To Peel or Not to Peel? (Hint: You Need to Peel)

Quick Experiment: Point to yourself.

DO NOT SCROLL DOWN YET

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Where did you point?

I’m going to guess that you pointed at your chest, more specifically, the heart center. Why didn’t you point to your brain?

You pointed to your heart because you are a being created in love, driven by heart, and haunted by a mind of incessant thinking. You are not your thoughts; you are not your brain. Who is the one watching you think? Who is the thinker and who is the witness?

Study of the Koshas in Yoga philosophy can give us a description of what we are doing through practice and where we are headed if we stick with it. Without actually practicing, it means squat. 99% practice.

I drew this in teacher training. My meditation man is winking at you.

I drew this in teacher training. My meditation man is winking at you.

 

This photo is a little misleading (I’m not the best artist) – we aren’t really sitting under a rainbow of layers, all the koshas (energetic layers) weave into one another like a great tapestry. However, breaking them out in this way gives you an idea of how we practice through the layers.

Annamaya Kosha

  • Physical Layer – Earthy, Matter
  • Literally translates to “Food Body.”
  • Penetrate and purify this layer or aspect of ourselves with physical practice like yoga poses, exercises, clean eating, relaxation, and sleep.

Pranamaya Kosha

  •  Energetic Layer – Water, Fluidity
  • Prana means “life force,” so this layer is all about what moves in your body: blood, air, luymph, elimination systems.
  • Work with this layer through pranayama (breath control)

Manomaya Kosha

  • Mental Layer – Thinking Mind
  • Mind is manipulated by our thoughts which turn to words and then actions. We become an accumulation of everything that has come previously through our system and then react according to memory and habit.
  • Purify this layer with meditation especially on aspects such as compassion, selfless service, and forgiveness.
  • This layer causes us deep stress, anxiety. It is difficult to penetrate this layer without the foundations of asana and pranayama.

Vijnanamaya Kosha

  • Intellect and Discernment, Insight and Wisdom
  • This is deeper than just the conscious mind, this is latent, intuitive knowledge
  • This is not what you read in books or others ideas, it is what you experience and know through direct perception.
  • The difference between thinking and knowing is wisdom, vijnana.
  • Deep self-study and reflection on ancient scriptures and philosophy help tap into this layer.

Anandamaya Kosha

  • Bliss – Joy
  • There is a difference between pleasure and joy, pleasure arises from passing experiences and material objects, joy is a state of being, in which you can be joyful when something is difficult and not necessarily experience pleasure.
  • This is the heart center – the very place you pointed when I asked you to point to yourself.
  • All the yoga practices bring us to this place over time and consistent practice. It’s where we discover our personal truth and where we can hear our purpose most clearly.
Maybe this is a more accurate Kosha diagram - peeling back the layers until you get to your heart center - like an onion, you'll probably cry as you peel.

Maybe this is a more accurate Kosha diagram – peeling back the layers until you get to your heart center – like an onion, you’ll probably cry as you peel.

 

Yoga is a never ending journey. Just when you think you’ve mastered something physically, you can come back and add on another layer of work in order to peel back another layer of illusion. Eventually you have revealed your true self. When you wonder just who you are, point to yourself to remember.

 

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The State of the Yoga…….Ummm…..Yoga Means Union

Kids like clapping.  Or he could be a child politician, I mean really, most politicians are childish, right?

Kids like clapping. Or he could be a child politician, I mean really, most politicians are childish, right?

This is President Obama’s State of the Union, if it only applied to the Yoga World.  Finally, a time to merge my love of political satire with my passion for yoga practice! Enjoy.  (**Note – Obviously, some parts have been omitted – this thing is LONG!). Inspired by my son’s riot of clapping while watching the State of the Union (he’s four, so he probably just likes clapping).

As YOGIS, we don’t mind paying our fair share of studio fees, as long as everybody else does, too. But for far too long, celebrity yogis have rigged the  pay structure. They’ve riddled it with giveaways the superrich don’t need, denying a break to the desperately poor yoga teachers who do. (I’m looking at you @aloyoga and @kinoyoga).

This year, we have an opportunity to change that. Let’s close loopholes so we stop rewarding the 1% YOGIS. Let’s use those giveaways to outfit our more humble brethren who can’t affort $80 yoga pants and luxury retreats. Let’s simplify the system . And let’s close the loopholes that lead to inequality by allowing the top one percent to accumulate thousands of followers while our less flexible yogis receive minimal notice of their meditation efforts. It’s ok, we aren’t an ego based practiceWe could use that attention to help more families pay for kid yoga classes and maybe help the homeless. We need a new ethical code that truly helps working YOGIS trying to get a leg up in the new economy, and we can achieve that together.

Of course, nothing helps YOGIS make ends meet like higher wages. Really. It’s 2015. It’s time. We still need to make sure employees get the overtime they’ve earned (who among us hasn’t poured out hours of effort for that 2 hour workshop?). And to everyone in this SATSANG who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, please stop complaining about the cost of your yoga class – those trainings are expensive!

But tonight, we turn the page.  We can and should offer our military heros access to yoga classes.  We have proven time and again that the method works to help our heros live with their trauma and start anew.

YOGIS, for all that we’ve endured; for all the grit and hard work required to get that 500 hour yoga TT; for all the tasks that lie ahead, know this:

It’s TIME for a CHANGE ‘Merica! Yoga On (also you can actually buy this clock – LOL!)

The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the YOGA is strong. We carry a light in our hearts and a will to change the world into a more peaceful, more sustainable, more accepting place to thrive.

It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next fifteen years, and for decades to come.  Are we a group of ego driven yoga butts or are we a tribe of united yogis working towards a better Earth?  A better NOW?  A more accessible YOGA dream for EVERYONE – black, white, brown, abled, disabled, sick, tired, YOGA FOR ALL.

Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort? (No change here – YAY OBAMA)

Will we allow ourselves to be sorted into factions and turned against one another – or will we recapture the sense of common purpose that has always propelled YOGA forward?  It doesn’t matter if you teach hot, gentle, restorative, alignment – we are one YOGA – there is a practice for everyone.  You get a class and you get a class and you get a class (wait, how did Oprah get in this speech?)

At every step, we were told our goals were misguided or too ambitious; that we would never make it in the real economy or were just living in a fantasy. Instead, we’ve seen the fastest economic growth in yoga in the last 20 years, our they say 20% of Americans do yoga – that’s not misguided, that’s progress!

So the verdict is clear. YOGA works. Expanding opportunity works. And these policies will continue to work, as long as EGOS don’t get in the way. We can’t slow down businesses or put our PRACTICEat risk with shoddy teachers and manipulative marketing.

In fact, at every moment of YOGIC change throughout our history, this PRACTICE has taken bold action to adapt to new circumstances, and to make sure everyone gets a fair shot. Using props like blocks, bolsters, straps, walls, or even each other as partners.

These ideas won’t make everybody rich, or relieve every hardship. That’s not the job of YOGA. To give working teachers a fair shot, we’ll still need more employers to see beyond next quarter’s earnings and recognize that investing in their TEACHERS is in their studio’s long-term interest.

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Aligned Bones are Happy Bones which = DANCING Bones!

21st century YOGA will rely on science, technology, ANATOMY, research and development. I want the country that eliminated polio and mapped the human genome to lead a new era of YOGA – one that delivers the right THERAPY at the right time. In some STUDENTS, this approach has reversed DIS-eases, once thought unstoppable.

Of course, if there’s one thing this new century has taught us, it’s that we cannot separate our work at home from challenges beyond our shores.

My first duty as a YOGI is to DO NO HARM (Ahimsa). In doing so, the question is not whether YOGA helps in the world, but how. When we make rash decisions, reacting to the headlines instead of using our heads; when the first response to a challenge is to SIT AND BE SILENT – then we can avoid getting drawn into unnecessary conflicts, and MEDITATE UPON a broader strategy we need for a safer, more prosperous world. THAT IS HOW YOGA CHANGES THE WORLD.

That’s how YOGIS lead – not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve.

2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does – 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.

I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act. Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what – I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it. (Well this just applies to our yogic ways right – we have a duty to be stewards of the environment from the #1 ethic of NON-HARMING, Ahimsa).

There’s one last pillar to our leadership – and that’s the example of our values. THE YAMAS AND NIYAMAS.

  • As YOGIS, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened
  • As YOGIS, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened
  • As YOGIS, we cherish our civil liberties – MOKSHA

Looking to the future instead of the past. Making sure we match our POTENTIAL with PRACTICE, and use SIDDIS wisely. Building YOGA ALLIANCES to meet new challenges and opportunities. Leading – always – with the example of our values. That’s what makes us exceptional. That’s what keeps us strong. And that’s why we must keep striving to hold ourselves to the highest of standards – our own.

I know how tempting such cynicism may be. But I still think the cynics are wrong.
I still believe that we are one people. I still believe that together, we can do great things, even when the odds are long.  (Good one POTUS!)

So I know the good, and optimistic, and big-hearted generosity of the YOGA people who, every day, live the idea that we are our brother’s keeper, and our sister’s keeper. And I know they expect those of us who TEACH to set a better example.

A better YOGA is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears.

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Fight With Peace and For Peace – The Yogi Way

A better YOGA is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues, and values, and principles, and facts, rather than “gotcha” moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people’s daily PRACTICE ON THE MAT OR OFF.

A better YOGA is one where we spend less time drowning in money for ads that pull us into THE GLITZ AND GLAMOUR of EGO, and spend more time lifting young people up, with a sense of purpose and possibility, and asking them to join in the great mission of SHARING YOGA.

If we’re going to have arguments, let’s have arguments – but let’s make them debates worthy of this body and worthy of this PRACTICE.

I want our actions to tell every child, in every neighborhood: your life matters, and we are as committed to improving your life chances as we are for our own kids. (It’s all about 7 generations hence, that’s what Native Americans taught!).

My fellow YOGIS, we too are a strong, tight-knit family. We, too, have made it through some hard times. Fifteen years into this new century, we have picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, and PRACTICED OUR PROGRESS. We’ve laid a new foundation IN OUR FEET. A brighter future is ours to write. Let’s begin this new chapter – together – and let’s start the work right now.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless this YOGA PRACTICE we love.

Also – I’m not campaigning for YOGA – YOGA WON, FOREVER 5,000 YEARS.

But seriously – I love a great motivational speech.  I know people roll their eyes at politics, argue over who is right and when, but waht happened to a country in which we respected the office, we listened to the IDEAS and the CHARACTER behind the President, rather than the partisan politics.  I do know one thing – we should all be able to rally around the values of family, fellowship, and freedom without tearing down our leader.  President Obama was right – he’s done campaigning and he won – TWICE.  So let’s ride out this presidency with calm, cool, collected activism, because anyone can complain, it takes real American or Yoga spirit to actually get out there and make a change.

Thank you and Namaste to anyone reading this.  I appreciate your time and your eyes. I give humble thanks to my teachers, who have taught me more than just poses, but to try to use my voice for a purpose, and thus, here on my blog, I practice lifting my voice – and for those that hear it, I am grateful for a space to share it.

Yoga is in Religion. Religion is not in Yoga.

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Once upon a time we were told there are two things one never talks about for polite conversation: RELIGION and Politics.  This practice leads one to wonder, if we can’t discuss it, how can we understand it?  If we can’t understand it, how can we change it?  If we can’t change it, how can it evolve?  Enter Yoga.

Yoga is in Religion. Religion is not in Yoga. ~SwamiJ~

religion-yoga

As part of our 500-hour teacher training at Prairie Yoga, the group went on a field trip to the Sri Venkateswara Swami (Balaji) Temple in Aurora, Illinois.  Why did we do this?  The tour guide explained it this way:

“I’m not here to convert you to Hinduism, I am here to educate you on what we practice.  Comparative study of religion only helps one to better understand their own faith and own self.  Religion is a tool towards God-realization, different people need different tools and so thank GOD that we have so many paths of understanding.”  ~Sadasivan N~

This man offered up a message I wish we could all hear.  We don’t have to be RIGHT – what would happen if we all just existed together in a kind of harmonious agreement to respect individuality and mind our own business?  After all, the mentality of “I Am Right,” is so arrogant, if God exists, what must God think?  The guide also mentioned this:

“I’ve never been dead, I’ve never met God, so I cannot tell you what you should or should not believe.  The person who tries to tell you what you should believe is probably selling you something.”

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Some people feel deeply uncomfortable with the spiritual aspects of yoga and that’s OK – no yoga teacher should be asking or instructing people to change their faith – that is not the yoga teaching as laid out in the Yoga Sutras.  In fact, yoga isn’t even about your teacher – it’s about what they may inspire within you to explore within yourself.  YOU are your own best teacher.  No sales pitch needed for that.

I can recall a moment from a teacher training with Shiva Rea in which she said this:

“The Yoga Teacher is like a river guide; pointing out what is nice to see, but the one being guided has the ability to look in another direction.”

Some may disagree and that’s OK too.  Personal truth, personal experience, personal belief systems are PERSONAL – yoga offers contemplations to study your own self, your own beliefs so that you becomes more clear about your personal understanding of life.

As I continue to educate myself on Yoga, study my own life and my own beliefs, the resonance of my teachers is clearly influencing my teaching, but I add my own flavor because it is just my own perspective developed through practice and that is all we can share.   No dogma allowed.

As you seek to study yoga, the depth of which you practice may change over time – there is no doubt that once we access that connection through the physical practice of Asana, we open a door and light comes in.  That is what is scary to people, the fear that you may begin to doubt your own faith is real.  But through doubt comes more study – through more study comes more understanding, with more understanding comes more compassion, with compassion we have less judgement, etc… and what you may experience is that through practice, your faith is strengthened or changed, but then again, no journey ever leaves you exactly the same.  As Mahatma Ghandi reflects:

“There is an indefinable mysterious power that pervades everything. It transcends the senses whilst everything around me is ever changing, there is a living power that is changeless, that holds all together, that creates, dissolves, and recreates.”

 

Anjali Mudra – Reflect to Receive

“Each of us shares a unity with Spirit and all life,
and simultaneously each of us is an individual with free will.
There is a duality to us as separate and as part of the whole.”
~Jonathan Lockwood Huie~

Mudras as an overlooked aspect in modern yoga, especially in the West.  They are not frivolous hand gestures or esoteric spiritual wish sign language.  They are literal energetic connections between two points creating a circuit of energy.  You don’t have to “believe,” in them – they are scientific, in the same way that you don’t “believe” in plugging in a light bulb, you know the plug goes into the socket and links the energy to create a circuit.

One aspect of my personal yoga practice as well as my teaching, is utilizing mudras.  Just as I began with Sutra 1.1, I begin with the most basic of the mudras – Anjali Mudra.  You have probably even done this mudra, but given it little thought.  A simple joining of the hands together in what looks like a prayer – see below.

There are probably thousands of blogs and articles out there on this mudra, so I will share what was given to me as a personal teaching.  Consider that the hands, held in this manner, look similar to a candle flame.  In yoga philosophy and in many religions we are taught that there is a spark, a light, a oneness with Spirit/God/Creation inside us, we are a reflection of God’s image.  To me, this is the light.  When I hold my hands at my heart center, it is a prayer or an affirmation that I recognize a unifying spirit in all things.

In general, we open/close a class with Namaste.  This Sanskrit word has many meanings, my personal favorite is:

The light in me sees and reflects the light in you.

There it is again – CANDLE FLAME!

And if you aren’t into God or Spirituality – think of it as a very basic anatomical reminder – lift your sternum.  Stand taller, chest up, shoulders back.

Until next time, Namaste – lead with love, follow your passion, let your heart come before your head.

The light in me, reflects the light in you.

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Yoga Sutra 1.1 – Atha yoga anushasam

And NOW Begins my Yoga Blog.

The word sutra is akin to threads of truth, so these Yoga sutras are concise directives on how to approach a path of self-discovery. Although there is some controversy over the dating of the literature, a commonly accepted age is 200 BC. Think of this philosophy as a map to take you out of the tangled web of ceaseless thought. As we resume our Yoga Sutra study, let’s refresh with a look at the first one.

Yoga Sutra 1.1 – Atha yoga anushasam

This means – and now the practice of yoga. NOW – not when you become more flexible, not when you lose weight, not when you quit your wine-a-day habit, but literally – right now.

This also means, yoga is not just an approach for class, it’s an approach for daily living. In the noise of life and the photos of young, skinny yoginis in hot pants doing contortions, the real meaning of “Yoga” is lost. Yoga is union – union of consciousness with practice. This can be breath to body movement, the joining of solar and lunar energies, or even the simply linking of your mindfulness to everyday things like eating.

A common phrase for this attitude is “Off the Mat,” Those practicing yoga postures in a group setting (Asana Practice), already know the wonderful feeling that follows the class after the final relaxation of Savasana. BUT – what is more important is how you can take that feeling and then apply it to your daily tasks.

  • Can you be conscious and aware while you wash your dishes?
  • Can you hold your peace when your teenager cries and yells at you?
  • Are you fully experiencing each bite of the food on your plate and taking time to notice the impact on your body?
  • Are you being kind to people be it in the midst of a traffic jam or a long line at the grocery store?

In these three simple words – And Now Yoga or Atha Yoga Anushasam – is a thread to link to living life well and with intention. It means that once you begin your yoga practice, you link it to your whole life so that every moment is a chance to practice being a better version of yourself.

If you are interested in learning more about the sutras, stay tuned throughout the year, come to class, and above all – just keep practicing.

Namaste. Kirsten

P.S. This post was originally posed by me on the Senara blog back in May of 2014.  I thought it timely to share again as I begin my own blogging adventure under my own name.  To enjoy the original post – follow this link: http://senarablog.com/2014/sutra-study-yoga-sutra-1-1/

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Alignment Authenticity Anatomy Junkie Spiritual Flow Mantras Mudras Continuous Education Practice What You Teach Progress Not Perfection Guiding Teachers: BKS Iyengar Pattabi Jois Shiva Rea Daren Friesen (Moksha Chicago) Marinda Stopforth (Prairie Yoga - Lisle, IL)

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