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Sunday, November 7, 2010

The One, the Son and The Holy Breath

My relatedness with contemporary Christianity is complex. My passion for the ancient languages in which original teachings were shared makes modern translations less than inspiring and some more than others. Today I consider the Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The One
The Aramaic word that became "Father" in the famed Our Father is Abwoon. This word is a far more expansive word than Father and, in fact, may be characterized as ultimate expansiveness. The One Without a Second is my favorite interpretation. There is not much more that you can say...to even contemplate the One is to be in a state of duality. The individual "thinking" about the whole. That said, contemplation of Abwoon or the Father in the ancient sense (and in my opinion the way Jesus would have meant it) is a spiritual experience in itself. Try it. As a math teacher for a period of time I used to encourage students to contemplate infinity. Think of the biggest number, value or concept you can and then make it bigger and bigger and bigger...see what happens.

The Son
The second aspect of the trinity, the Son is typically personified as Jesus. How could it be interpreted from the standpoint of the Father being the One Without a Second? The Son may be more broadly looked upon as that which has been created from the One? In the ancient teaching of Advaita philosophy or the philosphy of Oneness from ancient Sanskrit, duality is a function of the mind. The same way the moon reflects the light of the sun, the Son is a reflection of the One. Unity is experienced through the filter and conditioning of the mind. When we achieve perfect concentration or single-pointed awareness, the glory of the One becomes known. I interpret Jesus to be a Master who was a perfect reflection of the Oneness of the Father God. He and the Father were One because he was able to transcend duality through spiritual practice and awareness.

The Holy Breath
The final aspect of the Trinity called the Holy Spirit is something I always interpret as the Holy Breath. The ancient word for "spirit" also meant light, breath and vibration. The Father is ultimate reality or Oneness and the Son is the manifestation or reflection of that unity it seems the third aspect would speak to the process through which that manifestation occurs and therefore, the process whereby we may experience the unmanifest Source nature. Contemplate the breath. If you are seeking to understand the nature of reality and of life then pay attention to your breath. Do you really think that with the elegance of the manifested Universe the Truth would be so hidden from view? So hidden that our only hope would be to put our faith into the words of men who have the arrogance to call them the Words of God? No offence to anyone but to hold up the modern-day bible and call it the Word of God is perhaps the most blatent form of blasphemy I can imagine. About the only thing we know unequivocally is that Jesus did not utter one word contained in the bible (actually, there may be two Aramaic words remaining in the entire bible so those are debatable).

The God I know, the indescribable elegance that birthed the Universe would not leave our salvation to the minds of men but rather would make it accessible to all and the path would be ultimately simple. Practice your faith...the ancient Aramaic word for faith meant, "a connection to life". Practice being aware of your breath and you will discover your connection to life, your faith and the grand simplicity of salvation will present itself to you. The Christ is here for you in the space between your thoughts extending perfect Peace and unconditional Love. What are you waiting for?

Steve

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Mindfulness and the Brain

I am very excited to have discovered a new mentor in the field of neuroscience and mindfulness. Dan Siegel is an accomplished psychiatrist and neurobiologist who is helping us understand the connection between Mindfulness Based Practices, including meditation, yoga, tai chi, chi gong, etc. and the brain. I continue to be thrilled to learn how effective our modern science is getting at quantifying the benefits of mindfulness practice.

By engaging in mindfulness practice our brain is encouraged to improve its functions in many different ways. There is a particular area of the brain benefitted by the practice; the middle pre-frontal cortex has nine related functions (The Mindful Brain, Daniel J. Siegel MD). Dan Siegel suggests a simple definition of the mind to be "the process of regulating information and energy flow." He goes on to suggest that these nine functions constitute a comprehensive description of mental health. Over the next few weeks, we will look at several of these functions and how they relate to mindfulness and mental health.

These nine functions include the capacity to regulate fear, express empathy, insight and intuition. They are the building blocks of conscious awareness and mental health. By practicing mindful meditation we enhance these functions and improve our quality of life. Modeling these practices for our children will help the next generation as well.

Take a few deep breaths even now, check in with the body and notice the mind. As you sit and breath with awareness, "pay attention to your intention" in the words of Dan Siegel. Allow all the processes in the mind and body to happen while you sit with an attitude of gratitude.

Be Mindful,

Steve

Monday, June 21, 2010

Spiraling Intentions

Hello All,

During our yoga class this weekend we did a bit of improvising and introduced a spiraling motion throughout our postures. Energy optimizes itself in the form of a spiral. As nature is supremely efficient we see this form taken in the organization of creative energy all around us. Trees, flowers and plants all unfold themselves as spirals. Entities as large as galaxies and as small as atoms feature spirals in their organization and growth. The devastating power of the tornado is a testament to the possibilities of the spiral. Our minds and bodies are no different.

We used the form of the spiral to achieve two intentions: 1) to expand the range and scope of our physical movement and exercise by rotating the body around a central axis in both directions; 2) at a more subtle level our concentration on the external form of the spiral would improve our ability to visualize and concentrate on the spiraling movement of chi or prana within the mind-body system. I don't know about the others but I certainly felt muscles and connective tissue activated in a deeper way using this technique.

The subject of this blog is not only to discuss the work we do in our Beloved Yoga + Meditation classes but to also seek to apply what we practice in our everyday lives. The spiral is at play all around us. You may have noticed yourself facing similar challenges in your relationships over and over again. The events of our lives seem (atleast to me) to revolve around certain core issues and over time we are able to face similar situations from new vantage points. Perhaps our ability to grow relates to our willingness to expand our frame of reference with each new exposure to these challenges.

As you move through your day look for opportunities to practice a more conscious and less reactive response to life swirling around you. Take a breath and appreciate the play of consciousness unfolding before you and then dive in!

Namaste,

Steve

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Everyday Mindfulness

What is the biggest challenge to remaining mindfully present throughout our day? By now, we all know that awareness is the first (and maybe last) step in the process. Living mindfulness is like living from the inside-out. When we are not aware, we are living from the outside-in, a condition that is reinforced daily by the media and our materialistic culture. The simple truth is that we forget. I forget, you forget.....we all forget at times to be present. Before you know it we are indulging in a desire (or thought) at the expense of someone else and/or the expense of our sense of connectedness and peace.

To quote from the Karate Kid which I saw with my family lastnight, "Doing nothing and stillness are very different". Stillness flows and is continually inspired by a deep sense of presence. "Doing nothing" is inspired by fear and fatigue. The first step in practicing Everyday Mindfulness is awareness. In my experience cultivating an attentiveness to the breath is the most potent and direct path to awareness. Practice bringing your attention again and again to the breath. Relax and be present. In a moment of intensity and reaction, breathe deeply and relax. In a moment of great joy and celebration, relax and breathe. Notice how your breath changes throughout the day, when you retain the breath and when you sigh heavily. Your body speaks to your consciousness through the breath and you communicate through presence...awareness. This takes practice but can most certainly improve your mental, emotional and physical health.

Direct your attention inwards again and again and you may realize a greatness and a gratitude within that will fuel your life expression. Practice being aware of the breath and your shoulders as two points of concentration throughout the day. Sit in silence for five minutes per day, keep it simple and enjoy your Self.

Namaste,

Steve

Monday, June 14, 2010

Stigma from the Inside Out

I have been working on a project that gives young people the opportunity to learn about photography including composition and digital camera technology. The idea is that we want to give them the chance to express their thoughts and feelings about mental health. They may choose to photograph examples of stresses and tensions in their life and/or they may show the contrast to that and photograph the opposite tract. For most of us, our mental health seems to float between those two extremes. Mindfulness is the practice of witnessing this "oscillation" with 'compassionate presence'.

It is amazing to consider the stigma associated with mental health as compared to our physical health. Consider the simple example of a broken arm versus an experience of stress, anxiety or depression. I will let you explore the contrast for yourself by simply imagining someone (perhaps yourself) walking into school or work with a physical health challenge and then a mental health challenge. The stigma gets even more intense when we talk of chronic mental health issues or mental illness. Stigma involves rejection of an individual or group of individuals based on a social norm. Mindfulness practices can help us become aware of these stigmata (plural of stigma) at play within our own patterns of thinking.

You may have noticed over the course of your time on this earth that it is difficult to "change" anyone. This is why I have always been attracted to Ghandi's famed quote, "Be the change you want to see in the world". The social norms surrounding mental health and what is or is not "acceptable" or conversely is "rejectable" are rooted in the habitual thought patterns of each of us. Look closely at how you reject yourself in small moments throughout the day and week. For example, when you experience feelings of overwhelm, you may find traces of shame associated with feeling that way. Of course, I pick an example that is common in my own life. What examples do you have? When do you "reject" the way you feel or judge yourself to be weak, stupid, or simply bad based on how you are feeling or what you are thinking?

Taking these "snapshots" of your mind will allow you to begin to detach yourself from those judgmental thoughts. You may start to notice a bit more space with which you can observe these thoughts and feelings. That space represents compassion and with practice that space grows and with it your capacity to be compassionate with yourself and consequently with others. Do not expect the thoughts and feelings to go away, in fact, when we speak of mindfulness....EXPECT NOTHING!

Namaste,

Steve

Friday, June 11, 2010

Faith and Patience

Hello All,

I spent the past week at an international academic conference called Pathways to Resilience and met some amazing people. In one of my interactions our discussion went towards faith and patience being closely related like two sides of the same coin. I could feel a relaxation or de-stressing occur at a deep level in the simple acknowledgment of patience. It is easy to be taken away by ambition and future-orientation. While in that mode tensions accumulate and when we re-prioritize relaxation and patience there is subtle mental and physical healing that takes place.

Take a moment, close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath. Let the tension in your shoulders melt away or fall away like water from the duck's back (just saw a mama duck and her 5 babies walk by). Have you become preoccupied by some thought or plan for the future? Practice patience and faith by allowing a deep sense of trust without needing to know exactly 'how', notice the effect on your body. You may notice a softening or releasing of tension you were not aware of. I had this experience while in Halifax and wanted to share. Tension is insidiously linked to expectation (even those we are not fully conscious of). Let go and allow that tension to be released, this process will allow for greater creativity as space is created in the mind and body for the 'how' to spontaneously appear.

Namaste,

Steve

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Union of a Mind Divided

It has been awhile since I have posted and it is nice to be back to the computer. Now, from Sandford, Nova Scotia where Heather, Natha and I have moved. The ocean air is deeply appreciated and the ground under our feet feels sacred.

I have been reading a book called, The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts who was a great philosopher in his own right and did a lot to interpret the teachings of Zen Buddhism and the philosophy of Oneness from yoga. In this book he makes an important point about the mind that is divided between the present moment experience and thinking processes that are rooted in the future and/or past. The integration of this 'divided' mind is a characterization of yoga.

When we practice yoga on the mat we choose to be more aware of sensations in the body while we disengage from cognitive processing or "thinking". This is a big step for most of us and an important one on our path to health through yoga. In his book, Alan Watts takes the notion of sensation much further than I normally would. He regards "sensation" as the perception through all of our senses and reveals the subtle reality that all of what we experience in our field of perception is in fact sensation. What you perceive as "other" is merely sense-inputs interpreted by cognitive process. The mind is split between this sensational experience of the here and now and the mind's unwillingness to remain present. Alan sums it up nicely,

"So long as the mind is split, life is perpetual conflict, tension, frustration and disillusion....But the undivided mind is free from this tension of always trying to stand outside oneself and to be elsewhere than here and now."

Recognizing the tension is the first step to realizing its resolution. Regular practice seems necessary for most of us to return to that sensational moment of now. As you read this take a moment to breathe with greater awareness, to feel the sensations in the body. Be where you are more deeply than a moment ago. Can you feel yourself settling in to the moment? Crossing the Great Divide can happen in a single breath. In fact, it could only happen one breath at a time.

Namaste,

Steve


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Yoga for Health & Happiness

Hello All,

Well today I get the opportunity to share yoga with some young teenagers at the local Junior High School. I am curious to see how they will receive the practice. I am expecting they will not be familiar with the full scope of yoga but more likely have only been exposed to the physical practices. I feel passionate about broadening our understanding of yoga to include the following basic elements:

1. VALUE SYSTEM
2. RELAXATION
3. CONCENTRATION
4. MEDITATION

These four elements come from the 8 limbs of ashtanga yoga which is the framework for yoga authored by the mysterious Patanjali. It is never a bad idea to explore our value system, subtle violations of our own principles can lead to stress, anxiety and depression. Basic values of honesty and non-violence need to be practiced every day. In our world these things are not always reflected and there may be encouragement for the young and old (and everyone in between) to veer from those values. Politicians, while on the public stage, are just people who often fall in to a trap of breaching basic values as a means to an end. The end, however, does not justify the means and there is a price to pay when we violate our own integrity. Returning again and again to our values will be a guiding light that will inform the decisions we make on a daily basis.

Yoga is a system to support a happy and healthy life. Adhere to your values, learn to relax your body and concentrate your mind and then practice meditation regularly. These things will surely bring health and happiness to your life.

Namaste,

Steve

Monday, May 3, 2010

From Impulsiveness to Mindfulness: Learning from our Children

I was speaking to Natha (my 5-year old son) yesterday who continues to be my greatest teacher. He likes to suck his thumb as I did as a child and has a very strong connection with his mom's hair. As soon as she puts bobby pins in her hair he likes to play with her hair and take them out. As he gets older we are making him more aware of this habit and starting to introduce the idea of mindfulness in this context. We spoke as a family about how we have habits or tendencies that we act on and my not even notice we are doing it. Practicing mindfulness is like opening up some space between the habit or tendency and our noticing it. This is simply the process of becoming more conscious. We may still choose the behavior but atleast it is a choice and not something being done entirely without awareness.

It seems that our young people are rarely taught to be aware of their own habits and tendencies. It is a very resiliency skill to be able to notice our own impulsion. The practice of mindfulness is one of noticing our own impulses and then choosing when to indulge them and when to make another choice. My son said with some frustration, " but Daddy I WANT to suck my thumb" and we agreed that was fine but it was important to notice how that felt and even where he felt that "wanting" in his body. Parenting is definitely a work in progress but to share a sense of self-awareness with our children and grand-children may be the greatest gift we can give them. I warn you, however, these young people learn more quickly than we do so once you begin this journey with them we must be willing to accept their tutelage as well. It won't be long before they are reminding you to be mindful in a moment of stress or anxiety. Isn't that perfect! When our children are empowered to be teachers then maybe the teachers can be empowered to be like children.

Namaste,

Steve

Monday, April 26, 2010

Elemental Awareness: As Above, So Below

My wife, son and I are preparing to relocate to an old country home outside of town in Sandford, Nova Scotia. We have been doing our research in an experiential sense. We have spent time in the woods outside the home, on the ancient rocky beach and in the fields (Yes, the local ticks have introduced themselves to us). Spending time outside as a family has been amazing, it really feels as though Spring has sprung. Getting close to nature may be the best reminder of the simplicity of life that escapes us in our busy days. Most ancient cultures tend to observe life as an interplay of fundamental elements: earth, water, fire, air and ether. In the yogic system we have centers for each element in the body. I have been considering the action or non-action of each of these elements:

EARTH is STABLE like the ROCK

WATER FLOWS DOWNWARD like the RIVER

FIRE RISES UPWARD like the CANDLE FLAME

AIR EXPANDS in all directions (like filling a jar)

ETHER PERVADES all and is the most subtle

As we go through our day today let's notice the interplay of the elements, the natural world is the greatest teacher offering tremendous insight into ourselves as individuals and our relatedness with others. Remember those potent words that come to us from a variety of sources but known as Hermetic Law, "As Above, So Below". By understanding the process of life that we witness in the natural world we will gain insight into our own interiority, into who we are.

Namaste,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Step off!

The sky is bright and blue as Spring is making a comeback here in our beautiful community. The emptiness and expansiveness of the blue sky is similar to the spaciousness of mind that we can cultivate through meditation. Our days are filled and our minds are filled with thoughts of yesterday and tomorrow. As we sit for meditation we simply observe those same thoughts and step off the wheel. You know the little wheel the hamster runs around? In meditation we step off that wheel. The wheel is the story that you are running about your life, the complaints, the regrets, the thoughts of revenge. The wheel is still there, the mechanisms of the mind, the old thought patterns and habits are still there but something else manifests. A vacuum is created as we "step off" and drawn into the space of the vaccuum is a deep sense of peace. When do you experience deep peace in your life? I bet you know how often you experience its opposite. Peace is not a luxury to be felt by the unencumbered but rather the very foundation of health, the proverbial fountain of youth. Find a way to experience peace every single day and if you do a little peace inventory and find your life wanting then get to yoga class and take back what only you can give away.

We will have yoga at the boathouse tonight with Claudette as I am traveling today. She may not want me to say this but Claudette radiates peace in a way that is deep and rare. She will guide you to move your body with awareness and with the intention of peace; to strengthen and to lengthen the body within the embrace of peace; to contract your muscles and relax your muscles with the attitude of peace and finally to relax deeply your mind and body so that you may realize peace to the very core....AS the very core of who you are.

I read a quote the other day that said, "Tension is who you think you are while relaxation is who you really are."

Namaste,

Steve

Monday, April 19, 2010

Take a God's Eye View

So many of us use the term "unconditional" when referring to the Divine, the Source, the God of your understanding. We have "faith" there is a Being out there who loves us unconditionally. Ironically, many faiths talk of an unconditionally loving God and then immediately impose limits on whom that God will unfold its unconditionally loving attitude. The practice of mindfulness is like "trying on" an unconditionally loving attitude.

Sit comfortably straight, pay attention to the breath and observe thought, emotion and sensation without judgement.

This could be the entire manual on mindfulness meditation. Volumes and volumes continue to be written on this ultimately simply subject and I am no exception. Our minds go to great lengths to avoid simplicity in favor of complexity.

Give yourself the gift of simplicity and practice being non-judgemental with yourself. There is a ripple-effect that will touch your spouse, children, co-workers, friends and family; even random strangers will recognize that simple presence when it is present. Try taking a God's eye view and attune your mind and heart to unconditional love. Just try it for a few breaths every day.

Namaste,

Steve

Friday, April 9, 2010

Buddha's Gift of Mindfulness

Yesterday was celebrated by many as Buddha's birthday and in honor of the Awakened One I thought we could reflect on a verse of the Dhammapada.

"The mind is very hard to perceive, extremely subtle and wanders at will.
Let the wise person guard it; a guarded mind is conducive to happiness."

The mind is hard to perceive because it is the instrument of perception, it is extremely subtle in the face of the denseness of our attention and focus and it wanders faster than we are able to witness. How then, can we guard it? A guard is attentive, watchful, single-pointed. The guard holds the needs of another as supreme to their own. Be the guard of the mind today. Watch it closely. Notice the thoughts arising in reaction to the events you are perceiving throughout the day. Notice the effect of thoughts on your emotional nature. Sometimes you will not be present to the thought that triggers the emotional response, these are opportunities to root out the source which lie in our own pain and attachment.

I try to hesitate before blaming another for these reactions. This can be harder at some times than others and harder with some people than others. Usually we do not want to see the pain that lies at the heart of our reactions and the ego will do almost anything to scramble out of the way of that awareness. We practice being present on the yoga mat and on the meditation cushion so that we may cultivate the strength of presence that will allow us to remain steadfast in that trigger moment when our buttons get pushed. We practice being the guard so that we are protected from ourselves as are those around us protected from our reactive tendencies.

Be mindful this day, do one thing at a time and take it to completion. It is Friday and the end of the week so let us work with awareness and intention. I think of my desk which carries the residue of a busy week and will be mindful as I resolve things that have been left unresolved. Resolution is an effect of mindfulness and mindfulness may have never been articulated as beautifully and passionately by anyone as it was by the Awakened One, the Buddha. Thank You!

Namaste,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Look for the Hook: Build Strength and Stability

Hello All,

As the new season unfolds itself and the earth's creative potential transforms into new green growth it is a perfect time to bring our attention down to the earth. Too often we spend our days moving from the neck up as though our entirety is contained in the head. By bringing our attention down to the feet, legs and core we access a strength and stability that flows to every part of our life. One way to do this in our yoga practice is through something my Teacher called hooking. This is where we actively hook one part of the body into the earth exerting a force that is directed into the floor and towards the core.

A simple way to understand hooking is to place your hands on your knees or thighs while sitting in a chair and press the palms downward and simultaneously pull back towards the center of the body. You will feel your core muscles engage and even some heat generated. For me, this is a central practice of yoga postures and can be applied to any yoga style. You may remind yourself from time to time during the day to "hook-in" to the earth gripping the ground with your feet and legs. No show need be made but your attention will be brought to the earth and the qualities of strength and stability will be realized.

We will practice hooking in our postures this evening at the Milo Boathouse in Yarmouth and then we will work on the mental equivalent in our meditation practice afterwards. Bring this powerful concept into your yoga practice wherever you may be and observe the deepening that occurs. Let me know how it goes.

Namaste,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Posture from the Ground Up

Being a "yoga teacher" is tricky business because when your role is to help guide people into a more intimate relationship with their bodies you quickly realize that your own process is one that never ends. In my own practice I am getting back to some basics in terms of alignment and structure. We often forget as we move into a posture trying to replicate what we see the teacher doing to begin with our feet. As a student you tend to watch the posture from the top down but as practitioners we must build the posture FEET FIRST. During your day today and during yoga try to pay special attention to your foot placement. Engage with the earth through the souls of your feet.

As I was playing with my son I noticed some tension in my lower back. I adjusted my posture and began applying force through my feet so that my leg muscles (start with thighs then add calves and hamstrings) were strong and active. I immediately noticed two things happen; my abdominal muscles became active and the tension in my lower back disappeared. Whether walking to the water cooler or chasing a toddler try to do it FEET FIRST and notice the difference.

Walk with gratitude today and be aware of the earth beneath you feet.

Namaste,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Mad Rush in the Morning

I can't help but wonder where Mindfulness plays into the "Mad Rush" in the morning that is the norm across our culture and so many places in the world. It is interesting to note that we associate the word 'mad' with the word rush. How many people start their day rushing to work, to the daycare, to school, to a meeting, to the gym, to a yoga class to wherever? RUSH, RUSH, RUSH. My son is the first to call it like he sees it, "I don't like to rush, Daddy. I don't like to rush through lunch to get to the playground and I don't like to rush to school in the morning."

It occurs to me that noone likes to rush and yet we all do it so somehow we do like the rush. That rush of adrenaline when you are late is not unlike the rush we get from a thrilling adventure. We, as a culture, are addicted to the rush. Whether rushing for a meeting or the emotional rush from a recreational activity or the rush of a fight or argument. Something about the RUSH makes us feel alive. So much so, in fact, that when we are not rushing we are typically talking about our last rush or planning for our next rush. Weekends are a rush, vacations are a rush, entertainment is a rush and everything else is....blah.

Our lives are characterized by the peaks and valleys, by the rush and the blah. Mindfulness is the practice of awareness of life itself. As we practice being aware of life happening things tend to slow down a bit. The gap between the rush and the blah gets smaller. The rush still happens but we notice it from the inside out and the blah still happens but we get to experience that as it happens. CBC has a great title with "As it Happens" how about we try atleast amidst the rush and the blah to be aware AS IT HAPPENS.

Life will always have its ups and downs, its rushes and its blahs. Perhaps in the simple act of noticing the peaks and the valleys of life we will come closer to understanding the great essence that is continuously rising and falling.

Namaste,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Just Do Your Job, Then Let it Go

I opened the Tao Te Ching this morning for inspiration for our blog. It is a marvelous book of wisdom that can always cut a path back to the present moment. Here is the quote...

"He who stands on tiptoe doesn't stand firm.
He who rushes ahead doesn't go far.
He who tries to shine dims his own light.
He who defines himself can't know who he really is.
He who clings to his work will create nothing that endures.
If you want to accord with the Tao,
Just do your job, then let go."

A central principle of yoga is vairgya or detachment which is the process of non-identification with roles that we play and thoughts that we have. Two major examples are the attachment we have to our jobs and another would be the attachment that develops to our role as parent.

Kids can be the best teachers of detachment although the older they get the less proficient they become. As parents we are more likely to hold on to an incident where there was a behavioral problem when the child has long since moved beyond it. Children are naturally in the present engaged with their senses and in awe of their surroundings. We can emulate that child-like tendency to be simply here wherever that may be. While engaged in your work give it your full attention, when you arrive at home give that your full attention. Sounds simple....and it is!

Namaste,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spring Cleaning with the SUN

We have been enjoying some beautiful Spring weather after a long winter. Now is the time of year that we become suddenly motivated to clear and clean our environments. The same is happening on the inside and we carried that theme into a great yoga class yesterday. I have long recognized the connection between yoga, pranic healing and Reiki. During this time of year perhaps more than any other we can benefit from the cleansing practice of Kabalabati or fire-breathing as well as others.

The Fire Breath evokes the solar energy within the third chakra (abdomen) and then drives that energy upwards towards the top of the head. This process not only cleanses the respiratory system but also serves to clear toxins and impurities that are the residue of tension at the psychic level. The Fire Breath can be married with visualization and concentration to perform a type of Spring cleaning within the body.

Reiki, on the other hand, is similar but acts from the outside-in. Rei means "universal, cosmic or solar energy" Ki is the same as chi or prana and is the vital energy within and around the body. Reiki involves a deepened sense of receptivity of this cosmic energy so the individual can serve as a healing instrument of that energy. Both the healer and the one being treated are supported by this energy. While the Reiki initiations do seem to activate a more profound connection with this energy we all have access to this natural healing mechanism.

We will get more into this pranic healing process in our upcoming classes and on this blog. In the mean time enjoy the sun and allow yourself to tune a little more deeply into its life-giving power.

Namaste

Steve
Yogi Jayanta

Friday, March 12, 2010

Mindfulness: Grounding Inequity

Yesterday's blog, The Tao of Youth Engagement eluded to the inequity of the doctor/patient relationship and how that can create unworthiness or perhaps it is a manifestation of the unworthiness deeply ingrained in our culture. We take such pride in book-learning to the point where simple reality goes unacknowledged. We all need to be mindful...

Teachers be mindful of the genius of every student.
Doctors be mindful of the perfect health at the heart of every patient.
Parents be mindful of the spark of brilliance in every child.

When a professional practices mindfulness, for example, in the medical setting both facilitator and patient are brought to equal ground. You may even describe the process of mindfulness as one of grounding. It is a grounding in consciousness, in awareness. It is the silent celebration of the present moment where thoughts are like clouds passing through a summer sky. These ripples in consciousness are not the object of the moment but a subtle hue in the glorious work of art that is NOW.

To give up, even for a moment, our attachment to higher and lower is relieving. To do it in a setting that has been laden with inequity is transforming. Let you day be one of celebrating simplicity. Imagine everyone you meet is perfect just the way they are and soon you will believe the same about yourself...and that is just a thought.

Namaste,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Tao of Youth Engagement

You are starting to see, I am sure, this blog follows my life and work. That is a wonderful aspect of writing a blog you get to write what moves you or peaks your interest maybe it comes back to a central theme (like yoga) or maybe it just spins around the central theme of the author's passion. Given the fact that yoga is all about the interconnection of all things I should be able to connect whatever moves me back to the philosophy of Oneness.

I am beginning a new journey in my profession as I work with young people, the latest techniques in supporting youth call for Youth Engagement or a Youth Centered Approach. It is ironic this is an innovative approach essentially it simply means working with youth to identify and solve problems they are facing. The same approach has become popular in mainstream business through client-centered, population-centered or market-centered strategies. This is a very exciting sign that our culture is beginning to celebrate diversity. Here is a quote from the Tao that relates to this topic:

"If you overesteem great men
people become powerless.
If you overvalue possessions,
people begin to steal."

We must all be on guard for the tendency to place one group above another in terms of importance and/or respect. We see it with doctors towering above patients, teachers elevated above students, adults above children. These attitudes are divisive and they breed greed and resentment, unworthiness and dejection. Be present this day with your own preconceptions about others, notice your tendency to judge one human being over another. Is it not the very essence of yoga to seek the spark of Light that is at the heart of every human being. Look for it in yourself, be vigilant it is a noble and life-affirming process. Once discovered you will forever recognize that light in every other human being.

Let's hope we continue to move as a culture towards sharing the table with those we serve with authentic respect for one another.

Namaste,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Resiliency and Mindfulness

Wikipedia has done it again....

I woke up this morning with the word, "resilience" in my head so I played with it for awhile tossing the word against the back drop of my consciousness like a morning game of racquetball. The word had come up for me lately in my health prevention and promotion work as we use it to describe a primary outcome of our work with young people in particular. In our work it relates to the ability of an individual to make positive or healthy decisions in spite of the various risk factors that may be present in their lives. As a parent, to give my son the gift of resilience is a primary goal. That means that no matter what challenges life brings him (and there will be many) he will have a well of self-worth and presence deep enough that he can always come back to his center.

This brings me back to my Wiki-AHAA-pedia moment. It turns out that resilience is an engineering term (it is hazy but coming back to me) that relates to the ability of a material to bend (deform elastically) without breaking. It is interesting to note that it is described in terms of the maximum energy (per unit volume) that can be elastically stored. You can check out the definition for yourself at Wikipedia.

If we map this definition to a human being and retain the energetic connection then our resilience is the maximum amount of energy that we can store (or absorb) without losing our center-point. How then do we increase our resilience or expand our ability to be present with greater and greater stress? Mindfulness.

I am reminded of a powerful moment with my T'ai Chi Master, John Milton...he did several unbelievable demonstrations of the simplicity and power of this ancient martial art. In this moment he had me (and several others) try to push him over as he simply "rooted himself to the earth". At first I sort of "pretended" to push (that is a deep and difficult personal teaching for me) but with his encouragement I really tried to push him off balance with no ability to move him at all. The amazing thing was that when I stopped pushing he remained balanced and still. Normally if you are pushing someone and they are resisting and pushing back when you stop they will continue moving in the direction of their resistance. Not John. He was not resisting me but rather connecting deeply to his center, to the earth.

This is a powerful message as we consider resiliency. I am in a field that is committed to preparing youth to "resist" the inevitable temptation of drugs and alcohol. It seems to me a worthy practice to teach youth to be rooted to their center, a center that is beyond (or beneath) any social or environmental factor. I know of no better practice than mindfulness in all its many forms to help individuals become more established in their center.

Be mindful this day of your center and which moments lead you away from that point of balance. Don't judge yourself, just breathe and gently come back to your center again and again.

Namaste,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta

Monday, March 8, 2010

Mindfulness Based Stress Relief (MBSR)

Working with yoga + meditation for over ten years has demonstrated to me how potent a tool mindfulness is in addressing the epidemic of stress in our lives. Perhaps I will take a moment to sort out how mindfulness relates to yoga for those new to the blog. I have to credit the growing interest in Buddhism with the proliferation of 'mindfulness' through our culture. Mindfulness is the practice of unconditional awareness of one's perception including thoughts, emotions, feelings and sensations. Most of what we call meditation practice could be called mindfulness meditation. I find the continuous segregation of spiritual disciplines and practices a consequence of our brand-happy culture. Call me a simpleton but as far as I can tell the Buddha was a yogi as sure as Jesus was a Jew.

It is always touchy to bring up religion and especially one's view of religion but if you find yourself reacting to my belief at least be mindful of your reactions.

The point I am trying to make is that mindfulness is an integral part of yoga. Mindfulness is what sets yoga apart from other forms of physical exercise. Yoga without mindfulness is just calisthenics. Now that I am working in Prevention & Health Promotion I have been delighted to discover that 'mindfulness' has made it to the mainstream. There has been a great deal of research into the positive effects of Mindfulness-Based Practices (MBP) on mental health. There is also great evidence that shows how MBP are a great complement to traditional talk therapy in combating addiction.

Now that I have made the leap into the healthcare profession I get to use acronyms like MBSR which is Mindfulness Based Stress Relief. MBSR is the application of MBP's to address stress in our lives. I work with four practices that are inter-related but will be discussed separately in our upcoming blogs:

1. The Body Scan
2. Visualizations
3. Yoga Postures
4. Meditation

Here is an MBP for you to practice right now, wherever you happen to be.

The One-Minute Mindful Foot Scan

Here is a micro-mindfulness practice for those that can not find anyone willing to rub their feet. Sit comfortably and take a few abdominal breaths, relax the body...inhale feel the belly fill and exhale let the belly move towards the spine. Now bring your attention down to both ankles, feel what there is to feel without judgement (remember...unconditional awareness). Now move your attention slowly down the tops of your feet concentrating your attention on only the area of focus. Move towards your big toes and then feel everything you can in the big toes. Next move to the space between the big toe and the one adjacent to it, notice especially where the two toes meet. Do the same thing through each toe until you get to the pinky toe and now move across the ball of the foot at the base of the toes down the sole of the foot towards the heel. Experience the arch of the foot and then all sides of the heel finishing at the ankle again.

Stress....what stress?

Namaste,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Yoga+Meditation for Stress: Thought, Belief and the Space Between

Those who develop a regular yoga+meditation practice soon discover the benefits manifesting in the places they need it most. Initially, the practice takes place on the yoga mat but soon we realize the practice extends far beyond into our relationships, home, school and work. One specific way to take the practice beyond the mat is through Self-Inquiry. Our last blog introduced us into the specific process shared by Byron Katie and known as The Work. Today, we will deepen our understanding of how to use The Work to target the enormous challenge of stress in our lives. There are many examples at the website, www.TheWork.com and they are so well done it seems redundant to repeat them here.

Stress is the result of an unmet expectation. The word "tension" implies there are two points that are at odds with each other. Imagine a rope and you are holding onto to one end; the other end is tied to a stake in the ground. The rope is your thought about how something should be, and the stake is your belief in that thought that is not supported in your reality. Yoga teaches that thoughts aren't the problem but rather our attachments to those thoughts, essentially our beliefs. You may have realized by now that you cannot change people. Ghandi has a great quote that is timeless, "Be the change you want to see in the world". How about, be the change you want to see at work.

For many, the workplace is the greatest source of stress so begin noticing the relationship between thoughts and your beliefs about those thoughts. Apply "The Work" to your beliefs in order to realize, experientially, that these beliefs are not supported by reality. By practicing self-enquiry, yoga and meditation we can become more aware of this connection between thought and belief. Believing every thought that passes through your head is a recipe for stress and suffering. A student once asked a meditation master about the difference between the student's mind and the mind of the master, the Master replied, "thoughts that arise in this mind are like clouds passing through the sky".

Each time you feel the contractions or tightening characteristic of stressful moments, explore the thoughts and your belief about those thoughts that lead to that internal reaction. Practice is the key and withdrawing your expectations of reality in favor of being with your reality. The difference is subtle but profound.

Namaste,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta

Monday, March 1, 2010

From Self-Inquiry to Self-Realization

The path to Self-Realization, liberation, enlightenment, though seemingly simple is not easy. The ego literally defines itself through separation between self and other. To confront this most basic truth of your persona is to confront death. Considering this during Shavasana or our Corpse Pose at the end of a yoga class may be an avenue towards deepening that experience. The personality need not be eliminated to realize the Self but rather our attachments to the persona or the qualities and characteristics of our life need to be released.

The nature of the mind is to judge, to constantly compare and contrast the incoming information with past thoughts and experiences (memories are thoughts too). This process is continuous. Ramana Maharshi directs us again and again back to the Source of I....Who Am I? Who is the "I" that judges? From where does this sense of I arise? He leads us to the origin of ego in a relentless inwards spiral of awareness fueled by that simple and profound question...Who Am I? The basic challenge and irony of self-inquiry is that the ego-mind is the problem (atleast our attachment to it) and yet it is that same mind that poses the question and contemplates the answer to Who Am I?

Einstein gives a wonderful hint here when he said,

"You can never solve a problem from the same level on which it was created".

It is important to recognize that we are posing the question into our depths looking, listening and anticipating a response from an ever-deepening place and space. We are not asking the question in a mechanical and repetitive way nor are we "thinking" about an answer to the question. Try it in silence and let me know your experience!

Byron Katie gives a little more process to lead us along the path of Self-Realization and she is far less likely to use this term. Byron Katie talks of our ability to be happy, "it is our birthright" she says and provides a framework for self-inquiry that consists of 4 Questions and a Turn Around. I am not an expert in this method called, The Work and encourage anyone who is interested to do their own research and more importantly PRACTICE! The "Little Book", a free download and excerpt from Katie's book, Loving What Is, is a great place to start.

Here are the 4 Questions and the Turn-around:
1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know that it's true?
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?

Turn the thought around (original thought: Paul doesn’t listen to me.)
a) to the opposite (Paul does listen to me.)
b) to the self (I don’t listen to me.)
c) to the other (I don’t listen to Paul.)
And find three specific, genuine examples of how each turnaround is true in your life.

We will continue this exploration in our next blog but I want to remind you that maintaining a physical yoga practice is an important complement to this work and any work that is designed to take you deeper. Releasing tension and toxins through physical movement will help create space that will support your work.

Namaste,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"Who Am I?" and the Father of Self-Inquiry

I wonder how many have taken some time to consider the people and events in their lives that cause them the greatest emotional reactions. These, it will turn out, are your greatest teachers. That may seem like a bit of a stretch but on the path of relentless awareness characterized by self-inquiry everything warrants attention and the work begins and ends within. Your perception is the only thing you can control so that is where the game is won or lost.

The impetus behind self-inquiry is Advaita philosophy or non-dualism; in fact, self-inquiry is like applied non-dualism. The "two" implied by the term duality is everywhere in our lives. In any given moment in your life there is a "you" and an "other"; you are the subject and that which you are perceiving is the object. Duality is the on-going relative reality of subject-object. The suffering in your life is directly related to "the great misperception" of subject and object. The jump from duality to the non-dual perspective where the subject and the object collapse into the state of Oneness or the moment of NOW can seem elusive. Teachers like Eckart Tolle (who I think is awesome, by the way) have done a wonderful job presenting various frameworks for the process of crossing the chasm of duality. Essentially, any process or practice that facilitates the collapse of subject-object is a spiritual practice or yoga.

If Byron Katie is the Mother of Self-Inquiry (in her presence it is clear that she is the Mother) then the great Indian saint, Ramana Maharshi is the Father. He did not provide a detailed architecture of human perception nor did he create a multi-step path leading to the realization of the Oneness that he emanated in his life. Ramana Maharshi's path is the simplest and most direct of all self-inquiring systems. I will let him share his message with you in his words,

"By the inquiry 'Who am I?'.
The thought 'who am I?' will destroy all other thoughts,
and like the stick used for stirring the burning pyre,
it will itself in the end get destroyed.
Then, there will arise Self-realization."

To practice this simplest form of self-inquiry one must simply pose the question, "Who am I?" within their own consciousness. This is not to be repeated mechanically but with an intense longing to discover the very source of the I-consciousness. This practice serves to turn the mind in on itself resulting in a concentrated state of awareness that, if sustained, may lead to liberation from duality or Self-realization. Stay tuned for our next blog, "From self-inquiry to Self-realization". The next time you catch yourself reacting to someone in your life try to be aware of the fact that you are really just reacting to your thought about that person.

Namaste,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta

Monday, February 22, 2010

Psycho-Spirituality: A Wikipedia Moment

The jumping off point of any psycho-spiritual model is the concept of Oneness. I was a bit surprised when I started Googling "psycho-spiritual" and realized while there are millions of hits on-line there are no concrete definitions in the major sources. That is both great and discouraging for this blogger: on the one hand it leaves the door wide open to formulate my own definition and on the other it is a shame there is not more work in the traditional psychology space that emphasizes the role of spirituality in mental health. I mentioned that we would be diving into The Work of Byron Katie and I wanted to help set the stage for this simple and yet profound psycho-spiritual process.

A Wikipedia Moment!
As I wrote the term psycho-spiritual and contemplated its meaning one thing that I noticed immediately was that the "spiritual" aspect should come before the psychology. My simple view is that "psychology" relates to the mind and "spirituality" inspires a much broader perspective to include that which transcends the mind. I decided to Wiki "psychology" and what do you know....psychology comes from the Greek psukhe meaning "breath", "spirit", "soul" and logia meaning "the study of". WOW! No wonder there is no definition for psycho-spiritual it is redundant. This leaves us with a bigger problem, how are we going to break it to the field of psychological that they have been missing the quintessential element of their profession...spirituality. There are, of course, many in the field that recognize the importance of spirituality and slowly the field is evolving however I would bet that MANY psychologists do not even realize their profession was founded (atleast named) on spiritual grounds.

Spirituality is Synonymous with Yoga
When we look at the definition for spirituality it is most often characterized by spiritual practices such as prayer, contemplation and meditation. These practices are all central to the discipline of yoga. Any practice that leads us towards the realization of our deepest aspect is yoga. Yoga is an extremely broad body of work that has thoroughly explored every path towards the realization ultimately facilitated by the practices. It almost doesn't make sense to talk too much about the end-game for spiritual practice but rather the practice itself. One of the practices of yoga not much known in the West is that of self-inquiry which brings us back to The Work of Byron Katie.

I will continue to use the term psycho-spiritual because "psycho" has been so misused that to most it is identified with "the mind". Psycho-spiritual then is the application of mental concepts to lead one to spiritual insight, revelation and growth. The cornerstone of psycho-spirituality is the process of taking responsibility for our mind-body system....essentially ending the Blame Game. Practicing self-inquiry is one of the most direct routes to this process and Byron Katie has given us a phenomenal approach. As a starting point consider this: every reaction you experience towards another person is first and foremost a function of your perception of that person. The conclusion is that it begins with you.

Every time you react to someone today, notice how what you are reacting to is your "idea" or "thought" that person. Your thoughts lead to your emotions and ultimately your suffering. The "other" barely figures in except as a trigger for your mind-body system. As we inch towards The Work pay close attention to your reactions and start to make a list of the people and situations in your life that cause you to react. We are getting deeper....

Namaste,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta



Friday, February 19, 2010

The Blame Game: The Greatest Obstacle to Your Intuition is...You

I woke up this morning with a particular radiant smile in my consciousness. Spending 10 years living in a spiritual community gave me the opportunity to meet many Masters and beautiful people who have committed themselves to this path of awakening that I call Beloved Yoga. Every path invariably involves cultivating a deep sense of self-love and self-acceptance. This process brings us to a unique balance of spontaneous creative living and applied intellect through a lens of compassion. Of the many Masters that touched my heart one of the most profound was Byron Katie.

Many years ago she came and did a small workshop from the living room of our home. We had done many but none attracted the crowd of people this one did. Not only was it the most people we who had come to our community for a workshop of this kind but they were not the typical spiritual seeker. These people were not particularly drawn to yoga or meditation or any specific form of contemplative or spiritual practice. These folks were hard-working "regular people" (mostly women, of course) who had recognized for one reason or another that they needed some support on this journey towards being happy.

I watched as Byron Katie shared her profound interpretation of self-inquiry called The Work. I'll never forget that experience, how simply and elegantly she applied her massive psychospiritual depth to the challenges of everyday life. "Ask four questions and turn it around." I can still here her axiom ringing in my ears. She held such a profound presence that you felt as though you were in her embrace from the moment your eyes fell on her. She called everyone "angel" in such an authentic way that you knew she was addressing each person's inherent radiance unmoved by the shadows of fear and unworthiness each of us clung to.

Byron Katie is a spiritual innovator who can help usher in the end of the Blame Game as we learn to take responsibility for everything we think and feel in our lives. This is the first in a new blog series I will be writing where we will embrace The Work and conquer our greatest barrier to intuitive living, us. Our reactive nature, the story we tell ourselves, in short the blame game robs us of the creativity, simplicity and joy that is our birthright. For today, pay attention to your story, observe your reaction and rather than being an active participant in the blame game become part of the audience. The best is yet to come!

Namaste,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta

Monday, February 15, 2010

Messages from Mother Earth: Awaken Your Intuition

We have become disconnected from our intuition because we have become disconnected from the earth. The vast deep wisdom that is our intuition has often been described as the voice of the Great Mother Earth. Anything we can do to restore our connection to the earth will improve our intuitive abilities. As we improve our ability to listen closely with mind, body and heart our intuitive faculty will develop. Practice reconnecting to the earth at these three level and watch your life change for the better.

Thinking as One
By thinking about the fact that our bodies are composed from the earth it may help us recognize that we are not separate from nature but an integral part of nature. Contemplating a philosophy of unity will help uncover your intuition. Namaste is more than just a greeting we use at the beginning and the end of our yoga class. It is the active awareness that the essence within me is the same essence within you. It is a subtle acknowledgement of the interconnection of all beings. You can mentally greet life with this beautiful word, Namaste as you pass people, animals, trees and all manner of beings. Each time recognizing that you all arise from the same Source.

Feeling Grateful
From a heart perspective we can tune ourselves to a deep sense of gratitude for these bodies and for life itself. Spending time in gratitude every day releases tension and the residue of stress in the mind and body. These subtle (and not so subtle) stresses keep us separate severing the connection to our intuition. Deep feelings of gratitude always inspire a deep sense of relaxation in the body and both help restore your intuition.

Core Movement
A regular mind-body practice whether yoga, tai chi, dancing or some other form of movement that is done with an awareness of the breath and body helps to strengthen our connection to the earth through the body. In this day and age most of our attention is at the mind-level, this is evidenced by the fact that even our movements tend to originate from the head. It is very important for our physical health, alignment and ultimately for our intuitive faculty to begin moving from our core. The core is a set of muscles at the lower part of the abdomen and the pelvic floor. This 'navel' area deserves a great deal of attention and can be considered the center of power in the body. This is the location of the third chakra in the yoga system and the dan tien in Tai Chi and Chi Gong.

As you are moving through your day be aware of the soles of your feet and that base connection to the earth. Hold some attention at the core as you move feeling grateful for the earth beneath your feet. By strengthening your base connection to the earth you will be amazed at how your perspective can shift and the wisdom that can spontaneously arise within.

Intuition is not something that happens outside yourself but rather it is that subtle inner voice that speaks from a place of unconditional love. It is not a function of the intellect nor is it related to the instinct. It is subtle, ancient and an integral part of who you are. Practice reconnecting to the earth and you will discover you are reconnecting to your intuition.

Namaste,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Discover Your Intuition: First Thought, Best Thought

Many times have I heard my teacher remind us of this old axiom which may first have been shared in the West by the Tibetan Master, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, "First Thought, Best Thought". Allen Ginsberg used this phrase as he sought, through his poetry, to inspire his readers or drag them kicking and screaming into the simple ecstasy of NOW.

This week we will concentrate on intuition or intuitive wisdom as a gift and a goal of our Beloved Yoga practice. Meditation is undoubtedly a potent tool in cultivating intuitive wisdom as it supports the process of creating space. You may consider this space to be the space between thoughts. Spend time cultivating this space by allowing the mind and body to simply be as you shift your perception into that of the observer. Find a group to sit with (we meet on Wednesday evenings at 8pm at the Milo Boathouse in Yarmouth) or commit to yourself to spend 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes at night to simply breathe with awareness.

In order to practice, First thought, best thought, we must become adept at identifying that first thought. This can be a bit like identifying the first star in the night sky. The one that you will make a wish upon. The second you identify one it seems that almost immediately you are looking at dozens more. Moreover it seems as though you were already looking at all of them so then which was first?

The mind moves quickly through thoughts that are inspired by sensory inputs that, in turn trigger, emotional responses that, in turn create more thoughts pulled from memory or manifested from fantasy. First thought, best thought requires you to wield the sword of detachment in order to drop fantasy and memory in favor of the intuitive wisdom of NOW. Is it necessary to adopt a philosophical position as to the nature of intuition in order to enhance your ability to perceive it? I look at intuition as a flowing river of wisdom like an underground river that flows beneath the surface of the mind. Dig deeply and you will discover it.

What is this process of digging? It is more akin to letting go!

Let go of the intellect and the thinking process,
let go of the conditioning that keeps you
In the box of who you think you are,
Let go of the past and the future,
Let go of ambition and lethargy,
Let go of desire and indifference,
Let go of joy and pain,
Let go of everything in favor of nothing
And intuition will surely fill the void.

Namaste,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta

Friday, February 12, 2010

Olympics and the Thrill of Victory

Hello All,

The special day has arrived, the day the Olympics begin in Vancouver. It is amazing to see how the Olympic Games are able to unite people giving us the ability to see beyond difference and embrace the common thread and thrill of victory. That word, "Victory" has been a significant aspect of my spiritual life. Many years ago my Guru gave me the name "Jayanta" which means "victorious one". When she did she encouraged me to conquer the ego and told me to "Be victorious before victory".

I have spent a great deal of time over the years contemplating this koan. What continues to come forth is our opportunity to come into the moment and simply BE the person we want to be. There are small victories throughout our day that can be celebrated. Longer-term goals can also be celebrated in the present moment long before they may manifest. Perhaps the real victory is the willingness to stretch, to reach and to search for victory in the simple moment of NOW. I hope that as you sit and watch the Olympic Games unfold over the next couple of weeks you realize your own greatness and set some goals for yourself and then empower yourself with a sense of victory that is here and now.

Since most of us will be practicing the popular yoga posture, COUCHASANA, during the Olympics try to get into the habit of paying some attention to your posture and your breath even while on the couch cheering for your team.

Be Victorious Before Victory!

Namaste,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Awaken Your Intuition: Here and Now!

Hello All,

One of the most thrilling aspects of establishing a regular yoga + meditation practice is the awakening of your intuition. Receiving superconscious wisdom from deep within can provide simple joy that comes with clarity and a sense of knowing. Many of the great innovators of our time have acknowledged the roll of intuition in their work. Einstein made it crystal clear when he said, "The only real valuable thing is intuition."

In this age of information overload and its accompanying confusion arriving at clarity can bring tremendous relief. Practicing yoga + meditation helps to restore our connection to that ever-flowing quiet wisdom we know as intuition. When we talk of awakening our intuition it is more like waking up to our intuition. We access that intuition when we settle into the present moment that is here and now. The chatter of the mind and the ego's tendency to indulge in numerous desires keeps us from being present and receiving the flow of wisdom that is our intuition. This flow never stops but rather our ability to access it is impeded by our over- identification with thought.

Take time this day, maybe even right now, to sit and let the mind be. Unplug yourself from the busyness and connect deeply with awareness, with the witness. Allow everything to simply be as it is, arguing with nothing. Notice the mind's tendency to complain, to judge, to compare. Acknowledge the beauty and power of those functions but choose to be the witness. With time you may notice thoughts arise that seem inspired by a deeper sense of wisdom and they are often accompanied by quiet feelings of gratitude. You may want to write those ones down because they may just be the fruits of intuition.

Namaste,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta

Monday, February 8, 2010

Relax Your Way to Creative Genius

There are many benefits of a regular yoga + meditation practice that people do not realize either because they have never stuck with it or simply have not embraced the practices. One of the most remarkable is a whole new access to creativity. Our culture under-values relaxation and yet idolizes creativity and innovation. Creativity brings us closer to our Source than almost anything else. Creativity can help mom discover new ways of making the mundane entertaining for the 5-year old. Creativity can inspire the teacher in the classroom to present that same material in fresh and fun ways for their students. Creativity is the impulse behind the artist and poet but also allows the government employee to find new ways of doing things that improves the system for everyone. But how do we access this fountain of innovation and inspiration?

Relaxation is paramount to opening the door of creativity in any given moment. Tension in the mind and body serves to limit our ability to get "outside the box". In fact, "the box" is made of tension and its resulting contractions at both a mental and physical level. Sometimes we hear of creativity happening as a result of overwhelming tension but I would argue it is when the individual has "surrendered" to their circumstance that the creative solution manifests. This does not mean "giving up" but rather speaks to a deep acceptance of the here and now that opens the door to an unbounded future.

Learning to relax may be the greatest thing you could do to improve your health and quality of life and it may just awaken that creative genius that lies within each of us. You have access to a well of creativity that is only yours and I pray you are able to access it and express it in your life for everyone's benefit.

Namaste,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The 9 Yoga Myths

This week we completed our blog series, Breaking Through the Yoga Myths. We discussed 9 Myths that tend to keep people from experiencing the depth of yoga. They may also be described as "excuses". Each of the 9 Yoga Myths below are linked to the original blog posting in case you missed it.


The number of ways we can convince ourselves that making time for ourselves to cultivate relaxation and awareness in our lives is virtually unlimited. Start to notice how your mind/ego robs you of opportunities to go deeper into relaxation and compassion that you know would improve the quality of your life. Find a yoga class or other mind-body activity and take positive steps towards improving your mental and physical health.

To Your Health,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta


Friday, February 5, 2010

Yoga Myth #9: "Yoga Begins and Ends on the Mat"

Our final myth in this blog series strikes at the heart of the limited view of yoga in the West. If you think that your yoga practice is a physical workout that begins and ends on your mat you are missing the vastness and broad application of the practice to daily life. The core elements of our yoga practice apply to every part of our life. We face resistance in physical and mental formats in our practice that prepare us for those moments in our life when we instinctively resist. There is a popular saying out there (I can't remember where I heard it first) that says, "What you resist persists". This resistance can take many forms but there is always a "contraction" involved, mental and physical.

In our yoga practice on the mat we can become more and more aware of subtle contractions in the body and apply concentrated relaxation methods. Sounds like a bit of an oxymoron but welcome to the mind-body world. According to John Milton, a Tai Chi master and remarkable spiritual teacher "Relaxation and Presence" is the simple reality of conscious living. To learn to relax (surrender) in the face of your own resistance is a powerful outcome of taking yoga beyond the mat. Becoming aware of our mental resistance and physical contractions gives us the opportunity to claim responsibility. The social norm is to blame someone or something else for triggering this reaction if we are even aware of it at all.

Take your yoga beyond the mat by noticing your reactions that are composed of mental resistance and physical contraction. Relax and remain present with the feelings that are triggered and allow them to move through your body like a wave and let them go. Come back to the breath...back to the moment, be present. This simple process will change your experience of life and will undoubtedly improve the lives of those around you.

We will be practicing Beloved Yoga on the mat tomorrow morning at the Milo Boathouse at 10 am. I hope you can make it.

In the mean time relax and be present.

Namaste,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Yoga Myth #8: "Relaxation is a Waste of Time"

We are nearing the end of our series to break through the many myths of yoga including who can benefit. One of the attitudes that I feel more from men, sorry guys, though it is certainly a pervasive mentality is that relaxation is not "productive". In these fast times we have lost the art and forgotten the import of relaxation. Many of the activities in which we participate do not serve as relaxation but rather build stress in other areas. Ideas like "Work Hard, Play Hard" and "No Pain No Gain" contribute to the cultural bias against relaxation.

I had the privilege of participating in a Skills for Healing workshop with Dr. Rob Rutledge who is a Radiation Oncologist on the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie University in Halifax. He spoke to a group of cancer patients, survivors and caregivers about the evidence relating to the Relaxation Response. The medical community is now understanding and documenting the benefits of relaxation on dealing with stress and its many adverse affects on health.

The World Health Organization has defined stress as a global pandemic. Relaxation is a major step towards vaccinating yourself against the harmful effects of stress. Don't let our need to be "doing" all the time rob you of your health. Take time to relax alone and quiet without any distractions, including television, the Internet, reading, etc. Too often we engage with a mental distraction as a defense against stress but we do not elicit the Relaxation Response which allows us to release stress more deeply. According to Dr. Herbert Benson, Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School, "The relaxation response is a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress... and the opposite of the fight or flight response."

Everyone needs to start taking action to promote their own mental and physical health and relaxation is an important element of any preventative health regimen. Find a yoga class if you can't make it to Beloved Yoga at the Milo Boathouse in Yarmouth, NS, learning to relax may just save your life.

Namaste,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta

Monday, February 1, 2010

Yoga Myth #7: "Real Men Don't Do Yoga"

I couldn't really do this blog series without addressing this Western phenomenon of yoga. Somewhere along the way our culture became biased towards women practicing yoga. This is a bit ironic given how the practice evolved in the East. It was first and foremost a spiritual discipline in a patriarchal society. That said, the original yoga practitioners, the Nathas, did not exclude any sincere seeker from the initiation. Where did this shift happen?

Perhaps because it was because the classes were reminiscent of group fitness classes that were already dominated by women. Maybe women really are more receptive to a practice that serves to catapult us past the ego and into a space of unconditionality. Women, with their gift of motherhood seem to be more able to let go of their own selfish pursuits in favor of the child. this spirit of selflessness invariably comes into play along the path of yoga.

Regardless of the reason, the practice is in no way more suitable for women and less suitable for men. After teaching yoga for over a decade it is amazing how decisive many patterns are in the behaviors of students. The men come into the class extremely tense with bodies stuck in place like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz. They look around them at what the others in the class are doing and they grit their teeth and try to go deeper and push harder. They are so often resistant to instruction because they are stuck in the "No Pain No Gain" mentality. Often that is the last I see of them....They probably leave feeling defeated and wake up feeling sore though they "have not done anything". Many men (and women) also look at the relaxation as a waste of time. C'mon guys, time to get real!

Yoga is a martial art that prepares one for the battle of their life...the battle with the ego. Perhaps men are more resistant to addressing and embracing this enemy. So, in lieu of men suddenly getting over themselves and embracing the grace and power of yoga, it will be up to the women to share what they are learning in bite-sized nuggets with their other half.

Namaste,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta




Thursday, January 28, 2010

Yoga Myth #6: "I Have to be Thin"

In this culture where "toothpick" and "pretzel" are the dominant stereotypes of the yogini it can seem intimidating to come to a yoga class. This trend is a terrible example of the limitations of our shallow culture infecting the beauty, power and grace of an ancient tradition. How many people have opted out of the opportunity to practice yoga because they felt they did not fit these destructive stereotypes. A deep sense of self-acceptance is central to the philosophy and practice of yoga. One of the reasons I describe the practice as Beloved Yoga is because we all can benefit from taking time to BE LOVED. Negative body images are a huge source of stress and pain in people's lives. With practice (and it does take practice) we can silence those internal judgemental voices that come from parents, media, teachers, society, friends, etc. In fact, it doesn't matter where those voices have come from you are listening to them everyday whether consciously or not.

At our classes I try to remind students (and myself) of the simple sacredness of the human body. As we concentrate on feeling the sensations in the body we develop a more authentic connection to our body. Comparing to others is a conditioned experience in a group. It is important to continually withdraw your attention inwards so your body is the one receiving the benefit of your focus. You do not have to be thin to deepen your awareness of body and breath. You may very well lose excess weight as you begin to move and to release in a yoga class but that is a fringe benefit. Your body is the greatest gift of your life, take care of it by connecting deeply and honestly with your innate beauty.

Be Loved,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Yoga Myth #5: "I Can't Meditate, My Mind is Always Racing"

Welcome to life as a human being. There are many misunderstandings when it comes to meditation but one of the ones I seem to hear a lot is, "I can't meditate...my mind is always racing!" It is the nature of the mind to race, to judge, to compare, to reflect, to bounce from one thought to another with every new sensory input. That said we all have the special ability to observe that racing, comparing, judging mind. It is in the simple witnessing of the race that we begin to harness the healing power of meditation.

If you can't get out of the rat race than start to become a keen witness of it, starting with your own mind. A busy mind is not a barrier to meditation, it is the why you need the practice in your life. With practice we can begin to shift our perception to become a little more connected with that witness and a little more detached from that monkey mind. Don't expect the mind to stop...in fact, don't expect anything and you are on your way with meditation.

One simple and profound meditation practice that I learned from my teacher and would share with you is to observe your breath and each time to notice that you are indulging in thought simply say, "Not Now" and come back to your breath. The truth is that each time we are following the fantasy of the mind we have slipped out of this present moment and it really is Not Now. You have access to a well of bliss in the present moment and this bliss is independent of all external circumstance. Practice watching that racing mind and you may just discover that waiting bliss.

Namaste,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta

Monday, January 25, 2010

Yoga Myth #4: "I'm Too Tired"

This is one we hear a lot as people's vital energy is being consumed by a growing list of mental and physical stress factors. As we worker harder and longer we also tend to play harder. You know that feeling of needing a vacation after a vacation? Practicing deep relaxation is an invigorating experience that will help relieve fatigue. There is nothing more difficult than feeling like you do not have the energy to be present with children or partners. When the activities of your day leave you fatigued it is time to make a change. Often we cannot change what we are doing so we much begin to shift the way we are doing things.

The fatigue we feel in our lives is also related to both poor nutrition and poor hydration. Dehydration is one of the most commonly overlooked causes of fatigue. All of that said, the reality is that when we do make the time (even when we are tired) to make it to a yoga class or to do some stretching, breathing, relaxation, strengthening and/or meditation we are increasing the body's ability to rejuventate itself. We invariably feel better so rather than watching another TV show, give yourself the gift of yoga.

Eat fruits and vegetables to harness the energy of the sun, drink water to be sure the body is hydrated and make yoga and meditation part of your weekly and daily ritual. You will be doing yourself and everyone around you a favor.

Namaste,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta

Yoga Myth #3: "I Don't Have Time"

Our third yoga myth has to do with that monkey on everybody's back....time. We have all had times in our lives where we have prioritized the activities that are essential our our well-being. We have also had periods where we have not...and the difference can be staggering. I appreciate that getting to a weekly class may seem overwhelming and there may be real barriers in your responsibilities and/or schedule that make it seem impossible. That said, we all have the same number of hours in the day and we all have a body, a mind and a capacity for awareness that is awe-inspiring.

Take 5 and Change your Life
Spend 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes in the evening simply being aware of your breath. Keep your body still sitting on the floor or in a chair (even if it has to be in the bathroom), sometimes that is the only place to get some alone time. Make friends with your breath, forgive yourself for anything and everything, forgive others with the same intensity. Let go of regrets from the past and fear of the future and be simply and fully present with yourself. This practice of awareness is also yoga. Concentrate your mind and you may discover a well of bliss within yourself that offers the gift of renewal and freedom 5 minutes at a time.

Our days are busy, give yourself time to be present - I assure you that everyone in your life will benefit.

Namaste,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Yoga Myth #2: Yoga is a Religion

There is a popular myth that keeps people from realizing the great benefits of a regular yoga practice and it has to do with that "touchy" area of religion. It is amazing to me how quick people are to reject something in the name of Christ when such a profound part of the Christian message is to embrace. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali which are the foundation of yoga science states quite explicitly that the science of yoga is not to be aligned nor does it belong to any particular culture or religion. The Eight Limbs of Yoga lead the practitioner to a highly concentrated state of mind which becomes meditation and, once stabilized culminates in the direct experience of Oneness.

Yoga is Applied Spirituality
A regular yoga practice has the ability to deepen your faith experience in addition to the obvious physical benefits. My training in yoga has always emphasized a devotional element which is known as Bhakti Yoga. Regardless of your religious path, the practice and exercise of devotion plays a role. I find many people pay lip service to the "idea" of devotion but do not really take time to practice this ancient art. From my perspective, a big difference between religion and spirituality is practice and experience. Through yoga, we learn to concentrate on the object of our prayer. Regardless of how you practice prayer, concentration is a critical element. To sit and practice the rosary can be done mechanically while your mind is wandering or can be done with intense concentration and awareness that can catapult you into a deep and profound experience of Divine Love. Yoga is a tool that serves to deepen our faith regardless of how we define that faith.

I choose to describe the form of yoga I practice as "Beloved Yoga", this is because we are all entitled to an intimate and personal connection to our Beloved. Our regular yoga practice helps us cultivate that connection and deepen it. Another way to look at this word Beloved is as BE LOVED. We all need to take time during our day and our week to practice being loved unconditionally. Most of us attribute unconditional love to our religion and yet we don't practice experiencing unconditional love. This is the opportunity we have through yoga and meditation.

Yoga is not a religion. Yoga is a tool to deepen your experience of religion. Yoga is the science of cultivating stillness of mind and is the same path so eloquently articulated in the Psalms as...."Be still and know God".

Friday, January 22, 2010

Breaking Through the Yoga Myths

I wanted to start a series of blogs that deal with the many misconceptions about yoga that may keep people from harnessing the benefits of this ancient practice that has never been more important. I have been teaching yoga for over ten years and have heard all of the excuses, well many of them. I have also seen a very serious misunderstanding of the scope and depth of yoga become the norm. So, without further adieu let's beginning Busting the Myths of Yoga.

Yoga Myth #1 - I'm Not Flexible

Not to sound cruel but this is the most ridiculous yoga myth and the most popular. This is like saying to the cleaning lady, "No! I don't want help cleaning my house...it's too dirty". Flexibility is a bi-product of practicing yoga and definitely a contributor to a younger, healthier body. Maintaining a healthy, flexible spine will ensure that you are able to continue doing the things you enjoy much longer into your life. If you consider yourself to be "not flexible" then find a yoga class and Just Do It! I know that Nike has changed their tag-line and they may change it a hundred times but they will never find a better one.

There are two other things that come to mind for this myth. First, there are many different yoga teachers with a variety of backgrounds, experience and intentions. I have seen many so-called Power Yoga classes that are presented in a way that really is inaccessible to many body-types. It is easy to blame the teacher but truly yoga is a deepening of your experience of your own mind and body. It is up to the practitioner to back off where necessary. I believe the teacher should continually remind students of this but don't count on it. The other consideration here is that the flexibility myth is not the real barrier but rather the pride of being seen by others in the class. I understand how hard this can be (believe me) I have seen pride rob me of many experiences that would have enriched my life. It is critical that we find the courage to conquer pride and do the things that we need to do to be healthy and happy if not for yourself then as a role model to the next generation.

"I'm not flexible" is EXACTLY why you need to be taking steps to rectify that. You wouldn't tell the doctor that you can't visit because you are sick. Your body is a beautiful and amazing miracle of life that can heal and adapt quickly. Once you start working on your flexibility you will be amazed at how great you feel and how enormous the ripple-effect of flexibility is positively impacting every aspect of your life.

Be flexible!

Namaste,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The One Minute Vacation

We all love vacations! The word "vacation" comes from the Latin word vacare meaning "to be empty or free". Taking vacations is an important part of our life. We tend to give so much of our time to our professions and our routines that to break it up a few times a year is an essential part of our mental health strategy. Taking time to empty ourselves of tension and stress, to let go of our routine and practice a greater sense of freedom is all part of the ritual known as vacation.

You know that saying, "As above, so below"? I enjoy exploring the macrocosm and the microcosm. In this case, the macrocosm is the typical year in your life that includes a summer vacation and a winter vacation. Now we can take that down into the microcosm which is a typical day. Giving yourself time twice per day to "be on vacation" is again part of a good mental health approach to life. The question becomes, how do I get to Florida and back twice per day? Or, if I live in Florida, "how do I get to Nova Scotia and back twice per day"?

The truth is, we do not have to go anywhere to touch the emptiness and the freedom that is at the heart of the vacation experience. Yoga and meditation are phenomenal tools to introduce us to the micro-vacation. Like a vacation meditation requires a little bit of planning like making sure that you won't be interrupted; unless of course you do get interrupted and then that interruption becomes part of your meditation. For one minute you break all routine, there are no have to's or should's, there is only space. Now, the mode of travel is the breath. Your breath is like the airliner that will carry you to your destination which is no destination at all. The micro-vacation takes practice but in 60 second segments, even you can afford it.

Close your eyes and begin to be very aware of your breathing, in and out through the nose. Sit up straight and let the shoulders fall down and away from your ears. Feel all the sensations in your body as you pay less attention to the thoughts that rise and fall in the mind. Trade thinking for feeling. Incorporate a great sense of relaxation into your micro-vacation. Enjoy yourself....enjoy your SELF.

Namaste,

Steve
Yogi Jayanta

I am always fond of exploring the microcosm and the macrocosm, you know(vacations twice per year)