Yoga Sutras 1.21-1.22: Intention Correlates with Progress

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1.21: TĪVRA SAMVEGĀNĀM ĀSANNAH.
To the keen and intent practitioner, this [samadhi] comes very quickly.

1.22: MRDU MADHYĀDHIMĀTRATVĀT TATO’PI VIŚESAH
The time necessary for success further depends on whether the practice is mild, medium or intense.

 Simple advice plainly stated.

Dedicate yourself to your practice. Dedicate yourself to evolving. Be studious, and choose the most challenging practice you’re able to do. Even if you’re doing very simple poses or the most basic pranayama, practice with intense focus and utmost sincerity.

The degree of dedication you have to your practice directly correlates to the degree of impact the practice will have on your life. If you practice once a week and forget about it the rest of the time, the progress will be slow. You may forget things between sessions or just feel that you’re not getting anywhere. If you incorporate your practice into your daily life in small or large ways, your progress will speed up significantly.

If you know just one or two yoga poses or a simple meditation technique, try practicing every day for 5-10 minutes and make note of if/how it changes your day. Do you feel any differently? Think any differently? Can you apply yogic ideas such as ahimsa or breath awareness into other aspects of your day?

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How to Be a Better Teacher

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Step 1: Practice More

You can’t teach what you don’t know. Practice every day. Pay attention to the effects of your practice on your own body and mind. Deepen your awareness. Get intimately familiar with any pose or technique that you want to teach to your students.

Step 2: Modify

Study the poses with your students’ needs in mind. If they have limited mobility, tightness, hyper-flexibility, injuries or illness, look for ways to make the poses’ effects accessible despite those challenges. Use all the tools and props at your disposal if it helps the student.

Step 3: Learn from Others

Keep going to other yoga classes whenever you can. If you can’t make it to class (i.e. it’s too damn cold outside and you refuse to leave the house) study what other teachers have to say in books, blog posts, magazine articles and online videos. However you do it, just keep learning.

Step 4: Branch Out

Do something besides yoga. Especially if you’re a full-time yoga teacher, it’s easy to get in a rut of doing the same thing over and over again. Go roller skating, take a jog, try an aerobics or spin class. Challenge your body in a different way and then try your practice again. Notice how this changes your practice, and incorporate that knowledge into your class.

Step 5: Listen

When students ask questions or give you feedback, they’re letting you know what they need. They may remember pieces of breath work from previous classes, or they might not understand the alignment of the hips in a certain pose. The feedback they give you can tell you where they’re experiencing challenges, where they’d like to learn more, and how you can give more clear and helpful instructions.

Step 6: Honor the Student

Being a yoga teacher doesn’t mean you’re more advanced than the student. It just means that you have a certain skill set you can share. Honor the students’ unique experience and personal wisdom, and encourage them to honor the same in themselves. The true teacher is the inner guru, and it’s your job to help them find it within themselves.

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Yoga Sutra 1.20: The attitude of a yogi

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ŚRADDHĀ VĪRYA SMRTI SAMĀDHI PRAJNĀPŪRVAKA ITARESĀM.
To the others, this asamprajnana samadi (undistinguished consciousness) could come through faith, strength, memory, contemplation or discernment.

The last sutra noted that some people are born with an apparent advantage on the road toward enlightenment due to their karma, but the rest of us have to cultivate certain virtues to advance on our paths.

Faith: Confidence that you can reach your goal. Trust in the universe or God or science.

Strength: Commitment to practice. Physical wellbeing and vitality.

Memory: Know the past. Learn from it. Move forward.

Contemplation: Awareness and calm consideration of experience.

Discernment: Mental clarity and sharpness. Ability to choose wisely.

These qualities or virtues can be incorporated into your life in any way you choose. Anything can be a meditation. Anything can be a path toward enlightenment if approached with the attitude Patanjali is describing, the attitude of the yogi or the spiritual seeker.

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Yoga Sutra 1.19: Conservation Law Applies to Yoga

by DemonDeLuxe (Dominique Toussaint)

BHAVAPRATYAYO VIDEHA PRAKRTILAYĀNĀM. 
Those who merely leave their physical bodies and attain the state of celestial deities, or those who attain the state of celestial deities, or those who get merged in Nature, have rebirth.

At this point in the sutras, it’s easy to get discouraged. We’ve been talking about these high levels of spiritual progress, and we start thinking, “I’ll never get there. I can’t even sit for five minutes without making a to-do list in my head.” So, with sutra 1.19 Patanjali gives us a bit of encouragement.

Here we meet the concept of rebirth, which you don’t necessarily have to take literally, although I think it makes the most sense if you do. Basically, nothing you do is lost. If you do good works, that energy goes somewhere, helps someone, makes the world a better place. If you spend your money, you no longer have the money, but it goes somewhere and has an effect in the world. All of your actions are this way, and that’s why we have karma.

Likewise, if you spend your life meditating and doing yoga, you might die before you reach your enlightenment (sorry to be a downer, but it happens), but that doesn’t mean your efforts are lost. Patanjali says people who leave this world after making even a little progress will come back to continue their journey. They will pick up where they left off and continue to grow. Even if you think reincarnation is a bunch of mumbo jumbo — and it might be, but it makes as much sense as anything else in the world, so I’m willing to roll with it — then you can still see that the goodness you put into the world does not go to waste.

Some translations focus on the fact that some people due to their karma are born with what appears to be an advantage or a leg up on enlightenment. Don’t worry about them. The runner with the most advantageous placement in a race may still be the slowest. Don’t spend any energy comparing yourself to others, and do not assume that because someone started out ahead of you that they will always be ahead. Pursue your yoga and no one else’s, and your effort will never be wasted.

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Yoga Sutra 1.18: The Undifferentiated Mind

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VIRĀMA PRATYAYĀBHYĀSA PŪRVAH SAMSKĀRAŚESO’NYAH.
The highest state of samadhi (spiritual absorption) is that where, due to the practice, all modifications of mind, including subtle impressions of all previous actions, have come to an end. (Translation from Pandit Rajmani Tigunait)

This week’s sutra is relatively straightforward, even if the concept it’s describing is  beyond the grasp of most of us. In the previous sutras, we’ve learned how even experienced meditators still deal with the fluctuations of the mind thanks to the gunas and the ever-changing world around us. In the state of higher samadhi, “the mind stands so still that even subtle impressions of the past lying dormant in the unconscious mind no longer influence the mindfield.” (See Panditji’s translation linked above.)

Can you even imagine what that would be like? I’d like to think I can, but I can’t. It would mean no longer identifying with the body I live in, for one thing, no longer defining myself as someone’s wife, someone’s daughter, someone’s friend, someone’s yoga teacher. I guess I’d still be able to recall my actions of the past, but I would no longer identify with them. I wouldn’t be hit with that haunting sense of embarrassment upon remembering stupid things I said or did years ago. I would not be worried about desires or aspirations of any kind. Instead of being aware of myself as an individual performing the action of meditation, I would be aware of myself as pure awareness or consciousness. This is called asamprajnata samadhi or “non-distinguished absorption.” It is absorption so complete that we no longer believe in the illusion of our separateness.

People who meditate regularly may occasionally get a glimpse of this level of consciousness, however most of us immediately think, “OH COOL! I just reached a whole new level! This is neat! What can I see from here?” And on having those thoughts, we re-introduce the ahamkara or I-consciousness — that part of us that sees us as individuals with things to accomplish and a universe to conquer. After a great deal of practice, we learn to rest for longer periods of time in undifferentiated awareness.

Or at least that’s what I’m told. I don’t know for sure. I’m not there yet.

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