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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