Tag Archives: Yoga Sutras

Chisel Away

As many of you who have taken class with me can attest, I hold a high regard for yoga’s teachings, for the opportunity of self-study with the hope of moving further and further away from what binds us to the physical and tangible and allows us to connect to a place of non-suffering, a place of heightened consciousness and connection to that which is unchanging. Basically, I fully believe in and endorse moving away from the daily events that we find ourselves constantly managing, reacting to, and trying to avoid, while keeping in the forefront of our minds that there’s something greater than all that, a higher energy source that is makes up everything we are. It’s through the connection to the energy that unites us all that I find inspiration to continue exploring not only myself, but all aspects of humanity as well…understanding that the more I learn about myself, the more I learn about humanity, and vice versa. Sometimes it’s way too easy to be completely oblivious to our own habits and behaviors, because we don’t see ourselves moving through our lives the same way we see others…we’re not (hopefully ;-)) holding a mirror up to ourselves to watch our every move and gesticulation, but we can always depend on others to give us more insight into ourselves. The more we know about ourselves, the more we can stand back to a place of equanimity and look at what we need to do to make ourselves be truly seen and heard as we are, as our true selves are. It may sound ridiculously easy, but it has proven to be incredibly tough for many people.

I’m constantly trying to inspire new ways to look at our existence to my students and readers, incorporating the Yoga Sutras and other texts, as well as the insight I have as a result of my experiences…and I’m constantly talking about the impermanence of our energy, of trying to re-connect to the source of that energy and let go of the dramas that are constantly stirred up by our jobs, our relationships, our politics, etc…I firmly believe that when we can identify and relegate most of what we do and live as being temporary, it will allow us to live our lives with more perspective and be able to let what really doesn’t matter pass us by with little or no fallout. I try to ask questions that will provoke thought for those listening to me, in the hope that people will take as much time as they can for some self-study…and in keeping with that ultimate goal, something crossed my mind earlier today that I thought was worth sharing.

I have been defining yoga for years as a tool that allows us to be the clearest version of ourselves, a tool which allows that version to shine through the years of defense mechanisms and masks that we have slapped on in the hopes of being socially accepted and acceptable. Analyzing this led me back to something I once heard about Michelangelo…I remember hearing that when he wanted to sculpt anything, a man, an animal, whatever, he simply started removing the excess marble or other type of rock until his subject was visible. Just like that, like unearthing something that was submerged underground and simply brushing off the dirt. And so bringing it back to ourselves, maybe that’s a different angle from which to approach making ourselves visible…really visible…blindingly visible, maybe for the first time in decades…what do you need to chisel away, what do you need to remove so that you can be truly seen as you truly are to the world around you? We often believe that we have to assume other roles or personae in the aim of being respected and acknowledged, but the contrary is actually true. What make us shine is when we stand out from the crowd and inspire others to feel empowered to do the same. It’s not about being anyone else except yourself.

Living a life in yoga brings many things to mind, one of which is the subject of reincarnation. I’m not sure how many of us believe in reincarnation, and I’m not sure how many of believe we only get one life. But I know that  many of us live as if we have unlimited lifetimes ahead of us, affording us the time to coast through life with little regard for our well-being and that of the people and world around us. So I have a(nother) question to throw out to you all: what if we only get one life? What if this is it? If this is the only one we’re offered, and time is a non-renewable resource, what do you need to shed to be able to come closer to the surface of your truest, clearest self? I’ve heard it said that we spend the first half of our lives learning, and the second half unlearning what took years to learn so that we can come back to our natural state of being. What do you need to unlearn? Do you need to shed anything? Think about what you’ve done to make the “right” impressions…and then think about what might need to be undone. You have the chisel and you know the subject. Now it’s time to let us know. Let us see. And step up into the light so we can see you. We’re waiting.

Learn more about YIOM, follow the bloggers participating, and catch up with our twitter feeds at http://theveganasana.com/YIOM.

Instinctually Speaking

Our annual Centre Luna Yoga Spring yoga retreat has come to an end, and now that I’m back home, languishing in the drizzle of cold rain and misty fog (beach? did someone say beach?), I thought I’d share one of the most interesting insights I brought back with me from our time in gorgeous Tulum, Mexico.

I remember from my past career what inevitably happened every time I found myself on vacation or with time off – my body would somehow break down, usually to lesser degrees than are insinuated with that expression…a cold here, a flu there, etc…My trip to Tulum started off with a similar, albeit shorter, physical reaction: I passed a kidney stone within 2 hours of landing. The first inkling of trouble was detected as we made our way to the retreat centre in our shuttle bus. The pain was new to me, the worries of possibly having to spend time in a hospital stressful (to say the least), but once we got to Retiro Maya, it all resolved itself. I suppose I may be responsible for setting the tone for the other retreat members, because as the week progressed, some of the participants went through other physical tests including gall stones, an outbreak of eczema, an eye infection, and a plethora of mild digestive issues. My reaction to the kidney issue, the gradual onset of fear and worry, seemed to jump from person to person as each situation arose, and as it travelled onwards, I could stand back and objectively examine exactly what was going on.

I spoke to my class on the retreat about Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and one evening I highlighted Sutras 7 & 8 from Book Two, the Portion on Practice that discusses attachment and aversion. Attachment is most commonly defined as identification to those experiences that we deem as being pleasurable, and aversion as identification to those experiences that we deem as being painful. The second each of us who felt our physical bodies offering up something less than ideal became aware of whatever “problem” we were dealt, the aversion kicked in…the irritation, the worry, the fear…all by-products of the greater fear, that of death. Our own mortality was offered up to us in the guise of our ailments, and as opposed to the concern we each felt in the moment, I have walked away from the experience with a deeper understanding of myself and ourselves as a collective unit. That fear of death is the underlying fear of all fears, the instinctive desire to grasp onto life and never let go, our survival mechanism. It is exactly that fear of death that is now under examination in my life. I believe that once this fear is delved into and deconstructed, it will have less of a hold on me and my life will be freer to have a clearer outlook on that which is temporary and fluctuating, regardless of how it may affect me on a physical plane.

With all that in mind, I once again found myself deep in the Sutras, a reference that has never failed me yet. Lo and behold, I found what I was seeking, the source of my information embodied in Book 2, Sutra 9 – Clinging to life, flowing by its own potency (due to past experiences), exists even in the wise. The interpretation of this Sutra (by Sri Swami Satchidananda) is excerpted as follows: Many Westerners don’t believe in reincarnation. They feel, “It’s all over when we die.” But the Yoga philosophy reminds us that all our knowledge comes through experience. Without experience we cannot understand or learn anything. Even books can only remind us of something we have experienced in the past. They help kindle a fire that is already in us. That fire must be there first for the kindling stick to kindle it. ..Yoga says instinct is a trace of an old experience that has been repeated many times and the impressions have sunk down to the bottom of the mental lake. Although they go down, they aren’t completely erased. Don’t think you ever forget anything. All experiences are stored in the chittam; and when the proper atmosphere is created, they come to the surface again. When we do something several times it forms a habit. Continue with that habit for a long time, and it becomes our character. Continue with that character and eventually, perhaps in another life, it comes up as instinct…In the same way, all of our instincts were once experiences. That’s why the fear of death exists. We have died hundreds and thousands of times. We know well the pang of death. And so, the moment we get into a body, we love it so much that we are afraid to leave it and go forward because we have a sentimental attachment to it…if your old body is taken away…you must get a new one. Many people do not know this and cling to the body even when it gets old and dilapidated. That constant clinging, breaking away, clinging again, breaking away is why we are mortally afraid of death.

Need I say more on the subject?

Despite the aforementioned tests, our retreat was a full week of joy, light, love, and bonding. A literal re-connection to the earth and all its elements was experienced by each and every one of us…the stars and planets close enough to touch, the ever present, constant roaring of the ocean, the mighty gusts of wind, the almost-magnetic energy of the Mayan ruins and all the surrounding land, and the non-stop laughter we were privy to made this retreat a series of perfect moments, a true reminder of everything we are blessed with in this life.

And so I emerge from this retreat with a deeper insight into life, hungrier than ever to continue learning and being able to share whatever I come across…all bringing me back to where I began, back to the source.

Enter Yoga

There’s no better time than the next couple of weeks to really put into practice all those concepts, ideas and philosophies we’ve been discussing in my classes over the past 6 months. The Holiday season is so multifaceted, and as non-dual as we try to be, there more often than not seems to be both beautiful and not-so-beautiful things about this time of the year, depending on our day-to-day existences and what we are exposed to and surrounded by. The uglier side of this time of the year was made glaringly obvious to me when I worked in retail, where I was privy to stressed out shoppers battling each other for merchandise to buy as gifts with money they rarely wanted to part with, all of which was exacerbated by having to line up to pay for said gifts while their parking meters ran out. I have also lived vicariously through the tales of familial woe relayed to me by friends who have grown to associate the Holidays with inevitable blowups between themselves and their parents/siblings/children/etc… Running into obstacles and conflict is par for the course at this time of the year, if only because almost everyone is living the exact same reality simultaneously, which is bound to result in chaos. Enter Yoga.

Yoga is described by millions of people as millions of things. I personally view Yoga as the opportunity to be the best version of ourselves possible, and to be able to project that version for anyone and everyone to see and be inspired by. The Yoga Sutras define Yoga as “the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind”, or for those Sanskrit lovers out there, “Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodhah.” Using both these definitions, we can go into the craziness that typically is the Holiday season and practice equanimity, in the hopes that the way we approach, manage and reflect back on these opportunities to come together emerge forever changed.

Many of the Yogic texts and literature that I’ve come across speak to the impermanence that we live with, the ups and downs that we live through and which affect us all differently, based on our individual upbringings and adopted defence mechanisms. The Western approach to life is largely dictated by these events, which typically shape us and imprint themselves on our psyches, feeding the Kleshas that we are attempting to break free from. Understanding that life is inevitably a series of ups and downs is the first step in understanding how we can affect change in our own lives, and to those around us. When these events occur, whether they be negative or positive in the manner they imprint themselves on us, the best thing we can do is take note of what’s going on around us, and try to see it all from an objective point of view. I like to suggest seeing the events as if they were written down in a newspaper, as if they were happening to others…this gives us the opportunity to check ourselves before our egos and emotions get the better of us, and allows us to connect to our inner selves in order to deal with them. This does not mean that we don’t participate in what’s occurring, nor does it insinuate that we’re not affected by the events, but it does give us the luxury of assuming the role of observer, however temporary we adopt it. Understanding and recognizing the events that are fleeting, that are impermanent (regardless of whether the repercussions are permanent or not) also provides the opportunity to recognize that which is not fleeting, which is permanent and to which we should be directing our attentions to. The ties that connect us all to each other are permanent. Our innate, collective energy and essence is permanent. Love is permanent. Tuning into all of this through whatever form one’s meditation assumes is what will see us through life with the least amount of chaos and wasted energy, and is also the instrument that will change the way we see the Holiday season.

I’m not sure if it’s due to the first snowfalls, the opportunities to present each other with gifts, or the impending closure of the current year leading into a new one, but this time of year always seems magnificently energetic. The change in acoustics provided by a generous layer of snow definitely adds to that energy, but there really is such a vibration of peace all around us leading into the beginning of the new year. For myself, it most often takes the form of silence, the purest and most primordial silence in which I search for OM, the vibration of the universe that exists in, underneath, and in the absence of silence. The opportunity to reflect on the past 12 months and inject the next 12 ones with hope and love also plays a role in that magical energy. Recognizing all the possibilities for beauty and hope that exist throughout our lives becomes so much more tangible as we move from one calendar year into another, and it is therein that lies the permanence that infuses our existence. Tapping into that allows us to recognize the stresses and traumas, and, conversely, the joys and triumphs, that occur in our lives as simply that: occurring. They do not define our lives, which is a very important distinction to make. These moments are temporary, and remembering and understanding that is what will get us through them with grace, humility and compassion.

I urge everyone to make the most out of the coming weeks…to appreciate what and who we have in our lives, to look for and find the common threads that unite us all, and to let the brightest, purest, least blurry version of ourselves to shine through for everyone to see. Live consciously and let yourselves be present in every given moment, and, most of all, don’t expend unnecessary energy and time on those “fluctuations of the mind.” It is in this mind-space that we can transition into 2010, and into another year filled with hope, love and spirituality. Happy Holidays to everyone, and the Happiest & Healthiest of New Years 🙂

Surprising Myself

I never graduated from college, nor did I even dip more than a toe into the proverbial university pond. As a student in high school I was bright and competent, graduating with honours and figured that I would continue to excel throughout the rest of my studies, which obviously would include at least one degree. Then I found myself in CEGEP, and everything I thought I had figured out for myself was turned upside down.

I enrolled in Creative Arts, which basically meant that I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life and was content studying everything from English to Religious Cults and Sects. I liked what I was studying, without question, but the fact that I seemed to be going through the motions for no apparent reason aside from making my parents happy started to take its toll, and I found myself attending fewer and fewer classes until I eventually dropped out at the end of the first semester. It all boiled down to one thing: I felt like I was wasting my time. Nothing in my curriculum stood out as something that I could envision myself pursuing indefinitely, and so I took some time off to process the direction my life had veered off on, and then decided that I was being too self-indulgent, that no one loved what they studied and that I should just focus and get back to school. This time I figured that I should choose something more specialized, so I enrolled at Lasalle College in Fashion Marketing and Merchandising. Once again, I found myself mildly interested in the world I was being exposed to, and once again, I was feeling like I was wasting my time. This sentiment finally came to a head (once again at the end of the first semester) when one of our teachers announced to us that at the end of the 3-year, $12,000 program, we would be qualified to be a retail store manager. I wish I could have seen my face, because I literally heard brakes screeching in my head, and the first thought I was aware of after being granted that lovely tidbit of information was that I was once again wasting my time, and that if I wanted to be a retail store manager, I could do it on my own the old-fashioned way…by starting at the bottom and working my way up. So that’s exactly what I did. Looking back on it, I find it interesting that I had absolutely no interest in retail, but I suppose that I felt like I had been presented with a challenge and that I was going to do what was necessary to become a retail store manager. Once I had achieved my goal, I was approached by a head-hunter from another retailer and I went to work for a new retail company, where I stayed for 12 years. All because I wanted to prove something to myself.

So many emotions are intertwined in my past as a student as well as that of my past career. Because I never completed a program at a higher level of education, because I never got that ever-elusive degree, I always felt “less-than.” I felt like I had somehow failed, and it became my Achilles heel. Despite growing in my career and laying the foundation for the life I always wanted to live for myself, I always felt like the odd guy out, and it naturally became part of my psyche, allowing me to cast myself as inferior and with a minute, yet ever-present chip on my shoulder. I also find it fascinating that only now when I look back at the experience can I clearly see how incredible it was that I was so confident in my capabilities that I literally walked out of school, preferring to work my way to where I thought I should be as opposed to getting some sort of formal training. I have said before that I have an enormous amount of compassion for myself as a child and teenager, but this is the first time that I feel a sense of admiration towards who I was back then. Against everyone’s advice and at the expense of my own security, I did what I believed was right for me, and I was successful as a result of that.

Last month in teacher training (and shortly after my 36th birthday), I found myself in a familiar place – sitting among my teachers and fellow students, discussing postures and theorizing about philosophies and some of the yogic teachings. Participating in the exchange of ideas and experiences is such an integral part of this training that I was really taken by surprise when I heard my own voice in my head say, “This is my classroom.” I’ve been hearing it reverberate ever since. I never thought I would find that educational forum that I had been desperately lacking in my earlier existence, and I had absolutely given up on it, knowing that an academic life was not within the realm of what I wanted for myself, nor was a career as a business person. With those four words, I suddenly felt a great weight lift, and as much as I’d like to say that I can completely detach from my ego and not allow myself to react to the exterior factors Patanjali speaks about in the Yoga Sutras, I felt a rush of awareness and happiness wash over me, and I’m still somewhat recovering from it.

For the first time in my life, I love what I’m doing. I now understand what people mean when they say that there aren’t enough hours in the day, because I now am trying to accomplish so much with an apparent shortage of hours to do it in. I now understand ambition, whereas I used to think that ambitious people were simply motivated by something in their youth which propelled them to never give up, which inadvertently would result in their success. I feel like I have never been more comfortable in my own skin and that my path has never been more brightly illuminated, and I’m a little stunned that this has happened. Elated, but stunned. And, now, insanely empowered.

I want to see more guidance for those who find themselves in a situation similar to the one I slugged through when I was younger, trying to find my way. In a world replete with options, I found myself overwhelmed by the possibilities, which ultimately resulted in my withdrawing from that world. The more visible we are as a yoga community, the more chance there is of helping someone like who I was to find his or her calling and to steer that person towards their ideal classroom. Don’t misunderstand me – I would not change one thing about where my path took me, because I discovered monumentally more about myself that I would have in school, and that has allowed me to grow into who my ideal self was when I was younger. However, there were moments when I was crying out for someone to help me out in a way that would give me the direction I craved. I want to be that person who helps someone else out, and I want to be responsible for creating a movement or organization of like-minded yogis and yoginis who are able to band together and work towards a common, collaborative goal to illuminate the paths of others.

It has been 20 years in the works, but I have finally achieved a degree of achievement in my studies, and I think that it’s important for people to know that school really isn’t for everyone, at least not the conventional schools that see the hoards of billions pass through every year. I am fortunate enough to have arrived at a point in my life where I can let go of the inferiority complex that dug its way into my consciousness and made itself comfortable. And so I’m more grateful than these words can express.