• Finding a Balanced Path

    Yoga seems to be full of contradictions.  For instance, in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a text that codifies the path of Raja Yoga, Sage Patanjali lists running from pain/aversion as a Klesha/obstacle to yoga but then says “Pain, that has not yet come should be avoided”. 

    Patanjali says that we should practice non-attachment but we also should maintain a daily practice for a long time, without stopping and with faith and devotion.  The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a text that explains the path of Hatha Yoga, says that the yogi should follow no rules but then says you need a Guru and you should follow his/her rules.

    What is a yogi to do?

    Patanjali states that everything exists for our soul’s sake.  We are either here to experience the world or to liberate ourselves from the world. Everything in existence has characteristics that bind us or liberate us.  Everything has both/and.  You choose how to work with the universe/God’s creation/nature’s creation.

    At the very beginning of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali introduces the concept of both/and.  He lists thought patterns that can be both harmless and/or harmful.  For example, one of the thought patterns mentioned is memory. Without memory, we cannot do basic functions like drive a car or make breakfast. However, dwelling on events from our past can cause pain in our futures. Remembering why we come to our mats can help us maintain a consistent practice but clinging to our past physical accomplishments on the mat results in comparison and suffering. Our memories can be both a blessing and a curse all at the same time.

    To get a deeper understanding of working with paradox on the spiritual path, let’s go back to the examples in the first paragraph.  Should we or should we not avoid pain? In order to change, grow and evolve, we often must become uncomfortable.  For example, if you want to become more physically fit, you must endure the pain of sore muscles. This is good pain.  If you use improper form during your workout and become injured, this is the pain that should and could have been avoided.  Another type of pain, that may be beneficial to work with and not avoid, is emotional pain that keeps you yoked to fear, shame, anger, guilt and hate.  This type of pain keeps you locked in the Klesha of Avidya, ignorance of your true nature.  Avidya is an obstacle to yoga. On the flip side, if you had an unhealthy relationship with your ex that you healed from and they ask you on a date, that may be a type of pain that you would want to avoid.

    Now let’s look at yogic practices. If you have a mental tug of war whenever you miss practice, you are most likely attached to it.  This is not all bad. Sometimes, we have to baby step change. Going straight from stressed out mess to enlightenment may be too much of a stretch. A daily practice provides a systematized way of gradually working with our neurosis. As we slowly create new healthy patterns, it is important to occasionally reevaluate our practice and ask ourselves if our practice is leading us to freedom of bondage. The practice, when done properly, should create more freedom in your heart, soul and mind. As you become freer, you grow less attached to yogic techniques. Eventually, the yogi can keep his heart and mind light without the use of yogic techniques.

    Our last example will be Swami Svatmarama’s, the author of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, declaration that yogis should not follow rules, however they should follow their teacher’s rules.  While there have definitely been sages that didn’t make rules or honestly, even want students, who managed to teach students, yogic practices generally come with rules. Even if a teacher shows many different variations of Down Dog, there is still some idea of the general shape or purpose of a Down Dog which means there are rules for Down Dog.

    We cannot get around rules. The universe has rules. If you jump off your roof, you will not float up…unless you have super powers. We also will most likely always need someone else to teach us about rules. Our parents or care givers were our first teachers. They taught us that, even with a cape, if we jump off the roof, we will not fly but fall straight down.

    Though yoga is ultimately an individual journey, a yoga teacher ensures that the yogi has a good map for their journey.  So, when do we not follow rules? Swami Muktibodhananda, a teacher and commentator on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika says, “As far as social rituals and religious doctrines are concerned, it is unnecessary that they be maintained for spiritual progress. Sadhana (practice) is not dependent on social morals nor are its effects promoted by religious practices. Adhering to rules makes one narrow minded. Yoga is meant to expand the consciousness, not to limit it. A yogi should have a free and open mind.”

    As we practice, we get to know ourselves. Discernment grows and we understand what actions lead us further on the yogic journey, which ones are inconsequential and which ones stop progress.   Any rules that don’t serve the yogi or the greater good are questioned and possibly cast aside.  A great example of this is Gandhi, who used civil disobedience to protest British colonial rule.

    The quote, “A yogi does not do what is right. A yogi does what is appropriate” by Sadhguru is a really beautiful way of looking at paradox in the spiritual world. Every moment calls for a new and different action. What is right for one moment, may not be appropriate for another. Within every moment or person there lies the seeds of good and evil, death and life, growth and stagnation and/or liberation and bondage. Traversing the slope of paradox calls for a strong heart, a willingness to stay open and the ability to forgive.  We are human and flawed.  Because we hold the possibility for both/and, sometimes we will not do what is appropriate and we will not do what is right. Luckily, we can find our way back on the spiritual path as many times as we need. No effort is wasted and no one is ever permanently lost.

    By Shanna Small

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    Practice LIVE with Shanna Small on Omstars

    Shanna Small is the mind behind, The Ashtanga Yoga Project, a website and home for information on how to use the wisdom of Ashtanga Yoga in Modern life. Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC.  She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch.

    Photo credit: Wanda Koch Photography.

  • Maintaining Peace, Equanimity, and Authenticity

    I want to talk with you about what it means to maintain peace, equanimity, and authenticity in your walk in the world.

    As a yogi, it’s traditionally understood that you are held to a higher standard, which means that, as a yogi, you constantly have to tune back into yourself.  Maintaining an equanimeous mind and a compassionate open heart that simultaneously maintains the dual vows of what’s called in Sanskrit, Ahimsa, which means non-violence and truthfulness, or Satya.

    These two together will help you walk in the world, and truly live the yogi’s life. For it is not enough to only be truthful but you must also be compassionate.  And it is not enough only to be compassionate, for you must always be truthful. So, as a yogi in the world, it’s inevitable that you will come into contact with difficult situations, but you always have the benchmark of your daily practice.

    If you get on your mat everyday it will bring you back into your center, and if you don’t know how to act because you have interacted in the world or been stimulated by negativity, then the yogi’s teaching, or the yogi’s path, is to not act in anger. To not act out of jealously. To not act out of negativity, but instead, to remain calm, to redirect your mind back into the inner body until your mind maintains a calm and equanimous center.

    And only after the mind maintains a calm and equanimous center then compassionate, rightful action, that is simultaneously truthful and compassionate will be presented to you. And it will unfold almost like light shining on the path ahead.

    Continue this lesson with Kino on Omstars

     

    By Kino MacGregor

    Kino MacGregor is a world renowned yoga teacher, the youngest ever teacher to be certified in Ashtanga Yoga by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, author of several yoga books, and the founder of OMstars.com

     

  • Yoga Sūtra 1.23 –  Īśvara  Pranidhānād Vā.

    The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali are full of lessons rooted in ancient wisdom, all of which can be applied to your everyday life for more ease and peace of mind. Today, we’re breaking down one of Kino’s newest Yoga Sūtra lessons here on the blog – Yoga Sūtra 1.23 –  Īśvara  Pranidhānād Vā.

    To understand this Yoga Sūtra, you will first need a brief philosophical lesson from the Sānkhya school of thought, and a little background information about Patañjali’s approach to this philosophy. Sānkhya is a dualistic philosophy that is directed towards discovering and understanding the truth of life from a non-theistic point of view – one that is not rooted in devotion to the Divine. This dualism says that there are two fundamental natures of reality – the spirit, and the material – Pūruśa and Prakruti — and that these two remain eternally separate.

    What does this have to do with your yoga practice?

    First, the whole premise of yoga, according to Patañjali, seeks to remove the confusion between spirit and material. The root of suffering is the conflation of the spirit with the material. In other words when Pūruśa thinks it is Prakrti, it loses its true sense of self, which basically means, you don’t know who you really are.

    Yoga is also more than just a physical practice – it’s a lifestyle and it’s an act of devotion. As Patañjali spent time considering the philosophy of Sānkhya, he looked to the traditional teachings of the Vedas, and decided to re-integrate the concept of a Higher Power – Īśvara. Until that point in time, God was simply not something that was presented through Sānkhya. This is where yoga and devotion come together.

    As Patañjali developed his Yoga Sūtras, he used this approach to Sānkhya philosophy, which included his added representation of a Higher Power.

    And Patañjali says, Īśvara  Pranidhānād Vā – surrender to the Divine can lead to the same peace of mind that we strive for every day through the steady practice of yoga.

    Want to learn more? Kino has an entire series of videos devoted to studying the Yoga Sūtras available to all OmStars subscribers. Access the full lesson behind this Yoga Sūtra with Kino and check out her Yoga Sūtra Study course to learn more.

    By Alex Wilson

    Learn More About Yoga Sutra 1.23 On OmStars

  • Master These 3 Yoga Sutras

    The Yoga Sutras are a collection of aphorisms that teach yoga practitioners all about the 8 limbs of yoga. They are widely regarded as the leading authoritative text about yoga and they are teaming with wisdom that has been helping people live better lives for generations. This week, we are beyond excited to be sharing the insights of International yoga teacher, writer, and storyteller, Will Duprey, regarding 3 very important Yoga Sutras.

    Imagine your mind as one super awesome fiberoptic pathway to consciousness.

    Thoughts and impressions travel this pathway. They create safety and stability in an everchanging environment.

    The cycle of the mind fluctuates between clarity and coloring. Some thoughts are fair and some false but all are strong enough to create a perception.

    Sutra 4.19: Your mind is an object of perception.

    As Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood write, “The mind is not self-luminous; that is to say, it is not a light-giver, like the sun, but a light-reflector, like the moon,” in How to Know God.

    The outside world is in constant change. The change that your mind reflects is not a source of light, knowledge or truth. The mind perceives. Truth comes by association to sensation.

    Remember this Sutra as clarity in sensation, by the way you feel when in balance. 

    The internal energy you experience results only in a coherent mind. And your experiences grouped into the words like “energy” can be disarming.

    Yoga is not a process of accumulation but a doctrine of habit. Sensation is internal to you. It is your map.

    You achieve mental mastery through physical mastery, hatha yoga for the physical tempers the mental. The mind becomes one super awesome fiberoptic pathway to consciousness through allowing.

    When you are out of balance you will feel like you’re living on another planet. When in balance you feel the authentic you.

    Sutra 1.3: Abiding in your real nature.

    You practice with depth. Asana has become equal to the other limbs of yoga for you. You see effort and non effort and you allow — serenity within and surrender outside.

    With that comes a clearer image of you. Not you in the mirror or in doing, but the ever present part of you. The nameless sensation you carry within.

    The tangible goals, ambitions of your practice and life are more about clarity and truth rather than appearance. You smile. You can’t help it when you sit in steadiness, observing your radiant self, abiding in your real nature.

    Real nature is truth and that truth is your compass. Make yoga philosophy simple. Dharma is truth. When you move with this quality, contentment is a sure result.

    Aim your mind at moving with inner sensations and clarity.

    The mastery of the mind, raja yoga has no style.

    Sutra 2.42: Through contentment, you gain supreme joy.

    When you tie all the threads of inquiry together, the mind becomes clear in a different light.

    And the mind threads come together with a different clarity. You reveal an unchanged aspect of your heart.  That steadiness remains through progression and regression. You gain purpose and feel complete in life.

    Think of tying all the threads of inquiry together and through the mind you gain purpose. A completeness in living arising from yoga — direction.

    Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are an amazing treaty on raja yoga. They are not ready to consume and do require their own steadiness.

    Contemplation, or tarka is key. A crucial tool for making the jump from application (dharana) to allowing (dhyana) within mental mastery.

    The takeaway

    You are the takeaway. With extreme simplicity, without you there is not philosophy or thought. For this reason, yoga requires time and pressure…and room to absorb and live the practices.

    As you sit with comfort, become involved in these three contemplations:

    Your mind is an object of perception. Your mind, no matter how clear or clever is subject to misperception. And this is Patanjali’s entire treaty on suffering. When the mind is perceiving, it can operate from a false reality. Focus on internal sensation as a map.

    Abiding in your real nature. Your real nature is clarity. Simple, pure, as is. This will remind you to associate with inner sensation. Your internal energetic sensation will adapt to the environment around you as it remains steady and unchanged with purpose. That is your compass.

    Through contentment, you gain supreme joy. Through contentment you gain joy and not the other way around. Placing joy first establishes a seeking behavior of the mind. Your mind calculates external values as truths and the cycle can repeat. Find contentment in who you are through first two contemplations.

     

    By Will Duprey

    International yoga teacher, writer, storyteller, Will Duprey practices pranayama and meditation and is known for effortlessly combining classical theory with contemporary yoga methods.

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    Learn More About The Yoga Sutras On OmStars