Let’s Talk Equanimity

“A modern definition of equanimity: cool. This refers to one whose mind remains stable and calm in all situations.”
~Allan Lokos, Pocket Peace

Every so often (or more), there comes a day that challenges my sense of stability, peace, or safety.   You may be familiar with this phenomenon. The morning news stirs up emotional responses, nothing seems to go right, every stop light is red, and rushing to catch up or move beyond only seems to increase the effect of frustration, or the feeling of unsettlement.  The solution to days, or moments, like these can be found in Patanjali’s Sutra 1.33.

Maitri karuna mudita upeksanam sukha
duhkha punya apunya visayanam
bhavanatas citta prasadanam

The mind becomes tranquil through
the practice of friendliness toward the happy,
compassion toward the miserable,
joy toward the virtuous, and equanimity toward
the non-virtuous.
[Gary Kissiah]

Upeksha, or equanimity, is a state of even-minded openness.  Even though we may be stirred or moved by outer circumstances, and are motivated to make things better, our deep inner stability and serenity remains undisturbed–if we have developed equanimity.  We are better able to respond in balanced and clear ways, rather than reactively.  A balanced heart feels without grasping, pushing, or pulling.

We never know what changes, or consequences, each day will bring.  Equanimity allows for things to be just as they are.  The qualities of friendliness, compassion, and joy are balanced by the stability of equanimity.  This enables us to offer an open heart in all situations, without expectations or attachments.

On the mat–and off–we have many opportunities to practice kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity towards ourselves.  Each time we fall out of a pose, compare ourselves to others, break that favorite cup, get cut off in traffic, we can repeat to ourselves, “May I not be caught in reactivity.”

As we enter the hot months of summer, we will be working with managing our inner tapas (fire), and developing non-reactivity.  See below for one of the cooling pranayam (breath) exercises we will be practicing.

See you on the mat!

 

Sitkari Pranayam
  • This pranayam can be practiced anywhere, anytime.
  • Gently press your upper and lower teeth together, and part your lips comfortably so that your teeth are exposed.
  • Inhale slowly through the gaps in your teeth, and focus on the hissing sound of the breath.
  • Close the mouth, and exhale slowly through the nose.
  • Repeat up to 20 times.

Root to Rise Up

We never look deeply into the quality of a tree; we never really touch it, feel its solidity, its rough bark, and hear the sound that is part of the tree. Not the sound of wind through the leaves, not the breeze of a morning that flutters the leaves, but its own sound, the sound of the trunk and the silent sound of the roots.
–Jiddu Krishnamurti

“Root to rise up.”  You have probably heard this cue in more than one yoga class.  Whether in a standing pose, or seated, connection with the ground beneath you is foundational to what happens above.  Well-connected toes, and distributed weight in the standing foot, help keep us from toppling out of Vrksasana (tree) pose.  The strength of our legs in Virabhadrasana (warrior) I and II is driven by the anchoring of our feet.  Tendons anchor muscle to bone, while ligaments tether bone to bone.  Without these connections, there is no push, pull, movement, or stability within the body.

In the Eight Limbed Path of Yoga, the Yamas (things not to do, restraints) and Niyamas (things to do, observances) are the first two limbs; or what I like to think of as, the seeds of my yoga practice.  All aspects of daily life are grounded in these restraints and observances:  from non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, non-excess, and non-greed; to purity or cleanliness, contentment, self-discipline, self-study, and surrender to something higher.

Yoga is a Life practice, embedded into our relationships with others, this amazing planet Earth, and with ourselves–body, mind, and spirit.  On the mat this month, we will play with building stability and extending lines of energy from the ground up whether we are standing, seated, or inverted.  Off the mat, we will contemplate how, or where, the Yamas and Niyamas are manifesting in our lives.  What do we need more of (grow new roots)?  What do we need to let go of (prune away)?

See you on the mat!

“We ought to do good to others as simply as a horse runs, or a bee makes honey, or a vine bears grapes season after season without thinking of the grapes it has borne.”
–Marcus Aurelius

Doing good for others begins with the self.  Whether practicing the Dharma (the teachings of Buddha), or the Yamas and Niyamas (yoga’s moral and ethical codes), doing anything positive benefits both ourselves and all beings.  This month, let’s:

See you on the mat!

On taking yoga off our mats, and into the world.

“Earth, may thy summer, and thy rains, and autumn, thy winter, and thy dewy frosts, and spring-time. May thy years, Prithivī! and ordered seasons, and day and night pour out for us abundance.”
// 36, Prthivī Sūkta, Atharva Veda

The word “yoga,” defined simply, is “union.”  Patanjali, the great yoga master, referred to yoga as attaining mastery over the dynamic forces of the mind.  Once the mind has been purified, disciplined, and brought to one-pointed focus, then union occurs between body and mind, consciousness and mind.  We achieve wholeness.  Ultimately, yoga brings us to the understanding of our interconnectedness with everything in the Universe, including this precious planet Earth.

April opens with the celebrations of Easter, rich with the symbolism of rebirth and renewal.  All around us are budding trees and flowers, hillsides carpeted in lush green grass, baby birds hatching, and extra light at the end of the day.  Earth Day also falls on the 22nd of this month.

The Prthivī Sūkta of the Atharva Veda is a poetic description of Earth.  It’s hymns speak of a deep Hindu tradition of reverence for nature and all forms of life.  The earth supports us, sustains us.  Our health is intimately linked to sources of clean air, water, food, and time spent outdoors connecting with Mother Nature.

If yoga is about realizing the interconnectedness of all beings, how then can we take our practice off our individual mats and into the world?  The answers lie in the foundational ethical principles for living found in the Yamas and Niyamas, the first two limbs of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga.  Asteya (the third Yama) is the concept of non-harming, both towards ourselves and other beings.  Non-harming is practiced in thought (how we speak towards ourselves), word (how we speak to others), and through our actions in the world.

This month, as we practice on our mats together we will observe our thoughts regarding our practice from a place of loving-kindness.  As we step off our mats and into the world, we ask ourselves, “How can I help Earth, and all beings who share this planet with me?”

Here are a few ways we can increase our connection with others, and lessen our environmental impact:

  • Plant a garden.  Whether it’s flowers, herbs, or vegetables, it’s about getting your fingers into the earth and a little dirty!
  • Support your local farmers.  Visit your local farmer’s market one or more times a month.  Fresh, organic produce is healthy for you and supports the farmer!
  • Use re-useable cups and water bottles.  The amount of plastic produced and then thrown away is shocking. https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/07/plastic-produced-recycling-waste-ocean-trash-debris-environment/
  • Park it.  Walk, run, bike, ride Light Rail/BART/CalTrain one or more times a week if possible.
  • Unplug and connect.  Turn off the television, your laptop, your cellphone, and connect with your family or friends around the dinner table, on the beach, or for a walk in the woods.
  • Tune in.  Notice your surroundings, the colors, textures, and sounds, and how your energy responds to it.
  • Breathe.  Practice meditation and pranayam/breath-work.

LOKAH SAMASTAH SUKHINO BHAVANTU

May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my life contribute in some way to that happiness and freedom.

See you on the mat!

IMG_0387

Season of Manifestation

“The inside of a seed is far larger than the outside of the seed. Inside of the seed is an entire forest. It is a probability space.”
–R.A. Delmonico

A single seed is a wellspring, a universe of probability.  It is a delicious mystery of unknown potential .  It is energy, fertility, growth, and evolution.

The Spring equinox arrives on March 20th.  As the power of the sun grows, and the nights become shorter, we stand poised between light and dark, receptivity and activity, the unconscious and conscious.  This is the perfect time to plant the seeds of positive growth and change, both for ourselves and for the world.

This month also marks a big shift for me.  After several months of quiet contemplation, I made the decision to step away from a job position that was no longer bringing me joy.  It was a heavily weighted decision for me, and in the afterglow (yes, afterglow!) I am feeling much lighter, more spacious.  Now I begin the process of planting new seeds in open and fertile ground.

As we practice together, we will use the time to balance and bring together what we wish to unite.  Whatever we bring our thoughts to will grow–love, intentions, hopes, and dreams.   As we move with awareness of movement from within to without, we will plant seeds:  Who am I becoming?  What am I awakening in myself? What do I wish to grow more of in my life?

See you on the mat!

The Breath of Love

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
~Rumi

Put your own oxygen mask on first.  Take a deep, flowing, sweet breath. And, let it out.  Every inhale is an opportunity for something new to enter. Every exhale is a chance to let go of something old.  Each breath brings expansion, softening, and allows you to open wider.

Each breath is a love-note to yourself.  The key to giving or receiving love is to remove the walls and barriers that have become hard-wired into the body, like permanent body armor.  “The breath is the central key that unlocks the body and opens the realm of the heart.” [Anodea Judith]

This month we will continue our exploration of breath and movement.  In particular, we will be working with a variety of krama (step) pranayama practices, that break the breath up into steps or parts.  We will pause to witness the affect that breath and movement has on our subtle energy body.  And, finally, we will rest in the warmth and pulse of our living, breathing bodies.

See you on the mat!

It’s a new dawn, a new day, a new year!

Here in the heart of winter, bitter dry winds, cold rainy days, or a sense of heaviness and stagnation are often the hallmarks of this dark time of the year.   This is a prime time to focus on wellness for body, mind, and spirit; and, to deepen our relationship with self, spending time in meditation and self-exploration.

This month we will practice Bhastrika pranayam, stoking the fire residing in our solar plexus–the Manipura Chakra.  This fire warms us, and lends steadiness and flow to our vinyasa practice as we release stuck energy and patterns.  Ultimately, the vinyasa practice prepares us to simply sit.

In the Modern Western Yoga practice, we have come to associate the flow of poses practiced as ‘asana.’  The direct translation of ‘asana’ is to ‘take a seat.’  If we can achieve a sense of steadiness and ease in each pose, then it could be said we have achieved ‘asana.’  But…….

“By tradition, the conditioning asanas of hatha yoga were practiced in the service of the meditation postures:  they provided enough suppleness and strength for the yogin to remain in a meditative posture–usually the lotus posture–with steadiness and ease for a long time.”  [Elliot Goldberg, ‘The Path of Modern Yoga’]

Once we have released the disturbances that arise from the physical body, our contemplative practice begins.  A still body allows us to move our attention inward and witness the flow of phenomenon–thoughts, feelings, sensations, sound, breath.  As the mind begins to settle we experience the pauses and quiet spaces in between thoughts, sensations, and breath. The pauses, gaps, are where we ultimately connect with the awareness that resides behind it all. Those are the golden moments we seek!

Let’s breathe, and flow, and sit together, shall we?!

See you on the mat!

Count Your Blessings

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” –A.A. Milne

“Be mindful. Be grateful. Be positive. Be true. Be kind.” –Roy T. Bennett

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” –John F. Kennedy

Count your blessings…….no matter which way they may appear, sorrowful or joyous, boring or stimulating, hateful or kind, indifferent or filled with loved.

When Henry Thoreau retreated to Walden Pond, he wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”  Thoreau had come to understand that a conscious life was a gift, and the highest form of gratitude was to know it in all its depths.

‘This grace of conscious life, of having a mind that can know “this moment is like this,” is the root of all wonder, from which gratitude flows.’ [Phillip Moffitt]

This month we will contemplate what place gratitude holds in our daily life.  How often do you pause and reflect on the many things in your life for which you are grateful?  Does the list include a safe place to sleep, clean air and fresh water, food to eat, blue skies, laughter, birdsong?   Do you experience the good things in life to the same degree as the not so good things in life?  Or, do you feel the weight of bad things more?

The antidote is to actively, on a daily basis, reflect on what you are grateful for.  A great example I recently came across, was being stuck in traffic.  This quite often leads to feelings of irritation and frustration.  But, what if instead I felt grateful to simply have a car to drive, that I am able to put gas in it; or that all the drivers around me were following the agreed upon driving rules, keeping everyone safe.  In this way there is a certain universal level of “well-being and community cooperation” that is supporting me even in the middle of rush hour traffic.  These moments stuck in traffic simply are, but how I am experiencing it gradually begins to shift the more I practice gratitude in the moment.

The words ‘gratitude’ and ‘grace’ originate from the same Latin word–gratus.  Gratus means ‘pleasing’ or ‘thankful.’   It has been said that when one is in a deep state of gratitude, you will often feel the spontaneous presence of grace.   As a state of selfless gratitude is developed and then embodied, our happiness is no longer contingent upon outer circumstances.  That moment is when we can truly relax into life.

See you on the mat!

What are you ready to let go of?

“Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go…”
–Hermann Hesse
Last month, we reflected on the achievements of the year–which goals were met, and which ones were not.  As we move fully into the Fall season, we shift our attention now to the process of letting go.  What outworn, or old patterns, of behavior are holding you back?  Are there habits that keep you stuck circling in these old patterns?  What are the physical things associated with these patterns?  And, what can you do differently?

Fear.  Fear of the future.  Fear of failure.  Fear of the discomfort that often accompanies change.  This four letter word quite often keeps us stuck in our old patterns!  It shuts us down and keeps us from seeing possibilities.  This month, to counter some of our natural (and very normal) fear responses we will play!  We will play with the edges of our comfort zones, and strengthen our willingness to break patterns of habit.   Then, we will rest, and let go.

See you on the mat!

P.S.  Here is a short clip of a plank variation (using a “yoga wheel” prop) that is excellent for strengthening the abdominals (a.k.a., your “power” center).  Make sure to place your hands shoulder-width apart; stabilize your shoulder joints by drawing the scapula (your shoulder blades) down onto the back ribs; and, engage your abdominals by drawing your navel in and up towards your spine.  Keep your legs long and lifted, moving the thigh bones away from the floor by contracting your quads (top thigh muscles).  Working with your breath, exhale as you roll the wheel in, inhale as you roll back out.  Repeat 1-8X, as you build strength and coordination.

I. Am. Enough.

Samtosad anuttamah sukha labhah
–Yoga Sutra 2.42

Contentment brings supreme happiness–so translates Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2.42.  This contentment (santosha) is the result of being just as we are, without going to outside things for our happiness.  Things come, and we let them come.  If they do not, it does not matter.  Letting go of attachments allows us to rest in the here and now, content, not living in the past and not anticipating the future.  In this way, it could be said, we walk the middle way.

When we review those occasions when we have been truly happy, “…we shall almost certainly find that they had one characteristic in common.  There were times when, for this or that reason, we temporarily ceased to feel anxious; when we lived–as we so seldom do–in the depths of the present moment without regretting the past or worrying about the future.”  [Christopher Isherwood]

Practicing santosha actively in our lives requires a certain amount of willingness to enjoy exactly what each moment brings, no matter how it arrives or what it contains.  Peace of mind can never be dependent on external circumstances, which are always changing in ways beyond our control.  It is easy to practice santosha when things are going well.   But, if we are able to be content when things are difficult, then we are truly free.

We practice santosha in small ways on our mats, by accepting what our practice looks and feels like, just as it is, on any given day.  Daily, hourly, even moment to moment, we continuously practice letting go of the past.  As my teacher puts it, “Hold close the yogic premise that whatever we have in the present moment is enough.”

A mantra practice to try anywhere, anytime:  Breathe in, “I am.”  Breathe out, “Enough.”

See you on the mat!