A Loving-Kindness Meditation Practice: Relationships and Self

A Loving-Kindness Meditation Practice: Relationships and Self

Attending a guided meditation with Alejandro at Yoga Mala this Wednesday morning, I was reminded of a practice that has been and continues to be transformative for me. The practice, which comes from the Metta tradition of Buddhism is focused on cultivating Maitri, or loving-kindness/unlimited friendliness. Every time I use this beautiful tool, I am surprised by what comes up for me, and the way the contemplation gently guides me to a new level of acceptance, sublimating negativity with positive and peaceful feelings around all the relationships in my life – including those that are most difficult. In this Maitri meditation practice, you visualize your relationships, moving sequentially through four of them specifically. It begins with yourself, then moves to a person you care greatly about and find easy to love, then to a person about whom you are dispassionate—perhaps a mere acquaintance, and finally, it focuses your intention on a difficult person – someone who seems to create obstacles in your life and for whom it may be hard to feel the love. For each relationship, you internally repeat the phrases below substituting the word “I” the first time, then substituting the name of the person you are visualizing in each successive iteration: May (I/they) be well. May (I/they) be free of suffering and the root causes of suffering. May (I/they) know happiness and the root causes of happiness. As you progress through the meditation you may find as I have, that the heart feels more spacious, and less restricted. With repeated practice, the emotional knots that exist around our relationships may be loosened and untied to allow more clarity and a deeper more relaxed experience in the present moment. Yoga practitioners will note that the chant often used as a prelude to asana practice broadly expresses the same intention as the Maitri practice: Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu  One literal translation of these Sanskrit words is this: May all beings be centered in happiness and joy, free from suffering. May they know the divine state of unified existence. May I participate in making it so. Namaste, Nancy Nancy is a co-owner and yoga teacher at Yoga Mala. She has been studying and practicing yoga since 1973. Her Vinyasa Flow classes invite students to use their own body’s intelligence as they move through guided sun salutations and balanced asana sequences. Her teaching is inspired by direct observation of the restorative and transformative benefits that follow from intention and...

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Aparigraha (Non-possessiveness, Non-grasping)

Aparigraha (Non-possessiveness, Non-grasping)

Aparigraha is one of the five yamas of the Eight-Limbed Path as outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.             Definitions of aparigraha: Non-acceptance, renouncing (of possessions besides the necessary utensils of ascetics) Non-reception of gifts which are too luxurious or bind you to the giver Non-coveting (covet=to want something [that you do not have] very much; yearn to possess or have something) Non-grasping In Sanskrit, the a at the beginning of a word means ‘not’ or ‘non,’ making it the opposite or absence of parigraha. Definitions of parigraha: Attachment to material objects Acquisitive & accumulative behavior, greed, possessiveness Egoistic possessiveness (similar to grasping), making things one’s own Right off, we can look at our desire for material objects. Honestly assess what you need in your life in this moment, and if you have a habit of becoming obsessed with new objects. Shopping can be an addiction, and the new item does not bring lasting happiness or make the craving go away. Pitfalls within the practice. As yoga practitioners (or teachers) we might feel like we’ve given up the ‘material’ habit, but have we replaced a craving for gold and jewels with a craving for designer yoga pants and spiritual status? Be aware that the yoga industry preys on the common human problem of yearning to possess things, and use discernment when navigating the current world of pop-yoga culture. I gave up reading a popular yoga magazine many years ago when I was a beginning teacher. I noticed, after flipping through the glossy pages that I would become overwhelmed with an almost painful desire for new, expensive yoga pants! (How could I ever teach again in my boring old clothes?) Or, I would suddenly feel the desperate need to book myself on an exotic (and expensive) yoga retreat to learn the next new ‘style’ of yoga with the most in-demand teachers. (The savvy ads ooze inner peace and exclusive access to the mysteries of enlightenment.) A few moments later, I would wake up, and remember that I got a similar miserable, not-good-enough feeling when flipping through fashion magazines as a teenager. I gave those up in my early 20’s and found great relief. Advertisers craft irresistible images to sell us stuff. We have to be mindful, and discerning in our relationship with possessions: material, intellectual, and spiritual. Another way aparigraha can trip us up around yoga is in our asana practice. We can become desperate pose-collectors, destroying hamstrings and knees just to achieve the next pose. Ultimately the poses are also possessions. We won’t be able to take them with us when we die. Hopefully, we will see that there’s no big magical secret in the...

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Ashtanga Yoga, and Delving into the Eight Limbs of Practice

Ashtanga Yoga, and Delving into the Eight Limbs of Practice

In my classes over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at what are generally known as the Eight Limbs of Yoga as written by Patañjali in the Yoga Sūtras. I’s my understanding that Ashtanga Yoga is named such because Guruji, Shri K. Pattabhi Jois wanted his students to become and remain grounded in the practice of all of these Eight Limbs. In Sanskrit, ashta=eight and anga=limb. Many yoga lineages consider the Eight Limbs and the Yoga Sūtras an important part of the teachings and practice. Here are four versions/translations of Verse 28 from the Sādhana Pāda, or Book II (2) of the Yoga Sūtras: II-28 “By dedicated practice of the various aspects of yoga impurities are destroyed: the crown of wisdom radiates its glory.” from B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali II-28 “From the practice of the component exercises of Yoga, on the destruction of impurity, arises spiritual illumination which develops into awareness of Reality.” from I.K. Tamni’s The Science of Yoga: The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali II-28 “Through the practice of the different limbs of Yoga, when impurities are destroyed, there arises enlightenment culminating in discriminative enlightenment.” from Richard Freeman’s Teacher’s Intensive (Manual) II-28 “By embracing Ashtanga Yoga, the Eight-Faceted Path, Intuitive Wisdom dawns and reveals our inner radiance.” from Nischala Joy Devi’s The Secret Power of Yoga: A Woman’s Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras. II-29 Lists the Eight Limbs, which I’ve described in another post, here. In the classes I teach, which are introductions and modified (short) versions of the Ashtanga Vinyasa Primary Series, any outside observer would notice we practice āsana and prānāyāma. For this discussion, we can think of āsanas as the postures. Our prānāyāma (liberating the breath/prāna) practice involves steadying our inhales and exhales, and ujjayi breathing. It can also be said that we practice various degrees of pratyāhāra (turning the senses inward), dhāraṇā (concentration), and dhyāna (meditation) during a class, or at home on the mat. Over the next few weeks and months, we will explore these ideas, as well as the yamas (ethical restraints) and niyamas (observances). How do these concepts apply within our practice on the mat? How do they apply in our lives outside of a yoga class? Does this mean we are working towards practicing yoga 24/7? What parts of the practice are we consciously or unconsciously evading? In class and upcoming essays, I’ll refer to various translations of the Yoga Sūtras.  Don’t just take my word for it. Get a copy for yourself. (There are links in the book titles above, and there are many more excellent translations.) Study the Sanskrit. Investigate different translations and commentaries. Notice the subtle...

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Ahimsa: Non-Violence

Ahimsa: Non-Violence

Ahimsa (non-violence) is an important part of yoga philosophy, and one of the yamas (guidelines for living well) on the eight-fold path (eight limbs) of yoga. We can think of this in many ways. Non-violence towards others. It may be obvious that we do not want to harm or kill other humans. We also want to root out violence in our feelings, thoughts, words and actions towards all beings. Are passive-agressive remarks to your friend or spouse violent? What about violent thoughts about the driver that cut you off in traffic? If we take more resources than we need, are we being violent towards other people? towards animals? towards nature? Is eating meat violent towards animals? Is eating mass-produced, highly processed fake-meat products loaded with GMOs and preservatives less violent than eating a chicken raised humanely by your neighbor on a nourished piece of earth? Every action we take has far-reaching results, and we can do our best to be informed and act according to our principles. There may not be easy answers. When these subtle and complicated gray areas arise, we can sit with the ideas. We may watch our own feelings or thoughts, and notice any corresponding internal conflict. There’s no need to create more internal conflict by beating ourselves up. All we can do is our best at this moment. We are growing our awareness. Notice how your actions and words make you feel. Do you feel better or worse if you respond angrily in a political debate? How do you feel if you listen, and take in the other person’s perspective, if just for a moment? “Hate does not drive out hate. Only love can do that.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr. & The Buddha Non-violence towards the self. Most spiritual teachers agree that non-violence actually begins with the self, and that any internal conflict reflects as conflict in the outside world. The good news is that we have the ability to reduce the internal conflict through meditation, yoga & self-awareness practices. “Either we accept the way of life as it is, with violence and all the rest of it; or we say there must be a different way which human intelligence can find, where violence doesn’t exist. That’s all. And we say this violence will exist so long as comparison, suppression, conformity, the disciplining of oneself according to a pattern is the way of life. In this there is conflict and therefore violence.” ~ J. Krishnamurti Kindness towards the self. When this all gets overwhelming, I like to come back to basic kindness towards the self. We can be very gentle with ourselves, very friendly towards the self. Laugh. That helps. Or cry. Whatever...

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The Moving Meditation of Ashtanga Yoga

The Moving Meditation of Ashtanga Yoga

Yoga is meditation. It’s about being present to whatever is going on in your body, in your mind, in your emotions, in your heart, in the world….. I currently teach two group classes at Yoga Mala in Bloomington: Ashtanga Primary Series (modified) at 6pm on Tuesdays, and Ashtanga Basics (modified & more introductory) at 5pm on Fridays. The Ashtanga primary series is a set, flowing sequence of poses, beginning with several sun salutations, and followed by many standing postures. These help us build a grounded, resilient foundation. Seated postures then bring us down to the earth, to the floor. The seated sequence in the primary series is organized around forward-bending, and may help us to release the past. We continue to unfold with backbending and inversions (legs-above-head). Now, we’ll have moved the body in all directions. Things will slow down on the physical level as we sit quietly in meditation, and practice subtle breathwork (pranayama). We end the 90-minute session with savasana, a reclined, restful pose. We can absorb the practice, and re-ground ourselves. All poses can be modified to suit an individual’s current needs. Remember, this is all about being present & not about forcing a body into a particular shape (despite what we may see in pictures or other bodies). Often, letting go of the need to look like your naturally flexible or gymnastically-talented neighbor on the next mat is part of the wisdom practice of yoga. This is not a competitive sport. This is learning to feel, hear, and experience what’s going on within your system in the moment. The practice is propelled by the breath, always grounded in the breath, or pranic life-force. We practice with awareness, and so develop our awareness. We learn to soften as we strengthen, to unite sun and moon, male and female, yin and yang, ha and tha (as in hatha yoga), deepening into our truest selves bit by bit. Here’s one thing I love about the Ashtanga sequences: we revisit the same poses, in the same order, time after time. They become like dear old friends: long-term relationships. We are able to sink ever more deeply into the subtleties of the body/mind/spirit via the asana practice—we know what poses are coming, and this flow becomes meditative. Really, this is all that we are up to: meditation. A big, whole body, feel-good, nourishing, awakening meditation. namaste~    ...

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The Eight Limbs of Yoga

The Eight Limbs of Yoga

There is more to hatha yoga than the postures (asana). Enjoy this simple introduction to the Eight Limbs:         1.yamas About boundaries: joyfully & purposefully reining our energies: ahimsa- non-violence satya – truthfulness asteya – non-stealing brahmacharya – non-indulgence aparigraha – non-possessiveness 2.niyamas shaucha – purity, cleanliness samtosha – contentment with exactly where we are tapas- austerity, wise effort svadhyaya – self-study Ishvara pranidhana – surrender to the divine, universal force, whatever name you give it 3.asana the physical and meditative postures. “Within a vibrant body the soul can carry a joyful mind.” 4.pranayama liberating the flow of energy via the breath. the science of the breath. prana=life force, yama=expansion. 5.pratyahara disentangling our senses, our mind & focusing in towards the soul, the deepest self. 6.dharana concentration. total, deliberate attention. 7.dhyana meditation. The union of taking the deep self outwards into the body, and the peripheral body into the deep self. Divisions fall away. 8.samadhi the pure state of spiritual absorption: one is fully at peace. the soul diffuses and harmonizes everywhere.   Compiled with help from these publications: Iyengar, B.K.S., 1988 The Tree of Yoga. Shambala Publications, Inc. Boston, MA. Swami Rama, 2005 “The Royal Road to Freedom.” Yoga International, May: 83 (64-73).      ...

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