PRATYAHARA: WHERE WE PUT OUR ENERGY


FOTM-Placeholder-Cosmic-Snake

Focus Of The Month – June, 2017

Yama-niyama-āsana-prāṇāyāma-pratyāhāra-dhāraṇā-dhyāna-samādhayo‘ṣṭāvaṅgāni.
Restraint, Observance, Seat, Breath Control, Sense Withdrawal, Concentration, Mediation and Ecstasy are the eight limbs of Yoga.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras II.29

In the practice of pratyahara, one of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, we draw the senses inward to bring attention to the inner world instead of expending energy exclusively on the outer world. What we perceive in the outer world is just one part of our whole consciousness. Pratyahara provides a bridge from the outer practices of yama, niyama, asana and pranayama (from the gross) to the inner practices of dharana, dhyana and samadhi (to the subtle). The energy freed from focusing outward, freed of the desire to act and to collect information can be wisely channeled instead to the realization of who we really are, which is pure consciousness.

Where do we put our energy most of the time? We give our precious attention to the outside world, invariably, through identification with sensory inputs as well as identification with conditioned personality. For example, take our self-image, how we want to present ourselves to the world. How do I look? How do people see me? How do I want to be perceived? This kind of behavior exhausts a lot of our energy throughout the day. Pratyahara, as a practice, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take care of ourselves or that we shouldn’t embrace beauty. It means to be aware of how much attention we give the outer image and to reduce the energy wasted in creating it. Satsang is a potent and helpful yoga practice in this regard. To be surrounded by people who are interested in yoga and self-realization instead of sticking to a carefully crafted outer image supports us to liberate ourselves from false identification.

To be able to turn the focus inward we need to minimize outer disturbances to the extent possible. What do we feed our minds all day? Information from news media, television, emails, social media, magazines and advertising, all of which trigger our emotions and tell us what we need next. What is our strategy to deal with all this information? Some may turn to alcohol, drugs and gossip. We talk and think more in an effort to digest all that input. Unfortunately, it only makes things worse. We should rather make an effort to calm our mind! We have to be able to digest what happens to us and everything that we say and think and do. Choose that which gives you less new things to deal with. As a practice, write down what distracted you during the asana or mediation. What made concentration difficult? By putting it into words you can realize what you are chewing on while you wanted to focus on something higher than your daily distractions. Then you start getting a sense of what is really important to you and what kind of external sensory input you would like to minimize.

To understand what is happening during the process of pratyahara, for me the philosophy of Samkhya is very helpful. We get an exact breakdown of how the human being functions, what has an influence on our behavior and how we perceive the world. We all know our five senses, referred to in Sanskrit as buddhendriyas. There are also the karmendriyas or “senses of action” (talking, grasping, moving, eliminating and procreating). These are almost always immediate, unconsciousness, automatic, spontaneous, and learned reactions to the sensations. I see something I like, for example, a brownie. For others, it would be a cigarette, a steak, a sexy person or a new pair of shoes. I see the brownie, I want to have the brownie and my hand grasps the brownie. To understand why we act like we do, we need to observe the connection between sensation, mind and action. Then we have the chance to change something. Being aware of what drives us to action makes it easier to let it go and calms down our lives. Conscious behavior reduces distraction and increases the ability to concentrate. Focusing inward we discover the three parts of our mental activity. The dominant parts are the thinking part, the mind (manas) and the part having an opinion, our ego (ahamkara). The pure observing component (buddhi) is slightly hidden, but always present. Through training the mind we can interfere and stop our prompt action. We then have time to reflect and act consciously. Do I need the brownie? Am I hungry? Do I need more sweets? What did I eat all day? What are the ingredients? What are the consequences for me and for others? Does my action lead to more suffering of others? What are my ethical and moral beliefs? How do I want to act, instead of just react? Addressing these questions will lead to different behaviors, which are based on a freely made decision, with hopefully less ego involved. Selfless and nonviolent behavior reduces the dominance of the ego and brings more peace to the world and to the mind.

A practical aspect of the training of the mind is to observe things consciously like a witness. Practice observing without judgments, without words, just watching. For example, watch thoughts arising during the Yoga Practice. We don’t have to stick with the thoughts, we don’t have to describe them and we even don’t have to think about where they come from. We can realize this is the mind thinking a thought, and let go of the thought. This will bring us closer to the buddhi, our intelligence, which allows realizing the higher Self, which is pure consciousness.

The practice of pratyahara shows us, how much influence the culture has, the outer circumstances, our experiences, our personal behaviors and characteristics and, of course, our preferences and antipathies. Going inward reveals a sophisticated vision of our entire consciousness. The ego — or better the “maker of our small self” — can be identified and eliminated, revealing the buddhi, a clear and free perception. As Sharon Gannon and David Life say in Jivamukti Yoga: Practices for Liberating Body and Soul, “Through pratyahara we can journey from the outer fixation to inward revelation.”

Antje Schaefer

OPEN DOORWAYS


Focus Of The Month – April, 2017  2017-04-APR-Open-Doorways

nimittam aprayojakaṁ prakṛtīnāṁ varaṇa-bhedas tu tataḥ kṣetrikavat

Causes do not put nature, Prakrti, into motion. They only remove the obstacles and coverings, like a farmer breaking down the barriers to let water flow in the field. The hindrances removed by the causes, Nature impenetrates by herself.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali IV.3 (Commentary by Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati)

Many people think a yoga practice is about acquiring something, a certain skill or the ability to do an asana. What you are really doing is eliminating the obstacle that prevents you from getting there. You’re stripping away all the excess. It is the restrictive thought, the narrowing of possibilities that disallows the flow of energy or prana. We want these doorways to be open. Yogis are very practical, so to do that, we must investigate how they became closed.

Most often, an asana practice is associated with the physical body. That body is called Anamaya kosha or the food body. Kosha means sheath or covering. But what is moving the physical body? You may think, well, I am. But what actually moves your body is your vitality. Pranamaya kosha is the vital body where prana flows through energy channels called nadis. Now, you can’t dissect a human body and find the nadis. They aren’t visible, but they exist and you can feel them. You can tell when you have abundant energy or when energy is lacking. The koshas are sheaths that cover who we really are. That is whatever you want to call it – spirit, a creation of the Divine, a magical appearance, free, happy, unlimited. That’s your true nature.

You have five koshas or bodies. They may not be visible either, but they all interact with each other. In an asana practice, you could have emotional things going on, you could have intellectual things going on, you could have blissful things going on, and you certainly have physical things going on. But, in the end, what we’re trying to affect is our vitality, the flow of energy. We want to remove barriers that prevent the energy from moving a beneficial way.

Ksetrika is the Sanskrit word for farmer. In India, rice is farmed in paddies. The way it works is the farmer builds a little earth mound around the rice paddy to protect it from a nearby source of flowing water. An expert farmer knows exactly when to take the mound away so the paddy gets flooded at just the right time. The farmer must know how long to leave the field flooded before replacing the mound and stopping the flow. Just because someone has good soil, good seeds and available water, that doesn’t mean they are going to have a good rice crop. It takes a special intelligence to understand what the rice needs to grow. It takes a special wisdom to know the right time of the season, and so forth. All those elements work together to support growth. That is what Patanjali describes in the yoga sutra.

What you do acquire in a yoga practice is that excellent wisdom, that special intellect that allows you to open the gate and let prana flow to places that have become closed off. You gain it by feeling the restrictions in how you can articulate the physical body with your energy. You may want to do an asana, but somehow you can’t get the energy flowing into the back of your leg. The knee is shaky and the foot is bumbling. But, through practice and diligence, you gradually learn to allow the energy to flow freely into the leg. You know how to open and close the gates, like the good farmer.

More than the physical position, your task is to be free while you’re there. Study body language and you can see arrogance, defensiveness or fear in subtle expressions of the body. Are you mainly worried about yourself and your asana? Did you forget why you are doing it? Low self-esteem shows in the physical body’s inability to move with freedom, openness and joy. It is a result of thoughts toward yourself and others. It’s a result of selfish actions taken in the past. This is what closes doors and disallows the flow of prana that would promote growth. If unkind actions close doorways in our lives, then what we’re looking for are kind and virtuous actions.

You are not losing anything by giving away your kindness to others. In fact, you are filled with more vitality. You’ve experienced this at times when you are low on energy, and just really don’t have anything left, but then someone close to you needs your understanding. They need your compassion and support, and you really love them. You love them so much that your own fatigue goes on the back burner. You’re there for them out of a sense of identification with them, out of a love for them. We want that complete freedom, so that wherever you go, you are fully alive and have the ability to surprise everyone with your openness.

~ David Life

NEW RANGE OF MOTION


01-january-range-of-motionFocus Of The Month – January, 2017


You know the story of the student who says to the teacher, “I studied eight years with so-and-so and two years with so-and-so, and I know all about this and that and the other.” As he is speaking the teacher is pouring a cup of tea. The student is going on about all his credentials and why the teacher should teach him. The teacher is still pouring the tea, which is now pouring out of the cup, all over the table and dripping on the student. “What are you doing?” the student asks. “Are you crazy? Why’d you do that?” The teacher laughs and says “You’re like the cup. You’re already full, and I can’t teach you. It would be like trying to put more tea in the cup; it’s not going to happen.”

Letting go, or the release, of a restricted way of moving is essential to being filled back up. That emptying out process is a surrender. Surrender has a negative connotation to us. It usually means that we have lost. But in this case it allows us to let go of the way things have been and embrace newness as it appears in each moment. We are able to find a new range of motion with new possibilities and thoughts coming into our minds.

We can see how we’ve been indoctrinated by our culture in the ways that we move. In some places we shake hands, while in others that’s not considered a good thing to do. There are differences in how women and men move, and how people signal and interact with one another. We learn these ways of being. As we grow older, we become more attached to our own set of prohibitions and possibilities. They become narrower and less available if you are only walking down the same path every day.

A new way of approaching the future is expanding what is possible rather than limiting it. There are actually a thousand different ways you can get to work instead of taking the same route each day. The key is not clinging to how we’ve always lived our lives. Most of our decisions are made according to how we’ve been programmed instead of spontaneity, creativity and originality. If you were raised with writers, musicians or dancers you might be more likely to tap into the universal consciousness and conduct real creativity instead of the same old ideas.

We would all like to know how to step forward in a way that doesn’t hurt others. It is good for us and good for the Earth. We want to orient our self to the Earth in all kinds of ways so that we get different points of view; upside down, right-side up, half-way turned around. Those are very potent things to do with your body. They can deprogram you, opening up the list of possible ways of being. We all have certain prejudices about what we are capable of. For example, the thought “I have very little upper body strength.” That’s not a fact. That’s an idea. It’s not a matter of lifting weights. It’s a matter of what you already decided the possibilities were. “A world without war? No way!” As long as you have that thought, then you’re going to live in a world where there is no way of living without war.

Look at the hip socket. The possible range of movement is big, but if all you do in your life is sit at a desk and barely walk around, then you see the range as small. The joint is unable to find its full potential. That limited range of movement is also in your brain and nervous system. Your ability to understand, comprehend and accept new ways of being are also limited in the same way. The body’s limitation is a reflection of the mind’s limitation.

Usually what happens is the mind, because of its limitation, creates an action. The Sanskrit word for action is karma, which means any action: word, thought or step. The law of karma says that any action will continue on, reverberate and come back to you eventually. If you’ve ever thrown a pebble on a pond it sends out these waves. As soon as they hit the border of the pond they start to come back to the original spot. So every action we’ve done in this life and past lives are inside this body. The results are the restrictions, the tightness, the closed mind. The inability to be creative, spontaneous and to invent new possibilities is because of those past actions. The yoga practice allows you to bring those past actions to completion. Get them out of there!

~ David Life

Source http://jivamuktiyoga.com/focus/new-range-motion

Guru Purnima


Tuesday, July 19th 2016 is the full moon of the guru, also known as  Guru Purnima

Manorama explains that: «  This celebration is marked in July because in India the rainy season happens at that time. It is said that teachers and students can’t easily move when the heavy rains come so the opportunity to bond and set a good course of study together is present during this time of year. It is for this reason that July has become known as the month of the guru »

In the Jivamukti lineage as well, the July Focus of the month essay is about the Guru Mantra.

Yesterday, the open class I taught was dedicated  to all the great teachers in our lineage and I read a story from the Jivamukti Yoga book.  The whole chapter is worth reading thoroughly.  Here is a excerpt from it:

A month later [after Shri Brahmananda Saraswati’s passing] we returned to Ananda Ashram. After midnight, as Sharon was heading to her room to go to bed, she decided to meditate for a few minutes in the main room where Shri Brahmananda often sat to teach. His simple seat was still there, as he had left it. All the lights were out; just one candle was burning. Again, Sharon felt that longing to be close to her guru. She rested her head on his seat and once again, those mysterious sounds rushed in. She picked up her head, thinking perhaps she was hearing water running through the pipes in the house. She heard nothing. When she put her head down on the seat again, she heard exactly the same sounds that she had heard emanating from his body. Shri Brahmananda was once again giving her his timeless message that we are all beyond the body and mind; we are the vibration of the I-AM.

We close every Jivamukti Yoga class with this chant acknowledging the guru:

Om Bolo Sat Guru Bhagavan Ki Jai Victory to God, the only real teacher.

God and Guru are the same. When we experience God in a teacher, the devotion we feel is transformational. Guru can remind us of God. We are thus reminded of our own divine nature.

Regularly, I play Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati’s CD « Chanting sanskrit » and especially the guided meditation that closes each CD. His OM always shakes me. Through his powerful voice, I feel the potency of his being, beyond physical form. But sometimes, I forget these precious gems.

Last February, I caught a very bad cold. I was coughing so hard I couldn’t sleep. Sitting was relatively comfortable so I propped myself up with as many pillows as I could find and played the meditation very loudly. For the whole 7 minutes it lasted, I did not cough. Then I thought, it was just a coincidence. I repeated the experiment three times. My cough had stopped. And I was finally able to sleep through the night (after three sleepless nights in a row). The February Focus of the Month was about the healing sound of yoga. At the end of the essay, Jules Febre (who wrote it) asked the question:  «  Why do so many yoga classes start and end with Om? Why is it considered a healing sound? Truly the best way to find out is to start chanting Om, because as Sharon Gannon says, “ through repetition the magic is forced to arise.” »

From other worlds,  Shri Brahmananda Saraswati gave me an answer and manifested a miracle. It took me a bad cough and a certain hopelessness to not being able to sleep, to remember the teachings. Why was I so blind? I could only laugh at myself.

Yogic teachings honor the biological mother, as the first guru;  guru literally means, dispeller of darkness. Not only did my mom give me life but her departure (she abruptly left us on August 30th 2010) was an invaluable life teaching. We truly never know when and how death will occur. The journey of the loss and the gain can be a deep cycle of growth. May we all learn from it. The yogi strives to live an impeccable life, always ready for “he whose date and time of arrival we do not know”. For the realized yogi,  the time of death is a conscious departure. In sanskrit Mahāsamādhi, literally means the great merger.

Shymdasji took his  Mahāsamādhi reciting mantra and dedicated his life to the teachings of the path of Grace. He had me fall in love for the Pushti Marg’s sacred texts and sounds. I am forever indebted and grateful to him.

I honor and respect Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati , the gentle swami Nirmalananda, the great Sri K.Pattabhi Jois;

Deep pranams and love at the feet of Radhanath Swami Maharaj. His last book « The journey within » is a treasure for every seeker, irrespective of her or his faith.

I feel so fortunate to have found teachers I can trust. They have and are still affecting my life very positively:

Lady Ruth, my adored mentor;

My teacher Yogeswari, a force of goodness in this world;

Our precious teachers Padma (Sharon Gannon) and David Life, I look at them and my heart is filled with awe and love.

Yes, it all comes back to love. The Love of God. It is the true ground of being.

Aside from my home altar, I carry with me always my prayer beads, a book, a recording, a small gift, all those are little reminders of love. We have embarked on a sacred journey, the journey of remembering our eternal, divine souls. May we never miss an opportunity to say « Thank you » to these high beings and saints who have touched our hearts.

As we rise in love, may our know-it-all-ness, our fears, our doubts and our lack of faith gradually melt.

To all of my teachers, I bow and say: Thank you for being in my life and for the many miracles of your love.

In gratitude always.

Jeanine

Happy Birthday David Life


DL

 

Photography: Sarah Keough; from the wonderful book ©Yoga at Home by Linda Sparrowe

 

What is the reason we’re here?

I hope the hell it’s not to be the same, not just to be the same (…)

My worst dilemma in life is: Why after all this time, can’t human beings stop killing each other?

I mean, you and me, we would sit down and we would agree.
We could even take a vow not kill each other, between us, since we know each other and yet…

It seems so simple but it’s just not a simple thing (…)

Human beings identify so much with their bodies, and their chachkas and their property; and they would defend them to the death.
And therein lies the problem.

– David Life (August 10th, 2014)

Happy Continuation Day beloved Davidji

You make this world a better place to live in.

With love and gratitude beyond words,

Your devotee,

Jeanine

Evolution is an Intelligent Plan


Focus of the Month

DECEMBER, 2015

(Humans) are transitional beings. (They) are not final. The step from (human to superhuman) is the next approaching achievement in the earth’s evolution. It is inevitable because it is at once the intention of the inner spirit and the logic of Nature’s process. 
— Sri Aurobindo

There is neither evolution nor destiny; only Being.
— Albert Einstein

The Maasai peoples’ creation myth involves the god Nigai first sending down his cows to inhabit the earth, and later sending down the Maasai people to care for and herd the animals, and also to depend on the cows’ blood and milk for sustenance. Our Maasai friend told me that there was no time in the past when cows and humans were without each other on Earth. He insists that there are no old stories about a time when the cows were not present in the same form they take today. I became curious and tried to find out the archeological idea of when and where the first cows and humans appeared in Africa. The supposed cow progenitor is called the Auroch and the oldest evidence of their existence comes from India about 2 million years ago. The Auroch migrated to Europe and Africa about 270,000 years ago and formed new subspecies. It is estimated that early human family members inhabited Africa 6 or 7 million years ago. It seems like humans have been around many millions of years before cows! The historical evidence is from various dating techniques and fossil evidence, but in both cases – the Aurochs and the humans of 2-7 million years ago did not look like humans and cows do today – they have definitely changed! In the Maasai myth both humans and cows arrive in their present form and remain unchanged to this day.

In the conversation between evolution and creation both sides see the other as absurd. Our Maasai friend could not understand any other possibility than the myth he grew up with and believed in. Even more, it seemed that he could not even frame the question for consideration. From my side, it is difficult to believe that humans and cows arrived together and remain unchanged to this day.

In Samkhya philosophy the word parinama is used to describe the evolving universe. The Dashavatara, the 10 principle avatars of Vishnu, could symbolize sequential evolutionary progression of fish, turtle, boar, the man-lion, and the dwarf, (the rest are human.) In the Ramayana we find ape-like species with human intelligence, the Varanas.

Our expanding universe seems to indicate a moment of creation – called the Big Bang. Could both ideas be true i.e. that there was a creation moment, and an integral aspect of that ongoing creation is evolution? A new paradigm called “intelligent design” describes evolution as a very orderly and directed sequence of change issuing from intelligence, rather than a series of fortunate or unfortunate random events within an environment that lead to changes in organisms. This idea tries to incorporate both the god of the creationists and the observations of an evolutionist.

There are those who believe that the next evolution of human consciousness will be to transfer our consciousness out of the physical body and into computers that are immortal. We already see body and brain parts being replaced with computer-operated spares. Some hold that the intelligence of the computers will soon far exceed their human creators intelligence – making human beings completely obsolete. Are we witnessing evolution at work? Or, are we evolving ourselves out of the picture? Stephen Hawking said, “Artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” He believes that super computers may design new weapons that we will annihilate ourselves with.

If we put bodies and intelligence aside for now, the central issue seems to be whether consciousness itself evolves. From the spiritual point of view Consciousness cannot evolve simply because it is already fully evolved. Consciousness is covered or shrouded with ignorance. As avidya (ignorance) is diminished – we evolve back toward a fully revealed Consciousness. This evolution of Consciousness through yoga is the rising serpent Kundalini who moves from the base of the spine toward the crown chakra. This spiraling journey upward is the real story of evolution; the spanda. It is much more than computer spare parts for your body – it is enlightenment!

December 2015 – David Life

http://jivamuktiyoga.com/teachings/focus-of-the-month/p/evolution-intelligent-plan