Posts Tagged With: Hanuman

My name is not George, but I am curious.

One of the best accessories you can bring to your yoga practice comes from a children’s book, also an old wives tale. It doesn’t cost you a thing and it looks better on you than those new yoga pants. What is it…it’s curiosity! You need to bring this to your practice more than you actually need to bring a yoga mat. Mat’s are just for comfort, but curiosity is for transformation. It’s the fertilizer for any life changing work you are hoping yoga will facilitate. In the children’s book “Curious George” George, the little monkey was always on some adventure, all because he was curious. There’s also the old wives’ tale that cats are given 9 lives and their curiosity puts them in jeopardy of running out of those 9-lives. I once heard that if you have found yoga in your current life, it’s because you were a yogi in your past life, and that you will keep coming back to yoga until the work is done. Maybe we yogi’s get something like the 9-lives of a cat for navigating this yoga journey.

I see people all the time coming to yoga with the latest yoga mat, coolest yoga attire and the best sweat absorbing rug, along with the latest prop that they believe will help them execute pincha mayurasana. But I don’t see them bringing any curiosity to their practice. Curiosity is evident in people who are experiencing results and progressing along nicely. But I have seen some people practice for 5+ years and their practice is not evolving. The reason is they have no new approaches. They are going about their practice as they always have: wrought with predictability, smothered with unwillingness and drowning in disinterest. Disinterest is like a wet blanket to the fire of curiosity.

Where does curiosity come from? Do we all get our fair share? Look, right now I am being curious about where curiosity comes from. Can’t get any more curious than that. We were all curious at one time. Around about age 3 we start filling our heads with as much information as our little selves could handle. We did this by using the symbol for curiosity, the question mark (?). So that means that when practicing yoga (but really life in general), we should be asking more and more questions. This is the way out of ignorance (Avidya). In the yoga sutra’s the definition of ignorance/avidya is seeing the impermanent as permanent (Sutra 2.5). For all those people who believe they can’t, they don’t understand yet that everything is always changing. Everything is impermanent. The way through ignorance is questioning the state of things. As sutra 2.26 says Vivekahyatir Aviplava Hanopayah – Uninterrupted discriminative discernment is the method of removing ignorance. So here’s your ammunition for a good yoga practice – How? What? And Why? “When” is not terribly important because if your asking How? What? and Why? the “when” will take care of itself. Too many people set themselves up for failure by taking things at face value, believing what they have heard from others. Life is meant to be questioned, and the more you do, the more you grow.

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One example that I can give is my approach to the sensations I feel during yoga. If I run into pain or an injury, I take it upon myself to find out what muscle the pain is coming from and what that muscle’s function is. I identify and examine; the same way a good detective would examine a suspect. I suspect that muscle is the cause of such pain, but I must first gather all the information that I can about it. I always say when I’m teaching a class that you need to approach your yoga practice the way Jacque Cousteau approached his love of the sea, with curiosity and passion. Before He passed away he had been an explorer, conservationist, filmmaker, innovator, scientist, photographer, author and researcher. All of his great accomplishments were because he was curious. It’s the same thing that had Christopher Columbus sail the ocean blue, and Buzz Aldridge navigating through space. There is endless opportunity for discovery, but only if you question and challenge everything you know and hear.

Next time you want to have a great experience on your yoga mat, don’t try to reinvent one you already had, by wearing the same clothes, or putting your mat in the same place. Do away with predictability. Come at your practice with new eyes. Approach it with what I call the 3-year-old brain. Ask lots of questions, and try a bunch of different approaches. Get used to saying “that was interesting, but what if I did this.” Stay captivated by your body’s adaptability. Be open to uncharted territory. I often say during Surya Namaskar “Inhale and look toward horizon”. Christopher Columbus must have been looking out at the horizon when he thought, “there must be more out there, that we haven’t explored yet.” Keep the horizon in mind, for keeping the dreamer inside of you alive.

It’s probably no coincidence that one of yoga’s fabled character role models is Hanuman, a monkey, just like Curious George. Let your inner monkey do what’s most natural – be curious. Stay open to the idea that ALL things are possible. If you’re not so sure just go roll out your yoga mat and let your teacher and all the students around you inspire you. Dream big, and don’t accept that what seems permanent, is permanent. Curiosity really is your best accessory no matter how good you look in those new yoga pants. Don’t mistake outward appearances, for the real benefit of inner work.

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Start monkeying around.

There were days of recess in my childhood, where the teacher would send us outside for 50 minutes to run off some of our steam. There used to be gym class 5 days a week for 50 minutes. Today, these things are being taken out of the school systems. Which is no surprise, because most adults took running and playing out of their lives as soon as they graduated, moving onto their more serious side of life. Leaving behind childish behavior and good old fashion exertion. I remember the playground of my childhood having a merry-go-round, swing sets, monkey bars, tether ball, parallel bars, slide and so much more. I remember as a kid even making use of the poles that held up the swing set, for play and goofing off. Every square inch of that playground was occupied. If you were lucky you even had these things in your backyard. We also made great use of the backyard with games like tag, wiffle ball and kickball. I remember having skinned knees and dirty feet. I spent my days outside tiring myself out with play. I remember getting called inside only once it was dark. Then we grow up and no longer fit on the jungle gym bars. We work tucked in little cubicles, for far too long. This is why I love yoga. Because yoga keeps me doing things that I did when I was a kid. My limbs are moving but it feels like my brain is resting. Today, that is what yoga feels like, play for my heart and rest for my mind.

Me and a friend on her jungle gym, circa 1981.

Me and a friend on her jungle gym, circa 1981.

I’m going to make a big statement here, but I think the secret for saving humanity lies in our playing. Throwing up our arms, spinning in circles, leaping through the air and raising our heart rate not out of anger, but out of pure exhilaration from play. We are living in a world of obesity and confined spaces, electronic obsession and overly-stimulated brains. We need to get back to the idea that a middle of the day break might do us some good. That blowing off some of our steam through physical exercise might prevent us from blowing our top, because of stress and anger. That in order to be able to focus and do a better job a little whimsy in the day might help us keep grounded and avoid feeling overwhelmed.

I think yoga is recess for adults and the human body is now our playground. No swing set’s necessary. All you need is a little time and the notion to try and move your body in ways that do not resemble any of the forms your body is in all the other hours of the day. To do a backbend or to criss cross your legs like you used to for duck, duck, goose. In yoga, we try to do all sorts of interesting shapes just like trying on different pants. Not all shapes we do in yoga are going to feel right, but if you stretch and wiggle just like you do trying on pants, in just the right way, you’ll find the give and take that is always available in your body, just like it’s available in most fabrics.

Back in the days of my childhood there wasn’t ADHD medicine being dispensed. However there was this one expression being dispensed from mothers and my mom used it a lot…”GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY!” or another good one was ” If you have that much energy then go cut the grass (summer stand-by) or shovel the driveway.” (winter stand-by) That crazy energy was not allowed in the house, unless of course, it was a rainy day, then we were sent into the basement or the garage to dance, rollerskate and make artwork. Hyperactivity was a part of childhood, but we just focused all that energy on the art of play.

Since our lifestyle does change a bit as we get older, maybe going outside can’t always be the answer. Lucky for us  there are now yoga studios in every town across America. If yoga is not your thing, then step into a cross-fit garage. Why might I say garage instead of gym? Because crossfit has caught on that you don’t need anything fancy for the art of play. That all you need is space and willingness. Yoga studios, gyms and crossfit facilities are supplying the space and the people to guide you. All you have to do is show up and embrace being young at heart, at any age. Allowing inspiration to come from the effort of trying things you have never done before. To dare to hang upside down or see how high you can jump or to bust out a few moves that look like breakdancing. What is break dancing anyways? Well, to me it’s breaking all the rules of what dancing should look like.

Come on to your yoga mat and see what I see. That upward facing dog resembles “the worm”. That jumping through your arms to seated in yoga resembles swinging. That dropping back in to a backbend feels like throwing your head back on the swing when you’re up real high. That bhujabhidasana and kurmasana remind me of the game leap-frog. That during yoga practice, the attempt of keeping your mind focused reminds me of a game of dodge ball. You’re trying to avoid getting hit by the myriad of distracting thoughts out there. That the game of tag you played as a kid, had it right all along. Tag! You’re it! To realize YOU ARE IT? To stop waiting for someone else to do great things in the world. That person is YOU, YOU’RE IT. That pushing each other higher on the swing set is what we are all here to do. To help raise each other up to our highest potential. Playing on jungle gym bars reminds me to hang in there, but to also hang loose when necessary, like trying to hang our feet over our head in vrschikasana (scorpion).

Hang loose, or at least try.

Hang loose, or at least try.

The ways we play can vary from surfing, to biking, to swimming, to yoga but no matter what you do make sure it feels like play and not like work. We have enough of that. Make sure that after years of doing it, you haven’t lost sight of its main purpose, to keep you young, to keep you flexible and not just physically. Our bodies might quit growing, but our hearts never do. Our skin might change, but our smile doesn’t. Our hair might grey, but our attitude shouldn’t. Our appearance might change but our laugh never does.

Monkeying around in Roatan, Honduras.

Monkeying around in Roatan, Honduras.

The playground of life is open 24/7, 365. There are no rules that say on thursday at 5:00 it closes. Or that only kids are welcome. No playground has a sign that says “Parents… keep out.” But there should be one that says parents “Quit standing there and start monkeying around”. If yoga’s not your thing, then I suggest you go back to a playground and try to play on every piece of equipment until you figure out what your thing is. No more excuses. This could be the thing that saves your life. Let’s resuscitate your child like mind. When you are ready, ask someone to push you higher, let your head hang back and trust the process of PLAY. If you need a little help just try to embody the Great Hanuman.

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Let’s remind each other.

I have had a hard time sitting down this week to write. I want my blog to be positive and I haven’t been in a positive frame of mind due to a recent tragedy in our community. It’s a sad story: A young lady that practiced yoga where I teach went missing. It seems from the information so far that she was murdered by her fiancé who has since committed suicide. I went to the candle light vigil for her, which I find interesting, as I never thought I’d be the candle light vigil type. But I felt the need to take a stand on the side of non-violence. To me, taking a stand is an interesting thing because it shows me what I believe in, with conviction. What are you willing to stand up for?

I think things that I can not come to understand are what build the fire of my convictions. I can not wrap my head around violence. Because of that, I have been vegetarian for 16 years. It’s not so much that we eat animals, it’s how we treat them up until that point. Why is treating other living beings decently a fading rule of thumb? Supposedly, we have all these golden rules to live by like: “do unto others as you would have done to you”, or  “love thy neighbor, as thyself”. In Ashtanga yoga we chant the Mangala mantra at the end of very practice “Svasti praja bhyah pari pala yantam nyayena margena mahim mahishaha go brahmanebhyaha shubham astu nityam lokha samastah sukhino bhavantu”,- May the well-being of all people be protected. By the powerful and mighty leaders be with law and justice. May all things that are sacred be protected, and may all beings everywhere be happy and  free. (There are many different translations of this chant.) And there is Patanjali’s sutra 1.33 “Maitri karuna muditopeksanam sukha dukha punyapunya visayanam bhavanatas citta prasadanam.” – By cultivating attitudes of friendliness towards the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind retains its undisturbed calmness. If churches are being filled every Sunday and yoga studio’s every day of the week, then why is violence plaguing all nations, all religions, all communities?

The idea of violence as a way to resolve conflict seems exacerbating. How can the side that violence is committed against ever be free of the emotions of anger and sorrow? Violence just breeds more violence. It seems that violence can be a learned behavior. Which would then lead me to believe the opposite: that non-violence (Ahimsa) can be a learned behavior. I’m hoping that is the case. To use the only direct behavior that I can personally relate to, I’ll go back to my vegetarian life style as an example. I have known my fare share of vegetarians over the years and they are passionate people. Though sometimes, even they let their passion misguide them to the very behavior they despise, violence. They attack the other side with words and hostility. I find that people don’t realize that language can be where violence begins. I have always tried to take the path that actions speak louder then words. But, I try and remind myself that words can be as sharp as a knife. Words are a different weapon, but they can have the same result.

I live what I believe, and I don’t feel the need to defend it with attacks on those that disagree. I am being the change I wish to see in the world. I am doing my part. I am trying, in as many ways possible to stay as far removed as I can from violent acts to other beings. Being vegetarian is just one of those ways. Other ways I try is reading positive books, listening to positive music, treating my own body and mind with kindness and respect  and welcoming as many people as I can into the yoga community, where there is a belief in a respect for life.

There is great story from Indian mythology that should be an inspiring representation of what we should all be doing. In the story called the Ramayana, there is a battle of good vs. evil. One of the characters is a monkey, named Hanuman, who devotes himself to Lord Rama. All of Hanuman’s actions are of service. Hanuman is humble, and wise. Hanuman is capable of many great things, however he can not access these powers until someone reminds him of his abilities. It is through these reminders that Hanuman is able to fulfill his Dharma, his path in life. Shouldn’t we all be reminding each other of all that we are capable of? Pointing out each others strength’s and talent’s, instead of the opposite? We should be each other’s cheerleaders!

Hanuman is usually depicted as a representation of devoted love. Art work show’s him ripping his chest wide open to show that inside his heart he keeps Sita and Rama. What do you keep inside your heart that you would stand up for? His service is to the divine masculine and feminine qualities of life. Hanuman is considered to be the messenger of the unconscious to the conscious. He symbolizes the waking up process of consciousness. Once you have expanded your awareness, it is not easy to contract it. You won’t be able to turn the other cheek as easily against the darkness once you have dispelled light on a situation. Awareness is our greatest asset.

Yoga is the practice of listening. If we were all better listeners, we would be able to hear other people’s points of view with our hearts open. It would give us a chance to work on our ability to discern what their message is. Good discernment is a skill.  We should be helping one another along, with kind words, and kind actions. And if you can’t be kind, then be silent.  Besides we can only listen, if we are not speaking. Yoga gives us a place to practice being kind, first and foremost to ourselves. As the change you wish to see in the world must start with you. Cheering one another on is like putting a log on each other’s fire. Stoking the flames, that will help each of us dispel the dark side of life.

There used to be this comic strip that had two super hero’s called the “Wonder Twins”. They were a brother and sister (masculine & feminine). When they would say “wonder twin powers activate”, and touch each other, they were able to change shape, and then fight crime. But they only had access to their powers if they were connected. It’s such a great idea: That there has to be union in order for something to have great strength against evil.  Didn’t Batman have Robin and The Lone Ranger have Tonto? There are so many great examples in mythology and in history that it is better to be united.

The word “Yoga” means union, to come together. How are we coming together? Who is in your community? If we are a community of people that think alike, then if something bad happens against a member of our community, we will take a stand! The more of us who stand up against violence, the louder our voice will become. And the clearer the message. I am against violence. I live the way I wish the world to become. I can do this alone but I feel better when we are doing it together. Let’s remind each other…of all that we can do that will change the world. Let’s be a community that is against violence. Let’s be cheerleader’s for love, knowledge, and service. Let’s remember to always remind each other that we are united! That we are better as a whole, then we are apart.

In honor of a young lady, murdered at age 30 by the man she had wanted to marry.

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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