yoga is a way of life.. For inner peace and good health, practice yoga

yoga is a way of life.. For inner peace and good health, practice yoga

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Yamas and Niyamas

No, not the Mamas and Papas. These are the 10 constraints/ethical guidelines set forth in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. They are so integral to daily life, and flow into so many areas, that I feel compelled to share them with you.

Not much is known about Patanjali as a person, but he was a seeker in India around the third century B.C. His teachings, codified as the Yoga Sutras (yoga, from the Sanskrit YUJ meaning "to join" or "unity; and sutras meaning "threads") are a collection of verse that have endured through the Buddha (who studied yoga) and his teachings, and the many threads of religion and philosophy that developed and spread in that part of the world. The Yamas and Niyamas are part of the Eight-Fold Noble Path. I hope you enjoy reading and incorporating them into your daily life. Already, you are practicing Svadhyaga!

1. Ahimsa, "Nonviolence"
Practice harmlessness to self, others, and all beings.

2. Satya, "Truthfulness"
With honesty comes developed intuition and living fully.

3. Asteya, "No Stealing"
Taking credit is wrong when privilege is unearned. Do not steal time and energy from others.

4. Bramacharya, "Celibacy"
Avoid manipulation by desires, preserving energy and enhancing tenderness.

5. Aparigraha, "Nonpossessiveness"
Detachment from past and future, as well as material objects creates balance and inner strength.

1. Saucha, "Purity"
Honor the body through right food, exercise, cleanliness and rest.

2. Santosha, "Contentment"
Be happy with all tasks, of being where you are.

3. Tapas, "Discipline"
Self-control, self-knowledge and ethical behavior bring growth of self.

4. Svadhyaga, "Study"
Read about and reflect on great saints and sages, learning from those with wisdom.

5. Ishvara Pranidhana, "Remembrance"
Recognition of the non-dying part of the self and unity with all life and the universe.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Know Thyself: Stay With What Resonates

As the oracle of Delphi in ancient Greece advised, "Know Thyself." Self-knowledge implies a labor of love, an empowering position in which to walk through life. I have been in search of myself all my life, aware of this effort I guess since college (the time when many of us "wake up"), and expect to continue on a life-long search for self. I have made mistakes, have experimented, have found success, all in learning to know myself.

I meet people now and then who are on their own quest, feeling something is not quite right perhaps with their health and seeking answers. I have discovered in my own experience that the answers I seek are sometimes not with experts, but reside in me. At present, I feel healthy and have no illnesses, aches or pains (except occasional headaches, but more about that another time) and have relied on a range of practitioners along the way towards balance. The body wants to exist in a state of balance and it's what we do in our daily lives that leads to or strays from that balance.

What diet should you eat? What sort of doctor or practitioner should you see? What supplements are best? How do the latest health claims on the news affect me? These are valid questions, and congratulations if they have been on your mind. It's the beginning of "knowing thyself."

A diet is not just for losing weight. A diet is a collection of meals that are right for YOU. Finding the right diet for you is a matter of trying foods in season and at your current stage of life, by starting where you are. Same thing for lifestyle changes such as the form of exercise or downtime that allows your body and mind to be more attuned to each other, telling you that all is well. Using common sense and allowing your gut instincts to flourish brings good health into your life if you are willing to make changes or small sacrifices towards that goal. If you feel you need assistance because a health issue seems beyond your ability to remedy, talking to friends and researching on your own will lead you to the help you need. The important thing is to decide what RESONATES with you. You don't have to jump on the latest fad diet, and you don't have to make appointments with every practitioner someone recommends. Take in the information and seek out the assistance and advice you need because it speaks to you. For me, a supportive group of people who follow a healthful lifestyle is key. I find that as my life progresses, there are more like-minded people in it. There's nothing formal about it; we keep each other on track by making good health a focus of our lives. Publications like Yoga Journal, Natural Awakenings, The New York Times, and books like Louise Hay's "You Can Heal Your Life" are on my daily reading list. I need many doses each day of spiritual and practical guidance! It's out there for you, to discover and use as your tools.

What I eat and how I live my life is right for me. If I'm a healthy example, I'm glad always to share what I have found helpful! It has taken many years of fine-tuning, and constant fine-tuning each season and year that goes by because my body changes and my lifestyle changes, too. I'm willing to play. The reason I'm writing this blog, truly, is because I wish for all of my friends and family good health and inner peace so that we can all play together for many, many years to come!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

We're Sorta Screwed

I know all of you have heard about the recent disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico near Louisiana. It might well be the worst thing mankind has ever done to the earth. And to know that the crude oil is gushing uncontrolled, poisoning such a vast amount of water and killing the wildlife is sickening. It's not just sickening to me, but I know it is sickening to you, and everyone who is aware of the situation. On a basic human level, no, on a basic earth-lifeform level, we know that this sort of catastrophe marks a turning point.

We are operating our human society at a level that is not worth the risks. The risks are too great. Regarding energy, if we keep poking holes in the earth (for oil or coal), we run risks like the results we have right now which is an absolute DISASTER (BP oil spill and recent mining explosions). Regarding our economy, and the now-intertwined global economies, we can't seem to self-regulate our human nature away from its tendency towards self-interest and greed. And regarding our government (and most others around the world and throughout history), it is clear that corruption is total, overt, in our faces and in bed with business interests. When any of these major societal systems fall apart, it spells dire consequences not only for people, but now, for the very first time on this scale, the EARTH.

Climate change is still debated, but what's with these beastly winds here in the northeast? Perhaps mankind has affected the climate of the earth, and we might not know for certain. But there is no question that the ecological disaster off the coast of Louisiana was caused by us, we humans. We are capable of pretty terrible acts. Take the atomic or nuclear bomb. Wars in general. How about nuclear energy? It's clean! It's efficient! It's also deadly if something goes wrong. And the way we humans operate, something will definitely go wrong and it will be a terrible situation.

But. I doesn't look to me like humans will stop driving gas-powered vehicles anytime soon. It doesn't look like Wall Street and the financial masters of the universe will stop trying to suck every last dollar into their own hands. It doesn't look like Washington will be anything but bought by big business. The weather is really weird and I feel it. You feel it. We all feel it. The winds of change have an edge to them, of anxiety. I know it: We are screwed.

There is a feeling of euphoria for me, knowing I'm screwed. I am free and empowered to live my life by example, as Gandhi preached. I still bring my cloth bag to the grocery store. I still plan out my car trips to use the least amount of gas. I keep trying to earn enough money to buy a "smart" or electric car and solar panels. I would love to walk or bike to do my errands, but am stuck here in suburbia. The American Dream is killing the planet. My efforts at reducing my carbon footprint are a tiny drop in the bucket with what's going on out there on such a huge level that no one knows what's really going on anymore. There is no human capable of controlling what appears now to be really out of control. Not the Pope. Not Obama. No one. How do I want to live my life going forward? As happy and healthy as I can, with all the compassion and assistance and energy I can give to making life on this planet as peaceful and beautiful as possible.

Let's all send a prayer to poor New Orleans, still struggling after the last insult of neglect following Hurricane Katrina. Let's say a prayer for ourselves, and a very special apology to our poor Mother Earth, on her day.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Month of "Yes You May"

It's May! And as they sing in "Camelot:" "It's May, It's May, the lusty month of May..." After a very long cold winter, I find I'm turning my thoughts to the magic of spring. The renewal, the miracle that flowers and other plants somehow survive the frigid temperatures and harsh winds of winter to pop up into the sunlight in glorious colors with the most exquisite petals and leaves. Robins and mockingbirds and all sorts of wildlife are reappearing. Wonderful!

We humans have survived, too, and like the flora and fauna around us, are celebrating. Here is a link to the film version of "The Lusty Month of May," from "Camelot" with Vanessa Redgrave as Guenevere. The rituals of the Arthurian legend period, the ninth century, correspond to the cycles of nature, and speak to me in the here and now as they are a natural way for us to express what is happening around us. The sun is warm and the air is sweet! "Spring fever" swells our hearts and brings the excitement of new possibilities!

(I apologize that this blog doesn't allow me to make web addresses like this as a "hot" link, so copy and paste into your browser and you'll enjoy the lyrics and facial expressions).

In Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" with Kenneth Brannaugh and Emma Thompson, they sing a very exuberant "Hey Nonny Nonny" at the conclusion, an impossibly happy, festive, joyously tear-inducing spectacle devoted to happiness and love and the lust for life during this time of the year. To me, the meaning ultimately is when we feel woe, that is the time to sing "Hey Nonny Nonny" to cheer ourselves up. To take life lightly. To those who know me well, this is a real challenge for me. I am a perfectionist, a cynic, hyper-aware of human frailties and negative aspects, and it's difficult for me to be happy much of the time. So, I am trying to lighten up. This a great time of the year to practice.

The choral work "Carmina Burana" by Carl Orff is music for hundreds of voices (men, women and children) written in 1936 and taken from medieval texts in Latin full of the love of life. One chorus sings:

Behold, the pleasant and longed for spring
brings back joyfulness
violet flowers fill the meadows,
the sun brightens everything,
sadness is now at an end!
Summer returns, now withdraw
the rigours of winter. Ah!

Now melts and disappears
ice, snow and the rest,
winter flees, and now
spring sucks at summer's breast.
A wretched soul is he
who does not live
or lust
under summer's rule. Ah!

Bill Moyer's last journal program on PBS (tonight) featured a guest who shared his observation that people today are reserved about expressing joy and passion with each other because they find it difficult to trust the world. It's hard to be intimate with others when we are cautious. I'm talking even about the most simplistic communication, that it's a beautiful day for instance. If the sun makes you want to throw your arms up into the air with your eyes closed, in sheer reverence, I say, do it! If we find success in connecting with others in joyous abandon, that is terrific! Flop down in the grass and watch the clouds float by. Breathe and be grateful to be alive. We only live once. I for one will keep hoping that the happiness I feel at this time of the year — the excitement about new beginnings and possibilities, this state of grace — will catch on like wildfire and have us all dancing around the maypole, saying "YES!", feeling free to frolic as we imagine and experience paradise on the earth now in our lifetimes.

Come dance with me! Let's sing together! Let's trust that it's safe to express joy. I can't do this alone.