A collection of favorite poems from our Weekly FREE Yoga Club Discussion Group on Oct. 31, 2020
In honor of the halloween holiday, I thought to kick off this blog and our discussion with Thriller. Please, however, keep scrolling and reading. The poems are as varied and interesting as is each person who submitted them and discussed their meaning. It was fa un and lively Yoga club discussion group this week and I look forward to more. Please join us next time! Saturdays from 4-5PM. Enter "YOGA CLUB" in the subject line under the CONTACT TAB and I will send you the topic for our next discussion. Thanks!
Thriller as spoken by Vincent Price for Michael Jackson's Thriller album
Darkness falls across the land
The midnight hour is close at hand
Creatures crawl in search of blood
To terrorize y’all’s neighborhood
And whosoever shall be found
Without the soul for getting down
Must stand and face the hounds of hell
And rot inside a corpse’s shell
The foulest stench is in the air
The funk of forty thousand years
And grizzly ghouls from every tomb
Are closing in to seal your doom
And though you fight to stay alive
Your body starts to shiver
For no mere mortal can resist
The evil of the thriller!
(cue maniacal laughter)
Everything is Going to be All Right by Derek Mahon
Submitted by Ronnie Bogart
How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.
Out of the Blue
Written and submitted by Maria Lorraine Binchet
On the day a new duck arrived in my yard,
replacing one who had recently died,
there was a moment when I felt I understood it all,
the mysteries of life and the universe.
I had apprehended all the unanswered questions,
and, during that moment, there was a tremendous stillness;
I was suspended in time, lost in the wonder of how a duck with wing feathers the color of jewels flew over, circled back, and then descended, to join a flock that was down by one.
When reality set in, and I comprehended the utter serendipity of it, I realized I understood nothing. Life was still uncertain and unfathomable,
but on this day, to a striking degree,
the randomness was a gift, leaving one open to surprise,
unexpected discoveries, occasional epiphanies,
and things appearing out of the blue.
God lives in Mill Valley
Both written and submitted by Larry Legion
I’m sure God would leave town
if He could, but being everywhere
already there really is no place for
Him to go and so
there He sits, latte in hand, reading
a book at the Depot while red dogs leap
in the spackled sunlight and a ball
behind a fence and the girl next to me
smiles to see that just as she thought
God drinks decaf and doesn’t
really get out that much.
"Here is one that’s a little more typical of me. I like the form. It’s a Japanese structure of alternating 7 and 5 accents( syllables in English).
They were done as a kind of contest. A person would say a verse out loud and then next person would use the last part of the first verse and add something of their own. That then became the first verse of the next one.
It became an endless chain and could sometimes go on for hours—something like a chant--all spontaneously. They tended to induce a trance.
There is a church inside my
heart which waits, silent
in the dark and candled night.
Your breath lays inside
my breath like a cat, dreaming.
In the dark and candled night
your breath lays inside
my breath like a cat dreaming
of the rain against
the window. (Hush, it’s sleeping.)
My breath, like a cat dreaming
of the rain against
the window (hush, its sleeping),
falls into your breath.
I never heard your breath before.
( It’s sleeping on the window.)
butterfly May 2017
when in stillness
undying screams within explode
anxieties crawl like bugs
under the skin
of which the world is deaf and blind
when in stillness
called demons awake
clogging up the mind
for hundred years or so
when in stillness
they melt away
vibration flows the vines
lightness comes up
eyeing in, eyeing in, eyeing
the mind pattern in sensation
with full awareness of which
free from cravings or aversions
to stillness and equanimity we sync
Submitted by Larry Legion
I slip in and out of the Sea at night with this
Amazed soul I have.
I am like a magnificent, magic sea turtle
Who sets aside his vast wings of
When I crawl upon your shores
To leave my divine seed of verse
Hafiz Slips in and out of God at night
Tied to his own amazed
Pyramid poem was submitted by Joan Westmoreland
My T'ai Chi Chih students write in the structure of increasing and decreasing syllables.. From 1,2,3,4 syllables back down, 3,2,1...Try it!
by Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi
Submitted by Linda Prosché
in the flood
which has yet to come
I'm tied up
in the prison
which has yet to exist
Not having played
the game of chess
I'm already the checkmate
Not having tasted
a single cup of your wine
I'm already drunk
Not having entered
I'm already wounded and slain
I no longer
know the difference
between image and reality
Like the shadow
I am not
The Layers, by Stanley Kunitz
Submitted by Maria Lorraine Binchet
I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.
A Great Wagon by Rumi
Submitted by Steven Geller. From what I can tell, this is just an excerpt and not the entire poem...still quite potent.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other”
doesn’t make any sense.
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.
The psychology of self-deception by Dr. Cortney Warren. April 11, 2014
Humans are masters at self-deception
We fool ourselves into believing things that are false and refuse to believe things that are true. Understanding our own self-deceptions gives us the freedom to change and lead a truly fulfilling life. The prefrontal cortex is the place where self-deception and honesty are both observed. What a relief to know that yoga gives us tools through asana, pranayama and meditation to help rewire those unconscious thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. All it takes is awareness. Here is a great TEDX video that helps explain further.
In all our classes throughout the week, we take the necessary time to reflect on those beliefs and behaviors that may be running unconsciously in the background. This awareness will be the first step in creating positive change for you in the present moment and going forward.
Understanding your own self-deception takes time, care and patience and it is often helpful to share your experience with others to gain additional insight. To facilitate this, we will continue the inquiry into the topic of self-deception and other weekly topics in our Yoga Club Discussion Group on Saturdays. Check out the schedule to find out more.
10/6/20 excerpted from Svoboda, & Blossom, YogaInternational.com
Rhythm is essential to life, moment by moment. Like all organisms, humans require rhythm to function well, but most of us ignore the natural internal and external rhythms of our energy, Prana ( life force) or prana ( life breath), central to our well-being. This life force motivates and is equivalent to the Qi ( Chi) in Oriental medicine. It strings body, mind, and spirit together on a single strand of breath or prana. Prana ( lower case “p”) is the life breath that inspires and interestingly, it’s etymology dates back to the latin word, inspiration or to breathe.
When we do not attend to the rhythm of our prana, we tend to create our own unnatural tempo which for me, at times in my life...has ended up as burn out. I find it amazing how my google calendar of self imposed schedules can still run my life. Covid has taught me that this kind of attachment disrupts my natural rhythm, weakens my life force, and undermines my ability to more easily adapt to inevitable stresses. Consequently my motivation to listen more deeply takes a back seat.
One of the gifts of yoga or any practice that circulates this vital force, is the ability to become aware of our own Prana and to learn to move through our lives with steadiness (sthira) and ease (sukha). These two Sanskrit terms are familiar to most yoga students from the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: sthira-sukham asanam. This is sutra 2.46, and is most commonly translated, “posture (asana) [should be] stable (sthira) and comfortable (sukha),” but is more literally translated as “resolutely abide in a good space.” Becoming established in “good space,” however, is only possible when our prana is healthy, and when we take the time to listen and breathe. And cultivating healthy prana is a process that extends beyond the edge of our yoga mat into every aspect of our daily lives. When we start infusing our lifestyle, breath, and relationships with sthira and sukha, we pave the way for a life of balance.
How do we cultivate these two qualities—sthira and sukha—in our asana practice? Sthira is the ability to “hold steady” in an asana, to hold body, energy, and mind in balance for an extended period. This capacity is known as asana sthiti, which can be translated as “attention in an asana.” This is where we build strength and motivation. True asana sthiti arises when the muscles are evenly engaged and are free of tension and strain. Sukha, or “good space,” in asana practice is the comfort that arises when the joints and bones are harmoniously aligned with gravity and when the muscles are free of strain. At the energetic level, Sukha manifests as an easy flow of breath and balanced circulation of Prana. Mentally, this “good space” manifests as a meditative quality of joy, satisfaction, and inspiration.
Prana is the energy that drives life. It is the power that animates the body, enlivens the mind, and along with prana and breath, illumines the soul. Creating a conscious and easy rhythm in our lives through the skillful use of routine is the surest means of reinforcing our yoga practice and establishing ourselves in sthira and sukha.
In its external form, routine involves getting up at the same time every day, going to sleep at the same time, and eating at the same time. But what it does not mean is doing exactly the same thing every day...you need some free flow inspiration! Getting up before dawn is a good way to enter the diurnal cycle, but you also need to listen to exactly what is going on with you on any given morning. That will be the inspiration and how you determine the pace of your life that day.
The key is to pay attention and respond to how you feel moment to moment within and yet without imposing structure from the outside. Many people don’t seem to understand this; they believe they can extend themselves in all directions indefinitely. But overburden the body and mind consistently and you will end up dwelling with sukha’s evil twin dukha, or “bad space”. I call it…”burn out” You will become increasingly exhaustive, reactive, and impatient
Life demands of us a perpetual relationship with the world. Because life is relationship, how well or poorly we relate to our environment and to the people around us determines how stable and pleasant our lives will be, how happy or unhappy we are. Yoga is meant to make every home a happy home, and I don’t mean the family you were born into or married into necessarily. I live with an Indian family of 4 and right now, this is my family. I have learned much about their kind and generous nature. This is in contrast to my blood family. A standard midwest, middle class stress and sibling rivalry overcoat with love. Relationships really motivate me but the challenges rarely inspire. What does inspire me is the steadiness of love, happiness and harmony. We could all use a little more of that right now in our culture. The ability to cultivate a quality of wise stability and spacious acceptance, free of self-centered expectations about how things should be can deeply inspire.
So, each time we are motivated to step onto our mats or sit in meditation we are cultivating sthira and sukha. By bringing these qualities to our practice and relationships, we can move through the tempo of our lives with steadiness and ease, less stress and availability of more intimacy and inspiration.
Studies suggest that we are finding ways to connect even amid quarantine
Before the coronavirus pandemic, there was a loneliness epidemic. By some estimates, two thirds of Americans often or always felt lonely in 2019. So when quarantines and shelter-in-place orders began, I was one of many social scientists who raised concerns that loneliness might worsen in the months to come. Would prolonged isolation trigger a “social recession,” as former U.S. surgeon general Vivek H. Murthy and physician Alice T. Chen put it?
Now, thanks to early research, we are starting to get answers—and the data give us reason to hope. According to several recent studies, loneliness has not only leveled out but, in certain cases, actually improved. Social distancing has made us recognize the importance of our relationships, which influence health and mortality as much as factors such as smoking and excessive drinking.
In a study published in the American Psychologist, researchers surveyed a group of people aged 18 to 98 across the U.S. at three different times: in late January and early February, before the U.S. outbreak; in late March, after social distancing was first recommended; and in late April, after shelter-in-place orders had been underway for a month. Each time, they polled participants using the UCLA Loneliness Scale and asked them to rate the statement, “I receive the social and emotional support that I need.” On average, the researchers found no significant changes in loneliness. In fact, perceived social and emotional support actually increased.
Another study conducted in the U.S., the U.K. and 26 other countries echoed these findings. The researchers surveyed the same individuals both before and during the pandemic, also using the UCLA Loneliness Scale. The responses indicate that, despite social distancing, people’s feelings of loneliness slightly improved.
Both studies stand out in that they followed the same sets of participants starting before the pandemic. In contrast, several papers that have reported a rise in loneliness used cross-sectional data—information from a single point in time—after the pandemic was already underway, meaning we can’t be sure if the individuals they surveyed were more or less lonely before. Other investigations have revealed additional nuances: After monitoring daily experiences of loneliness in the first month of lockdown, a preprint study in Germany reported an initial increase, followed by a decrease. This finding suggests that sudden isolation triggered a spike, but people quickly adapted and found ways to maintain social connection despite the circumstances.
Surprisingly, it seems that levels of loneliness around the world have remained generally stable. How have we avoided a social fallout? First, social isolation does not necessarily cause loneliness. While isolation is the objective state of being alone, loneliness is the subjective experience of disconnection, which means that you can feel lonely while surrounded by people or connected while by yourself. Amid COVID-19, most of us are more isolated, yet that doesn’t mean we are lonelier.
In the past few months, we’ve made a point to prioritize connection. The pandemic has made people more aware and appreciative of their relationships. Researchers have long known that social connection reduces your risk for illness, disease and early death. But only recently has the rest of society caught up. Whether we do so in person or virtually, spending time with friends, family and neighbors can bolster our social health—the dimension of well-being that comes from connection.
Similarly, taking action to support our communities through volunteering, making masks or thanking health care workers can confer a general sense of belonging. Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, researchers observed an influx of kindness, love and teamwork. For many of us, the pandemic has inspired similar solidarity and a spirit that “we are all in this together.”
Technology has also allowed us to avoid a social decline. Local nonprofits and national organizations offer remote programs, such as the Institute on Aging’s Friendship Line for people aged 60 and older and the AARP’s mutual aid groups for people to support each other within their community. Innovation has accelerated in the technology sector, with platforms emerging to better meet our connection needs and existing products launching new features, such as Nextdoor’s Neighbors Helping Neighbors program. Lawmakers are also acknowledging the need for political action to prevent loneliness: In March the House of Representatives passed the Supporting Older Americans Act of 2020, which included provisions to address social isolation.
If these trends continue, the social recession we feared could turn out to be a social revolution. Ironically, the pandemic may catalyze a cultural shift in which neighborhoods and communities band together to build healthy connection habits. In the process of reimagining cities, buildings, schools and workplaces, we have an opportunity to design our spaces and institutions in ways that enhance our social well-being. In short, it’s possible that a symptom of the coronavirus pandemic could become a cure for the loneliness epidemic.
To be sure, these trends don’t mean that everyone has felt connected. Loneliness may not have changed on average, but some groups are more affected than others. In the American Psychologist study, older adults initially felt lonelier, and people who lived alone or had a chronic disease reported more loneliness overall. Other evidence suggests that younger generations, men and residents of individualistic countries are particularly susceptible to loneliness. Meanwhile the digital divide has left older adults especially vulnerable because many lack the means to socialize or seek support remotely.
We still have a long way to go to reduce loneliness at the population level. But at the very least, so far, COVID doesn’t seem to have made it worse. With cases fluctuating and states closing down again, it will take a concerted effort to ensure that we stay socially connected even while physically separated.
We all feel powerless when it comes to the coronavirus, but we still have some control over our social lives and our social health. We can call our loved ones, participate in quarantine pods, reach out to isolated neighbors and organize virtual gatherings. Now is the time to strengthen bonds within families, neighborhoods and communities of all kinds—because by doing so, we will not only endure; we might emerge better off.
9/17/20 ~ by Linda Prosché
Commitment can play a positive role in our lives. It allows us to reach goals that are important to us, keeps us in relationships during temporary difficult times, and helps us to persevere for important ideals such as justice, equality, etc.
Commitment can also become problematic. For example, commitment sometimes involves promises about the future which are completely uncertain. And, breaking a commitment can sometimes really send us into a downward spiral. Many people that commit to a diet and then break it know this feeling.
Commitment also seems to be the exact opposite of living a moment by moment life. William Hutchison Murray describes this as a hesitancy. I know that feeling all too well in my own life which is the opposite of boldness experience when I just take that leap. Enjoy his words of wisdom and join us for more during our FREE yoga club discussion group. Saturday from 9-10am. Sign up for yoga and stay for the discussion.
“Until one is commited, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.
Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless
ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.
A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents,
meetings and material assistance which no man (woman) could have dreamed would have come his (her) way.
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”
― William Hutchison Murray
9/13/20 ~ by Linda Prosché
Here is my translation of an article written by Hank Wesselman, American anthropologist and spiritual author from his book titled The Bowl Of Light. He writes about a well-known Hawaiian story referring to this bowl of light as told by a Hawaiian elder he befriended called Ma-kua.
“After a long afternoon of conversation peppered with humor and good will, Mak-ua presented me with a gift—
a beautiful wood bowl.
“This is your bowl of light,” he said. “Each of us comes into the world from the great beyond with our bowl of light— a gift from our ‘a(u)makua ( or) our higher self. We Hawaiians know this light is conveyed into us with our first breath, what we call the ha — the divine breath of life. This light then resides within us, nourishing and sustaining us as we pass through life until it returns to its source at life’s end.”
Makua considered the bowl thoughtfully. “Whenever we step into the negative polarity, however, whenever we injure others through our deeds, our words or our thoughts, it is as though we put a stone in our bowl and some of our light goes out. Slowly, as our bowl fills with stones, our light dims until it is nearly gone. Hopefully we discover this before it turns dark … and you know what do we do then?”
He turned the bowl over. “We dump it out!” He exploded into laughter, and we joined him. “We start over then, but from that time forward things are different. It is then that we begin to live our lives with greater awareness, and it is then that we begin to walk our path toward the luminous wisdom of our destiny.”
I spoke about this last week in class. Somewhere hidden, behind the smokey haze, the COVID fear and the hesitation and anxiety of an upcoming election, there is that light. Let's make it a practice to just dump out that bowl and commit again to our practice.
The practice of yoga is an art and science dedicated to creating union between body, mind and spirit. Its objective is to assist the practitioner in using the breath and body to foster an awareness of ourselves as individualized beings intimately connected to the unified whole of creation. In short it is about making balance and creating equanimity so as to live in peace, good health and harmony with the greater whole. This art of right living was perfected and practiced in India thousands of years ago and the foundations of yoga philosophy were written down in The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, approximately 200 AD. This sacred text describes the inner workings of the mind and provides an eight-step blueprint for controlling its restlessness so as to enjoying lasting peace.
The core of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is an eight-limbed path that forms the structural framework for yoga practice. Upon practicing all eight limbs of the path it becomes self-evident that no one element is elevated over another in a hierarchical order. Each is part of a holistic focus which eventually brings completeness to the individual as they find their connectivity to the divine. Because we are all uniquely individual a person can emphasize one branch and then move on to another as they round out their understanding.
In brief the eight limbs, or steps to yoga, are as follows:
Yama : Universal morality
Niyama : Personal observances
Asanas : Body postures
Pranayama : Breathing exercises, and control of prana
Pratyahara : Control of the senses
Dharana : Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
Dhyana : Devotion, Meditation on the Divine
Samadhi : Union with the Divine
The first two limbs that Patanjali describes are the fundamental ethical precepts called yamas, and the niyamas. These can also be looked at as universal morality and personal observances.Yamas and niyamas are the suggestions given on how we should deal with people around us and our attitude toward ourselves. The attitude we have toward things and people outside ourselves is yama, how we relate to ourselves inwardly is niyama. Both are mostly concerned with how we use our energy in relationship to others and to ourselves.
1. The Yamas are broken down into five "wise characteristics." Rather than a list of dos and don’ts, "they tell us that our fundamental nature is compassionate, generous, honest and peaceful." i They are as follows:
I. Yamas (Universal Morality)
1. Ahimsa – Compassion for all living things
The word ahimsa literally mean not to injure or show cruelty to any creature or any person in any way whatsoever. Ahimsa is, however, more than just lack of violence as adapted in yoga. It means kindness, friendliness, and thoughtful consideration of other people and things. It also has to do with our duties and responsibilities too. Ahimsa implies that in every situation we should adopt a considerate attitude and do no harm.
2. Satya – Commitment to Truthfulness
Satya means "to speak the truth," yet it is not always desirable to speak the truth on all occasions, for it could harm someone unnecessarily. We have to consider what we say, how we say it, and in what way it could affect others. If speaking the truth has negative consequences for another, then it is better to say nothing. Satya should never come into conflict with our efforts to behave with ahimsa. This precept is based on the understanding that honest communication and action form the bedrock of any healthy relationship, community, or government, and that deliberate deception, exaggerations, and mistruths harm others.
3. Asteya - Non-stealing
Steya means "to steal"; asteya is the opposite-to take nothing that does not belong to us. This also means that if we are in a situation where someone entrusts something to us or confides in us, we do not take advantage of him or her. Non-stealing includes not only taking what belongs to another without permission, but also using something for a different purpose to that intended, or beyond the time permitted by its owner.iii The practice of asteya implies not taking anything that has not been freely given. This includes fostering a consciousness of how we ask for others’ time for inconsiderate behavior demanding another’s attention when not freely given is, in effect, stealing.
4. Brahmacharya - Sense control
Brahmacharya is used mostly in the sense of abstinence, particularly in relationship to sexual activity. Brahmacharya suggests that we should form relationships that foster our understanding of the highest truths. Brahmacharya does not necessarily imply celibacy. Rather, it means responsible behavior with respect to our goal of moving toward the truth. Practicing brahmacharya means that we use our sexual energy to regenerate our connection to our spiritual self. It also means that we don’t use this energy in any way that might harm others.
5. Aparigraha - Neutralizing the desire to acquire and hoard wealth
Aparigraha means to take only what is necessary, and not to take advantage of a situation or act greedy. We should only take what we have earned; if we take more, we are exploiting someone else. The yogi feels that the collection or hoarding of things implies a lack of faith in God and in himself to provide for his future.v Aparigraha also implies letting go of our attachments to things and an understanding that impermanence and change are the only constants.
The Yoga Sutra describes what happens when these five behaviors outlined above become part of a person's daily life. Thus, the yamas are the moral virtues which, if attended to, purify human nature and contribute to health and happiness of society.
2. The Niyamas (Personal Observances) Niyama means "rules" or "laws." These are the rules prescribed for personal observance. Like the yamas, the five niyamas are not exercises or actions to be simply studied. They represent far more than an attitude. Compared with the yamas, the niyamas are more intimate and personal. They refer to the attitude we adopt toward ourselves as we create a code for living soulfully
1. Sauca - Purity
The first niyama is sauca, meaning purity and cleanliness. Sauca has both an inner and an outer aspect. Outer cleanliness simply means keeping ourselves clean. Inner cleanliness has as much to do with the healthy, free functioning of our bodily organs as with the clarity of our mind. Practicing asanas or pranayama are essential means for attending to this inner sauca. Asanas tones the entire body and removes toxins while pranayama cleanses our lungs, oxygenates our blood and purifies our nerves. "But more important than the physical cleansing of the body is the cleansing of the mind of its disturbing emotions like hatred, passion, anger, lust, greed, delusion and pride."
2. Santosa - Contentment
Another niyama is santosa, modesty and the feeling of being content with what we have. To be at peace within and content with one's lifestyle finding contentment even while experiencing life’s difficulties for life becomes a process of growth through all kinds of circumstances. We should accept that there is a purpose for everything - yoga calls it karma – and we cultivate contentment 'to accept what happens'. It means being happy with what we have rather than being unhappy about what we don't have.
3. Tapas – Disciplined use of our energy
Tapas refers to the activity of keeping the body fit or to confront and handle the inner urges without outer show. Literally it means to heat the body and, by so doing, to cleanse it. Behind the notion of tapas lies the idea we can direct our energy to enthusiastically engage life and achieve our ultimate goal of creating union with the Divine. Tapas helps us burn up all the desires that stand in our way of this goal. Another form of tapas is paying attention to what we eat. Attention to body posture, attention to eating habits, attention to breathing patterns - these are all tapas.
4. Svadhyaya – Self study
The fourth niyama is svadhyaya. Sva means "self' adhyaya means "inquiry" or "examination". Any activity that cultivates self-reflective consciousness can be considered svadhyaya. It means to intentionally find self-awareness in all our activities and efforts, even to the point of welcoming and accepting our limitations. It teaches us to be centered and non-reactive to the dualities, to burn out unwanted and self-destructive tendencies.
5. Isvarapranidhana - Celebration of the Spiritual
Isvarapranidhana means "to lay all your actions at the feet of God." It is the contemplation on God (Isvara) in order to become attuned to god and god's will. It is the recognition that the spiritual suffuses everything and through our attention and care we can attune ourselves with our role as part of the Creator. The practice requires that we set aside some time each day to recognize that there is some omnipresent force larger than ourselves that is guiding and directing the course of our lives.
3. Asanas (Body postures)
Asana is the practice of physical postures. It is the most commonly known aspect of yoga for those unfamiliar with the other seven limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. The practice of moving the body into postures has widespread benefits; of these the most underlying are improved health, strength, balance and flexibility. On a deeper level the practice of asana, which means "staying" or "abiding" in Sanskrit, is used as a tool to calm the mind and move into the inner essence of being. The challenge of poses offers the practitioner the opportunity to explore and control all aspects of their emotions, concentration, intent, faith, and unity between the physical and the ethereal body. Indeed, using asanas to challenge and open the physical body acts as a binding agent to bring one in harmony with all the unseen elements of their being, the forces that shape our lives through our responses to the physical world. Asana then becomes a way of exploring our mental attitudes and strengthening our will as we learn to release and move into the state of grace that comes from creating balance between our material world and spiritual experience.
As one practices asana it fosters a quieting of the mind, thus it becomes both a preparation for meditation and a meditation sufficient in and of itself. Releasing to the flow and inner strength that one develops brings about a profound grounding spirituality in the body. The physicality of the yoga postures becomes a vehicle to expand the consciousness that pervades our every aspect of our body. The key to fostering this expansion of awareness and consciousness begins with the control of breath, the fourth limb – Pranayama. Patanjali suggests that the asana and the pranayama practices will bring about the desired state of health; the control of breath and bodily posture will harmonize the flow of energy in the organism, thus creating a fertile field for the evolution of the spirit. "This down-to-earth, flesh-and-bones practice is simply one of the most direct and expedient ways to meet yourself. … This limb of yoga practice reattaches us to our body. In reattaching ourselves to our bodies we reattach ourselves to the responsibility of living a life guided by the undeniable wisdom of our body."viii To this B.K.S. Iyengar adds: "The needs of the body are the needs of the divine spirit which lives through the body. The yogi does not look heaven-ward to find God for he know that He is within."
4. Pranayama (Breath Control)
Pranayama is the measuring, control, and directing of the breath. Pranayama controls the energy (prana) within the organism, in order to restore and maintain health and to promote evolution. When the in-flowing breath is neutralized or joined with the out-flowing breath, then perfect relaxation and balance of body activities are realized. In yoga, we are concerned with balancing the flows of vital forces, then directing them inward to the chakra system and upward to the crown chakra.
Pranayama, or breathing technique, is very important in yoga. It goes hand in hand with the asana or pose. In the Yoga Sutra, the practices of pranayama and asana are considered to be the highest form of purification and self discipline for the mind and the body, respectively. The practices produce the actual physical sensation of heat, called tapas, or the inner fire of purification. It is taught that this heat is part of the process of purifying the nadis, or subtle nerve channels of the body. This allows a more healthful state to be experienced and allows the mind to become more calm.x As the yogi follows the proper rhythmic patterns of slow deep breathing "the patterns strengthen the respiratory system, soothe the nervous system and reduce craving. As desires and cravings diminish, the mind is set free and becomes a fit vehicle for concentration."
5. Pratyahara (Control of the Senses)
Pratyahara means drawing back or retreat. The word ahara means "nourishment"; pratyahara translates as "to withdraw oneself from that which nourishes the senses." In yoga, the term pratyahara implies withdrawal of the senses from attachment to external objects. It can then be seen as the practice of non-attachment to sensorial distractions as we constantly return to the path of self realization and achievement of internal peace. It means our senses stop living off the things that stimulate; the senses no longer depend on these stimulants and are not fed by them any more.
In pratyahara we sever this link between mind and senses, and the senses withdraw. When the senses are no longer tied to external sources, the result is restraint or pratyahara. Now that the vital forces are flowing back to the Source within, one can concentrate without being distracted by externals or the temptation to cognize externals.
Pratyahara occurs almost automatically when we meditate because we are so absorbed in the object of meditation. Precisely because the mind is so focused, the senses follow it; it is not happening the other way around.
No longer functioning in their usual manner, the senses become extraordinarily sharp. Under normal circumstances the senses become our masters rather than being our servants. The senses entice us to develop cravings for all sorts of things. In pratyahara the opposite occurs: when we have to eat we eat, but not because we have a craving for food. In pratyahara we try to put the senses in their proper place, but not cut them out of our actions entirely.
Much of our emotional imbalance are our own creation. A person who is influenced by outside events and sensations can never achieve the inner peace and tranquility. This is because he or she will waste much mental and physical energy in trying to suppress unwanted sensations and to heighten other sensations. This will eventually result in a physical or mental imbalance, and will, in most instances, result in illness.
Patanjali says that the above process is at the root of human unhappiness and uneasiness. When people seek out yoga, hoping to find that inner peace which is so evasive, they find that it was theirs all along. In a sense, yoga is nothing more than a process which enables us to stop and look at the processes of our own minds; only in this way can we understand the nature of happiness and unhappiness, and thus transcend them both.x
6. Dharana (Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness)
Dharana means "immovable concentration of the mind". The essential idea is to hold the concentration or focus of attention in one direction. "When the body has been tempered by asanas, when the mind has been refined by the fire of pranayama and when the senses have been brought under control by pratyahara, the sadhaka (seeker) reaches the sixth stage, dharana. Here he is concentrated wholly on a single point or on a task in which he is completely engrossed. The mind has to be stilled in order to achieve this state of complete absorption."xiii
In dharana we create the conditions for the mind to focus its attention in one direction instead of going out in many different directions. Deep contemplation and reflection can create the right conditions, and the focus on this one point that we have chosen becomes more intense. We encourage one particular activity of the mind and, the more intense it becomes, the more the other activities of the mind fall away.
The objective in dharana is to steady the mind by focusing its attention upon some stable entity. The particular object selected has nothing to do with the general purpose, which is to stop the mind from wandering -through memories, dreams, or reflective thought-by deliberately holding it single-mindedly upon some apparently static object. B.K.S. Iyengar states that the objective is to achieve the mental state where the mind, intellect, and ego are "all restrained and all these faculties are offered to the Lord for His use and in His service. Here there is no feeling of 'I' and 'mine'."xiv
When the mind has become purified by yoga practices, it becomes able to focus efficiently on one subject or point of experience. Now we can unleash the great potential for inner healing.
7. Dhyana (Devotion , Meditation on the Divine)
Dhyana means worship, or profound and abstract religious meditation. It is perfect contemplation. It involves concentration upon a point of focus with the intention of knowing the truth about it. The concept holds that when one focuses their mind in concentration on an object the mind is transformed into the shape of the object. Hence, when one focuses on the divine they become more reflective of it and they know their true nature. "His body, breath, senses, mind, reason and ego are all integrated in the object of his contemplation – the Universal Spirit."xv
During dhyana, the consciousness is further unified by combining clear insights into distinctions between objects and between the subtle layers of perception. "We learn to differentiate between the mind of the perceiver, the means of perception, and the objects perceived, between words, their meanings, and ideas, and between all the levels of evolution of nature."xvi
As we fine-tune our concentration and become more aware of the nature of reality we perceive that the world is unreal. "The only reality is the universal self, or God, which is veiled by Maya (the illusory power). As the veils are lifted, the mind becomes clearer. Unhappiness and fear – even the fear of death – vanishes. This state of freedom, or Moksha, is the goal of Yoga. It can be reached by constant enquiry into the nature of things."xvii Meditation becomes our tool to see things clearly and perceive reality beyond the illusions that cloud our mind.
8. Samadhi (Union with the Divine)
The final step in the eight-fold path of Yoga is the attainment of Samadhi. Samadhi means "to bring together, to merge." In the state of samadhi the body and senses are at rest, as if asleep, yet the faculty of mind and reason are alert, as if awake; one goes beyond consciousness. During samadhi, we realize what it is to be an identity without differences, and how a liberated soul can enjoy pure awareness of this pure identity. The conscious mind drops back into that unconscious oblivion from which it first emerged.
Thus, samadhi refers to union or true Yoga. There is an ending to the separation that is created by the "I" and "mine" of our illusory perceptions of reality. The mind does not distinguish between self and non-self, or between the object contemplated and the process of contemplation. The mind and the intellect have stopped and there is only the experience of consciousness, truth and unutterable joy.
The achievement of samadhi is a difficult task. For this reason the Yoga Sutra suggests the practice of asanas and pranayama as preparation for dharana, because these influence mental activities and create space in the crowded schedule of the mind. Once dharana has occurred, dhyana and samadhi can follow.
These eight steps of yoga indicate a logical pathway that leads to the attainment of physical, ethical, emotional, and psycho-spiritual health. Yoga does not seek to change the individual; rather, it allows the natural state of total health and integration in each of us to become a reality.