What I’m teaching…Remain neutral

It’s so amazing how you can be at just the right place at the exact right time.  I caught a few minutes of the View the other afternoon on a break at work.  Paulina Pinsky, daughter of the famous addiction specialist “Dr. Drew” and former figure skater, was on the couch opening up about her 7-year battle with eating disorders. The ladies were asking about her recovery and how she deals with her body image today.

And she said, simply:

I remain neutral.

It could have been a phrase offered to her by specialists in her recovery or perhaps she came up with that articulation on her own. Either way, it was profound and I had never heard it before.  Remain neutral.  In other words, offer no judgement.  I can see how this strategy can be extremely helpful in healing an eating disorder, when the balance of judging body image as “good” or “bad”, “fat” or “skinny” is so delicate with so many consequences.

We can all cultivate more self-love and acceptance by remaining neutral in any temptation to self-judge or criticize.

Yoga practitioners aspire to follow the principle of ahimsa (non-violence, non-harming, non-injury), the first of the yamas (disciplines) which we learn about in the Yoga Sutras (II.35). Non-judgment is an important aspect of ahimsa, as the suffering that judging causes is harmful and painful.  To remain neutral gives permission NOT to judge.  It means there is no NEED to label.  There is no obligation to discern what is good or bad, right or wrong, appropriate or inappropriate.  Remaining neutral steers us away from suffering.  It’s a way to find more freedom in your life, relationships, yoga practice, or work.  When judgment turns to criticism, a portion of that negative, critical energy remains with you. It’s exhausting and painful to constantly carry that negative energy around with you.

It is possible to look on reality without judgment and merely know that it is there.

A Course in Miracles

Not to mention that often our judgements are misguided or incorrect. What we think we know to be truth, may actually be far from it. With more information, opinions shift and change.

eyore

So I think it’s a far safer and more healthy plan to remain neutral.  The next time you’re faced with the desire to cast a judgement, whether it be directed internally or externally, see how it feels to simply remain neutral.

 

What I’m teaching…Viparyaya

viparyaya विपर्यय

reversed, inverted, perverse, contrary to, unreal cognition, indiscrimination, perverse cognition, wrong knowledge, misconception, incorrect knowing, not seeing clearly

Sutra 1.8  mithyajnanam atadrupa pratistham- Misconception occurs when knowledge of something is not based upon its true form.

I was walking my dog last night. It was dark. We approached a mountainous pile of leaf-filled garbage bags.   He freaked. Did NOT want to pass by. Pulled me away on the leash. He was scared.  I pulled him in the direction of the leaves, close enough so I could touch the bags and hold him at the same time. Once he realized I could touch them without harm, he sauntered over, sniffed them and we moved on.  Same thing happens with turned over garbage bins, some parked cars, things that make loud noises, etc.  Once he realizes that what he thought he saw was not indeed what he thought, he’s fine.

When we perceive a thing as being other than what it is really; that is viparyaya. 

When we accept the unreal as real, it is viparyaya.  

Jumping to conclusions is viparyaya.

It’s not having all the information, but passing judgement anyway.

Viparyaya is one of the five vrittis (fluctuations of the mind which disturb our peace, thought patterns) the yoga practice aims to control.  It is like a blanket of confusion. Through our practice, we begin to see where we have made these mistakes in perception and try to see more clearly. Misperceptions lead to all sorts of ego driven responses that push us farther from realizing our true self- responses such as fear, aversion, anger, hurt, or attraction.

So let us learn to PAUSE before assuming, believing, judging, or interpreting so we avoid misconceptions which lead us down a very unhelpful path on this journey.

He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.

Albert Einstein

What I’m teaching…Enlightenment is everywhere

Love this clip!  A beautiful illustration of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.2:

Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah

The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga

The entire outside world is based on your thoughts and mental attitude.  The entire world is your own projection.  Your values may change within a fraction of a second…If you feel bound, you are bound.  If you feel liberated, you are liberated.  Things outside neither bind nor liberate you; only your attitude toward them does that.

Sutra commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda

What I’m teaching…Thou shalt not take what has not been offered

Asteya (non-stealing) is the third yama in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (yama=moral/ethical restraints that involve the yogis relationship to the outside world).  

asteya pratisthayam sarva ratnopasthanam

To one established in non-stealing, all wealth comes  

Yoga Sutra 2.37

Asteya means non-stealing.  At first glance, it is easy to check this yama off your list as “done” as you tell yourself “I don’t steal anything from anyone or anywhere”. But, you are likely thinking only of material objects (money, clothes, food, stuff!). When we widen the definition of stealing to taking that which has not been offered, however, there is MUCH more work to be done. Last week, I divided the teaching of asteya into three “parts”, so I could use the theme in each one of my classes (I have found that teaching this way becomes more of a lesson to me than anyone else).

First: off the mat…how do we take what has not been offered in our day-to-day lives?

  • Time- being late takes time away from those we are scheduled to meet.
  • Happiness- what happens to your family, co-workers, and friends when you are in a crappy mood for no reason?
  • Love- it can be very difficult to see this one.  When we are demanding of love, affection, attention, and energy in relationships…how does that often work out for us?
  • Safety- driving like a maniac or acting irresponsibly puts others at risk unfairly.
  • Power/Decision-making/Choice- I am the first to admit that I am control Freak (with a capital “F”!), but I know I suffer for it.  Controlling behavior takes power and the ability to think for themselves away from those around us.
  • Credit- give credit where credit is due.  Whose ideas or thoughts have inspired your own?
  • The earth- mother nature has been robbed over and over again.  Be aware of your consumption.  My motto is: use LESS, recycle MORE
Next:  on the mat…in what ways to we rob ourselves and our fellow yogis?
  • Time- being late to yoga class causes delays and is disruptive to the teacher and students.
  • Space- be mindful when choosing where you unroll your mat.  Are you taking up two spots?  Are you early to class? Instead of randomly placing your mat in the middle of the room, which creates an unbalanced and uneven classroom, start a row at the front.
  • Peace- It is difficult to stay focused and in your “yoga mindset” when someone’s cell phone rings or they get up and leave during savasana.
  • The journey- you rob yourself each time you compare, compete, and desire for the ability to practice a pose.  I think it is ok to be inspired by watching an advanced practice.  It allows you to see what’s possible.  However, there is a fine line between inspiration and jealousy.  Asana takes time.  That is the point of the practice.  It is an individual experience.  Example: have you ever been in class and thought to yourself that today might not be a good day to practice Sirsasana (headstand)? Maybe you’re menstruating or having neck pain.  Then, you see someone next to you or across the room going up and your ego starts to scream.  “You have to show everyone that you can do that, too!”
Lastly: tie it all together…what is the point to the practice of non-stealing?
If we want to become the world’s richest people, this is a very simple way…just practice non-stealing.  All of us are thieves.  Knowingly and unknowingly…if we are completely free from stealing and greed, contented with what we have, and if we keep serene minds, all wealth comes to us.  If we do not run after it, before long it runs after us.  If nature knows we aren’t greedy, she gains confidence in us, knowing we will never hold her for ourselves…the richest person is the one with a cool mind, free of tension and anxiety.
Sutra commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda
When we practice non-stealing, all riches/jewels/wealth come to us.  Sri Swami Satchidananda gives a great example in his Sutra commentary.  Think about your last visit with a baby or pet cat/dog.  They come to you on their own, naturally curious and interested in you.  If you grab them into your arms and hold them tight against their will, not letting them go- they will squirm, fuss, and fight to get away and it would be highly unlikely that they would come back to you again anytime soon.  Instead, if the baby or pet is allowed to leave when they wish…they will always keep coming back to you to play!  The same is true in life.  When we take what has not been offered, we are stealing and will lose out each and every time.
When we are working through the yamas, learning to ACCEPT, WANT, and LOVE what we already have, mudra can be helpful.  Try Pushan mudra, which is said to aid in acceptance, digestion, and in easing anger.  
Sit comfortably with your legs crossed.  Take your right thumb to the index and middle fingers and place the back of your hand on your lap.  Take your left thumb to the middle and ring fingers and place the back of your hand on your lap.  Close your eyes and breathe.

What I’m teaching…wanting what you already have, not what you don’t

Santosha translates to contentment.  It is the second of 5 Niyamas (observances relating to the internal world, to ourselves) Patanjali teaches in the Yoga Sutras.  Sutra 2.42 Samtosad Anuttamah Sukha Labhah.  

By contentment, supreme joy is obtained.  Contentment means just to be as we are without going to outside things for our happiness.  If something comes, we let it come.  It not, it doesn’t matter.

Sutra commentary by Sri Swami Satchindananda

A few ways to describe the state of contentment (copied from my yoga teacher training journal notes):

  • Satisfaction within the container of one’s immediate experience
  • Seeing things without the pull of expectation
  • Living the best we can until we are able to better our situation
  • Ability to be in a difficult situation and have a semblance of contentment
  • Practicing patience, acceptance, and hopefulness
  • (and then my take on a definition) Wanting what you already have, not what you don’t

Santosha is not a practice just reserved for the yogi, you can find the spiritual principle of contentment in all the world religions and schools of spiritual thought.  I guess we humans need frequent reminders to accept things as they are.

As a rule, man’s a fool. When it’s hot, he wants it cool. And when it’s cool, he wants it hot. Always wanting what is not.

Author unknown

Acceptance is a beautiful and freeing experience.  It is, I believe, an active decision that an individual makes to bring them further into harmony with their day-to-day life. Things are as they are, after all, so it makes sense to work with our reality instead of against it.  Go with the flow, life’s downs allow us to appreciate the ups.  The ups teach us the fleeting nature of all material objects and conditions as they will, without fail, be gone before we know it.  Practicing contentment does not mean we have to be emotionless, however.  We are not stone-faced Buddhas, never flinching or reacting. We are not like the ancient yogis, out in the woods or on a mountain top meditating in solitude.  We live in the world.  Emotions are normal and set us apart as humans.  I believe we need to cry, laugh, yell, or frown at times.  But, instead of allowing emotion to overcome your behavior and going to extremes (yogis don’t really do extremes), contentment means we experience the sadness, happiness, frustration, or disappointment and then come back to a bigger picture- accepting whatever brought the emotion and moving on.  Contentment also doesn’t mean remaining in an unhealthy situation, such as staying in an abusive relationship or being a drug addict without getting help, just because that is your situation at the moment and you think you should be happy with it.  You can accept where you are, while striving to better your circumstances.  Take the necessary steps to do so- all the while being present and accepting of the journey.  In my yoga classes this week, we focused on the transitions between the poses, being present and aware of how we feel during each breath/movement/step within the spaces between the individual postures.  The transitions represent change.  We may find contentment and become comfortable with the yoga pose as we have practiced it a million times, but then the cue is to travel all the way to the back of the mat, for example, into a more challenging posture.  What happens to your state of mind then?  Can you remain content amidst change and challenge?

I asked 5 -year-old Elli Soleil what it means to be happy (she didn’t know what the word content means) and she replied, “to be happy means to be loving and grateful”.

Exactly.

He is richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature.

Socrates

What I’m teaching…satya: finding truth

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras outline 5 Yamas or moral/ethical principles that guide the yogis relationships to others and the outside world.  The second yama is satya or truth.

The path of truth begins within.  Who are you, really?  You gotta know your roots before you can blossom into that beautiful lotus.  

Start by finding truth in the physical body; learning its capabilities and limitations.  Be honest about what you can or cannot do…today, yet.  Each day is different!  Keep in mind, “achieving” postures is not at the heart of the yoga practice.  The tradition teaches that the body opens and deeper postures come only when you “give up” or “let go” of trying to achieve.  Scan the body, noticing where the energy flows fluidly and where there may be blockages.  What parts of the body feel good and are there areas that feel a little tense?  Honor where you are at any given moment, physically.  Being aware of your truth, physically, equals safe yoga practice and being more comfortable in your body off the mat in your daily life.  

Next, move deeper into the mental/emotional body.  What are the thoughts that spin on the “hamster” wheels in your head?  These tracks of thought, often negative or self-defeating, are ruts that are holding us back.  The good news is that the true Self is NOT the body nor the mind, and the beautiful thing about realizing this is that you learn you actually DO have control over those hamsters on the wheel.  You can slow them down or throw them off the track!  Slow the mind down and you instead begin to listen to the loving, peaceful sound of your breath.  Is their truth about your past that you need to acknowledge and stop hiding from?  Yogis live in the present moment, BUT it is hard to know who you are NOW without looking at your past, if only to see how it shaped your beliefs and being today.  Sit with those memories or experiences, and if they are painful, be done with them.  Remember pain will come and go, but suffering is optional.  And are there ways of being (like gossiping or criticizing or complaining) that you discover you repeat, without even realizing it?  Awareness brings action.  You CAN handle the truth!

Once we have uncovered or reexamined our physical and mental truth, we are ready to project truth 24/7 into the world.  No more little white lies, no more fooling yourself, no more dishonesty in who we are.  Patanjali has something very amazing to say about 24/7 truth.  Sutra 2.36Satya pratisthayam kriya phala ashrayatvam = to one established in truthfulness, actions and their results become subservient.  In other words, if you can get to the point where your entire being exudes only honesty and truth, each and every thought in your head and word out of your mouth will come true!!  Powerful stuff.

By the establishment of truthfulness, Yogis get the power to attain for themselves and others the fruits of work without doing the work…things come to them automatically.  All nature loves an honest person…The more we lead a life of honesty, the more we will see results, and that will encourage us to be more honest.

With establishment of honesty, the state of fearlessness comes…when the mind becomes clear and serene, the true Self reflects without disfigurement, and we realize the Truth in its own original nature.

So, first follow truth, and then truth will follow you.

Sutra commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda

Honesty is a powerful and sometimes challenging practice.  The next time you choose to communicate truthfully with a coworker or family member, know that you are practicing yoga.  We don’t have to be on our mats to be doing yoga. Yoga is everywhere and in every interaction, all the time.