Ghosts of Christmas – A yogi’s look

In A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three ghosts – from his past, present, and future. Each brings a glimpse into the truth of that time, as well as a warning to change his behavior.  From a yogic perspective, there are overtones of the three kinds of karma, the kleshas (avidya – not seeing things as they are, raga & dvesa – attachment & aversion, asmita – ego, abhinivesa – fear of death), and even the 8-limbs (yamas & niyamas).  Not that I believe it was Charles Dickens’ intention to speak to these yogic concepts, or that everything must resonate with yogic teachings. However, it did provide the impetus for an addendum to the end of the year meditation I usually do.

Once you have taken your meditation seat for the session, and focused the mind through the technique you are currently working with, move through the following concepts. Notice urges to shift or move, especially in uncomfortable thought moments, and allow them to subside before continuing. Avoid getting caught in any stories, and reliving them for the whole meditation.

1)    Ghost of Christmas Past – We spend a great deal of energy either continually rehashing past unpleasant experiences, or completely ignoring them. Break both of these thought patterns. Bring to mind an action (thought, word, or deed) you chose to take in the past that was harmful to another person in some way.  This can be quite challenging, since as yogis we are misled into believing we should be non-harming and compassionate all the time. While this is certainly something we are striving for, it is not expected that the moment you become a yogi or learn what the yamas are, you instantly embody them.

The yamas are not meant to induce guilt or suppression, instead they are meant to be tools of self-analysis. To admit to ourselves that we have within us these unflattering tendencies, to be open, and honest about them, and then to work on them, is the true path of a yogi.  To “act yogically” is not to act like some sort of flexible angel, but to be brutally truthful and present with what really is. No matter how ugly. So bring to mind, as honestly as possible, a harmful act of the past – without going into the story of why it happened, or what happened after – just the act itself. Resist the urge to feel guilty or think “why did I do that” “I can’t believe I did that”, etc.  Instead, consider how you would act differently if a similar situation presented itself in the future.  Acknowledge that, as uncomfortable as it may seem, you did the best you could at that moment. Then let it go on your next exhale. If it feels particularly sticky, sense where it is stuck in your body. See it as a black cloud, and with each exhale release some of it out through the nose. Continue until it has completely emptied out. Take a few moments with slow steady clean breaths.

2)    Ghost of Christmas Present –  The Ghost of Christmas Present can be even more elusive than the Ghost of Christmas Past – our unconscious patterns and actions.  Being unconscious, they can be very tricky to see.  A large part of the work we do in yoga classes is to bring unconscious habits (whether in our bodies or in our lives) to light.  From there, we have the ability to act with full awareness, and prevent wear and tear on our bodies or lives that unconscious habits create. In this stage of the reflection, bring to mind the way in which you move through your entire day. Try to identify moments when you are moving unconsciously – common points are eating, commuting, etc. Try to dig a little deeper, or take a step back and look broader. This is can be a powerful wakeup call.  Observing how often we move unconsciously, and in which moments we do so, can lead to subtle or momentous shifts. If it’s challenging to do this right now, notice this tomorrow, throughout the day check in and see how often and when you are moving unconsciously. Then take one of those moments, and commit to seeing things clearly and being fully present from then on. Create  plan that will help you, or even talk to someone close to you that can help remind you.

3)    Ghost of Christmas Future – In A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer is swayed to change his ways due in large part to his fear of death.  In yogic philosophy, a fear of death is actually a hindrance to the practice.  A yogi works to cultivate living with death without fearing it.  There are a variety of practices to choose from, which were the subjects of a previous post, so I won’t go over it again here.  Please refer to that post and end this session with one of these practices. By cultivating a new relationship with death, we can let go of that fear and what keeps us from residing in the present moment.

At the close of 2010, I just want to thank you for your continued support of my teachings, and for your interest and dedication to yogic study. I look with great joy to deepening the practice with you in 2011.

Karma Yoga Sutra Study Online

So, success of the real kind this time…

October’s Sutra Study Session on Karma is now up on the Workshop page (via podbean).  Scroll to the bottom for the link and instructions.

(Tech-savy people are welcome to offer any improvement suggestions on the system:)  )

The last Fall Yoga Sutra Study session will be next Saturday, the 20th of November at Mala Yoga.  We will be going over the idea of the Householder Yogi, the practices, the sutra references, and, as always, how Yoga remains a relevant vibrant practice for our daily life.

Let me know if you have any questions. Sign up at Mala Yoga to reserve a space.

Hope to see you there!

New Workshop Series!

Why Should I Care? Fall Sutra Study Series at Mala Yoga

Fall is a turning point in the year. The air cools, the days shorten, and we instinctively turn inward to prepare for the coming cold. It is a time of returning to or starting projects, often more introspective ones.  In America, this is the time for heading back to school.

Saraswati, one of the trinity of goddesses in the Indian mythological pantheon, is associated with the season autumn.  She represents the pursuit of learning in all its forms, especially in music, arts, and philosophy.

Combined, this is the perfect time to begin study of the Yoga Sutras.

This series will be presented once a month for three months. Students have the choice of taking all three sessions for a discounted price, or taking them individually as time and interest allow.  Please visit Mala’s website for pricing and times.

September 18th

Why Yoga?

We begin our study with an exploration of how yoga is in some ways much younger, and in others, much older than we might have imagined. This session will cover the historical context and reasons for the advent of yoga. Examining the traditions out of which yoga emerged sets the stage to analyze key yoga sutras, and study the ways in which Patanjali challenged traditions of his time. We finish with discussion of how those key concepts remain relevant today, and find ways of working with those practices in day-to-day life.

Altogether, this session informs our own reasons for practicing, and clarifies your answers to the question “What is your yoga practice?”  It also provides a background for next month’s study of karma, a concept originating in a similar historical context as yoga, and, also much like yoga, undergoing refinement and transformation as it passed through schools of Indian philosophy into the present day.

October 23rd

Karma in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

This term reaches back to the Vedic period, predating Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and evolving significantly over time.  Today, the concept of karma is prevalent in our culture. It is the name of a line of yoga clothing, it explains the ability (or lack thereof) to acquire a parking space, it is the term given to yoga studio work-study, it even furthers plot points on TV and movies.  It’s given as the reason why you find a dollar on the floor an instant after giving up your subway seat, or why a person always seems to be unlucky. From the mundane, to the commercial, to the transcendental, karma is there.  It has become deeply woven into American and Western culture.  It can leave many yogis wondering, “How are all of these disparate uses related to the actual word?” “Which, if all, if any, are true to the meaning, and therefore the practice, of karma?”

This sutra study session delves into karma as it is understood specifically in the yoga tradition of Patanjali.  We will explore such questions as how karma relates to reincarnation and death, what role it plays in ideas such as free will and destiny, how it is relevant to personal, daily choice, and more.  If time allows we will briefly compare Patanjali’s explication of karma with those of other yoga-related texts, such as the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, and Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

November 20th

The Householder Yogi

For many, November is marked by celebrations that encourage us to reflect on our relationship to others: family, friends, and community.

While the Classical yogi was an ascetic who would withdraw to the forest or a cave in the Himalayas to meditate and study his self, modern-day yogis often have responsibilities in forms of partners, children, and jobs.  This is the age of the “Householder” yogi, one who must navigate the cities and towns. Together, we will look at how the yoga sutras not only remain applicable, but provide tools for the practitioner to examine and redefine paradigms of self and other.

Sutras which speak to the role of others in the life of a yogi, the role the yogi plays in the lives of others, and those that are tools for dealing with the complications of having householder responsibilities in addition to a yoga practice will be covered.

These sessions are designed to be relevant to students at various levels of study and practice.  They will augment Teacher Training Philosophy Sections, address questions of those familiar with Patanjali’s work, as well as introduce concepts to the yogi starting out on the Yoga Sutra path.  An emphasis on conversation and participation is always part of Jen’s Sutra Study Workshops.  Wearing the traditional white for satsang is optional.