Wednesday, July 2, 2014

July Monthly Theme: Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Swami Muktibodhananda states…

According to hatha yoga there are six major factors which prevent yoga or union from occurring. In hatha yoga, union means uniting the two energy forces, mental and pranic, in the body. This is the energy flowing in the ida and pingala nadis. Hatha Yoga is the process of balancing the flow of these two alternating forces to bring perfect physical and mental equilibrium and wakening to sushumna and kundalini. All branches of yoga unite these two energies and channelize them through the sushumna. These three Nadis terminate in the Ajna Chakra or 3rd eye. The object of hatha yoga practice is the increase the duration and flow of sushumna and the period when both nostrils flow simultaneously so that a balance is created in the physical and mental functions. When the mind and body are not functioning in harmony, there is a division between the physical and mental rhythms, which inevitably leads to sickness. Thus, one must avoid all activities which waste energy or distract the mind. The six obstacles, that get in the way of yoga or union, are:
  • Overeating: When the body is overloaded with food, it becomes sluggish and the mind becomes dull. Over a period of time toxins build up in the body. If the body is toxic and lethargic, how can one make progress? It is advised that the stomach should be half filled with food, one quarter with water and one quarter with air!
  • Overexerting or overstraining the body and mind: Hard physical labor or intese mental work taxes one of the energy systems and can create further imbalance between the two energies. The hatha yogi has to conserve and build up his store of energy for spiritual purposes.
  • Too much talking & being in the company of common people: This wastes time which could be better spent in awakening the inner awareness. Gossiping with people who have low morals and base consciousness cannot enlighten your soul, rather their negative vibrations may influence you. Social situations and irrelevant discussions distract the mind. 
  • Strict adherence to rules and regulations: Although it is important to follow the instructions of a guru, as far as religious doctrines are concerned, it is unnecessary that they be maintained for spiritual progress. Adhering to rules makes one “narrow minded” and yoga is meant to expand the consciousness. A yogi’s mind should be flexible and able to adjust to circumstances.
  • Unsteadiness/wavering mind: This means an imbalanced body metabolism, inability to hold one posture for a period of time, and a wavering mind. Yoga cannot be achieved under these conditions. When there is physical, mental, emotional, and psychic imbalance, the energy is dispersed, but if the energy is properly channelized, all the bodily systems become stable.  If there is inconsistency and irregularity in lifestyle further imbalance in the body will ensue. An unswerving mind and steady body cultivate yoga. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

June Monthly Theme: Preya and Shreya

Whenever you have a choice, ask yourself this question: “Which is Preya and which is Shreya, the long term good?”

Preya is what we like, what pleases us, what offers immediate gratification to senses, feelings, on self-will. Shreya is simply what works out best in the end. Preya is the “pleasure principle”: doing what feels good, no-matter the consequences.

Shreya means choosing the best consequences, whether it feels good or not—often forgoing a temporary pleasure for the sake of a lasting benefit. Junk food is one of the clearest illustrations of Preya: sugar, salt, and saturated fat so fast and easy that you don’t even have to sit down for it. The consequences are all equally clear.

Or look at exercise: “no pain, no gain” training and toning the body often is not pleasant. We do it for the sake of its long-term benefits, because later we will really feel good in a deeper, longer lasting, more satisfying way. That is Shreya—choosing what is best.

When we learn how to look for it, we see this choice between Preya and Shreya comes up in every moment, in virtually everything we do. There is no escaping it. The moment dawn breaks, the choices begin: “Shall I get up for my meditation, or shall I pull the blanket over my head and stay in bed a little longer?” It starts there and it goes on until you fall asleep at night.

To choose wisely, your senses must listen to you. That is the essential prerequisite. And for your senses to listen to you, you must listen to you; your mind must listen to you. That is why, as you train your mind in meditation, your eating habits come under your control. Likes and dislikes begin to change and choices open up everywhere.

Yet discrimination, of course, extends not only to eating but to everything. In the scriptures, we are said to eat through all the senses. Just as we learn to be discriminating about what we put into our mouths, we learn to be vigilant about the books and magazines we read, the movies and television we absorb, the conversation we indulge in, the company we keep; in short, in everything we do and say, ultimately this extends even to what we think. We have a choice in all these things: this is what is meant by “intentional living.”

There are drugs that injure the body and there are books that injure the mind. As our minds fill up with junk thoughts and junk feelings, we get addicted to them. We lose our discrimination and as these junk thoughts fail to satisfy—and they must—the cravings for them become more and more acute. But we are hooked; we can’t get them out of our head, out of our relationships.

Every day, in everything, we have a choice. Nobody can say, “I am not free to choose.” These two words from the Upanishads can always help us see our choices clearly: Preya, that which is pleasant but which probably benefits nobody even ourselves, and Shreya, that which is of lasting benefit to all.

Shall I reply curtly to her rude remark, or shall I speak kindly? Shall I spend the afternoon doing something I like, or shall I work at something that helps a few others? Every where we have choices like these, an discrimination comes when we start choosing what brings lasting benefits even at the cost of a few private, personal satisfactions.

Much of the art of living rests on the rare ability to discriminate between what is in harmony with this central law of life and what violates it. What is Dharma and what is Adharma. To act wisely, we must see clearly. “Does this particular choice resolve a conflict, foster clean air, bring peace to my mind or to people around me?”

If the answer to such questions is “yes,” that course of acting is in harmony with the unity of life. To grow spiritually, we need both the detachment to see clearly, the discrimination to know what is of lasting value, and, of course, the will power—the determination to put our insight into action.

Without discrimination, by contrast, “anything goes;” one of the warnings in the Yogic scriptures states, “Lack of discrimination is the source of the greatest danger” to the health, to security, to personal relations, to life itself. In daily living, discrimination means making wise choices, knowing what to do and what not to do.

“Learn to discriminate between what is permanent and what is passing. Choose every day to do things that improve your health, promote lasting security and deepen relationships—things that in the long run contribute to the well being of your society and the world. In this lies your happiness, your salvation, your very future.”

Thursday, April 3, 2014

March Monthly Theme: Ayurveda

Ayurveda, which literally means the knowledge and wisdom of life, is the traditional healing system of India. Often called the mother of all healing, it originated in India over 5000 years ago.

Ayurveda views health and disease as the end result of how we interact with the world, in terms of our beliefs, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings, which then ultimately determine our actions. Actions in harmony with our inner nature create health, while those dis-harmonious with our inner nature create disease. Ayurveda is the science of developing greater harmony with our environment through all of our senses.

Ayurveda assists the body in journeying back to optimal health by balancing the five elements in the body and mind through the use of herbs, diet, colors, aromas, lifestyle changes, yoga, and meditation along with other five sense therapies. The rejuvenative and cleansing therapies (Pancha Karma) described within help nourish our bodies while calming our minds from the stresses of modern daily life.

Your inner nature is called your constitution or prakruti, and is an individual blend of the three doshas, Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Your unique balance of these three energies was determined at the moment of conception and is with you the rest of your life. It determines what is in harmony with your nature and what will cause you to become out of balance, sick, and diseased. Knowledge of your constitution is essential to developing optimal health. Your constitution determines how you react to various foods, colors, aromas, and general life habits.

Recently, Ayurveda has had a profound impact upon the world of health care. Popular books by Deepak Chopra, M.D., and others have called attention to the potential of this ancient healing system. Along with the potential to heal chronic diseases, Ayurveda promises to improve health and increase longevity.

Ayurveda is considered the healing side of Yoga. Likewise, Yoga is the spiritual side of Ayurveda. Both Ayurveda and Yoga strive to help a person re-connect to their true nature through direct experience. Together, they encompass a complete approach to the well being of the body, the mind, and the spirit.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

February Monthly Theme: Gunas

In Samkhya philosophy there are three major gunas which serve as the fundamental operating principles or "tendencies" of prakṛti (universal nature) which are called: sattva guna, and rajas guna, tamas guna. The three primary gunas are generally accepted to be associated with creation (satva), preservation (rajas), and destruction (tamas). The entire creation and its process of evolution is carried out by these three major gunas.

All material nature is made up the interplay of three energies or "gunas." Part of the work of yoga is to go beyond the limitation of seeing life as forms and concepts, and to see the underlying qualities of things. 
The gunas are a great map for navigating your way through life. When you can recognize which of these energies is at play in your life, it makes it so much easier to bring about a state of balance. 

Generally is a passionate, frenetic, creative, tumultuous energy. 
People that are rajasic are full of desire, thirsting for worldly enjoyment, and even at more extreme ends of the scale, fueled by competition and ambitiousness. The Sanskrit root means "impure." It is also related to the root rakta, "redness." And raga, "passion." If you think of living in a bright red room or a woman wearing a red dress, you can feel the energy of Rajas.

Food that is Rajasic is quite stimulating (often times over stimulating). Eg: spicy, sour, acid foods like coffee, hot peppers, onions and so on. If you find yourself eating really quickly too, this too can be rajasic. If you have ever been to a big smorgasbord and eaten way too many combinations of food, you would have belly will be feeling the effect of Rajas Guna.


Tamas is dull, insensible, gloomy and dark energy. The Sanskrit word literally means "darkness, dark-blue, black."
 People that are tamasic are gloomy, sluggish, dull and blinded by greed. Sometimes people who are tamasic can be characterized as lazy and slothful. If you spend the night drinking tequila in Margaritaville, the next morning you will find yourself deep in the heart of Tamasicville. On the darker end of the tamasic scale, they can be unconscious of the needs others, dark and destructive.

Food that is Tamasic is stale, under or over ripe. Heavy meats. Canned, reheated or fermented foods. Eating too much is Tamasic.

Sattva is a calm, peaceful and clear energy. The Sanskrit word is based on the principle "Sat" or "being, as it should be, perfect." 

People that are Sattvic are calm, centered, compassionate and unselfish.

Food that is Sattvic is nourishing & easy to digest. Cereals, Fresh Fruit, Pure Water, Veggies, Milk, Yogurt.

Friday, December 20, 2013

January Monthly Theme: Kosha

A Kosha usually rendered "sheath", is one of five coverings of the Atman, or Self according to Vedantic philosophy. They are often visualised like the layers of an onion. Belling states:

According to the Kosha system in Yogic philosophy, the nature of being human encompasses physical and psychological aspects that function as one holistic system. The Kosha system refers to these different aspects as layers of subjective experience. Layers range from the dense physical body to the more subtle levels of emotions, mind and spirit. Psychology refers to the emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of our being. Together, all aspects make up our subjective experience of being alive.

Annamaya kosha
This is the sheath of the physical self, named from the fact that it is nourished by food. Living through this layer man identifies himself with a mass of skin, flesh, fat, bones, and filth, while the man of discrimination knows his own self, the only reality that there is, as distinct from the body.

Pranamaya kosha
Pranamaya means composed of prana, the vital principle, the force that vitalizes and holds together the body and the mind. It pervades the whole organism, its physical manifestation is the breath. As long as this vital principle exists in the organisms, life continues. Coupled with the five organs of action it forms the vital sheath. In the Vivekachoodamani it is a modification of vayu or air, it enters into and comes out of the body.

Manomaya kosha
Manomaya means composed of manas or mind. The mind (manas) along with the five sensory organs is said to constitute the manomaya kosa. The manomaya kosa, or “mind-sheath” is said more truly to approximate to personhood than annamaya kosa and pranamaya kosha. It is the cause of diversity, of I and mine. Sankara likens it to clouds that are brought in by the wind and again driven away by the same agency. Similarly, man’s bondage is caused by the mind, and liberation, too, is caused by that alone.

Vijnanamaya kosha
Vijnanamaya means composed of vijnana, or intellect, the faculty which discriminates, determines or wills. Chattampi Swamikal defines vijnanamaya as the combination of intellect and the five sense organs. It is the sheath composed of more intellection, associated with the organs of perception. Sankara holds that the buddhi, with its modifications and the organs of knowledge, form the cause of man’s transmigration. This knowledge sheath, which seems to be followed by a reflection of the power of the cit, is a modification of prakrti. It is endowed with the function of knowledge and identifies itself with the body, organs etc.
This knowledge sheath cannot be the supreme self for the following reasons;
  • It is subject to change.
  • It is insentient.
  • It is a limited thing.
  • It is not constantly present.
Anandamaya kosha
Anandamaya means composed of ananda, or bliss. In the Upanishads the sheath is known also as the causal body. In deep sleep, when the mind and senses cease functioning, it still stands between the finite world and the self. Anandamaya, or that which is composed of Supreme bliss, is regarded as the innermost of all. The bliss sheath normally has its fullest play during deep sleep: while in the dreaming and wakeful states, it has only a partial manifestation. The blissful sheath (anandamaya kosha) is a reflection of the Atman which is bliss absolute.

December Monthly Theme: Karma and Samskara

From Jivamukti Yoga, by David Life and Sharon Gannon, they state:

This essence of Karma Yoga is selfless service. This practical method for reducing suffering in the world is the foundation of all yoga practice. When we are suffering from self-pity and loneliness, a surefire cure is to care more for others and the reduction of their suffering. When we shift our thoughts away from our own suffering, it diminishes.

Whatever yoga practice you undertake, make it Karma Yoga by devoting the fruits of your practice to God, as Patanjali suggests in the Yoga Sutras: Ishvara-pranidhand-va. Karma Yoga should not be confused with the law of karma, which is that every action causes infinite effects. The law of karma is the law of cause and effect. Karma Yoga, on the other hand, is a method for ensuring that the actions we take cause good karmic effects.

The law of karma is a universal doctrine, operating as surely as the law of gravity. You can observe it in the natural world, if you care to look. If you plant a seed in the ground, the karma of the seed is to grow. If you throw something up in the air, the karmic result is for it to come down.

Karma means action. It comes from the Sanskrit root kr, which means to act. It encompasses all movement, of the mind as well as the body. These movements can be conscious or unconscious; regardless, the karmic result is still ours.

The word karma is also used to refer to the accumulated results of past actions, present actions, and actions we will perform in the future. The karmas of the past, present, and future are of three types:

Sanchitta: This is accumulated past actions or karmas waiting to come to fruition. Sanchitta is the storehouse of every action you have ever done, in all the lifetimes you have ever lived. These are all of the unresolved past actions waiting to reach resolution.

Parabda: This is the present action: what you are doing now, in this lifetime and its result. You have taken from the storehouse, sanchitta karma, a certain amount of unresolved desires and ambition, and will try to 'work them out' in your present lifetime.

Agami: Future actions that result from your present actions are called agami karma. As you attempt to resolve past karma, you unavoidably create new karmas that you may or may not be able to resolve in your present life. If you don't resolve them now, they will go into the storehouse to be resolved in a future life.

Every action creates a groove in the subtle atmosphere called a samskara. Samskaras represent your unfulfilled desires and ambitions, etched onto your soul by your actions. These must be fulfilled at some time, in this life or in another. All karma results from ignorance of the true Self. Let's say you smoke a cigarette for the first time. You want to know what it tastes like, so you take a puff. You like it and say, "Oh, I'll take another," and soon you are tied to the cigarette. What is fascinating is that it is not the cigarette that makes you feel good; it is the fact that as you take a puff, you have no other desire for that moment. In that moment you experience your real Self, which is happiness, freedom from desire. But you mistakenly associate that happiness with the cigarette, not the Self, which is the true source of happiness. Instead of going to the Self directly, you go to the cigarette. You are bound in the karmic cycle of action and the resulting attachment.

The only way to be freed from having to resolve every desire is for the soul to realize the Self. Through enlightenment, no karmas can bind you. You are unbound, liberated. When an action is selfless, it leads to future good karma and eventually to liberation. As yogis seeking liberation, therefore, we strive to perfect our actions. Most actions are preceded by a thought. To perfect an action, therefore, we must first perfect our thoughts. What is a perfect thought? A perfect thought is one devoid of selfish motive, free of anger, greed, hate, jealousy, and so on.

Most of us believe we can think any thought we like and be free of consequence, as long as we don't act on it. Yet how many times have you had something on your mind and a friend has looked at you and asked, "What's bothering you?" Our thoughts affect others and bear karmic consequences for ourselves. Our thoughts are significant even at the time of death, when a thought can propel us into the next lifetime- for better or for worse. Thought leads to action. The same action can be undertaken with a selfish intention or a selfless intention. The act of sexual intercourse is a good example. When intended to control, manipulate, harm, or humiliate another person, it is called rape and is considered a crime. When it is motivated by the intention to love, honor, or uplift another, it is called making love.

The intention behind any action is always more important than the action itself. The intention contains the seed of the action's results. If you perform a good action but you have a negative intention, you will receive negative karma from that action.

Monday, November 4, 2013

November Monthly Theme: Bandhas

Bandhas are interior body locks used in yoga. There are three band has – Mula Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha and Jhalandara Bandha. Each bandha is a lock, meaning a closing off of part of the interior body. These locks are used in various pranayama and asana practices to tone, cleanse and energize the interior body and organs. When all three bandhas are activated at the same time, it is called Maha Bandha, the great lock.

Root lock or Mula Bandha: The first of three interior body “locks” used in asana and pranayama practice to control the flow of energy. To activate mula bandha, exhale and engage the pelvic floor, drawing it upwards towards your navel. If you don’t know how to access the pelvic floor, think of it as the space between the pubic bone and the tailbone. Initially you may need to contract and hold the muscles around the anus and genitals, but really what you want is to isolate and draw up the perineum, which is between the anus and genitals. Do not hold your breath. Engaging mula bandha while doing yoga poses can give the postures an extra lift. This is especially useful when jumping.

Abdominal lock or Uddiyana Bandha: The second of the three interior body “locks” used in asana and pranayama practice to control the flow of energy. Uddiyana bandha can be practiced alone or in conjunction with mula bandha. To engage this bandha, sit in a comfortable cross legged position. Exhale your breath, then take a false inhale (draw the abdomen in and up without taking in any breath.) Draw the belly up underneath the rib cage. To release, soften the abdomen and inhale.

Uddiyana bandha tones, massages and cleans the abdominal organs. If you are familiar with mula bandha, you will see that the drawing up of the pelvic floor naturally leads into the drawing up of the abdomen. This is how the bandhas work together.

Throat lock or Jhalandara Bandha: The third and last of the three interior body “locks” used in asana and pranayama practice to control the flow of energy. Jhalandara bandha can be practiced alone or in conjunction with mula bandha and uddiyana bandha. To engage this bandha, sit in a comfortable cross legged position. Inhale so the lungs are about two-thirds full, and then hold the breath in. Drop the chin down, and then draw the chin back closer to the chest so the back of the neck does not round. Hold as long as is comfortable and then bring the chin up and release the breath. To practice in conjunction with the other two bandhas, first draw the pelvic floor upwards, engaging mula bandha. This leads to the abdomen drawing in and up under the ribcage (uddiyana bandha). Finally, the chin drops to the chest and draws back into jhalandara bandha. When practiced together, the three locks are known as Maha Bandha, the great lock.