It’s On! YoMo 2016

img_0218This month, we are celebrating our lives with a little more YOGA! At SBG, we encourage everyone to practice a little yoga everyday. We motivate and encourage with sequences, reflections, jokes, demonstrations, parties, and lots of cheerleading.

I sent this reflection out to our students this week. And I figured that some of you would like to enjoy it, too! Cheers to you and your practice!

The second sutra of Patanjali’s treatise on yoga is succinct. Yogah cittavrtti nirodhah. Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of consciousness. In the practice of forward bends, we are taught to fold “inward” as we fold forward. We are told that if we practice in this way, we have an opportunity to look within and practice svadhyaya, or self-study. This is how we find the peace and harmony of a quiet mind, we are told.

But that practice of looking within can create a dilemma of sorts. Set aside the common pains of folding forward (holy hamstrings!), the seemingly simple act of studying ourselves can be difficult. The mind wanders. The flow of thought, the breath, the emotions… there’s just so much commotion! We remain steadfast and search for some sense of peace, quiet. (That’s what they say we are supposed to find, right?). And still, how on earth can we find peace when our hamstrings and hips are SCREAMING…?

All jokes aside. This is the practice. This in fact is what it’s all about.

“But everything great is just as difficult to realize as it is rare to find.” – Ethics, Spinoza

Often people come to yoga in the pursuit of happiness. They may walk through the door and ask for help with their low back pain or to limber up to better play their sport. But ultimately, it comes down to people looking for more peace within themselves. And their exploration can easily turn into a fight. Like the early explorers who were so quickly turned into conquerors, fighting instead of listening and looking. As Spinoza’s wisdom reminds us, this balance is often easier said than done and all the more important.

The crux of the physical asana practice is not unlike this balance that we seek within our minds. Abhyasa (Practice) and Vairagya (Non-attachment) are the two foundational principles of yoga. Balancing these two in life and on the mat in asana practice is a key to finding the subtler quietness of the mind.

fullsizeoutput_70fSpecifically, Abhyasa means cultivating the actions, speech, and thoughts to lead ourselves in a positive direction, rather than following the path toward the negative. Vairagya is the practice of letting go of the habits, persuasions, and colorings of the mind that lead us away from the positive direction. Practice points you toward the finish line, while non-attachment keeps you playing the game instead of turning on the TV.

As you fold inward during your practice, accept the challenge. Look inward, dig deep, and breathe. This is you. This is yoga. You’re okay. In fact, you’re perfect. We just have some work to do. 😉

Easier Said Than Done

As a yoga teacher, one of the challenges of the trade is taht I am often asked about neck pain, back pain, and whether or not there is a pose that would help streacth a certain area in the body. What no one ever asks me is how to detach from designs, still the minds’ flucturations, or find steadiness and ease in a body and mind that appear so rigid and unadjustable. Funny, since those are the root practices of yoga.

I have always been under the impression that people don’t talk about the classical philosophy and practice of yoga because they don’t understand it or they are afraid. More likely it’s because of the public image of the cloth diaper-wearing, patchouli-laced, overgrown hippie who talks in strange vagaries about “beingness” and unrelatable terms that involve fabled stories of ancient times where fabled people always did the right thing and never worried about healthcare, taxes, or how to update their new iOS.

In reality, the psychology, philosophy, and practice of yoga is quite practical and very applicable to our modern lives.

The first aspects of yoga are physical. Yama and niyama remind us to be good and do good. Asana keeps us physically fit. Pranayama teaches us to be still and pay attention. Pratyahara bridges what is tangible to what is more abstract and brings us to examine our consciousness.

When we work on our consciousness – our “being-ness” – then we start to see changes in how we think, work, feel, and live. And believe it or not, therein lies our answers to aches and pains, depression, anxiety, and whatever else it is we are looking for when we type Yoga in to the Google search.

And, like all important practices in life, it’s much easier said than done.


Your Ego is Not Your Amigo

IV. 4 nirmanachittani asmitamatrat   Constructed of created mind springs from the sense of individuality.

Finally, the door started to open with this sutra.

Our ego creates a division between ourselves and others and creates a sense of separateness. It is responsible for making us think that we are different from everyone else. And with that division comes all sorts of insecurities and uncertainties. We then begin to speak and act in accordance with this idea that we are different, that no one understands our challenges, and that life is really too difficult to live. Fear then rules our actions. We react to the “what ifs” that spring from this ego-constructed mind. Our chests tighten, breath shortens, and necks shorten with growing tension. Arrgggh!

Years ago, I was plagued with anxiety attacks. Anyone in my shoes would have surely suffered the same. My mentor at the time suggested that for every “what if”, I simply ask a follow up question. “Then what?” This trick is still part of my daily thought process.

Moods and opinions are something we have to work with. We have to learn to observe and identify instead of reacting always. The purity of who we are is veiled and discolored with reactions. These reactions define us in the world. Reactions and opinions give us individuality. When we have such strong reactions to life, we trick ourselves into reassuring our insecurities. And it is our insecurities that veil our true selves. Instead of shooting into the dark, we learn to shoot from the hip, and then eventually to not shoot at all.

Easy peasy.

The moral of the story is that as much as we like to feel special, it’s the ego that creates that division between ourselves and others. Following our ego leads us down a dark and lonely path. An important step in liberation is to identify when we’ve invited our ego to take the wheel.