Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My dad just sent me this fabulous video... The Rant of the Cellist

I played cello for 7 years growing up, and remember complaining endlessly about this piece. Thank you Rob Paravonian, you speak for us all.

Monday, December 15, 2008

check out obama's speech!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The 2nd Niyama: Santosa
Santosa is a really important Niyama for me to work on. My affirmation for Santosa was “I focus on the positive and express my gratitude openly and often.” I found myself reflecting on how in our society we (I certainly do this) think we are entitled to a lot. In fact North American’s are less than 10% of the world population, yet we consume more resources than any other continent. Canadian consume more energy per capita than any other country! (We, in Canadians and Americans, are also the largest emitters of green house gases). Although these sorts of statistics seem to be fairly widespread knowledge, most North Americans don’t question them much or think about how they could make things different.
To me, Santosa is about being grateful with what we have and starting to question this sense of entitlement. And for me this questioning has led me to work to find ways to be content with less. Wanting less, not more, is particularly hard right now around the holidays when we’re bombarded with consumerism and encouragement to want want want and buy buy buy. I already realize that I don’t need many of the things I want, I could happily live without them. Realizing this is a first step, but letting go of the want is another step. When I spend more time meditating and doing yoga I notice that this wanting is less dominant than when I spend lots of time watching/interacting with the media on tv and internet. Also when I make an effort to express gratitude it reminds of how blessed I actually am, and that makes me feel more content and less wanting. This also applies to non-material goals. I am full of wants for my future: academic goals, dreams for my career, for a home, for a family someday. Often these dreams take me away from being contended with the present moment. I strive to reach these dreams so much that I forget that what really matters is my happiness and the effect I’m having around me in this present. The main determinant of my future happiness won’t be endlessly worrying about it and preparing for it, but rather learning to be content with where I am in each present moment.
(note: Santosa can alternatively be spelled 'Santosha' or 'Samtosha')

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Wheel of Yoga: Many Paths to Enlightenment

Yoga can be illustrated as a wheel. The tire, encircling the spokes, are the yamas and niyamas. The wheel has eight spokes which are the different paths of yoga: Hatha, Raja, Jnana, Karma and Bhakti. The hub of the wheel is transcendence or enlightenment. This is similar to my view that all religious paths lead to the same God. God is to big to fit into one religion, many paths to see and und. Likewise, there are many paths to follow towards enlightenment.
The path of Raja-Yoga embraces meditation and contemplation. Raja means royal. Its goal is to train the mind to concentrate deeply, and learn to discover the innermost depth of out minds. Eventually it leads towards the discovery of transcendental Reality that is beyond thought. Raja-Yoga is a dualist path which distinguishes many transcendental Selves and Nature.
Jnana means knowledge, insight or wisdom. Jnana-Yoga is nondualistic. It is not the worship of a God outside of oneself, but rather the development of wisdom to encounter and see the divine within. The path to enlightenment through Jnana-Yoga follows for steps:
1. discernment and constant practice of seeing the ever-changing world as it is
2. renunciation and engaging in action without expecting reward
3. the six accomplishments: tranquility/calmness, sense-restraint, abstention of activities that don’t maintain the body or lead to enlightenment, endurance, mental concentration, and faith
4. the urge towards liberation, desire for enlightenment for the benefit of all beings.
I identify with Jnana-Yoga’s non-dualistic views more so that Raja-Yoga. Raja-Yoga is dualistic in that is sees the Divine Self as separate from Nature. I believe that the divine is animate in all forms of life, in the trees, the rocks, the stars, and in each and every person on earth.
Hatha-Yoga’s goal is the same, to transcend the ego. Hatha-Yoga however, focuses intensely on developing the body’s potential, “so that the body can withstand the onslaught of transcendental realization” (Feuerstein pg. 29). It is necessary that the body is strong because transcendental states are understood in Hatha-Yoga to have a profound effect on the body, particularly the nervous system. Underlying Hatha-Yoga is the belief that by embodying the divine, in our physically and mentally, we get closer to it. One of the dangers of Hatha-Yoga is to become overly focused and narcissistic regarding the body. It is necessary to always keep in mind the purpose of improving the body: to embody the divine, not to attain some sort of human standard of perfection.
Hatha-Yoga advocates “integralism,” which means that we do not withdraw from life, but rather live fully in it in order to gain enlightenment. This is something that I identify strongly and this path comes to me most naturally. I find my body to be one of the best ways through which to understand, feel, and learn to honour my spirituality. The body’s intricacy and evolution is completely astonishing to me. The way that I breath, my heart beats without me having to do anything is a metaphor for the way that the divine works in our lives, the way the life-force flows effortlessly. But I do also believe that we can become more skilful at navigating this flow of the divine, and learn to channel it in beneficial ways.
Bhakti-yoga is also dualistic in nature. Bhakti means devotion, love or supreme attachment to the lord. In Raja-Yoga the focus is on enlightenment through the cultivation of the mind. In Bhakti-Yoga the focus is on expressing love, devotion and faith to the Lord. This can be expressed through many means such as chanting songs of praise, ceremonial workshop, ritual, prostration. To reach enlightenment, the worshiper enters into the immortal body of the divine in “self-offering/self transcendence.” I do not identify so strongly with this path as others, especially because I disagree with dualism. I do however, love some aspects of it and feel that they bring me closer to God. I am especially learning love chanting and the way that this quiets my mind and helped me peaceful and protected.
Karma-Yoga means freedom in action, it is “Yoga of Action.” In Karma-Yoga the practitioner transcends the ego through selfless service. The idea behind Karma-Yoga is that we are the intention behind our action. So to reach enlightenment we must make every action a sacrifice to God. Gandhi or Saint Mother Teresa are humans who I believe demonstrate true Karma-Yoga. I appreciate the way that in Karma-Yoga we assume responsibility for our destiny. Everything, every obstacle, triumph, pain or love we encounter in this lifetime happens because it is part of our Karma to learn and be shaped by it. I strongly identify with Karma-Yoga. I believe that all beings are divine. By caring, loving, and serving for others (including people, animals, the environment) I am manifesting my care, love and service to God.
I don’t think it is necessary to follow only one path of yoga. For me, Hatha-Yoga and Karma-Yoga feel most natural. However, I think it is also important for me to practice the more introspective path of Jnana-Yoga that emphasizes meditation and cultivation of wisdom as well.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Intro to Pranayama

Anusara yoga is rooted in Tantric philosophy that looks for the good in all things. It is accepting things as they are and then responding with love (to paraphrase John Friend). This viewpoint underlies they way that we see pranayama. Prana, in Sanskrit, means life force that animates all things. Prana can be seen as manifesting in the breath. Yama means restraints or control, so together the word pranayama is sometimes understood to mean control of the life force. Alternatively pranayama could be broken to the too root words prana and ayama. Ayama means to lengthen, stretch or extend, so with using these two root words pranayama means extending and freeing the life force. Doug Keller explains that we can control prana no more than we sit in a rowboat and move the ocean with our paddle. But floating on the ocean of prana we can navigate our way thorough its currents. Some schools of yoga see prana as dangerous and so powerful it may harm us, therefore prana must be controlled so as to not harm. In Anusara we recognize that all is divine and good, including ourselves. We are not separate from prana, it is part of us, so it cannot harm us.
Pranayama, more specifically, is used to refers to conscious expansion of our natural capacity for breathing. There are many forms and techniques of pranayama, or patterns of breathing that are consciously engaged for a period of time. The three most basic forms are Full Yogic Breath, and Ujjayi. They both build upon the natural breath.
Many people breath shallowly, overusing our chest, neck and shoulder muscles rather than the diaphragm. When stress is frequent, this can quickly become a habitual way of breathing, even when a person is not under stress. This is a learned habit, no the natural way of breathing. Natural Breath is breathing fully, starting in lower diaphragm (belly and lower ribs). With this breath the parasympathetic nervous system is activated and it helps the body and mind to relax. Once diaphragmatic breathing is mastered, students can move to full yogic breath, where breath is even and full through the three distinct areas of the torso: belly/diaphragm, mid-chest, and upper chest.
These are the step for Full Yogic Breath:
• To begin, learn to breath into the 3 distinct regions where the breath flows.
1. Bring your hands to rest gently on your belly. Invite the breath to flow all the way down into the hands. Feel the diaphragm expand downwards into the hands with each inhale and contract upwards with each exhale.2. Place the hands on the lower ribs, with the thumbs hooked around towards the back and the fingers spread wide. Feel the ribs expand to the sides and into the hands on the inhale and soften inwards and down on the exhale.
3. Hook the thumbs under the armpits and rest the hands on the upper chest. Feel the chest and collarbones rise on the inhale, and soften downwards on the exhale.
• Practice inviting the breath into each region individually, when you feel comfortable with this, link the three together for the Full Yogic Breath:
• Inhale expand the breath into the belly, continue to expand into the lower ribs, and then all they way up to the collar bones.
• Exhale, draw the belly inwards, the ribs soften down and the collar bones soften downwards.

Ujjayi means “victory from expansion.” Ujjayi breathing is a type of pranayama in itself and is incorporated into other forms of pranayama. Ujjayi breath is characterized by its sound and by its evenness of flow from beginning to end. The ujjayi sound is made by toning the epiglottis in the throat. It is made as if you were making a “haaa” sound to fog up a mirror, but through the nose rather than the mouth. In addition to feeling the evenness of inhale and exhale, with the ujjayi sound you can hear it as well. The softness of the ujjayi sound is calming and in itself can be used as a manta, as a point of focus to take us deeper into meditation. As Doug Keller eloquently explains, “When we focus on the breath, we are listening to and contemplating the true nature of Consciousness as it is spoken through the breath.”
Meditation practice: Describe your meditation practice and what you have learned about yourself through this practice. Of the possible Distractions and Obstacles that hinder the aspirant’s practice of Yoga, which of these challenges do you find most resonates with you and why?

My feelings about meditation are very similar to common sentiment of going to the dentist. I dread it, avoid it, resist it. But doesn’t it feel good to roll your tongue over those smooth, freshly cleaned teeth? Experienced mediators crave meditation; they talk of feelings of deep inner peace it gives them, of nirvana and spiritual ecstasy. I definitely don’t crave meditation yet, but I have an idea of this peaceful feeling. I obtain the feeling about 20% of the time when I meditate. The other 80% of the time I am frustrated, scattered, annoyed. But the chance of the entering into that mental state, where my mind stops churning like a windmill on the prairies, where my body is filled with warmth all the way to my finger tips and toes, where my mind and body both become so still that I can float above them observing from a distance. This is why I am not going to give up on meditation. And the fact that it’s so hard, that I resist it so much is exactly why I need it.
For me it’s still about the end results, going back to the dentist metaphor here, it’s about that clean feeling afterwards. Most of the during is quite uncomfortable, but I do notice a difference in how I feel afterwards. Its like my metatarsals have sprouted roots into some deep warm earth, and my whole body feels giving, heavy and soft. Eventually, I want it all to feel blissful, not just at the end, not just sometimes. Probably unrealistic, and boy to I have a long way to go. We are working with some ADHD here you know.
Many of the common hindrances to meditation are affecting me. My meditation schedule is not very regular because I have a different school schedule each day. This will improve next semester however, when I have no morning classes (So I can always do meditation and yoga as part of my morning routine). I also don’t have a special room to practice in away from noise from the kitchen and living room. These are more obvious hindrances. On a subtler level I am dealing with hindrances of doubt, the desire to talk too much, laziness and aversion from unpleasant feelings (Dvesha).
What I’m learning in meditation is patience, something that the society I live in doesn’t facilitate very nicely. I’m learning that I have weaknesses, that I have anxiety, that I’m not that totally zen yoga teacher that I’d like to project an image of. But I am me, and me now has come a long way since the days in high school when I was on Ritalin and antidepressants. I’ll stick with it (meditation) and I’ll try to spend less time resisting and more time doing, because how much further I have to go is far, inside.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Five Principles of Sivananda Yoga: Explain how does each principle affects and/or supports the other.

The five principles of Sivananda yoga are: right exercise, right breathing, right diet, right mind and meditation, and right relaxation. These five principles are closely interrelated and build upon one another. To me right exercise means regular asana practice (at least 6 days a week) that works all areas of the body including the cardiovascular system, lymphatic system, nervous system and muscular system. Yoga opens up my body and prepares it to receive the breath.
Right breath means that I’m breathing fully and evenly using my diaphragm not just the chest. I find it important for my breathing and for my mental state that I get fresh air every day, rain or shine. I try and walk several kilometres a day. Walking is a form of right exercise and also works my muscular and cardiovascular system. By walking outside I get plenty of fresh air to breath and my lungs feel clean after a walk. Walking can also be a form of meditation and right mind for me. I use the time when I’m walking to and from school to repeat mantras, sing chants and just clear and calm my mind. Meditation is also important for me calming and quieting my mind, and improving concentration. At this time in my practice I find it useful to have a point to meditation on, and that is often the breath. I do this by counting my breaths and practicing different forms of pranayama.
Through right diet the body is nourished for exercise. For me, right diet means following a vegetarian diet with only small amounts of dairy and sugars, no wheat or corn. I staying away from these foods that my body doesn’t digest well and chose whole ancient grains, beans, vegetables and fruits. Eating this way, I have more energy because my body doesn’t have to put so much into breaking down the foods that are difficult for it to digest. Right diet also means drinking plenty of water, often with lemon juice added, and herbal teas. Herbal teas help me to calm my mind for meditation and also to relax.
Right relaxation is the most difficult of the 5 principles for me. I tend to become wound up and anxious easily. I need to constantly remind myself to let my jaw and muscles of my neck and shoulders soften and relax. This tension is worst when I haven’t done enough yoga or had fresh air, when I eat too much sugar or caffeine, and my breathing is in my chest rather than full belly breathing. Through yoga, full yogic breathing, meditation and right diet I am able to assume a relaxed state more easily. Relaxation in turn helps my mind quite, my body be more open, and my body more able assimilate the nutritious food I eat.
Last day of classes today! So I've finished university work until my only exam on the 18th. This means I've got lots of time to finish up all my Yoga Teacher Training assignments and get my full certification. I'll try to post them as I finish each one for your reading pleasure. Feel free to ignore my blog for a few weeks if you're sick and tired of all this yoga stuff!
1. Eight Limbs: In your own words, explain each of the Eight Limbs, and how each limb affects and/or supports the other.
The Eight Limbs where recorded by Patanjali sometime between 150-200 AD. Eight Limbs comes from the translation of the Sanskrit word Ashtanga. The limbs, if followed in order, are a guide to attain enlightenment.
1. Yama
2. Niyama
3. Asana
4. Pranayama
5. Pratyahara
6. Dharana
7. Dhyana
8. Samadi

Yama, the first limb, are ethical guidelines or moral commandments that pertain to an individual’s relationship to their environment. They are:
1. Ahimsa: non-harming, non-violence
2. Satya: truthfulness in word, thought and deed
3. Asteya: non-stealing
4. Bramancharya: moderation in all things
5. Aparigraha- non-coveting, non-possessiveness
The yamas facilitate an orderly society, and by following the yamas a person can overcome the lower, more animal natural state and be at peace in their relationships with others and begin the journey towards inner peace. R
The Niyama, with means self-purification by discipline, are the second limb. There are also 5 Niyamas:
1. Saucha: purity
2. Santosha: contentment
3. Tapas: burning desire
4. Svadhyaya: self-study
5. Isvara Pranidhana: dedication to the divine, making everything an offering to the divine.
The niyamas build on the yamas, giving the individual restraints/ethical guidelines in relating to themselves. The Niyamas start with purification of the body and mind (saucha), then move on to focus on contentment (santosa), so that the mind is free and can focus on knowing the love of the divine and the burning desire to unite with the divine (Tapas). Next is svadyaya which is study of the self which is exploring the widsomd and divinity within, and also study of sacred texts that can help us better understand this divinity. Last of the niyamas is Isvara Pranidhana which means dedication and offering to the divine. In Anusara we believe that all is divine, so this means that we are dedicated to all we do in life, and everything we do in life becomes an offering to god.
We practice the yamas and niyamas before asana (physical postures) because when we come to the mat we want to come to the mat with pure minds and pure hearts so that we can fulfil our highest intention in the physical practice (“Don’t bring your shit to the mat”). John Friend once said that when we practice you to fulfill one of two intentions: either to help us recognize the divine with in us or to celebrate that divinity. Asana is just one piece of the puzzle that is enlightenment. Often in western culture we get stuck on asana and never move beyond it. Our asana practice we tone our minds and bodies and is very important, but we must also practice the other Eight Limbs. Asana opens out bodies and makes them ready to practice pranayama.
Pranayama is the rhythmic extension of the breath. In some styles of yoga it is a very controlled approach to breathing. In Anusara we like to think of pranayama as expansion and the emphasis is on more passively welcoming the breath in rather than controlling it so rigidly. Pranayama helps us to purify the energies in the body and purify the mental state, so in that way it is an extension of the niyamas and asana. With pranayama the yoginis breath and mind become one, and it brings her towards the next limb.
The 5th limb is Pratyahara, or withdrawal of the senses and emancipation of the mind from the domination of the senses and exterior distraction. The senses are free the mind is completely turned inward. In this place, the yogini can move towards Dharana, which is concentration. In Dharana, attention is focused on a single point. Dharana is not concentration for its own sake, but rather this single point of concentration must be purely centred on the divine. To maintain this focus the yogini concentrates on AUM, which is the symbol of universal oneness.
When concentration is sustained it becomes Dhyana, or meditation. When the mind is continuously focused on divinity it transforms to be the likeness of its focus. In dhyana the mind is illuminated like the sun in a cloudless sky. Through profound meditation (Dhyana), Samadi or enlightenment is reached. Samadi is a state of super-consciousness where the self becomes one with the Universal spirit. In this state, the yogini is fully awake and alert, yet she has risen beyond consciousness. There is no “I” or “me”, the yogini is one with the divine in a state of enlightenment. The eight limbs build on one another as a guide to help the yogini progress towards enlightenment.