Nirodhaḥ Yoga Blog
And now ask in your heart, “How shall we distinguish that which is good in pleasure from that which is not good?”
Go to your fields and your gardens, and you shall learn that it is the pleasure of the bee to gather honey of the flower,
But it is also the pleasure of the flower to yield its honey to the bee.
For to the bee a flower is the fountain of life,
And to the flower a bee is a messenger of love,
And to both, bee and flower, the giving and the receiving of pleasure is a need and an ecstasy.
- Khalil Gibron
When we dive deep, our yoga practice teaches us how to be of service. Swami Satchidananda taught us that service-surrender (or non-attachment to the result of your service) is the way to live a peaceful, easeful, and useful life.
Act in a way that benefits someone, harms no one, and is performed without attachment to the result.
A tall order, for sure, but that is what yogic philosophy regards as a perfect act. So we are always returning to this idea when providing classes or finding ways to welcome you to the studio, even if that visit is virtual.
How can we be of service to you? This includes how all of our teachers serve our students and also how Rita and I serve our teachers.
What can we provide that will allow you to connect more deeply with your practice of yoga? Not just poses, but your outlook on the world and yourself as well.
In the last year or so, I have been exploring yogic philosophy on this blog as a way to make connections for myself about how my yoga sadhana (daily routine) and the way I conduct the rest of my life interact.
I have tried to be open about how my own life has been transformed through my sadhana. In being vulnerable, I hope to give courage to anyone who might be struggling with the vulnerabilities that we are learning to face this year (and realistically, all the time).
I am not attached to this goal because just by writing, I have helped give courage to myself. The act of writing is done for its own sake.
Rita and I have been brainstorming in the background for several months now, trying to figure out ways to serve you even better next year. This has been greatly helped by the addition of our fantastic social media manager, Lauren, who has lots of fun tricks up her sleeves.
And of course, our teachers just continue to take our ideas and run with them! It's so fantastic to see their perspectives, toolkits, and styles getting richer and more specific, as we all work on this common goal of serving our lovely students.
Next year, I plan to re-calibrate the focus of this blog onto the practice of yoga, rather than the philosophy. After all, as our beloved teacher, Sonia Sumar says, "too much theory intoxicates."
In yoga, we have to practice to learn. With our whole heart, consistently, and for a long time, if we want to be firmly grounded in it (Yoga Sutras, I.14). Luckily, to those of us who are eager, the attainment of yoga comes faster (Yoga Sutras, I.21).
So as we commit to new visions for 2021, let's hold our yoga sadhana as one of our highest priorities, whether that looks like classes in the studio, outdoors, live-streamed, pre-recorded, or self-led.
But if you are looking for extra special ways to commit to your practice, do we have some goodies for you! Rita will lead a special Chakra themed Restorative Yoga class in honor of the Winter Solstice. I am leading a pajama party yoga class on the morning of Christmas Eve, and we'll team up with Kim to provide our third annual Reflect & Restore Workshop on New Year’s Eve, which is the perfect time to release the last year, create a vision for the next, and be guided toward bliss by the restorative yoga poses and heavenly essential oils. I will also teach a four-week Yoga for Beginners class on Saturdays in January, just in case you know anyone with yoga resolutions.
Whatever your plans this holiday season, we hope that they are filled with the ease and flow of giving and receiving freely. And may your yoga practice become even more firmly grounded in 2021.
"For me, every hour is grace. And I feel gratitude in my heart each time I can meet someone and look at his or her smile."
- Elie Weisel
I am writing this in early October but by the time this is published, election day will have come and gone. We may or may not have election results yet. And I’m anticipating that whatever the outcome, this week will be tense and fractious.
How lovely that we have a holiday that reminds us to be thankful later this month. Gratitude is about living in grace. If you navigate over to our About Us page, you’ll see this quote by Swami Satchidananda guides our every decision at 5KY.
The goal of yoga and the birthright of every individual is a body of optimum health and strength, senses under total control, a mind well-disciplined, clear and calm, an intellect as sharp as a razor, a will as strong and pliable as steel, a heart full of unconditional love and compassion, an ego as pure as crystal, and a life filled with Supreme Peace and Joy.
That is grace. Stepping into our natural birthright of calm, strong, and balanced body, mind, and emotions. It isn’t something that we need to do, per se. It is what we are.
Swamiji liked to joke (though there’s always an element of truth in his humor) that his religion wasn’t Hinduism but un-doism. Yoga can help us peel away the layers of our past experience that get in the way of this birthright.
Maybe this sounds really difficult. The idea of having a will that’s as strong and pliable as steel or an ego as pure as crystal can feel very intimidating.
The good news is, yoga teaches that this is our natural state. It’s only the other things that unbalance our equilibrium.
Especially as a "down-to-earth" Midwesterner, it sometimes feels uncomfortable to admit to aiming for a goal so lofty. Like, who do I think I am to believe I have a pure ego?
But this is what I absolutely love about yoga. We don’t have to be or feel a certain way to get in touch with this birthright.
Yes, many of us will never attain enlightenment (at least in this lifetime) and no one is perfect, even those that are enlightened. We are all human. We all make mistakes. But that doesn’t mean we can’t get the benefits of grace in the here and now.
In fact, the very first Sutra in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is translated to “Now the exposition of Yoga is being made.” It indicates that at every moment, we have a choice of whether to practice Yoga. To live our union with ourselves and with all other things.
Because here and now is where we practice. Not in the past and not in the future. Now. At any moment in time, we have the choice to be filled with supreme peace and joy. Nothing external can stop this opportunity, though external things can distract us from it.
As we wrap up this difficult year and hope for a bright 2021, let’s not forget to feel grateful for the beautiful things we have in our lives right now. Let’s live in grace together.
In honor of giving thanks, I would like to leave you with a meal prayer we use in Yoga for the Special Child and Integral Yoga. An audio recording of the meal prayer is also below.
Wishing you a month filled with grace and gratitude!
“All is connected… no one thing can change by itself.”
- Paul Hawken
Is there anything harder than change? Even positive changes can create inner resistance.
Think about any time you've tried to make changes to improve your health. Or made a big move to another city or home. Or changed jobs or even your career. All are changes we may deeply desire and yet each comes with inherent challenges.
On a personal level, my yoga practice has led me to and through many challenging changes. I suspect many of us have had to confront and change various uncomfortable thoughts and behaviors that were brought to light through our practice of this great art and science.
Although yoga is a practice that leads us to develop greater joy, that doesn't mean these changes are always smooth sailing. Some of the most uncomfortable moments I've encountered through my practice have led me to the most meaningful insights.
In fact, the first time I connected with my practice on an emotional level, I wept through an entire class. After class, I felt like a new person.
There are times, laying in savasana that I have felt a deep sense of discomfort. With time and lots of practice, this feeling rarely surfaces in me anymore.
And I have had personal patterns pointed out to me by my teacher that truly stung. But her loving refinement is what has helped me start to dis-identify with the quagmire of attraction and aversion that is the mind.
Three years ago, we opened 5KY's physical location after three years of being a mobile-based business, and prior to that, four years of private practice working within clinics. Before 1818 Belmont, my focus was centered on opening a yoga studio, hoping this would stabilize my business. Only after the studio opened did I fully realize how many changes we would have to navigate before any kind of stability could be achieved.
I won't lie, there have been times the uncertainty of all this change has left me wondering if I should continue. I'm so glad I did. Witnessing the blooming of the studio and all the relationships contained within over the last three years has been joyous. That is not even mentioning the joy I feel in being a part of this community during the current moment of turmoil and chaos.
We are all living through a time of tremendous and tumultuous change. Whatever you were doing last year, I think I can safely bet that you did not envision this year being so vastly different from 2019.
We're simultaneously hoping for stability after all the continual change and so eager for things to change back to what they were or some semblance thereof.
Luckily, periods of change - whether personal or worldwide - can usher in greater security and stability. We just need to learn how to harness the power of change for good. How to sail through change effortlessly?
Breathe Through Fear
The most immediate remedy we have available in times of distress is our breath. Whether we are conscious of it or not, our breath is always changing. It is an easy metaphor for our experience of external changes.
The breath comes and goes. We cannot breathe in without breathing out first, and we cannot breathe out without an in-breath preceding.
One of my very favorite passages in the Bhagavad Gita concerns Karma Yoga, which is the yoga of action and renunciation. Krishna tells Arjuna, “some offer the out breath as sacrifice to the in breath, and the in breath to the out breath.” (4.29) Swami Satchidananda clarifies in his commentary on this passage, “Your breathing itself becomes a sacrifice. It’s happening anyway; just become conscious of it, that’s all.” (The Living Gita, p.62)
In the same way, in order to make space for the new, we may have to sacrifice certain things. Even if we know it’s time to let them go, the change leads to the unknown and may feel scary.
Breathing well directly calms the nervous system, preparing us to meet this change. It also reminds us that giving and receiving in equal measure is the law of nature.
Attend to the Present Moment
Another deceptively powerful tool we have in our arsenal is mindfulness. If we could just stop and observe for a few moments, we may be able to make skillful choices even in the midst of change or difficulties.
One technique that I like to use is from the mindfulness meditation teacher Tara Brach. She suggests the acronym RAIN when tending a disturbed mind. Recognize, allow, investigate, and nurture.
"Recognize what is happening." This is as simple as naming it: “I’m worried,” “I feel nervous,” etc.
"Allow the experience to be there, just as it is." It may feel uncomfortable at first, particularly if we’ve been resisting the feeling that is disturbing us. But when we give permission for the feeling to exist, some of the power is taken away, and we might be able to lessen its grip.
"Investigate with interest and care." Compassionately delving into our thoughts and feelings to get to the root of them is the way we can make changes to our emotional reactions. We can ask why do we feel that way? In what circumstances? What events in our past have shaped our reaction here?
"Nurture with self-compassion." We need to offer ourselves the same care that a parent would give a child that was upset by change. As we release the fear bit by bit, we make space for courage.
Trust Yourself and if You Can’t Do That, Trust the Process
Trust is a major part of a yogin’s Sadhana (daily practice). Why else would we get up at the crack of dawn to meditate or stop at the studio after a long day at work for a hatha yoga class or dedicate ourselves to the study of the Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutras, or any other texts of wisdom?
We trust that this process will refine us. After a while of practicing consistently, we can feel the changes in our bodies. This gives us the courage to continue going deeper, revealing new challenges and changes over time.
Admittedly, at times it can be challenging to trust ourselves. To me, this is particularly evident at times of great upheaval and re-ordering in my life.
So in that case, I trust in the process and method of Yoga. When I trust in Yoga, I don’t have to rely on only my own experience. I can see that anyone practicing consistently and dedicatedly will receive the benefits of that practice. It’s simply cause and effect.
I observe these changes for good happening in the people I practice with. And I know that I can trust in the process, which is inevitably fluid.
I am going to challenge myself to accept the fluidity of our present moment and welcome these changes, whatever they may be. This could be a moment of progress, where we create a better world. Because things can't get better unless they change.
The only thing harder than living through change is waiting for change to come. So let's embrace this moment and use it for the greater good.
Swami Sachidananda. The Living Gita: The Complete Bhagavad Gita. Buckingham, VA: Integral Yoga Publications, 1988.
Pleasure is not the goal of man, but knowledge. Pleasure and happiness come to an end. It is a mistake to suppose that pleasure is the goal."
- Swami Vivekananda
Turning inward can be an uncomfortable experience. It's so easy to get lost in the outer world, whether that’s the myriad electronic distractions we have at our fingertips, desire for/protectiveness over material things, or even the thoughts and feelings of others.
The outward view affords us thoughts of pleasure (“I’d love to have..,” “when I get it, I will…,” “I can’t wait until…”) but orients us to moments that don’t exist yet. Our own present moment seems poorer in relief.
When the fixation on outer things is negative (“I wish I still…,” “I can’t believe they said…,” “why does this always happen to me?”), it is easier to transform the pain and fear into anger and/or sadness, directed at someone or something else. Or even worse, ourselves.
We limit ourselves this way. Rather than directing the full force of our discriminative faculties (Viveka in Sanskrit) onto the areas in which we have control - spoiler, the only domain we have control over is ourselves - we dilute it by judging and recriminating things wholly out of our power to influence.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that using our energy to enact some needed change is at all wrong. Yet I do believe that using the sacred, inner time we spend with ourselves to discuss or argue or beg about the outer world is counterproductive. It leads not to Viveka but to a dialectic.
We discuss the validity of one another’s opinions in a dialectic. That is not necessarily bad but it's not enough. We must also develop discernment about ourselves. We need to investigate our place within our shared reality and develop knowledge about the nature of Truth.
Sometimes, well-intentioned people have created a horrible mess out of a challenging predicament. They may earnestly try to solve the problem. But without humbling themselves to this process of inner discernment, they aren’t able to see that their ego - not the best interests of their community - is driving the movement forward. That’s where we all fall into trouble.
I had a realization a few years ago that hit me like a ton of bricks. Like many, I’ve struggled with feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem during my life.
Discussing how we identify ourselves with our egos in my first yoga teacher training, I realized that identifying with one’s ego isn’t only for narcissists and people with an overstimulated sense of self-worth. We also identify with our ego when we see ourselves as “less than” or unworthy.
Our ego is constantly telling us, “I am you. You are me. What I do, you do too. When I go, so do you.” But it’s a lie.
If we identify ourselves with our ego, when we do good things, we are good. When we do bad things, we are bad.
There is a chant in Sanskrit that says “Lead us from the unreal to the real. Lead us from the darkness to the light.” What is real? Only that which never changes. The rest is ephemeral.
The phenomena that we observe with our senses will all cease to exist one day. Truth always has and always will exist unchanged.
Our ego can get us into all sorts of issues and adventures. And it’s constantly changing its opinion of ourselves, others, and the world around us. Therefore, it is not the Truth.
But who even hears the ego chattering away like a fool? The inner witness. The inner witness, or light, never changes. It just neutrally observes as things change, without changing itself.
Think about a newborn baby. We love babies because they’re pure witnesses. They don’t worry about politics, or the economy, or even what so-and-so said on The Tonight Show.
They don’t identify with the moments past or to come. They don’t think, “boy, I cry a lot. I must be depressed.” Or “I eat so much, I’m going to get fat.”
They laugh when something’s funny. Cry when something’s uncomfortable. Sleep when they are tired. When the moment passes, they drop those emotions and become the pure witness again. They are like a clear crystal, refracting whatever light is passing through.
Of course as adults (or even possibly, parents of these little witnesses), we have to conduct ourselves in this outer world to thrive. That’s where the tricky part is. Applying Viveka among all the changing, outer world, non-truths around us. How can we learn to experience the joy of non-duality within our phenomenal dual world?
By turning to that inner light through meditation. When we get better acquainted with the witness in silence, it gets easier to discriminate between what is real and what isn’t.
Then, we won’t be as bothered by dualities (gain vs. loss, happy vs. sad, evil vs. saintly) because we know eventually they will all pass but the inner light remains.
I promise you, whatever demons you find when turning within are nowhere near as annoying as your ego on a bad day. Go deep.
In the spirit of Viveka, I offer you this mantra to lead you into meditation.
"There are no shortcuts to any place worth going."
- Beverly Sills
I just finished the first 100 hours of my second 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training with Yoga for the Special Child. Many of our students at 5KY love to take classes with us after we’ve attended a teacher training with YSC because we come back filled with new inspiration.
This time is no different, especially because I have not taken this program for a long time. I am uncovering forgotten and incomplete ideas that had surfaced when I took my first teacher training.
This is similar to the way we approach the Yoga Sutras. The Sutras are meant to be read again and again because your understanding of them develops more each time. Life brings pleasures and pains and the meaning of the Sutras becomes clearer as you confront these challenges.
And so although I have read the Sutras and studied with my teacher many times, certain things are becoming clearer to me as I go deeper. As my teacher says very often, “there will be no shortcuts on the path of yoga.” We will need determination and perseverance to reach the goal.
One of the concepts we discussed in the TT was pratipaksa bhavana (pronounced prat-ee-pak-sha bha-va-na). Pratipaksa bhavana literally means manifestation of or meditation upon the opposite thought. The Sutra this is introduced in (2.33) says that when we are “disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of.”
We have the power to change our own mind and control which thoughts we allow to enter.
This is a very powerful Sutra and concept, as it indicates we have the power to change our own mind and control which thoughts we allow to enter. What is the virtue we need to develop to practice pratipaksa bhavana? Determination.
One of the participants in the teacher training mentioned that this Sutra comes within the group of Sutras discussing the Yamas and Niyamas (the “dos and don’ts” of Raja Yoga). She drew a relationship between pratipaksa bhavana and the first two limbs of Raja Yoga that I had never noticed before.
She suggested that when we fall short of our goals - to live righteously and love unconditionally - it is not helpful to dwell in bad feelings about our misapplication of these principles into our life. Sutra 2.33 is placed within the discussion of the Yamas and Niyamas to remind us of a tool we can cultivate when faced with disappointment in our own behavior.
Say I have violent thoughts or said violent words (lack of ahimsa), lie to someone (lack of satya), take credit for something that isn’t mine (lack of asteya), overeat (lack of brahmacarya), or hang onto a situation that isn’t good for me (lack of aparigraha). In other words, if I fail to practice the Yamas.
Or maybe I have trouble keeping my space clean (lack of saucha), feel discontent about life’s circumstances (lack of santosha), lash out when hurt (lack of tapah), don’t make time for self-improvement (lack of svadhyaya), or can’t let go of control (lack of Ishvara pranidhana). And I fail to practice the Niyamas.
Instead of thinking “wow, I’m a really violent, lying, thieving, gluttonous, greedy person. I can’t believe I’m so impure, malcontent, reactive, lazy, and controlling,” we should think opposite, positive thoughts instead.
Our mind and therefore, our character is made up of these tendencies.
When we dwell in these negative thoughts, we only increase our tendency to express them. Our mind and therefore, our character is made up of these tendencies. So we have the power to change them by our will and determination.
So instead, when we fail to meet our goal, let’s think things like “I am trying. Look! I just noticed that I wasn’t following the Yamas and Niyamas. That is really hard to do. I must be making progress. Next time I will do even better. I am proud that I’m trying to make positive changes in my mind and my life.”
Eventually, you might try challenging yourself to think, “What?! That’s not true. I may have slipped up this time but I’m doing my best. I really am a peaceful, truthful, respectful, moderate, and generous person. I am pure, content, accepting, thoughtful, and surrender myself to my place in the universe. I’m going to keep learning, applying, and refining my understanding of these universal principles to get better and better every day.”
I will offer one more piece of advice from my incredible teacher, Sonia Sumar. She suggested that if we are confronted by a negative thought (and let’s get real, we all have intrusive thoughts sometimes) to “sit it down” in front of you and have a conversation with it.
Question it. “Where do you come from? Why do you always come up in this situation? Why do I feel this way when so-and-so does that? Why have I not resolved these feelings yet?” (Notice that all of these questions are about myself and not "the other.") It’s not psychoanalysis we’re doing. We are letting these thoughts come to the surface to let them go through our yoga and meditation practice.
Once we have an idea of where these thoughts come from, it’s so much easier to figure out what the opposite, positive thought is. Then, we just work on affirming the positive ones and letting go of the negative ones.
That is the real work of determination. It is not stuffing challenging thoughts down or hiding them from ourselves. It is allowing challenges to surface and then having the guts to confront and transform them.
With everything we are facing right now, transforming the challenges in front of us is absolutely essential. This is how our yoga moves off our mat and into the world.
I admit that I am not naturally gifted at patience. When I was a kid, my parents often had to remind me that I didn’t need to finish a big project in one day.
In our slowly reopening world, we are all being challenged to display a little more patience. I know that waiting for the studio to reopen fully has been testing the patience of our students and team alike.
I commend our community for being so careful during the stay at home order and as we progress through the pandemic’s phases. I have heard many heartening stories about how you are taking care of yourselves and others. I am really proud to be a part of such a compassionate and thoughtful group!
While we will gradually open up a bit more this month, 5KY's management team is very conscious of our duty to keep our community safe. We know that some of you will want to return to classes at the studio right away and others will prefer to keep streaming our online classes at home.
We want to honor both choices. We are taking this time to implement new systems to make sure the messy middle of this pandemic is as safe and smooth for you as possible.
Our aim is to open a couple of in-studio classes by mid-July to start. In the meantime, don't forget we are co-hosting a fundraiser with The FIT Institute for My Block, My Hood, My City with a Rooftop Yoga class on July 11th!
I think we are all realizing that (safely) reopening is going to take more time and effort than we initially envisioned early this spring. The phases may not proceed neatly. At times it may even feel like we are moving backward.
Even so, we are making progress little by little. Someday, things will come back to a sense of normalcy. But until then, our patience is being tested.
In this spirit, I’d like to offer some practical tips on developing patience I’ve gathered as I work to reform my own impatience.
Some of the ideas are tools we can use in our yoga and meditation practice. These are things we can work on every time we return to our mat or meditation cushion.
The rest are activities I turn to when strong feelings of impatience rear up every so often. These activities can be done with regularity on any schedule that suits you.
In the end, we should know the nature of impermanence and trust that the discomfort will pass as we continue to work on ourselves. I hope that we will all be able to channel this potent energy into positive changes that last well beyond the current moment.
Five Keys Yoga Studio joins in mourning the horrific and senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the many other lives of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) lost to systematic racism and police violence. We condemn the loss of these lives and the trauma it inflicts upon innocent families and communities.
We stand with those in our Chicago community and nationwide who battle discrimination every day of their lives. The destruction of property exhibited by bad actors of civil liberty are not reflective of a community of underrepresented individuals trying to make the best life for their families, friends and selves. We believe strongly that diversity is what makes this country and city so very special.
We are one race of people looking for a better life and anyone who believes otherwise is part of the problem. Together, as a unified voice against injustice we have the ability to make real change.
June brings many rays of sunshine - the summer solstice, International Day of Yoga, and Father's Day are all celebrated June 21st this year!
Although Father's Day comes the month after Mother's Day, dads don't come after moms in our hearts. The order of these holidays seems to express the innate humility fathers embody. It is this humility that we celebrate as our theme this month.
Nobody cares whether you can put your legs behind your head in your coffin.
- Rod Stryker
The hallmark of care-taking is a willingness to set aside one's ego and humble oneself to the circumstances. I think of some of the great fathers I know, patiently explaining a complicated concept in a way their five year old can understand, practicing yoga with a child hanging off of them, or offering reassuring guidance in moments of challenge.
These are all expressions of humility. When we step aside to let the one growing and learning accomplish their goals on their own, but remain a constant support in the wings.
Much like we can all practice motherhood with ourselves, so we can father ourselves - remaining consistent and having faith we'll figure it out if we keep going. Creating the power to change without our ego clouding the way.
Yoga and meditation are fantastic training grounds for humility. In fact, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali warn about letting your ego get in the way. Once a person becomes adept at a few yoga poses and sitting still in meditation, the ego may start to feel pretty proud.
While working to continually improve within your practice is a good thing, once the ego is involved, development is halted. The ego tends to hold on to the final product, whereas the heart prioritizes the process.
Once the ego has determined "I've accomplished it," no further progress is possible. But a heart-centered approach is continually evolving, responsive to life as it is right now. Not holding onto a fancy pose you did ten years ago but now hurts.
Our teacher, Sonia Sumar, often tells us we need to "stop fighting with the position." She explains that we must find the zero-point of each position, where we are moving to our limits but completely comfortable and in control. "Only then," she always follows up, "are you practicing yoga."
Yoga asks us to meet our mind and body where it is at this very moment. We have to humble ourselves and listen to the signals our body is telling (or in some cases, screaming) at us. Once we do that, we will progress. No question.
This is the purpose of a lifelong practice like yoga. As we develop, our understanding of these practices deepens beyond the body and even the mind, toward the very essence of ourselves.
In the words of Swami Satchidananda, we become more easeful, peaceful, and useful by developing our practice beyond the level of the ego. Instead, we move our attention to our heart. That is what fatherhood is all about!
Then, our practice - whether within our practice as yogis or as fathers (to ourselves or others) - becomes a service to humanity, a place to find permanent peace and joy, and a practice of surrendering to our place in the universe. And isn't that more worthwhile than putting your legs behind your head?
"What compassion really means is a relationship between equals."
Recently, I was overcome by feelings of grief. We are all processing the last weeks and many of us are working through a realization that the world will never be the same.
In the U.S., we are often encouraged to push away feelings of sadness or discomfort. Whether this is due to discomfort with sitting with our own or another person's emotions, or a fear that another person's pain will cause us pain, pushing feelings away is a surefire way to kindle them further.
Then, we may turn to anger, alcohol, drugs, unhealthy food, or any other maladaptive coping mechanisms we are prone to. We stuff away these feelings in avoidance, never realizing they are only fermenting and growing more explosive each day we avoid them.
Although yoga is often thought of as exercises for the body, yogis practicing at 5KY know that there are many more layers we're accessing through our practices. In yogic philosophy, there are five layers (koshas) that cover and give expression to the true self within each of us.
There is, of course, the bodily layer. That part of us made up from the food we (or our mothers, when we are in utero) eat. The next layer, which is slightly more subtle, is that part of us made up of our breath. Oxygen energizes the physical body and helps us act.
Beyond this layer, is the layer of our instinctual mind. This is distinct from the "wise" part of our mind that is responsible for observing the fluctuations of thought and controlling our responses to stimuli.
So for example, our instinctual mind may smell something really tasty cooking and think, "I'm hungry. I need to have that right away." Our wise mind may tell us "no, I'm in the middle of my work. I just ate two hours ago. I can wait until dinnertime."
Though this wise mind is useful in reigning in instinctual impulses that don't serve us in the long run, sometimes our instinctual mind cries out with such urgency that we must listen. So how do we combine honoring and controlling our emotions, especially in times like this?
The answer is compassion. In Sanskrit, compassion is called Karuna. Karuna is that sweet sadness we feel when we observe another being in distress.
Sometimes we get swept up in this sadness and start to empathize with the pain of the other. Although empathy can create a powerful connection, when we are stuck in the same emotion as the being we empathize with, we are unable to offer real help. Compassion allows us to feel for the being's pain, without creating additional suffering (within ourselves).
One helpful tool from psychology I often employ when feeling overwhelmed by empathy, is discerning between my "circle of control" versus my "circle of influence". Most of us are very concerned about the well-being of our loved ones, our neighbors, our city, and our planet.
But it is not within our influence to correct every mistake we see. When we try to influence things out of our control, we find fear. And fear will always lead to anger and sadness. Fear, anger, and sadness may be emotionally potent but they are also powerless to create feelings joy, love, wonder, or peace.
Furthermore, when we act out of fear, anger, and sadness, we may impose our own will upon another. Not accepting our lack of influence in the situation, we use strategies that work for us and try to control others. When our feeble attempts at controlling something wholly out of our control fail, we only feel more fear. The cycle repeats.
Karuna is the middle path between pushing our emotions away and overly involving ourselves in the feelings of fear, anger, and sadness. We can feel compassion for those suffering at this moment, for the whole planet even.
We can also feel compassion for our own emotions. Then, give ourselves the opportunity to turn toward courage, love, and joy, as an antidote to our suffering. It's a practice and it takes time.
Through this compassionate attention to our own emotions, we will begin to feel the unity behind all diversity. We will stop causing pain to ourselves, others, and to the planet. We will see the solutions to ending suffering for all beings with whom we co-exist. Only then can we say we have true equality: no divisions between individuals, countries, or even, species.
In service of this, I offer you a prayer I use during Metta or Loving-Kindness meditation, which has helped me cultivate feelings of courage, love, and joy in these dark days.
In each part, call to mind someone specific to whom you offer these thoughts. Sit with the prayer for each person and really try to feel what you are thinking.
I send my prayer that you are free from suffering and surrounded by peace, health, and happiness.
Boy, this has been the longest month we've ever had in a week! So much has happened. Like many of you, we are all trying to process this new reality.
One thing that has completely transformed my mood has been the ability to check in with people all over the world. From Chicago to Hong Kong, we are working on preventing the spread of this disease and staying sane at home.
I think it hasn't been easy for any of us. But as the daughter of parents in their 70s, I am humbled by the efforts of my neighbors to keep our precious elders safe. It is also remarkable to see everyday heroes coming through in all capacities.
Nurses, doctors, and first responders working long hours in risky conditions, to protect and heal others. Grocery and drug store workers showing up and risking their health and the health of their family for us, even though they get none of the glory. Teachers learning to teach remotely for the first time, on the fly. Parents, learning how to be a teacher on the fly. Think about all those amazing IT people keeping us connected in our Zoom meetings!
All of us have been asked to be more flexible and wear several different hats. To take care of others and ourselves better. To be compassionate and patient and generous. To learn what we can do without. To discriminate between the real and the unreal, the permanent and the impermanent These are all yogic values.
That is why yoga and mindfulness masters go on pilgrimages - from Buddha to Swami Satchidananda. To get away from worldly desires and connect to the true self within each of us.
At this time especially, I am so blessed to have the support of a guru, or spiritual guide. Guru means remover of the darkness. I think this translation of guru is an important distinction. What does it mean?
It means that whether we realize it or not, there is always light. But our monkey mind clouds our heads with thoughts of darkness: things we desire and don't have, things we don't want and avoid, things we have but are afraid to lose.
The guru is the entity (whether in the flesh, passed on from the flesh, or the guru that resides deep within each of our hearts) that removes those thoughts of darkness and reveals the never-ending source of light within us. Which is peace. I promise you, you have that guru within you.
So although things feel extremely difficult right now, remember that this is all temporary. Eventually, this will pass and we will be left with the lessons we've learned. Pain, surely, but not necessarily suffering.
You have a choice. You can let your monkey mind cloud your thoughts and emotions with darkness. Or you can use this time to listen to the guru inside and take better care of yourself, others, and your surroundings.
We are here to support that. This is what yoga does best! So we are thrilled to offer a HUGE variety of free and donation-based online programs for our community. From an intro to yoga class, to a breathing and meditation practice, to a chair yoga class, to kids' yoga classes, to yoga for reducing eye strain (after all those hours looking at a screen...) Keep your eye out for other, future free offerings.
Meanwhile, our regularly scheduled classes continue streaming online. This has been quite an experiment for us but has also been very successful so far! We'd love to see you at those classes too. This is a hard time for small businesses, but with the support of the community, we can get through it.
Thank you for your support now and always.
Mantra of Peace
Just some thoughts about yoga as I go...
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