to receive something in exchange. But there’s tension. I can know the motivation isn’t correct. There’s wisdom inside nudging me to remember that trying harder hasn’t been the way I’ve experienced personal growth in the past. It isn’t the way I’ve made strides in my self-understanding or my relationships. That growth always happens when I do less. It comes when I’m not begging for it. It sneaks in when I finally accept something about my life or myself, I soften and I let go of the struggle. When I make space and open to what is, that’s when something shifts. I don’t make it happen. It’s offered. Grace.

My practice is essential, not because it’s what’s required for spiritual advancement, but because it prepares me to recognize grace when it’s offered. Daily practice readies my system — body, breath, mind, personality and emotions, to function well and to be content and balanced through the dramatic ups and downs or while I wait. Īśvara pranidhana encompasses this notion of grace. I can do what’s best, not because I’m are striving for a particular result, but because it’s the right thing to do. It isn’t service performed in exchange for goods or reward.  It’s action without attachment to the outcome (Bhagavad Gita Ch 2:47).

We don’t have to work hard for it, but I think it is hard work to consistently see ourselves with a loving and honest lens. At least it is for me. But that’s exactly what practice can help us to find. Less effort or striving can nurture an internal environment that’s suited for this gentle, patient, compassionate work. It requires dedication, not because we’ll get kicked out of the club if we slack, but because having structure and regular committed time supports us along the way. It supports us while we wait.  It helps us know our true nature (YS I.3) and this mystery of receiving gifts of grace.

***I offer individual yoga sessions and support for those who would like to begin or deepen a personal practice.  You can read more about the process on this website or contact me  to learn more.  I’d be happy to hear from you!

RAGA: The Kleśa that has us going back for more

I'm now enjoying chai in the mornings...

I’m now enjoying chai in the mornings…

Coffee is one of my favorite things but when I drink it, over time it starts to have this cumulative effect of gradually increasing my anxiety. I’ve tried to will this side-effect away, to ignore it, or to pretend that it isn’t all that bad, but after a few months steady coffee intake, the anxiety reaches a point where I can no longer deny the problems it causes me and I resolve to quit. Again.

The kleśas are five ‘afflictions’ or ways that our perception can cause us problems. In a nutshell? We suffer because we don’t see things as they are but instead, misperceive. This isn’t ignorance. If I’m unsure what time the appointment is, then I’ll open up the calendar and see that it is scheduled for 10:00am. But if I know that the appointment is at 1:00, then I leave the house at 12:15 and drive to the office. I miss the appointment because of my avidyā, misperception. We knew incorrectly. Because we believe that the way we see it is the right way, we take action based on that misperception. This causes us all sorts of problems.

Patañjali describes particular ways in which we misperceive.

  • We misidentify, confusing what is happening in the mind.  We say, “I am angry.”  “I am sad” etc.  We think we are these emotions and if we act from this place, this is Asmitā.  It would be better expressed if we said, I feel angry or I feel sad, giving space to observe the experience rather than identify with it. (*Edited 8/28/16 see below)
  • We have a positive or pleasant experience and want to repeat that experience of pleasure so we go after it even if it may no longer be appropriate or helpful. I think of this as also misidentifying what it is that will be truly satisfying. Raga!!!!
  • We have an unpleasant or negative experience so we avoid the thing that we associate with the problem. Dveṣa
  • Fear makes us see things in ways that may not be accurate or correct. We all know that when we are afraid, many things can seem threatening or dangerous even when they may not be. Abhiniveśā.

Why do I struggle with coffee, so? .

Patañjali nails it with raga. When I’m out of balance, underslept, or over-committed, then the attraction to the morning bev can overwhelm the more practical voice in my head. “I waaaaant it” is the beginning of the story I start to tell myself. “I like it. I like the routine. I like the little jolt and I want to repeat it every morning of every day. Why not? My parents drink coffee. My husband drinks coffee. It’s for sale everywhere.“

This is how I’ve known it to start. It seems good at first, but inevitably, unpleasant effects show themselves. If we see a kleśa at the foundation of any action, Patañjali advises that we take action early when they are small. If we don’t, the suffering may eventually be great enough, and provides motivation to change.

 

** read more about the Kleśas in the second chapter of the yoga Sutras or join us NEXT WEEK in Ojai, CA for our women’s retreat and get in on some great discussions on how this applies to daily living. http://handson-retreats.com!

Edit 8/28/16: When I originally published this post, I confused asmita and moha YS.II.32 “We think we are “wife” or “mother” or “yoga teacher” but then something changes and that role is no more or needs to adapt in some way and this can be very painful.” This is moha.  Asmita is something that happens with how we are thinking… confusion in the mind with how we are perceiving. (see above)

How to do yoga āsana

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The yoga sūtras doesn’t give us a lot about how to do āsana. There aren’t any descriptions of postures and no instagram worthy pictures. But there are two sūtras specifically about the qualities that should be in every āsana and these include the following ideas: sthiram sukham or steadiness and ease (2.46) and prayatna śaitilya (2.47).

A common working definition of prayatna śaitilya is “appropriate effort to loosen.” Sure. Yogis should be flexible, but not too flexible. We should work toward those qualities, but still with sthira sukham. Makes sense.

But this week, I learned of another way of thinking about this sūtra. Prayatna is defined as the intention that comes before a movement or the energy that precedes an action. It’s fascinating to wonder and attempt to feel what is behind a conscious thought that leads to movement. Śaitilya is ‘loosening’, but what is it that needs loosening? If we think about prayatna as the quality of connecting to something more subtle and something behind even the intention of our movement, then perhaps the loosening that happens is on the level of our identity. Can I let go of the idea that I am in charge of everything my body does.  Is it possible that I am not the illy force that allows my body and breath to move.

This sutra feels like a beautiful invitation to slow down, be quiet and listen to the subtle force within.

+++++

Deep gratitude to my YATNA teachers who make it possible for me to have these kinds of ongoing conversations in the company of amazing colleagues.

Thank you Amy Wheeler, Dolphi Wertenbaker, and Chase Bossart.

A Quiet mind may be the ticket to a fulfilling life

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This morning I had a yoga class to teach. I’ve been teaching at this place for four years now so I’ve got a well-worn path from my house’s garage to the studio. I left on time, drove over, and parked my car in the employee section of the lot. I walked along the back of the building toward the loading ramp. I didn’t even notice the commute. Saṁskāras, patterns and memory, got me there.

As I walked toward the building, my mind was whirring with my plan for class, thoughts of my sister’s wedding weekend, the half-finished project I left at home and probably a few other things, too. I got to the edge of the parking lot and stepped onto the path and these two pigeons were right there, less than a foot away! The birds freaked out when my shoes hit the gravel and in a terribly disorganized escape effort they fluster-flapped off the grass, and toward the nearby tree. Their crazy take off startled me and I was jolted out of my head and into my body. I saw where I stood, felt my heart racing, and I became aware of the really loud low-frequency whirring noise of huge air conditioners.

I felt a camaraderie with these startled birds and started to think. Pigeons, like most prey animals, are wired to do one thing above all else and that’s survive—it’s in their nature. A main survival strategy for birds is staying a safe distance from predators. But that’s not what happened to these two. The noise of the machines made it so they couldn’t behave in the way that nature has wired them to respond. This background noise meant that I snuck up, undetected, and it wasn’t until I was way too close for comfort that they realized the threat. The noise meant they missed out on important survival information.

That struck me so hard.

I realized it is possible that, like the birds, the stories and thoughts running in my head are like the industrial air conditioners, keeping me from being able to hear to my essential nature. I might miss messages that are deep inside because of all of this unfortunate background noise. And like today, there’s a lot of time when I don’t even notice them running. They are there in the background having a dulling effect, and I’m just going along, unaware.

Virāma means “absolutely quiet.” It’s the word Patañjali uses in Yoga sūtra 1.18 to describe a highly refined mind. The sūtra goes on to say that in this state of mind, we aren’t run by saṁskāras and mental disturbances. We can be spontaneous and present without operating on patterns. Virāma. Absolutely quiet. I think this is so beautiful.  I have a strongly held belief that we are here, in these lives and the bodies we’ve been given, to do certain things. By doing them, we can have a fulfilling and meaningful life. But we have to get quiet, really quiet, and listen in order to know what those things are. We listen to the things that excite us, the things that satisfy us deeply and the direction we’re called to go. This knowing comes from within and we hear it best when we are our most centered, quiet, and calm selves. What a profoundly good reason to work toward an attentive mind and a calm system. This quiet, calm place can help us to know our true nature and essential self and just may be the ticket to a fulfilling life.

 

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It’s hard to be happy when we’re worn out

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The other day, Hazel came back from a weekend at girlscout camp. The camp was wonderfully exhausting. She loves her troop and all the adventures that go with hundreds of girls and cabins and camp activities, though three days of it left her introverted soul worn out and in need of a recharge. She came home still buzzing with excitement but within an hour, the exhaustion overcame her. She retreated to her room, flopped on her bed, and stayed there, sad and crying for a long time.

After a while she came and found me.  We talked about feeling sad and not knowing why. She wondered if this big mood swing was normal or if something was wrong with her. I assured her that for a lot of us, being physically tired goes along with feeling sad or having negative thoughts. We talked about puberty, too. Her body is in the midst of a big change and these changes aren’t just happening in the body…they happen in the mind and the emotional parts of us, too. Even though the sadness can overtake her, it isn’t forever.  When I asked her if it was there during the weekend, she said it wasn’t. That morning, she was happy to be with her friends and was looking forward to coming home from camp. What a big change a few hours can make.

Yoga’s pañca maya model* has helped to make the relationship between body, breath, mind, personality and emotions more clear to me. It speaks to the interconnectedness of all aspects of our being. Any shift, for better or worse, at any of these levels, sends a ripple of an effect through all of the layers. For worse—a tired, sore, worn out body may leave us sad, crying and catastrophizing. For better – we’re rested, well fed, and with time to recharge, then our thoughts are positive and we have feelings of peace. Yoga Sūtra III.9** says, there are patterns of distraction, OR patterns of attention playing out in our system at any given time. When patterns of attention predominate, this extends to the whole system. This is nirodha pariṇāma. In other words, when we make efforts to find or maintain balance and be attentive at any level of our system, this extends to our whole system. Attention and balance in our mind, goes along with ease in our body, long and smooth breathing, and peace in our personality and emotions.

These teachings have helped me to better understand the relationship between these different aspects of my being. I’m grateful for yoga, and my teachers who have helped it to come alive for me. And I’m so grateful that I get to be Hazel’s mama. It’s very possible that Hazel has more emotional intelligence at twelve than I have at thirty-nine. She can watch and identify when she feels sad. She can tell what happens when she feels this way. She asks for help to understand it and to normalize it and is learning to see the connectedness of it all along the way. She is one of my teachers, too.

 

*The pañca maya model describes 5 layers or ‘veils’: annamaya (body), prāṇamaya (breath or prāṇa), manomaya (mind, intellect), vijñānamaya (personality), and ānandamaya (emotions or bliss)

**Yoga Sūtra III.9 vyutthānanirodhasaṁskāroḥ abhibhavaprādurbhāvau nirodhakṣaṇacittānvayo nirodhapariṇāmaḥ

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Interested in learning more about the deeper teachings of yoga and applying them in your life?  Join me in Ojai, CA this August for a 5-day retreat!  http://handson-retreats.com It’s going to be great. 

Pants on Fire

lady gaga telephoneI caught myself fibbing the other day. Hazel wasn’t feeling well and I called her friend’s mom to cancel plans. Totally reasonable, right? Certainly every mom of a 12-year old has had to cancel plans for a sick kid. Never-the-less, in that moment ‘reasonable’ didn’t matter because while we were on the phone I detected disappointment in the mom’s voice. The disappointment triggered my old insecurities and these insecurities took control of my thoughts and my communication. Is she judging me? Oh, she’s totally mad at me. What if I’ve messed this up and our kids don’t get to hang out again for a super-long time. Five seconds in and I was spiraling. It was from this needy, nervous, and not rational place that all these could-be truths started to spew from my mouth. “I’m going to pick Hazel up from school” (though hadn’t made arrangements to actually do that) …”And we’ll go see the doctor” (possible, but not a plan). “And we’ll get a strep test and if it isn’t serious, maybe we can get the girls together tomorrow instead” (maybe, maybe not). “Yeah. She’s that sick.” (I wasn’t actually so sure how sick she was.) I was fishing for some reassurance that I was still okay in this other mom’s eyes. That this was normal. That she understood. I wanted to feel better about myself and lying was the way I attempted to get the sympathy and acknowledgment that I needed in that moment. I hated what I was doing, but it just kept playing itself out until finally, I got off the phone.

Satyam, truthfulness or right communication, is one of the yamas or ethical principles that Patañjali lays out for us in the second chapter of the yoga sūtras. (II.30) This chapter teaches about the obstacles we face and the path and practices to diminish them. The ability to communicate thoughtfully, truthfully, and with sensitivity is one of these practices. Who can argue with that? When we lie, we create problems or obstacles for ourselves down the line. We worry about getting found out. We miss out on intimacy. Dignity diminishes. This resonates with me and even seems kind of obvious. Honesty is the best policy.

There’s another aspect to this truthfulness conversation and it comes later in the chapter. Sūtra II.31 says that if the five yamas aren’t interrupted by circumstances including one’s occupation, jāti, place, deśa, or time, kāla, AND they are sustained at all levels (action, speech, and thought) then it is as if the person is upholding a great vow, mahā-vratam. Start talking about upholding a vow, and this shit gets real. Why we practice honesty isn’t just policy, it is something sacred. Efforts we make to be truthful are in line with a holy promise or a hallowed act. When I think of this sūtra, I shudder. Mahā-vratam. Truthfulness as a great vow.

YS II.36 describes what happens when a person demonstrates a very high-level of satya. ”If you only tell the truth, then what you say will come true.*” Satya pratiṣṭhātāṁ kkriyāphala āśrayatvam. I have a friend that totally follows through on what he says he’ll do. He also is very sincere and thoughtful about what he says, everything he says. He’s straightforward and honest and i admire and appreciate him so much because of it. For example, if Mark says, “let’s get together for dinner next week on Saturday,” I know that he is going to make it happen. I’ll receive a text or a call with a time, a place, and a plan and I’m happy to go. He comes through every time. I know I can count on him so when I say yes, I’m more likely to follow suit. What he says comes true.

Satya, or truthfulness, hasn’t come easily to me. For a long time, I lied for convenience, to avoid awkward moments, to avoid getting into trouble, or so that I can have the little hit of dopamine that comes when I let someone believe I’m going to give them what they want, even if I have no intention of following through. I’ve been working on these saṁskāras or patterns of mine for a while now and I’m happy to report that the self-awareness and the self-assurance that comes from my regular yoga practice is gaining ground. I’m getting better at being truthful. I still hope to be able to slow down when I’m talking and to better notice what I’m about to say and where it’s coming from. Is this insecurity talking? Is what I’m about ot say truthful? I working toward good habits around communication so that honesty is my go-to. I may not uphold a sacred vow of truthfulness when it comes to breaking plans and feeling like I’m disappointing people, but I’d like to keep working my way there.

*from Yoga Sutras lecture by Chase Bossart on 12.5.2014

 

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