What is Yoga

I’ve been telling everyone in my family for at least the last ten years that when I turned fifty, my life was going to change. I’ve been thinking about retiring for a long time. If not that, taking a couple years off to, say, learn Spanish and live in South America. Or maybe ‘retool’ by going back to some technical school. I even looked into what it would take to become a Naturopathic Doctor (ND). But each time I brought it up, the timing wasn’t quite right. It remained a future event.

Last April, I turned fifty.

Last weekend I attended my first yoga teacher training class at 8 Limbs Yoga in Seattle.

I now know what I’ve been waiting for. 

The Basic Teacher Training program that 8 Limbs put together is 16 days – spread out over five months as five extended weekends. It’s a combination of lectures, discussions and hands on – hold it tell you learn it – yoga. You get a very detailed introduction to anatomy and Sanskrit which both come with the work of learning foreign languages and, my favorite part, yoga philosophy.

I love the fact that Yogis have named so many concepts that have been such a strong part of how I live my life. The philosophical understandings that I grew up around and live by all seem to fit nicely into named categories that are widely accepted and understood. It’s very comforting. It’s like I’ve finally stumbled across a language that helps describe my experiences! It’s heartwarming. In a way, if feels a bit like I’m coming home again. It’s something that I’m actually excited to learn!

There were a couple moments that stood out very strong to me that I’d like to share.

In one of the lectures, we (as a class) were asked – what does yoga mean to you? As the teacher looked around the room and solicited the first responses, the voice in my head polished what yoga means to me. I raised my hand, got selected and offered up my understanding – yoga is the conscious act of practicing what is it to be human. There was a pause for a bit longer than a second before she acknowledged that it might be an ok answer. It was one of those awkward moments that lasted a bit longer than it should have.

A few seconds later, old emotions bubbled to the surface regarding being the odd student in class. It took me way back to when I was singled out for having really weird, unconventional ideas that I would boldly share regardless of how stupid it sounded. Or, maybe, statements that I would make that could not be conventionally proven. They sat outside the box. They made people uncomfortable.

Yet the teacher seemed to be polished enough to not let it distract her from the well prepared lecture that jumped right into the standard definition of yoga. The Wikipedia has something similar to what she said:

In Vedic Sanskrit, the more commonly used, literal meaning of the Sanskrit word yoga which is “yoke”, “to join”, “to unite”, or “to attach” from the root yuj, already had a much more figurative sense, where the yoking or harnessing of oxen or horses takes on broader meanings such as “employment, use, application, performance” (compare the figurative uses of “to harness” as in “to put something to some use”)…

She also mentioned something like:

Generally put, yoga is a disciplined method utilized for attaining a goal…

As we got into it more, we learned that is a very broad term that covers lots of things to lots of people. And, ya, it really is that general – it’s a big topic!

During this lecture, I reflected back to the definition that rolled off my tongue only to find that it seems to fit. At least it does to me.

Let’s look at it again:

Yoga is the conscious act of practicing what is it to be human.

One of the coolest aspects of yoga is that it’s a practice. It’s something that you do. Even when they talk about the philosophical studies, they are still talking about something that is practiced. Yoga is an act. It’s like dancing or singing. It is something that is done rather than simply talked about or studied. If you want to talk about philosophy, you intellectualize and conceptualize all the different attributes and how it might or might not be, but that is different than actually practicing what is described through the philosophy.

But as we dug in a little deeper, we saw that there are eight limbs of yoga. From the Wikipedia, we see that they are:

Patanjali’s writing also became the basis for a system referred to as “Ashtanga Yoga” (“Eight-Limbed Yoga”). This eight-limbed concept derived from the 29th Sutra of the 2nd book, and is a core characteristic of practically every Raja yoga variation taught today. The Eight Limbs are:

  1. Yama (The five “abstentions”): Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (Truth, non-lying), Asteya (non-covetousness), Brahmacharya (non-sensuality, celibacy), and Aparigraha (non-possessiveness).
  2. Niyama (The five “observances”): Shaucha(purity), Santosha(contentment), Tapas (austerity), Svadhyaya (study of the Vedic scriptures to know about God and the soul), and Ishvara-Pranidhana (surrender to God).
  3. Asana: Literally means “seat”, and in Patanjali’s Sutras refers to the seated position used for meditation.
  4. Pranayama (“Suspending Breath”): Prāna, breath, “āyāma”, to restrain or stop. Also interpreted as control of the life force.
  5. Pratyahara (“Abstraction”): Withdrawal of the sense organs from external objects.
  6. Dharana (“Concentration”): Fixing the attention on a single object.
  7. Dhyana (“Meditation”): Intense contemplation of the nature of the object of meditation.
  8. Samadhi (“Liberation”): merging consciousness with the object of meditation.

As it turns out, these are all things that humans do. These are actions that humans practice. These are fundamental philosophical, emotional and intellectual actions directly associated with being human. When the Yogi’s mention Dharama, they’re not talking about what an eagle does while sitting in a tree looking out for prey, no, it’s our own attention that gets focused. It’s an act of consciously focusing our own attention. It’s a practice, it’s not a destination.

When it comes to the Ahimsa aspect of Yama, violence is something that you do, thus Ahimsa is the conscious act of choosing to be non-violent. It’s something that’s practiced. You can talk about it all day, but it’s not yoga until it’s practiced.

The more the lecturer talked about the eight limbs of yoga, the more the definition that rolled off my tongue seemed to make sense. The philosophies are all human actions that are practiced. People make that conscious decision to act following specific guidelines. Even when it came to talking about the ‘yoke’, from the literal translation, that yoke would be the human carrying his own burden. It’s your own work.

It seems to me that we’re all practicing yoga all the time; it’s just that some people do it consciously and with intent. Either way, the results of our actions build into our experience of being human. The difference might be that the yogi understands what he’s doing and he strives to get better at it whereas everyone else is unconsciously along for the ride – like the leaf blowing in the wind.

So, I feel a little better about that definition that rolled off my tongue. I’m sure there is more to it, but I’m pretty confident that the words are close what I feel right now. If that feeling changes, hopefully, I’ll have new words to describe it.

Another key moment that we felt emotionally for me came during the sequencing sessions. You can talk, read, watch and participate in discussions about how to lead a group of people through some common set of poses, but it’s a totally different thing to actually do it. We were asked to instruct for a couple ten minute blocks of time and it’s truly humbling. Stage fright strikes hard. No matter how many times you go over a routine in your head, when stage fright hits, you’re a deer in the headlights.

Reflecting back, this technique for introducing students to the act of instructing is very well founded. The point is clear as glass – we can either talk about what teaching’s like and all the things you have to do to make it happen or you can simply do it. If you think of the definition of yoga as a practice, putting it to work as the instruction tool is a very good technique.

Now, how did it make me feel?  Well, I was humbled by the experience. It’s like giving the arm-chair quarterback who knows every play, statistic and winning combination the ball and placing them in the game to have them prove their worth. Well, there’s a big difference between saying your something and actually being it!

That few minutes gave me a new respect for all the yoga teachers that consciously leave the ego out of their instruction and simply practice. It’s not about how you can intellectualize it, but rather that you actually do it.

Another thing that really stood out is the people. It’s really clear that all the students and teachers all want to be there. Not only have they paid and waited in line to get in, but their actions are in line with how they speak. These are people that actually practice. This are people that practice being open and venerable – yet they have strength. When someone has moments of weakness, the people in class don’t exploit that, but rather provide comfort, sympathy and understanding. It’s unlike any other type of educational program I’ve participated in.

Another very tender moment that I was glad to experience happened during one of the lectures on the last day – to the Teacher. I remember thinking the previous day about the attributes of this teacher. The person is strong, organized, confident, attentive among a number of other successful characteristics. But what I felt was something that I’m well aware as being in myself – a very strong emotional defense system. She felt hard, business-like. The passion that she showed was clearly controlled and focused on yoga.

This all built together to make me wonder where her practice was taking her. I mean; if a teacher talks about what they practice and they’re behavior is different than what you’d expect from the teachings, well, you have to wonder if that is the correct set of exercises that you want to practice. It’s like learning how to play the piano from a musician that only copies classical masterpieces for their technical merit verses learning from a song writer that uses the piano to complement what they want to convey with the music.

The tender moment came when the instructor talked about something personal. It was something that she had/has a very deep emotional attachment too. As she talked about it in front of the class, the emotion (loss, love) of the situation brought her to tears – it was a very powerful expression. I could clearly feel it.

Ultimately, the experience showed a depth and strength about who she really is in an unguarded way. The self defense system was either overpowered or didn’t function to help conceal this particular experience. There was just a raw dump of emotion that everyone couldn’t help but feel.

After compiling my thoughts on this, I gave myself a little break and clicked on the radio. The first song that came up was foreigner’s “I want to know what love is”. The chorus line looks like:

I wanna know what love is
I want you to show me
I wanna feel what love is
I know you can show me
I wanna know what love is
I want you to show me
And I wanna feel, I want to feel what love is
And I know, I know you can show me

You can probably already feel that song. I know I’ve heard it probably a million times and spent time as a kid playing (practicing) that particular song. It’s powerful and very heart warming.

So, how does this relate?

Well, if you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you know what emotions are something that we generate. Related to thoughts and words, emotions come from within. It is something that we do. They are not generated from outside of our Being.

So, when you relate this to the song, the singer is stating that he wants to know what love is – which is an admission that there is lack of love in his life. He also states that he wants someone to show him – which is pretty rare to see because people have defenses that they don’t lower for just anyone. Lastly, he wants to feel love – which expresses the fact that he doesn’t currently feel it. He’s basically intellectually discussing love – while at the same time doing it openly for everyone to see! The singer is actively practicing love. You can feel it as you listen to the song. There is so much love in this song that you can’t help but get sucked into it.

Why does this come up here?

Yoga is this practice. Yoga is “more than a bumper sticker.” It’s something that you do. If you want to feel love, you need to generate that love within yourself so that you can feel it. You need to do what the lead singer in Foreigner is doing while singing this song. The song is a bit ironic with regards to wanting someone else to show him for he’s clearly doing it right now. Yet, the words of the song sum up what people are looking for for they think love can be found outside themselves.

The trick is being able to figure out what this singer is doing!

This is exactly what motivates me with regards to yoga. We can feel the emotion when it happens, but can it be practiced so as to be generated willingly and on command? Like standing? Speaking? Thinking?

What is the practice that teaches someone how to be able to generate emotions on demand?

That, my virtual friends, is what I’m hoping to discover as I delve deeper into yoga.

So, now, I get to do the homework. It seems to come down to practicing.

Celebrate yourself and reach others

Hi everyone,

There’s a little magic in the air again. Do you feel it? It’s not hard to feel if you give in to the mechanics of it!

If you remember a while ago I posted an article titled “It’s more than a bumper sticker people” where Kelly Morris lectures at the Wanderlust Festival about opening your heart. I still absolutely love Kelley’s words part way through that video. If you don’t remember, they went like this:

“… Open your heart, Oh God … Talk about a hallmark sentiment. Right yeah. It’s more than a bumper sticker people. You have to actually do it. You have to actually do it.”

She was comically sincere when she stated that you actually do it.

But saying it and doing it – to some people – doesn’t always come together. Why? Well, it’s because people don’t experience how it’s done very often. And, well, that’s why I like pointing it out when I come across examples.

Here’s a young lady who’s exploring what it’s like to be human. I found her YouTube channel a while ago and have enjoyed her adventures. Her name is Veronica (Youtube channel here) and, well, today, a realization that she picked up in a sleep state has split over into her conscious awareness, but I’m not exactly sure she’s noticed yet. 

I’ve included the video here for you to enjoy. It’s short – just the way I like them. While viewing it, take note of what you feel. Let’s reflect on that afterwards.

You notice anything? If not, you probably didn’t participate. Pay attention and view it again.

Before cutting to the locations in the video for review, I have to point out that one of the things that attract me to this young lady is that she and I are a lot alike with regards to meticulously analyzing our experiences. Her work is toughly thought out to the ‘T’. Technically, you might say that everything needs to add up correctly and it has to be presentable before she speaks about it.

Well, this video is a great example that even someone that’s always in their head can step out and connect emotionally. She doesn’t ‘think’ about it when it happens. And, if you watch closely, after making that connection she ‘talks’ herself out of it. But that’s ok, for the energy that’s shared in those few brief moments is enough to prove the point – even the most rational logical over analyzer can learn to make truly deep personal connections – when they get their own thoughts out of the way!

Did you catch the locations in the video where this happened?

Scroll into the video to a point just before 2:10. It’s at this point where she finally gives you the intention from the dream – Celebrate yourself. Notice though, the point where she sighs. That is a moment where you get to feel what she felt in the dream. It’s really short, but the feeling is there. Shortly thereafter, it gets suppressed with words.

Now, scroll head to about the 3:30 point. Here is where she finally gives in to what I feel is the substance of the video. It starts with “I celebrate you, I celebrate you. This is reaching you?”… Then she pauses with a sigh. This is where she no longer suppresses the feeling that she received in her dream. If you listen to the words a couple times, they genuinely flow from her spirit. During these few seconds, you’ll be able to feel what she’s saying rather than intellectualize what she’s saying.

Also notice that the feelings change just after the 4 minute mark. Why? Well, … Hmmm… Maybe opening your heart makes you feel a little – vulnerable? It’s at that point where the thinking mind gently covers over the vulnerabilities and we go back to everyday life.

Well, it’s moments like these – between the everyday life – that make my day!

Veronica, thank you for sharing your vulnerabilities! You’re willingness to ‘open your heart’ – even if ever so briefly – will bring joy to many! If Kelley Morris where around to see you here, I’m sure she would jump all over this. This is how you open your heart. This is what it feels like to be human. This is… wonderful!

Thank you for sharing.

Getting Out of the Way

There are moments when we all share bits of ourselves with others in a strong enough way that it’s felt deep inside. For some people, those moments are short and elusive. For Britney @ Miracle Of Mind (or net TV show), those moments happen on a regular basis. It’s like coming across an actress that is able to reproduce the emotions or a scene in line with the actions written in the script, Britney finds moments when the ego steps aside to let the inner knowing out. These moments are powerful and she’s made the effort to record the moments on film – so you can enjoy them too!

Not too long ago, when surfing to experience open souls, I came across a short video of Britney talking up some subject, but what caught my eye were her actions – rather than words. It’s like when you hear someone emotionally sing a song rather than technically sing the song – you feel the performance. When you feel it, you experience what’s going on rather than simply hearing it.

The experience is key here. Regardless of the words, what we can learn from Britney is that doing (lol) is exactly what she shows with each of her videos. She’s made a conscious choice to be open. Not only does she make that choice, but she shows how it’s done.

It’s not a talent, but a conscious choice. Her willingness to capture these moments on film document how easy it is and, if you pay attention, you’ll find yourself opening up in reflection with her.

Even though she calls this Turn WITHIN, not OUT, I would call it Listen, Learn and Be Love.

Can you imagine turning the camera on yourself like this? Lol….

I guess the key reason why I’m attracted to Britney’s videos is that she gives me confidence in the words – “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them”. In everyday life, it isn’t often that you find that second person to help you open up to your inner Being. When you do, the interactions can be powerful and deep. There is a special energy that is exchanged between two people when the mind gets out of the way and the Being shines through. Well, as it turns out, Britney’s already come to the conversation. She’s transcended time by gathering virtually and being available whenever you need!

I hope you listened between her words and didn’t get caught up in the technicalities for if you open your heart and just listen, you’ll feel her through space and time. If you don’t get it the first time, watch another one until you find one that resonates with you. At that point, listen & learn how it makes you feel. Pay close attention to that feeling for that is where you learn how she’s doing it.

Once that connection is learned, all that’s really left is to do it too! I don’t mean record yourself giving a sermon via YouTube, but simply opening your heart. Make yourself venerable – but with strength. Do what you know deep down inside is what you want to do. Allow yourself to do it and then, well, simply do it.

So listen, learn and all the while love. It’s easy and fun! You don’t even have to go looking for anyone for Britney is already there and waiting.

Good day.

It’s more than a bumper sticker people

There are lots of people that talk about doing it and then there are very few people that actually follow through. It’s like stating your dreams out loud, but never finding the time to live them. Are you someone that simply states your dreams? Or are you a doer? Are there items crossed off your list? Or has the list never actually been made?

I absolutely love coming across doers. Every time I recognize it, it leaves me feeling more inspired to continue to fill out my own experiences. Doing something is so much richer than simply talking about it.

When looking into how I might be able to attend a Wanderlust Festival, I came across a video by Kelly Morris that touch me and I wanted to share. It’s a bit long (35+ minutes) but the underlying philosophy many ring true with you as it did for me.

Hopefully, you can overlook her sharp, hard, abrasive almost abusive exterior for there is some strength that shines through that’s pretty powerful. In a way, I felt sad watching her present the lesion for she’s living it herself. We all live through stuff – get caught up in stuff – and never really know it until we get through it.

Here’s the video, but keep in mind that the critic in me will be waiting for you when this is over.

My favorite part starts 17:25 minutes into the video she’s talking about how you hear yoga instructors always saying your supposed to open you heart. It went something like this: “… Open your heart, Oh God … Talk about a hallmark sentiment. Right yeah. It’s more than a bumper sticker people. You have to actually do it. You have to actually do it.” Did it make you laugh like it did for me? Hey, if you skipped the video, just fast forward to this location. Stop around 17:00 and let it flow.

It’s all about actually doing.

A few months ago I attended a yoga practice with an instructor that I’d never been to before. I setup like normal for what I know will be a ‘practice’ and proceeded to take on the full student role. Ultimately, I’m there to practice and the role of the instructor is to guide the students along. Well, this instructor had studied yoga to the point where she intellectually knew what could hurt you and how to protect yourself. Well, every asana came with the full intellectual understanding of the pose. There was so much talk that after the hour passed I remember saying that I’d just been to an intellectual yoga class where the instructor talked all about yoga, but we never really did it. I haven’t been back.

I don’t think Kelly Morris would have tolerated the entire hour with this instructor.  

Back to the video.

Some things that she mentioned aren’t in sync with some of the stuff that I’ve mentioned in my blogging and are different then what I feel inside.

Her talk about anger seemed to come across a little abrasive to me. It’s at the point of about 9:40. She says something like “… It’s said that anger is the number of affliction (ah) besieging the western world, anger. And I asked you ‘are you angry?’ and how many of you raised your hands, like 2 courageous souls. Really? You don’t get angry? Come on… you all look so serious. You look angry right now.“

It might simply be that I’m troubled by a technicality, but she asked earlier if people where angry – not do you ever get angry. When I sense the feelings of the occupants of that room, I do not sense anyone as being angry. Sure, they might be serious, but not angry. Now, do these people ever get angry? That’s a different story.

I’ll forgive for its good entertainment and the underlying story is so much more powerful.

In the question and answer section, she brings up a good point at 24:30 minutes in. It ends something like “… and that’s all you can do is try – that’s why it’s called a practice. If it was easy we’d all be there already.” That seems logical. But I have to wonder about this a bit.

First off, she mentions ‘trying’ a lot in the video. Try to stand up. Can you? No. Trying gets you nowhere. Now, stand up. Does that work? Yes. Trying to do something leaves you in a state of never getting started and never completing. It’s the ‘talking about it phase’ of making your dream. You either do, or you don’t. Trying if failure.

The contradiction that I’m faced with in Kelly’s words is that yoga is a practice. It is the act of doing. You don’t try to do it. You just do it. When you think about the physical asana’s, you simply do them. You don’t talk about doing them. There is nothing open for debate, they are just done.

The same idea holds for opening your heart. You don’t try. You do. You don’t talk about it. You practice.

The last part that also gets me a bit is that idea that it’s hard (or easy). What’s hard to one person may be rather simple to another. When I think about what I’ve experienced regarding my asana practice is that the moves aren’t really all that hard. Sure you’re body may provide resistance, but that resistance comes from within. If you resist, the asana appears harder.

If you think about what it really means to resist, you’ll realize that to resist something is an emotional thing rather than simply a physical thing. The whole easy and hard argument is simply a matter of you making it what you want. It doesn’t have to be hard!

At the very end, the most interesting thing that she says is something that I completely – one hundred percent – agree with. It starts about 34:25 minutes in “The Buddha said the next Buddha was going to be not a one single human Being, but the songa – He said the songa or community of like minded people was going to be the next bubba. We’re going to do it together. We’re going to hold hands and do it together. Collaboratively. Are you in?”

This is something that I’ve recently come to realize. As we evolve, we will do so on the feeling planes of existence. This is rooted in the power of the heart rather than the power of the mind. This process of being a realized Being (as she says) is not something that will occur for people who simply talk about it. It will come to those who actually practice. You have to do it. You don’t try.

The really exciting part for me is that I get to see people learning how to open their hearts via the net! YouTube is an amazing evolutionary source. As people actually practice – and record it – that act of doing can be witnessed by another so as to learn how they did it. Little by little, we will learn from practicing – opening our hearts – together. It will be a collective awakening. We will all lead each other.

Maybe that’s way I spend so much time scouting YouTube for helpful little videos. It’s like doing physical yoga in a community – you’re with someone while you practice. The energy is stronger. The energy creates a feedback loop that makes it easier to … feel.

I’m pretty excited about it. I’m glad to have found this little video from Kelly.

Oh, one more thing. I get the feeling that Kelly is really holding back in the Wanderlust video for I found another little video of her.

You notice that growl! Or, better yet, did you feel that growl? It looks like Kelly has spent time learning about energy flow and it just jumps out at you in a split second! Can you tell where she gets her drive? Lol.

So, it’s not just a bumper sticker people – you’re supposed to actually do it.

A Good Day

How many times have you said good day to someone and not really thought about it? Some people speak these works with good intent, yet they are hollow. The essence that should back this phrase should be felt. It is a greeting (or farewell) that is only as good as the energy used to fill it – which is all too often, weak and forgettable.

The challenge to really having a good day is not so much a challenge for it to be good to you but rather a challenge to yourself to really see the day for what it is! It is a matter of perspective. It is a matter of awareness.

Each moment in each day is the correct time to experience life as it should be – felt. You, being a great receptor of life, have the ability to consciously feel every nuance of every moment. It is a choice you make. It is something that you do. It comes with active participation. It is what we do.

Your eyes are one of the most brilliant feeling organs that we have, for they can feel invisible (smaller then microscopic) light that has (nearly instantaneously) traveled great distances to bring us one beautiful wavelength of energy. That energy tickles our retina so as to allow our bodies to reconstruct that photon into the image that makes up this very moment of life.

I’m not sure exactly what lead me to the following video, but I’m grateful that it came my way. It is both beautiful and heartwarming at the same time. It’s meditative and remember- able. I absolutely love the closing words of the old man “…And then, it will really be, a good day.”

I encourage you to watch this Louie Schwartzberg presentation, of a trailer, of a project that he’s working on (or worked on) for it feels like the project we are all currently working on with ourselves everyday!

I hope that this video touches you with as much sweetness as it brings to me.

May every one of your days be filled with moments that are as glorious as the moments that are brought to our attention in this wonderful video.