Yoga Sutras 1.25 & 1.26: God and the Guru

Vyasa grants Sanjaya divine vision

The next two sutras continue discussing Isvara pranidhana and the nature of Isvara or God. Before we go on, I want to point out that the translation I’m using (The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Commentary on the Raja Yoga Sutras by Sri Swami Satchidananda) uses the masculine pronoun for Isvara. On one hand, what we’re talking about is far too big to be limited by our ideas of gender: God is neither male nor female yet encompasses all the attributes of both. On the other hand, we reserve words like “it” for inanimate objects and things that lack intelligence. If you don’t believe that God or the universe is intelligent, bear with me for a minute and you might change your mind.

TATRA NIRATIŚAYAM SARVAJNA BĪJAM. 
In Him is the complete manifestation of the seed of omniscience.

In other words, Isvara or God truly is the alpha and the omega and contains everything in between as well. God is the big bang. God is time and space. All knowledge, all events, all beings are contained within this one ultimate reality.

Perhaps you’ve played that mind game where you try to imagine what exists outside of the known universe, beyond the edges of space, before the big bang, etc. When you do that, you’re basically exploring the possibilities of the ultimate reality. Patanjali says that ultimate reality is Isvara.

SA PŪRVESĀM API GURUH KALENĀNAVACCHEDĀT.
Unconditioned by time, He is the teacher of even the most ancient teachers.

I admit, this one makes me scratch my head — hey I never claimed to know it all!

Notice the word “guru” tucked into the Sanskrit above? Let me refer you to Pandit Rajmani Tigunait for an excellent discussion of what guru really means. If you don’t have time to watch it right now, bookmark it and come back to it later because this is powerful and essential information!

The short version is that guru means “one who dispels the darkness of ignorance.” That teacher or guru can come in infinite forms, and the ultimate guru and source of wisdom is what we call God. This is why when we devote ourselves to that ultimate truth and try to live our lives in alignment with it, we make great progress.

Seriously, though, watch the video because Panditji does a perfectly beautiful job of describing the common misconceptions about gurus and how to correct them.

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of cages and keys

Hafiz Poem

 

This poem is on the wall calendar at the yoga studio where I teach, and it’s given me much to think about.

The small man builds cages … How have we been building cages in our lives? How do we imprison ourselves and others? What are these cages made of? Our own expectations, fears, judgements, and attachments.

The sage seems endless in his confidence and radiance. I imagine him walking under the moon smiling kindly as he leaves keys just within reach of the imprisoned. The keys are simple things: light, breath, awareness, kindness. The sage knows that you are not your cage but the person you become when you are free from it.

Today, see if you can drop a key for someone, maybe even yourself. When you encounter a cage, look between the bars at the human being inside, and see that they are bigger than that. Give people permission to grow and become their most radiant selves by acknowledging the goodness in them right now.

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Endings and Beginnings

Keep Moving On by Tim Snell on Flickr

I’ve decided to end the online yoga class. This week will be the last one.

I’m a little disappointed at having to end the class because I still feel that sharing yoga in real-time over the internet is a pretty awesome and fun thing to do. It was exciting to practice with people around the United States (and more than once a dear friend from the Netherlands). And I still wonder if maybe I’ll try that again someday.

The decision was complicated, but the short version is this: I’m busy and getting busier. I have some great opportunities coming up in my studio classes, and I’ve been asked to give presentations to some special groups. I could have doubled the time, energy and resources I’m putting into the online class in order to really make it fly, or I could let it go and make room for growth everywhere else in my life.

I know I made the right decision because the moment I mentally let go of the class, things started falling in place. I e-mailed  some folks about my soon-to-be opened up schedule, and immediately gained two new classes. I’m now teaching the beginner/gentle vinyasa class at 6:15 on Monday nights and got a second class added to a corporate contract I already had. I’m also considering adding a new studio class later in the week.

So, to everyone who helped me set up my online class, everyone who tried the class and gave me feedback, and everyone who donated even though you didn’t have to, thank you. And especially to those who came to class week after week, it has been an honor to practice with you. My hope is that you’ll continue to practice your yoga — find a local studio, get involved in the community, or just practice what you can at home if you can’t get to a studio right now. If any of you want help finding a local teacher or want to talk with someone about your yoga and meditation practice, you are always welcome to contact me.

And of course, I’ll still be here blogging about yoga, derby, writing, and life in general, so I hope you’ll be with me as this journey continues and we find out what’s next together. 🙂

Peace!

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A Lesson in Ahimsa

320px-Ahimsa

Sometimes, I need to be reminded about pain. Maybe I got cocky last week and tried to do too much, or maybe it was just dumb luck that I tweaked my back. The injury seemed minor at first, but it managed to debilitate me for the better part of a week. To make the whole thing bearable, I’m attempting to treat it as a learning experience, but it’s not going so well.

I often have students come to yoga classes when they are injured, sick, sore or tired. Some have long-term injuries or illnesses that make even simple movements complicated and painful. Planning practices and modifying poses for them is challenging because I don’t always know what’s going to cause them pain, kinda like I don’t know what’s going to cause my back to go into spasms. I guide them through gentle and restorative practices and try to offer alternatives when a pose is beyond reach, but I mostly have to rely on them to respect their bodies’ boundaries. Pain, I remind them, is your body’s way of telling you you’ve reached a boundary and it’s time to back off. I trust my students to listen to their bodies. So why couldn’t I practice what I preach?

Now that I have pushed myself well beyond my limits and am paying the price of being incapacitated for a week, my next course of action has been to mentally and verbally berate myself for getting into this situation. I’m not used to relying on others, and I don’t like it one bit. I spent yesterday with friends who basically waited on me hand and foot, and I felt guilty every time I had to ask for something to be brought to me, even though I’m sure I would’ve done the same for them or any of my students. I just kept thinking about how mad I was at myself for hurting myself, for not heeding the warning signs, and for thoughtlessly going through round after round of Sun Salutations when I really should have been resting.

But maybe this is another chance to practice what I preach: ahimsa. Ahimsa means nonviolence toward all living things, including myself. Physical nonviolence means not forcing through my boundaries and not abusing my body. Sure, I may have failed on this front last week, but I can do better this week by taking the time to heal . But there’s also mental and emotional nonviolence. It means not mentally berating myself anymore, not saying out loud, “God, I’m so stupid, why did I let this happen?” It means treating myself the way I would treat a student who shows up to my class with an injury: with kindness, patience, and a little bit of indulgence. I’ve been told before, but now I know for sure that ahimsa is the hardest to apply to oneself. So, that’s my lesson for this week I guess.

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I don’t even know how I hurt myself.

tennis court rules
Most of my favorite things are against the rules here.

This week has been both awesome and terrible.

Last Friday, Jenn and I decided to get some skating practice at the tennis courts near her house. It was a rare sunny day, so we got to practice drills without the interference of a bunch of kids around. Granted, we’re not technically allowed to skate on the tennis courts, but hopefully the neighbors won’t mind.

The next day, we celebrated my birthday with a bunch of friends by going to watch the DC Rollergirls bout. I’ve finally started understanding the rules and recognizing some of the techniques the skaters are using, which makes watching the bouts a lot more fun. However, I can now differentiate between the few skills I recognize and can do and … well, everything else. Let’s just say derby looked a lot easier when I didn’t know anything about it.

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I’m even more motivated to practice than I was at the start, but I somehow managed to tweak my back pretty badly this week. Between shoveling snow, sleeping on an old mattress and teaching four yoga classes on Monday, it hasn’t gotten better. Now, I’m sitting at home in so much pain folding laundry is nearly impossible, which means skating tonight is probably out of the question.

To make matters worse, I discovered the next Charm School is on the same date and time as a presentation I promised to give two months ago. Even though Charm School is only two hours, that time practicing with the big kids is pretty important. The feedback they give is so much more helpful than just skating around on my own. Seeing them do the stops and drills and mimicking their form (a lot like how I learned yoga at the very beginning) really helped me gain some confidence on my skates. With this being the only remaining Charm School between now and tryouts on March 1, I’m pretty gutted about missing it, but obviously I need to keep the commitment I made.

BUT THERE’S HOPE! Turns out the DC Rollergirls are starting their rec league, soon, which involves a series of class/practices that seem like a good place to learn. So the executive decision for this week is to stay home, take some Ibuprofen, plan my presentation, and commit to participating in the DC events in February. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to watch cartoons in an attempt to stop feeling pain for the next several hours.

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