dirtThis summer I had the occasion to have my hands in the dirt of two amazing places in upstate New York. Each time, the dirt was so dark and rich, smelling so amazingly fresh, that I just wanted to eat it (alright, I did actually eat it one of the times).

Everything grows out of something else. A tree stump can house not only moss or mushrooms, insect larvae and beetles, but also a whole new tree.

We all grew out of this earth. The more I practice, the more I can feel this. Although it still does take me by surprise sometimes, the default understanding of the earth is hard to shake.

Sanskrit has several different terms for earth to delineate the different kinds of relationships we have with it. English just has one (and a capital letter).  Our default understanding of it is often something that we’re ON, not OF. But if you spend enough time with a forest, you watch not only the mossy fallen trees become dirt, but the hearty standing trees themselves fall, become leaf and moss covered, break down to where they feel more like carpet under foot than wood, and eventually resemble dirt more than anything else. You feel in your bones that this too, is what happens with us.

It is not poetic to say that sitting in the forest, it feels like the stones and water are my bones and blood, or that the layers of leaves are my skin, and the trees veins to my heart.

enso“When we feel the beauty of the river, when we are one with the water, we intuitively do it in Dogen’s way. It is our true nature to do so. But if your true nature is covered by ideas of economy or efficiency, Dogen’s way makes no sense.” Shunryu Suzuki

What is Dogen’s way? To bring a bucket to a nearby river to retrieve water.  After filling up the bucket, he would dump part of it back into the river. Not to make it the right weight to carry, but to return a bit to the river. To have that connection. To take care of the river.

This is our practice – taking care of what’s around us, what’s right in front of us, what we’re in relationship with.

Below the flights of stairs, layers of pavement, sewers, and subways, deep down there is earth that needs us to take care of it.  Deep down under your partner, child, friend, there is something that needs to be taken care of.

In the wake of the Climate March, and the climate UN meetings, remember that it is not just (and perhaps, controversially, not at all) the government and regulations that will take care of the earth.  It is us, if the same number of people who attended the march committed to 10 small acts* of environmentalism, it would make a difference. If we practice, it will make a difference.  It is not necessary to try to be better, or to aid the environment as a mission – we all naturally want to do that – we just need to really practice. So really practice.

10 Small Acts of Environmentalism You can do for the Rest of Your Life:

*Never buy another roll of paper towels. Use small rags. It creates no greater water or laundry detergent use than I’ve always used to wash my regular bathing towels. (Ditto with paper napkins)
*Use a shower head that pauses the flow, or an adapter for your current shower head.
*Never buy another conventional cleaning product. Buy ones like Meyers Brand, or make your own.
*Spend time in nature regularly. Develop a relationship with a particular place in nature.
*Never buy another plastic bottle of water. Buy one of the multitude of refillable water bottles to your weight and aesthetic needs. If you plan ahead, and accept the small inconvenience, it becomes something you don’t even think about.
*Never buy another garbage bag. Use the plastic ones from grocery stores you get when you forget to bring your reusable bag/don’t have enough with you.
*Be educated about what is currently most sustainable to buy, and buy that. For example, cork yoga blocks came on the scene as a great alternative to the foam blocks.  Then everything started to be made from cork. Then cork trees began to be endangered. Now bamboo is best. Although I hear they are cutting down regular forests in some places to build bamboo ones. Don’t get bowled under by these kinds of situations. Make the best choice possible at the time you’re making it.
*Institute the old camp favorite: If it’s yellow, let it mellow…
*Never “print something for your records again”.  Create a PDF, and file it electronically.   As a yoga teacher, I have to itemize my purchases each year for taxes. I used to print all my receipts from online purchases. I don’t print a single one anymore.  Anything I do print, I print double-sided. Anything with one side that I eventually am done with, I use the other side as note paper.
*Compost and Recycle so regularly that when you’re somewhere it isn’t possible to do, it hurts a little to put it in the trash.

Mother_Earth caitlin taylor*Bonus: Be creative – what works in your life? What are other ways? How do you care for this one and precious earth?

Chanting in yoga class

Perhaps you love chanting in asana class, perhaps you find it silly, perhaps you boycott and wait silently for the “real” class to begin.  Maybe you’ve only been to one class with it, or you’ve been to tons, but either way, you still don’t really know why you’re being asked to “sing” before a class. Especially if you don’t sing in front of other beings normally.  For students and teachers alike, the debate over whether or not to chant, when, where, how and what to chant is ongoing and often tied into personal feelings and experiences.  Sometimes chanting itself creates yet another samskara (habitual response) or chitta vritti (mind fluctuations) to deal with, in a practice that is largely designed to help us move beyond those very things.  No matter where you fall on the spectrum, becoming familiar with the reasons why a yogi chants will inform your practice, either infusing what you already love to do with a depth beyond the form of the chant, reinvigorating what has become rote, or keep you from missing out on some great classes.

Seven Reasons Why We Chant in Yoga Class

1) The language of yoga is sanskrit.  The poses are in Sanskrit, Patanjali’s yoga sutras are in Sanskrit, and much of the philosophical canon of yoga is in Sanskrit.  It is a language developed with intention, with purpose. It did not arise, like most languages, out of a need to communicate and organize.  Each letter of the Sanskrit alphabet was designed to create a certain vibration. The stringing together of the letters, Sanskrit words, were also designed to create certain vibrations.  Similar to musical notes strung together to create a song.  It is in this form, vibration, that the Yoga Sutras and yoga philisophy are best understood.  English explanations are always offered because they satisfy our mind’s intake of knowledge and understanding. But in order for yogic writings to be fully incorporated into our being, they must be chanted in Sanskrit.

2) According to yogic philosophy, and now quantum mechanics (Super String Theory), the essential nature of the world is vibration. By that I mean that everything, from your pen to your blood to the book your reading to the mousepad under your fingers, at it’s most simplified, smallest level is a collection of vibrations.

Chanting is like striking the tuning fork of your body.  It aligns your vibrations with other beings, within your body itself (muscles, bones, skin, organs begin to harmonize), and with the essence of the entire universe.  It is one of the simplest and most direct ways to move into intimacy with others; to unite your mindy, body & soul; and to connect with the infinite and basic nature of reality.

3) Michael Stone, in his dharma talks (see the Resources Page), talks about the use of form and ritual in the study of yoga.  In his sangha (community of practioners), he utilizes a bell to signal the beginning and end of a session.  He makes the point that the ritual of the bell provides just enough form to hold the space sacred for practice.  Chanting is often used in much the same way.

4) Chanting is an essential part of Bhakti Yoga.  There are four main schools of yoga: Bhakti (devotion/love), Raja (kingly/Hatha), Jnana (intellect/study), and Karma (action/service).  As asana practioners, we are all Raja Yogis.  Each individual tends to gravitate towards one school over another.  Ideally, as we deepen our practice, we begin to integrate all four schools of yoga, even though one generally remains the main practice.  By combinging chanting and asana, we begin to unify ourselves through the integration of Bhakti Yoga.

5) “Sound rides on the back of the breath” – Manorama.  Chanting necessarily influences the breath.  When practiced correctly, chanting is a subtle form of pranayama, and prepares one for asana or other breathwork.

6) Chanting can set the tone for the class.  The sutra, prayer, blessing, evocation or calling out focuses the class around a theme or intention.  The vibrational quality unites the entire class under this theme/intention.  It is the breath and intention that separates an asana class from a “stretching” class.

7) Singing is good for you. This, and other articles, describe the physical and psychological benefts of singing.  Additionally, the experience of singing is theraputic, almost everyone has self-medicated with it.  Or, on the other side, has rejoiced with it. If you think about times you’ve been in either emotional state, chances are you don’t need to read a website to know the value of singing.  While chanting is not singing, as it’s focused on the vibrational quality of sound, rather than vocalization, they produce similar results.

Chanting, as with any aspect of your yoga practice, should not be something you do simply because the teacher has told you to.  Try it, investigate it within yourself, share with other students about their experiences, and always feel free to talk to your teacher.