Posts tagged ‘change’

Choose Your Own Adventure

When I was a little girl, I would ride my bicycle to the library. I used to love the silence, the solitude, and being surrounded by books and endless possibility.

I gravitated toward the Choose Your Own Adventure books. I remember they were in one section of the library, and I would read them one by one.

But I wouldn’t just read them one time through. I had to explore every possible scenario in each book. I liked to witness how the choices I made at the bottom of the page affected the storyline.

It’s about the Journey, not the Destination

For as long as I can remember, I have used Choose Your Own Adventure books as my analogy to life.

We are born with a certain set of circumstances. From there, we choose what to do, where to go, who to be, how to feel. Then with each new choice we make, we are given a different set of circumstances and decisions to make.

That is the great adventure to life, this journey that we co-create right along with the circumstances we are given.

Becoming the Author

Part of practicing yoga is to become awake to being the reader of the story, the story of our individual lives. We stand back from living the drama, and instead witness how our actions affect our outcomes.

With this greater perspective, we can then become the author of our destiny. We can begin to make choices that lead us more toward happiness and less toward sadness, more toward living the life we truly love, and less toward attracting the things we do not wish to experience.

So that begs the question, “If I am unhappy, what actions can I take to change it?”

Progress Requires Action

Part of being a yogi is moving more toward becoming radically alive, about living each day as if it is your best day. It is not the path for everyone, but it is a path that leads to happiness.

One way yoga leads to happiness is by helping us realize that all we really have in life is the present moment. This present moment was created by our past decisions, by the choices that we made at the end of the page.

Our future, therefore, is determined by the choices we make right here, right now, by the fresh ink still wet on the paper of our current adventure.

So we can co-create our futures now by making decisions that will benefit our greater good tomorrow.

I will be working on answering the above question myself over the next several months, “What can I do to be happier?”. I invite you to join me. I invite you to Choose Your Own Adventure.

Namaste,

~Amber

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Choose Your Own Adventure books

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Fear Not the End

I have joined a Philosophy Group that meets once a week or so to discuss certain topics such as right versus wrong, and the definition of the “Self”. Being a student of yoga, which is a philosophical system, this group is socially and intellectually gratifying.

Our most recent topic was whether marriage was necessary.

“How does marriage pertain to a blog on yoga?”, you might ask. Well, one of the topics discussed was that the end of marriage can often be so bitter that the institution did not seem like a good idea anymore.

What Comes In Must Go Out

Swami Satchidananda, the swami who opened up Woodstock, was famous for saying, and I paraphrase, “what comes in must go out”. What he meant is that if something begins, then by natural design it has to end.

Marriage is the same way. If it begins, then it is certainly going to end. Perhaps not in divorce, but unquestionably in death.

So the question is, should we not do something for fear of it ending?

In yoga, the answer is a resounding “No”.

The Practice of Non-attachment

A yogi is a witness to life. We watch the ebbs and flows of life without too much attachment to the outcome. That is what meditation teaches us, and even asana, the physical practice of yoga.

When we practice yoga poses, some days we are good at them, and some days we suck. Our bodies, our thoughts, our focus are all different every day, so of course our physical yoga practice would vary from day-to-day as well.

In The Bhagavad Gita, yoga’s greatest parable, it states “As for you, do the work that comes to you–but don’t look for the results. Don’t be motivated by the fruits of your actions, nor become attached to inaction.” (2:47)

The Gita continues by defining yoga. “Equanimity of the mind is yoga…Renouncing all attachments, you’ll enjoy an undisturbed mind in success or failure.” (2:48)

The next verse: “Work done for the sake of some results is much lower than that done in mental equilibrium…”. (2:49)

Essentially, the Gita instructs us that peace comes by giving for the sake of giving, and by living for the sake of living. Being unattached to the results of your actions is peaceful.

Accept. Adapt. Move Forward.

So what happens when things end?

Let’s be clear, everything ends. Life is change. When we accept that, we can adapt to the change so that we can move forward in life.

The Gita explained that to us approximately 5,000 years ago. When we live our lives performing the actions required of us without attachments to the results, we can be nothing except happy.

Happiness is our true nature; attachment and expectation get in the way.

We cannot predict the future. All we can control is how we live in the present moment. The future unfolds moment to moment, so expectation is really useless energy when you think about it. Moreover, it is useless energy that can lead to negative emotions such as resentment, fear, and anger.

Another way of looking at it: Expectation is an obstacle to happiness.

“Practice and all is coming”

Sri Pattabhi Jois was famous for saying “Practice and all is coming.” I find those words comforting.

Just do your best. Everything else will work itself out. If you do your best at something in each and every moment, be it your yoga practice or marriage, you can never fail.

How could you fail if you are trying your best with no expectation? This is especially true if you are able to accept, adapt, and move forward to every circumstance that comes your way.

Buddha said “There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.”

Focus on doing your best and being your best right here, right now. Everything else will work itself out. That is the path of the yogi.

Namaste,

~Amber

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The 8 Limbs of Yoga

What is Yoga?

Yoga is a spiritual and physical practice that was created over 3,000 years ago in India. Yoga, meaning “union”, is intended to connect the mind to the body.

There are many different types of yoga. The physical practice is called Hatha Yoga, “ha” meaning sun and “tha” meaning moon, and its purpose is to unite opposites and stretch the body in all directions.  The physical practice was invented specifically so that yogis could sit comfortably erect in meditation without too many pins and needles in their bodies.

Hatha Yoga is what we think of when we refer to yoga in the West, however, as you will read below, yoga is much more than just the physical practice where we contort, strengthen, and stretch our bodies.

Wait a minute… What if I am not interested in a spiritual path? Can I still practice yoga?

Of course you can! The spiritual path of yoga is not for everyone. The beauty of yoga is that the philosophy can be adapted to fit your personal beliefs.

Even if you practice yoga just for the health benefits, or the amazing workout of asana, you can still call yourself a yogi. Likely what will happen is that even if you practice only asana and nothing else, you will find yourself able to deal with stress much better than before, which will improve your quality of life.

The 8 Limbs of Yoga

The asanas are just one part of yoga. There are, in fact, 8 limbs to yoga, which represent the intention of our yoga practice. These 8 limbs were written out in the Yoga Sutras by the sage Patanjali around 300 BCE.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali explained that the purpose of yoga is to calm the mind so that we can elevate our conscious awareness. He laid out an 8 fold path.

The 8 limbs of Yoga are:

Yamas (the restraints)                     Pratyahara (sensory withdrawal)
Niyamas (ethical observances)     Dharana (concentration)
Asana (postures)                              Dhyana (meditation)
Pranayama (breathing)                 Samadhi (higher consciousness)

The 8 limbs are meant to be a series of progressive stages where we begin to explore our ability to live in a state of Samadhi.

Samadhi, meaning bliss, refers to living our lives in a state of equanimity, where no matter what the circumstances are we can be content. The place of contentment comes through the journey of the other 7 limbs where we learn non-attachment to the fruits of our labor; giving, working, and loving just for the sake of doing the right thing.

But the 8 limbs does not start at the finish line, of course.

The “10 Commandments” of Yoga

The first two limbs of yoga are the Yamas and the Niyamas, which together make up the “10 Commandments of Yoga”. The Yamas are the restraints that Patanjali suggested allowed us to live a more selfless life. The Niyamas are the ethical observances that he recommended we adopt to live more healthfully and consciously.

The 5 Yamas are:

  • Ahimsa – Non-Harming
  • Satya – Truthfulness
  • Asteya – Non-Stealing
  • Brahmacharya – Control
  • Aparigraha – Non-Greed

The 5 Niyamas are:

  • Saucha – Cleanliness
  • Santosha – Contentment
  • Tapas – Heat/Passion
  • Svadhyaya – Self-Study
  • Ishvarapranidhana – Surrender to God, or surrender to the powers greater than yourself, or simply, surrender to that which is.

Asana

Asana means “seat”. In the Yoga Sutras, the word asana was used to represent the seat upon which a yogi sat to meditate. Asana includes the physical postures we associate with the word “yoga” in the West.

Part of the Niyamas is tapas, or heat. Asana is meant to purify the body using the heat that we build as we practice the athletic aspects of yoga. Yogis treat their body as a temple, and asana is the method by which that temple is maintained.

Pranayama

The second sutra in the Yoga Sutra states that yoga is a practice by which we still the mind. Pranayama is the breath work that yogis use to calm the mind.

There are dozens of breathing practices used by yogis, each of which have a different purpose. Some of the breath work stimulates the body to prepare it for intense labor, and some of the breath work is calming and relaxing. Some are meant to warm the body, and some are meant to cool the body. Others relax certain areas that commonly hold tension. There are even breathing techniques that intend to bring yogis to higher levels of conscious awareness.

As different as they are, all of the pranayama techniques have purpose along the 8 limbs of yoga.

Pratyahara

Pratyahara means withdrawal of the senses. Why would we want to withdraw from the senses?, you might as. Withdrawal from the senses allows the mind to begin to look inwardly so that the next limb of yoga can be achieved.

Dharana

Pratyahara withdraws the distractions of the senses from the mind so that the mind can reach Dharana, which means concentration. The Sutras claim that with single-pointed awareness, the yogi can move to the next stage of the 8 limbs. Are you beginning to see how the limbs are intended to be followed in a sequence?

Dhyana

Dhyana translates to meditation. Remember that asana was created so that the yogi could sit comfortably in meditation. Through purifying the heart with the yamas and the niyamas; keeping the body strong and relaxed through asana; stilling the mind through pranayama; withdrawing from the senses with pratyahara; finding concentration with dharana; the yogi finally comes to a place where the mind can be quiet enough to sit in meditation.

Samadhi: Why We Meditate

Yogis meditate to reach Samadhi, bliss. Through meditation, yogis can begin to explore the intentions behind their actions. With this kind of svadhyaya (self-study), equanimity can be achieved.

As previously mentioned, the path of yoga is a path to live without attachment to the fruits of our labor. To live for the sake of living. To give for the sake of giving. To love for the sake of loving.

When we live from a place where we are not attached, inner peace is achieved. By not being attached to the results of our actions, there is no place in our hearts for greed, jealousy, resentment, anger, or heartache. When we peel away those negative emotions, we find our true nature, which is love.

More importantly, through non-attachment, yogis are content (santosha) regardless of the circumstance. Does that mean they are never sad? Of course not. What it means is that even though yogis might be sad, we are aware that “this too shall pass”.

Nothing is constant except change. Yogis understand that the ups and downs of life are all fleeting moments. True happiness, true contentment, true satisfaction can only come from within.

Yoga is a path to enlightenment, and yogis believe that enlightenment is living without attachment to action, equanimity.

To Practice or Not to Practice

Remember, you do not have to be on a spiritual journey to practice yoga, but I am sharing this with you because most people do not know that there is more to yoga than just the physical practice.

Please feel free to continue practicing asana or meditation, or only the limbs suit your needs. Regardless of how many limbs you practice, you will reap rewards!

Namaste,

~Amber

Get A Little Uncomfortable

Progress does not promise itself to be easy. Growth is not necessarily comfortable. In fact, sometimes we have to get uncomfortable if we want things to change.

Most great religions claim something to the effect of ask and ye shall receive. But in order for the things that you want to come into your life, room must be made; ergo, a change must occur.

What is your reaction to change? Do you freak out? If so you are not alone, because most people react this way.

Maybe a better reaction would be for us to ride the wave of change and see where it takes us. We must stay aware and be honest of the emotions that come along with scary change, but we should not resist them.

On the Mat, Off the Mat

Yoga teaches us to stay open to possibility. The asana practice does not promise to be comfortable. In fact, if your practice is vigorous, it is often painful at times. Those are just called growing pains.

What is important to pay attention to is our reactions to the pain, because that is often going to be similar to our reactions to change when it presents itself in our lives.

The physical asana practice of yoga is a metaphor for spiritual growth. How we react on the mat is often how we react in life.

The incredible thing about yoga, in my opinion, is that we can grow spiritually and emotionally while maintaining physical health, strength and flexibility through asana.

All yoga asks us to do in order to grow is to remain aware of our reactions to the events that occur in life. Stay present, stay open, stay loving, and everything will work out in the end.

What happens in between asking for what you want and receiving it is a journey. To lose the individual moments of the journey would be a terrible waste of time.

Time is the medium through which life occurs. It is life’s canvas; so it is best not to waste time if we can help it.

Practice Makes Perfect

Since the theme of this week’s blog is discomfort, I will share with you a pose I find terribly uncomfortable. I do it anyway, but it is murder on my coccyx (tailbone).

This pose is called Navasana, or Boat Pose. Full Boat Pose, or Paripurna Navasana, is when the legs are extended, but the pose can also be practiced with the shins parallel to the ground.


If this posture looks like a terrible idea, do not fret. There are modifications, like all yoga poses.

  1. To come into Navasana, begin in a seated position with the knees into the chest.
  2. Place the hands behind the hamstrings, and pull the knees into the chest. Rock back onto your sitting bones. Pull your lower abs in deeply and straighten the spine. The abdominals are pulled in tightly to the spine.
  3. Try balancing yourself on your sitting bones with your feet, or at least your heals off the ground. If that feels ok, challenge yourself to lift your shins parallel to the ground. Squeeze your inner thighs together, keep the spine straight, the abs pulled in tightly, and keep the thighs close to the abdomen.
  4. The next krama, or stage, would be to remove the hands from the hamstrings, and float the arms parallel to the ground. The shoulders blades slightly hug together, and the shoulder joints reach downward toward the hips. The palms remain open. The fingers are active.
  5. The next krama would be to straighten the legs with the feet flexed, kicking through the heels. Continue to breath.

Modifications:

  1. The hands can be placed on the floor by the hips.
  2. The hands can remain behind the hamstrings at all times until the arms can float parallel to the ground.
  3. Keep the knees bent.

Tips:

  1. If it is really painful on your tailbone, as it is on mine, try folding a towel a few times and sitting on it when performing Navasana.
  2. Even though this pose is very challenging to the abdominals to the point where you could be shaking, try to smile through it. Smiling really helps get people through difficult postures.

Benefits:

  1. This posture strengthens the abdominals, the hip flexors, and muscles along the spine.
  2. Navasana improves digestion and helps to relieve stress.
  3. This posture also stimulates the kidneys, the thyroid gland, and the intestines.

Hard Work Reaps Great Rewards

Remember, strong abdominals make for a healthy spine, good posture, and healthy internal organs. Even though this posture is difficult and can be uncomfortable, all of your hard work will bring great rewards.

With discomfort can come great benefit to our minds, our bodies and our lives. It is ok to be a little uncomfortable, a little off-balance, or off-kilter, as long as we stay aware of what we are experiencing.

When the great religions of the world said something to the effect of “ask and ye shall receive”, they never promised the receiving part would come easy. 🙂

Love,

~Amber