Kimi Marin Yoga

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Saucha

happy dudleyYoga Sutra 2.41: sattva shuddhi saumanasya ekagra indriya-jaya atma darshana yogyatvani cha

Also through cleanliness and purity of body and mind (shaucha) comes a purification of the subtle mental essence (sattva), a pleasantness, goodness and gladness of feeling, a one-pointedness with intentness, the conquest or mastery over the senses, and a fitness, qualification, or capability for self-realization. (translated by Swamij)

Last night, before bed, I did some things that I often leave for the morning: I washed all the dishes; folded and put away the laundry; and straightened up the living room. When I awoke this morning, I found myself happier, lighter, and with a sense of freedom as I walked about my house and prepared for my day. By having a clean house, I felt better and more expansive. How many times have you, knowing you have a lot to do, first cleaned your house?  Is your self-esteem slightly lowered when you know your clothes are dirty, or you haven’t showered? How many times have you told a friend, lover, or yourself that you felt gross after eating processed or fast food? This is because cleanliness is vital to reach our truest nature and our highest self.

Saucha or “cleanliness” is the first of the niyamas, the observances we hold toward ourselves. Saucha asks us to remove the extra clutter in our lives so we can move into our true potential. In Riding Your Own Current, I write about how we, and everything around us, are made of energy. To move and work from our best Self, we must be clean vessels. Yoga is the process of unblocking energy lines so you are aware of how you are feeling, what you are experiencing, and the quality of your present experience. In order to recognize your thoughts, speak with truth, act without harming another (yourself included), and recognize the divine in all creatures, you must keep your home, car, and body clean and away from clutter. How can we find freedom and transcendence or pure joy when we judge others, when we listen to gossip, when we eat genetically modified foods, when we destroy natural habitats, allow animal extinction,  declare war, when we live in clutter and consume more than we need? Both external and internal cleanliness allows us to live purer, more straight forward lives. Without the clutter in our lives, without the toxins in our bodies, we function like clean efficient machines allowing the divine to move through us.

My best friend lives in Paris and recently went to a yoga class and loved it. What she loved about it was the simplicity of the class. She felt the teacher stripped the class of  all the “bells and whistles” and the only extras in the class were what the practitioner brought from within.  My dear friend summed up the basic idea of saucha: to wipe away the extras to allow what is naturally present to shine. To embrace this first niyama, find ways to simplify your life and remove the extraneous bells and whistles. Start small: clean a closet today, drink more water tomorrow, buy organic carrots. Slowly cleanse yourself  with one thing every day, maybe two, then three, until saucha is a normative part of life. Feel the freedom as you find more room and space in your life. Watch your inner light shine through the cracks and fill your body. For me, cleaning my dishes, putting my clothes away can feel like a chore. But I also know that this is part of the process for me to relax, to grow, to manifest my dreams. Saucha reminds us  that by clearing out the old we make space for life to bloom.

Satya: The Second Yama

This week I touch upon the second yama, Satya or truth. The word Satya comes from Sat which means “being.”  Satya is not only about speaking the truth but on a deeper meaning Satya is the practice of being the truth. Every thought, every word, every action you take is to come from your most authentic, real self. For many of us, our true self is a mystery. We live our life trying to please our ego, please others, and wishing our lives were different. I know that I don’t move always from a place of truth. Honestly, I mainly move from ego and desire. I do this out of habit, fear, and simply being unaware of my thoughts and patterns.

Recently,  I went to a talk at an ashram and the swami speaking reminded each of us that our life is this Now. Every thought, every feeling, everything your senses take in is your life and your reality. Now many of us sit around rushing through life, trying to get things done, trying to please others, trying to get our ego satisfied and the validation that we are a good enough person. Satya says to let all that go, look within and see the truth of your situation. What is the truth of your thoughts? When you strip away all your layers, what is the truth of your motivation? On the most subtle level, what your intention for doing what you are doing?

Gandhi wrote an essay on Truth and said that Truth is God. He said where truth lies so does true knowledge and where there is true knowledge there is bliss. Think about how much better you feel when you make that hard decision that you know is right. To move with Satya is not easy. That is why many of us get in the habit of white lies, not speaking out truths, and not believing in ourselves. As Judith Lasater points out in her article, To Tell the Truth, “the practice of satya is about restraint: about slowing down, filtering, carefully considering our words so that when we choose them, they are in harmony with the first yama, ahimsa.” In my search to understand Satya, I am repeatedly told three questions to ask before speaking: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

As you go through your day and through your week, stop and ask yourself these three vital questions before you speak and before you act: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?. As you pause to do this, the layers that cover your true intention will be visible. When you peel away the layers of ego, trying to please others, and habitual behaviors, the base of your intention, the truth of your motivation and what you want to convey will be exposed. From this place move forward.

Riding Your Own Current

There is energy all around us: the energy of the sun, the energy it takes to move an object, wasted energy on unrequited love, energy of thoughts (i.e. scattered, constricted, and mental blocks). Yoga is a process to allow for a free flow of energy to move through you. According to Erich Schiffmann, “your body’s ability to function as a clean efficient channel is limited by stiffness, lack of strength, and lack of endurance” (65). As we remove blocks, limit discomfort, heal wounds, release tension, energy flows more freely, we are more at ease and comfortable in our bodies and in our life.

Many of us are ambitious, have dreams and drive. Yet, we learn time again that we cannot force anything to happen. Everything — our relationships, our careers, hobbies, talents, and dreams — take time to grow, develop and mature. I have a quote on my fridge by the Greek sage Epictetus that says “No great thing is created suddenly. There must be time. Give your best and always be kind.” Epictetus believed that we cannot control our external environment, we can only control our actions. For him, happiness was living in accordance to nature, “which means (a) pursuing a course through life intelligently responding to one’s own needs and duties as a sociable human being, but also (b) wholly accepting one’s fate and the fate of the world as coming directly from the divine intelligence which makes the world the best that is possible” (Seddon). We suffer when we try to control what is out of our control and ignore what is within our power to change.

In yoga, as in life, we often force ourselves to go further than comfortable or place our value in terms of what we can accomplish. Our mat is a microcosm of our behavior in the world. What happens on our mat, how we drift, daydream, force, embrace, and breakdown, is how we also react to situations off the mat. Yogi Joel Kramer summed it up when he said “The quality of mind that you bring to yoga is of the utmost importance.” Yoga is not about working to accomplish something, yoga is about being present, to remove the blocks that prevent us from understanding our true nature. Kramer mentions that when we force ourselves into postures, when we move to accomplish something, yoga becomes a series of repetitious exercises with a goal rather that a process of profound transformation.

Instead of forcing yourself into a posture, tune into the subtle energy currents that are moving through your body. In yoga, when we turn into ourselves, become aware of ourselves, we find that our bodies continuously give us feedback.  You can notice where you are tight, in pain, open, and parts or sides you are favoring. More importantly, you can tune into the parts of your body and poses you can control. There are energy lines moving through your body. The energy lines start at your core and move into your limbs. Our center is our pelvis and the “most important line of energy, always, is your spine” (Schiffmann, 67). Each yoga pose consists of at least two energy lines and you must learn to focus on your internal sensations to move energy into parts of your body.

When working with energy lines, work to channel your energy within your limits. There is no forcing or pushing because this will only create more tension. Think about if you were to push against a closed door, all your muscles are engaged you tighten up and the door still won’t budge. You run the risk of injuring yourself rather than opening the door. Become as relaxed as possible and feel your body sink deeper. As muscle tension releases, your body will go deeper into the pose naturally. This surrender to what you can control can be applied into everything  in your life. Follow your breath within and notice your own energy currents. Extend them, relax them, and watch yourself grow at your rhythm. Knowing when to rest, when to expand, and where your limits lie, you will find that most everything will come at a greater ease and your life will be full of more joy.

“Epictetus,” by Keith H. Seddon. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. n.d. Web. January 21, 2013.
Kramer, Joel. Yoga as Self Transformation. Yoga Journal May/June 1980. Web.
Schiffmann, Erich. Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness. New York: Pocket Books, 1996. Print.

Dancing With Transformation

We each have a masculine and a feminine aspect to ourselves. Scientifically, we are here because of the uniting of a male and female chromosomes to make a whole new being. In Hindu mythology, each god is powerless without the goddess who is divine force of creation and transformation. The female power is referred to as Shakti. Shakti is considered everything that is perceivable through the senses and the mind – the “powerful, active, dynamic” energy that “creates, pervades, governs, and protects the universe” (Kinsley). Every breath we take, move we make, thought we create is considered Shakti energy. Shakti is around us, within us, and is us. We are all the face of this amazing goddess energy. Shakti is the power to transform and move forward. What better time than January to tap into the transformational energy within you, as you, metaphorically speaking, die and are reborn with resolutions to steer your life differently?

“The contemporary philosopher Yasuhiko Kimura defines transformation as a dance between Being and Becoming” (Kempton). Being is the changeless source of what is beyond the reach of everyday senses, speech and mind.  Becoming is the ever-changing and growing Shakti life force within you. Becoming is a process of transformation. Transformation is a bumpy process that requires turning ourselves inside out and is rarely pleasant. In alchemy it is believed you can turn lead into gold – a  metaphor for releasing our true nature from the heavy illusions of our mind. We are releasing what we know of ourselves. Changing our identity and how an aspect of ourselves relates to the world. This requires heat to burn the old, stability of earth in the midst of uncertainty, air of our breath to find focus, and fluidity of water to move and change.

The first step of transformation requires a crisis point. Something happens in your life that makes you aware that a change is needed. Whether  a death, a breakup, a medical problem, financial crisis, or weight issue, you are aware that your life needs to transform because you are no longer able to stay static in the manner you are presently living. To change things you need heat to burn the old.

In alchemy, a solid is burned  to ash. In your own life heat is the discipline of moving past our egos and into the  realm of uncertainty and discomfort. Go to a place that requires you look at yourself; you are to open not only your eyes but all your senses to what you need to do and then do it. Fueled by the fire of your belly, the discipline of will,  get up and go for a run, pack up the pictures of your ex-lover, or take a shower. What is required you do today to transform? Sitting in your uncertainty, in a place of limbo, use to force of heat to move  forward and burn out what no longer serves you.

In this time of uncertainty, when your emotions are turbulent, life is chaotic, and possibly your self-esteem is low, you can be easily swept away toward temptations not conducive to your growth. You will benefit most from the grounding to the earth. This is a great time to tap into a creative outlet, meditate, hike, and/or join a group of interest. Do something that keeps you present to the moment.

As life is uncertain, as days turn into night, the air of your breath will always guide you truthfully. Your breath is a connection between your mind and body. As your mind or body begins stressed, depressed, over or under-extended, your breath will become choppy, ragged, and shallow. Begin to pay attention to your breath. Notice the cadence and rhythm of your breath when you walk, run, talk with a friend, wash dishes, watch television, at all and any time! Your breath is the best indicator of what is happening within you. Consciously continue to take long, deep breaths to even out your nervous system and work to maintain a calmness throughout your whole body. To maintain mind/body calmness is  especially important if everything around you is chaotic.

Remember, change is always occurring within and around us. We are not in the same mind-frame that we were when we woke up this morning and we will evolve and change emotions, preferences, and maybe even opinions before we go to bed tonight. Our ability to move and change is the fluidity of our core self. Water, the ultimate shape shifter, moves, modifies, melts, freezes, or vaporizes depending on the circumstances and environment. Each cell in your body consists of 65-90% of water. Tap into this element that makes of the majority of your physical self and recognize your own adaptability in each circumstance.

Recognize that the hardness of earth is great to ground down and stabilize in order to grow, to adapt, to change but not to stay fixed in a way of life. Use the fire of discipline to move forward. Follow the air of your breath to find your true self-awareness. And move, sway, and adapt with the fluidity of water that makes-up each of your cells. Transform as you follow your own beat in the dance between becoming and being.

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Kempton, Sally. “Waking Life.” Yoga Journal. Cruz Bay Publishing Inc, March 2008. Web. 3 Jan 2013.
Kinsley, David. Hindu Goddess.Berkeley:University of California Press, 1986. Print.

SITES OF INTEREST:
“The Breath as a Mind-Body ‘Guage'”
Alchemy – Seven Stages of Alchemical Transformation

The Blame Game

In my last post I touched upon the concepts of steady effort, abhyasa, and letting go, vairagya, and how yoga is the practice of finding a balance between these two concepts. The second sutra defines yoga as the ability to focus the mind towards an object without distraction. The object is our intention, our dharma (path), our true nature and distractions are all the sensations, dramas and joys of our life. One of these distractions is the act of ‘blame’.

How many times have you blamed someone else for your mistakes? How many times have you used the blame game as an excuse: The other driver was slow? If I was younger…? If I was older…? If my boss wasn’t such a jerk?  When we blame, we lose authority over our own mind, we give over are confidence, compassion, and power. We become the victim. When we blame we lose confidence that we are intrinsically full of goodness and replace it with an outward projection of jealousy, anger, and insecurity. By blaming we attach our irritation and negativity to an outside source and as like attracts like, negativity breeds negativity.

When we blame others for our own suffering, inconveniences, or emotions, we are “creating narrow perimeters into which everything must fit” (Mipham, 95). We are making our world and ourselves smaller. Instead of redirecting the blame to ourselves, we can use these strong emotions to become self-aware. In a situation where blame may arise, with self-awareness, we can begin to notice what we attach blame to, how our mind immediately starts to criticize, and begin to notice how we participate in our circumstances.

With self-awareness, you see the choices and options available to you, you become your own ruler.  You are “breaking free” from limited boundaries and the “preconception of how things ought to be” (97). With self-awareness, as feelings of discomfort first begin to arise consider it direct communication with your highest Self (Kempton, pars. 1).  Before you begin to blame or find fault see if you can recognize the feelings that are arising and dig to the root of the situation. Use this as  a time of self-empowerment and a reconnection to your authentic, powerful, compassionate Self.

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Kempton, Sally. “Judgment Calls.” Yoga Journal., n.d.  Cruz Bay Publishing. Web.

Mipham, Sakyong. Ruling Your World. New York: Doubleday, 2005. Print.

Tapas: The Fire of Flow

Dancers at Burning Man, Temple Burn 2011 photo by David Frank

My favorite Hindu myth involving the sages Vasistha and Vishvamitra entails a lesson in tapas, “inner heat.” In my simplified version of the story, Vasistha gets mad and curses Vishvamitra to become a heron. Vishvamitra retaliates by cursing Vasistha into a crane. As a heron and a crane these sages began to fight. Tearing at each others’ throats and flapping their wings, they topple down mountains, destroy living creatures, and knock the earth over.  The Hindu god, Brahma, witnesses the devastation these two are causing and strips them of their bird natures.  When they calm down, Brahma chastises the sages and exclaims “You are both creating obstacles to your tapas by your passionate anger, so give it up!” The two sages, ashamed, hug each other in forgiveness. 

Tapas, often translated to mean “inner heat,” or “fiery discipline” is a tool to achieve personal and spiritual enlightenment.  Tapas is sometimes considered a rigid practice of castigation and severe discipline, yet, according to T.K.V. Desikachar in The Heart of Yoga, tapas is not penance but “the process of inner cleansing” by building heat through asanas (poses)  and pranayama (breathwork).  Like Desikachar, when I hear the word tapas I do not associate it with austere, strict, and rigid behavior. Rather, I connect tapas with the consistent flow of energy generated through our thoughts, the beat of our heart, and the intention of our actions.  I believe tapas to be the perseverance and faith we dedicate to our path.

As humans, we have wishes, we create goals, we dream of desired outcomes, and from these dreams we brew the energy needed to transition our dreams into reality. Yet, as humans, in one way or form, we also experience mesmerizing enchantments that tempt us away from our path. In the story of Vasistha and Vishvamitra these two sages fall from their path. Like us, they get seduced by emotion and thoughts.  We all get swept away and tapas is the energetic force that helps us realign our focus with our heart.

We can spend so much of our life being angry, blaming others, and all this external focus will only result in destroying ourselves. As fire burns things up,our energy can burn us up, burn us out, or fuel us; we need to harness our energy and direct it in a mindful manner.  We must speak, listen, and act as if everything we do has significance. We must act as if our hearts are beams of light and what we direct into the world, good or bad, will be absorbed by the people meet, the trees we see, and the air we breathe. When Brahma scolded the two sages, he scolded them for generating such heat in negativity: what we think, we can become.  Our own energy is the power that can steer us. Like Vasistha and Vishvamitra, we can allow it to overpower us in devastating ways or we can open ourselves up to the bright potential that lies within us.

Desikachar, T.K.V.. The Heart of Yoga: Developing A Personal Practice. Rochester: Inner Traditions, 1995. Print.

**Previously published at www.yogabhoga.com**

The Perpetual Bodhi Tree

” Awareness is empowering” – Rita Wilson

I am tired. Exhausted to be more specific. I like to point my weary finger at caffeine withdrawals but the truth is my Being is in withdrawal. I am a believer in signs. Recently on a trip out to the Oregon Coast I stopped at a bookstore where I saw a book of answers. “Well, I have a question!” I thought as I took the book off the shelf and placed it between my hands. With my eyes closed, I asked my question. This book of answers told me to relax, have faith, and lay low for a bit.

Awareness, like anything else, takes time. Just today, I told my dearest friend “wherever you are, create the life you want to live.” Yet, like most people, I dish out the good to others, dream about the life I want, and then stumble when it comes time to mold my dreams with the clay in my hands. In the shower today, I not only realized I was procrastinating writing this piece,  I became acutely aware that I was doing everything in my power to avoid the life I want. With the sudden knowledge that comes from awareness, I was faced with a decision 1) do something about it or 2) let me dreams dry out as I continue to live my life as it is now.

Does this sound familiar to you? Do you avoid the life you want by eating, fidgeting, cleaning, fill in the blank? We all do it but through awareness we become cognizant of the small ways we self-sabotage. Yet, what is the point of awareness if we do nothing to change our situation? In my experience I never experience awareness without a degree of turbulence. For me, the two co-exist. Even in yoga class, we come into a pose and as we draw our attention and focus to parts of our body, those parts come alive. For example, when I become aware that in trkonasana, triangle pose, that despite my steadiness, I am actually locking my knee and hanging in my joints. To counter this, I soften my knee, engage my quadriceps and suddenly my front legs shakes, my breath wobbles, turbulence has come in as I re-adjust to develop a steady mind and body in this new, aligned trkonasana.

Awareness and turbulence propel us into action. When we realize we are not happy in a relationship, job, or in our current life situation, we usually become hyper-aware of our feelings toward the particular situation until either 1) we change it or 2) it is change for us. When we become aware of who we are, our desires, our boundaries, we gain clarity, Clarity creats an openness in our minds to see without the obscure veil. We clearly can evolve to focus and through focus we funnel into action. When we act with full clarity focus and awareness, we evolve from heart into the life we want.

Yoga: Reigniting Former Flames

For years, I have heard stories about people who have not only benefited from yoga but have had a phenomenal transformation due to their yoga practice: yoga helped them walk again, or touch their toes, or find balance, or lose weight, or get off medication…the list goes on. I have read the anatomy books and articles on which poses strengthen which parts of the body or how different poses alleviate different health conditions. I instruct students on pranayama, breath control, and balance. On the street, I speak of the wonders of yoga. Yet, I never had my own real yoga story to tell.

Until now.

At age seven I started running. At age twelve running was something I did. At age sixteen running was how I found adventure. At age twenty running was my meditation.  At age twenty-four running was in my soul. At age thirty-one my knees gave out.

During my early thirties I made excuses (none made sense) as to why I didn’t run: no nearby trails (I was a trail runner), too much graduate school, I rode a bike, I had a dog. The reason I was not running was simple: I could no longer run. My knees hurt. I tried to run through the pain, I tried to lose weight, I tried different shoes. I just could not run. Over the last six years, every few months I put on my running shoes, ran out the door only to return hobbling — the pain was too much.

During this time I discovered yoga.  More precisely, I discovered power yoga. The transition from running to yoga was almost painless as I sweated out toxins, frustration, and stress in a hot room with other A-type personalities. But, at times, I missed my first love: the sound of my breath as my feet hit the ground, running along mountain trails, stumbling over roots and rocks. The excitement before a race and the medal afterwards. The runners high.

Over the years I became serious about my yoga practice.  I went deeper within myself. I began teaching. I left power yoga and discovered the vast array of yoga styles offered. I stopped flowing so much and started to concentrate more on muscle engagement and alignment. I began to let go of the ego, and start over with the fundamentals of each pose.  I let myself experiment, fall, and find out what happens with my body in each pose. How the lift of  my quadriceps, an inner thigh spiral, or engaging my core affected my entire body…mind included. I played with my breath and how that could take me deeper into shapes.  I began to move beyond the physical and into the different koshas, or bodily layers, to find a mind, body, and spirit connection.

Something happened. Not overnight. Not suddenly. A few months ago I went for a run, no pain. I kept at it, no pain. I increased mileage, no pain. I picked up my pace, no pain. I felt like Garuda, the mythical bird, shinning brighter than the sun and soaring through the heavens.

At one time I ran six days a week, I now rejoice I run three days a week. I am thinking of running a race. Ideally, I would love to win a medal like I could years ago and here is where my yoga practice serves me. Not the asana practice, but the practice of mindfulness, compassion, and non-attachment. The part of my practice where I notice when my ego gets in the way. At those times, I remind myself, I am simply content that I am running.

My May Manifesto

A manifesto is a declaration of principles. Sianna Sherman asked people to write a manifesto for May. A manifesto is a great opportunity to put your greatest desires into the world and watch the extraordinary effect you have on the people around you. Each time you set an intention, whether inwardly or aloud, whether in yoga class or under the full moon, whether to a lover or a friend, you are allowing for a wish to began to manifest.  When you speak your intentions aloud your ears hear what your heart whispers.

Here is my May manifesto:

I spend much of my time in my head looking out. Instead of chastising myself for this, I will continue to look out to ask the questions, but look within for the answers.

I will no longer be afraid of my intuition, my inspiration, my light, but rather foster it.
I will foster my light as I foster others’ light.
I will not hide from my passion or think myself unworthy of my potential.

I will let go of judgements and see the beauty in everyone.

I will allow myself to cry when my heart breaks…and when it rejoices.

I will hold myself up and help others by letting them stand on my shoulders when they can’t see.

I will raise a child with my chest exposed and provide a nurturing home to all beings: two-legs, fins, scales, 4-legs, wings…there will be no difference.

I will see when I need to rest and honor that time.

Life sometimes asks me to take the shape of warrior II, sometimes vasisthasana, and sometimes balasana: I will honor all stages, all transitions, with patience.

Ultimately, I will remember that even a bird learns how to fly.

10 Tips to Get Off Your Butt

Back when I was running an average of 6 miles a day, one thing was always certain: the first mile was always the hardest.  I loved running but there were days where I didn’t want to run — but once I started, I didn’t want to stop. On those days when getting out the door was tough, my reason would compromise with my desire-to-chill in order to get my body moving. Here are some of the tips I learned to get out the door and how I have adapted them for different areas to get my “butt off the couch” – Please use what you can, change what you need, discard what doesn’t work:

1) For running/walking/biking: All I need to do is go around the block. 1 block. 5 minutes. That is all.

2) For running/walking/biking: All I need to do is make it to that lightpost/tree/stopsign/*insert*.

3) For meditation: 5 minutes is all I need.

4) For meditation: Just 1 minute. Just 1 minute.

5) Yoga practice at home: 3 sun saluations, that is it. Maybe a warrior II…

6) Yoga practice at a studio: All I have to do is breathe.

7) Yoga practice at a studio: I can be in child’s pose is all else fails.

8) Quitting smoking  (taking a friend’s word on this technique): All I have to do is not smoke this hour/meal/day

9) For not eating that yummy temptation: hmmm– I haven’t figured that out yet

10) For anything: Don’t think, move

Ultimately, if you enjoy something that is biggest draw — remember what you love and do it.  Adapt these for your life. I would LOVE to hear your motivational tools.

In Joy, Yogis!

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