Archive for the ‘Writings’ Category

Cittavrtti Nirodhah

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

Each year at Karuna a new 200 hour teacher training begins. Students embark on a rigorous journey, employing their bodies, minds and spirits in a deep study of Yoga. The first questions asked for contemplation have a variety of answers, and those answers may change for individuals over the course of their training or throughout years of practice. The following questions are useful to contemplate and revisit for teacher trainees, teachers and student alike. Joanna Caplan, a current teacher trainee, shares her thoughts:

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Given the definitions of yoga as “cittavrtti nirodhah” how does the way you do yoga challenge the way you think and feel? How does the way you think and feel challenge the way you do yoga? Discuss and be succinct.

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In his translation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, BKS Iyengar writes “yoga is thus the art and science of mental discipline through which the mind becomes cultured and matured” and yoga is “the control or restraint of the movements of consciousness, leading to their complete cessation” (Iyengar 50). In theory Patanjali’s system is precise, concrete, scientific, complex and accessible. So what does this mean in practice?

.This past month, I have begun to establish a regular home asana, pranayama and meditation practice. My past ten plus years of a semi-regular, on and off again asana practice rarely included a meditation component. In fact, it had been a while since my mind and I had come to greet each other in this way. While meditation is an accessible and concrete practice, I have found it to be challenging and confrontational. The mind is relentless in its chatter and as Maharaj says with such a beautiful bluntness in the collection of his talks entitled I am That, “mind means disturbance; restlessness itself is mind…Examine closely and you will see that the mind is seething with thoughts. It may go blank occasionally, but it does for a time and reverts to its usual restlessness” (Maharaj 126).

.I find the above statement to be radical and liberating. In my experience, there is an adage that through a yoga practice one will find “peace of mind”, however how can this be true if the very nature of the mind is restlessness itself? Furthermore, if we think about peace in this way, as something we can find or acquire then peace becomes yet another sensation, like good and bad, pain and pleasure. In relation to my asana practice, I have in fact found myself getting lost in the sensations of pain and pleasure. By the end of class, I want to feel a certain way, to be more calm, centered and peaceful. Maharaj says, “the peace you claim to have found is brittle – any little thing can crack it. What you call peace is only absence of disturbance…Real peace cannot be disturbed” (Maharaj 127). Therefore, the feeling I get after finishing an asana practice is just that, a feeling. Now I am not discounting my asana practice. Rather, I am beginning to observe my patterns, my habits, my cittavrtti, and in these observations I am beginning to hear and approach an understanding of what Patanjali is articulating.

.So how can yoga “the art and science of mental discipline through which the mind becomes cultured and matured” and “the control or restraint of the movements of consciousness, leading to their complete cessation” if according to Maharaj the mind can never be cultured or matured? I think it is because the mind, in yogic philosophy, is multidimensional and dynamic. It is not one thing. And we are actually not talking about the mind but about citta or consciousness, which contains the mind “consciousness is made up of three factors, mind (manas), intellect (buddhi) and ego (ahamkara)” (Iyengar 49). So this is both a semantic issue (are we talking or writing about the mind or about consciousness) and a practical issue (are we getting wooed by sensations masquerading as “peace of mind”?).

.I do, however, observe moments of connecting to something deeper, to something that goes beyond sensation, feeling and mind, to something completely effortless. It is as though, for a moment, “instead of searching for what you have do not have, you find what it is you have never lost” (Maharaj 128). I think this is what Patanjali, Iyengar, Maharaj are talking about. I think that it can, in fact, be simple and effortless and one can begin to “realize the true peace, the peace you have never lost, that peace will remain with you, for it was never away from you” (Maharaj 128). So the practice becomes a practice of returning to oneself, or rather, realizing that “you are yourself, and no reason is needed” (Maharaj 128).

.I want my practice to be about surrender and release. I want my practice to remind me that I have never left myself, I am right here, deep, deep inside and all I have to do is listen.

Shruti

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

Recently Karuna  has acquired a new instrument, a shruti box. A Shruti box is a small bellows instruments that is somewhat like a simplified harmonium. The instrument itself has a relatively short history but the name invokes a few poignant ideas in Yogic philosophy. Shruti literally translates to ‘hearing’ or ‘listening’ in sanskrit, but is a term that is associated to sacred texts in Hinduism. In this respect a sruti (shruti) is of divine origins and “is traditionally believed to be a direct revelation of the “cosmic sound of truth” heard by ancient Rishis“. The Vedas are understood to be shrutis. In the context of music, “A shruti is considered the smallest interval of pitch that the human ear can detect.”

In the weeks since the arrival of the Shruti box it has not been uncommon to happen upon one of the teachers chanting before class, or to be lulled into savasana with a series of haunting oms accompanied by the sound of the box ‘breathing’. It has added to the soundscape at Karuna and helps to fulfill the original intention of the architecture of the room; to be a space that celebrates sound.  The instrument has inspired more contemplation among students and teachers of the practice of chanting and use of mantra and has allowed us another access point into the powerful effects that sound and vibration have in the enrichment of our spiritual and physical practices.

I have personally been inspired by the shruti box to contemplate OM more deeply as a sonar bridge from prakrti to purusha or from body to soul. When it arrived at the studio we where in the middle of a advanced training weekend. In the excitement over this new tool we were all invited to get up and lead a chant of our choosing. Many of us have only lead others in the chanting of OM and have had little experience (or confidence) leading traditional chants.  After everyone took a turn we were truly energized and giddy. The experience for me stimulated what felt like every cell in my body, as if the matter of me had been set to a different frequency.  I also found connection to the fact that the shruti box is a style of instrument that ‘breathes’ sound which, for me, resonates with my own practice of connecting my breath to energy in asana and pranayama.

One of the students in the training, Dawn Heilman, captured some of the chanting we did with the shruti box. This is a recording of Eileen Muri and Chris Hamil chanting Om and the Invocation to Patanjali.

Owls

Friday, December 7th, 2012
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This picture was taken by Eileen Muir the other day. Owls have been turning up a lot in her life lately. There is something to be said of the symbolism of different animals. When we get to spend time with them in the wild we often feel blessed.
The experience of communing with a wild animal is often granted to us when we find stillness and silence in the woods. In the context of the practice of Yoga, these chance communions can fill us with sattva and allow us glimpses of purusha. Achieving this stillness often requires an awareness of self. In this sense these moments are opportunities for svadhyaya, or study of the self, a niyama from the second limb of Yoga

Beauty

By Mary Oliver

When the owl

on her plush and soundless wings

rises

from the black waves

of the oak leaves,

or floats

out of the needles

of the pines

that are moaning,

that are tossing,

I think:

o she is beautiful

with her eyes

like burning moons,

with her feet

like twisted braids

of old gold

flexing and curling-

and I am glad to see her-

some wild loyalty has me

to the root of the heart-

even when she ruffles down

into the feild

and she jabs like a mad thing

and it’s hopeless,

it’s also wonderful,

so I thank whatever made her-

this beast of a bird

with her thick breast

and her shimmering wings-

whose nest, in the dark trees,

is trimmed with screams and bones-

whose beak

is the most terrible cup

I will ever enter.

~

Owls have held powerful symbolism for many indigenous cultures. The book Animal Speak by Ted Andrews offers this survey on different cultural perspectives of the owl’s significance:

Owls: the mystery of magic, omes, silent wisdom and vision in the night

Symbol of feminine, moon, night- ties to fertility and seduction
worshiped as idol and hated as reincarnation of the devil
Great healing powers- bird of prophecy and wisdom
Greeks- associated w athena- higher wisdom “gaurdian of the acropolis”
Gnostics- associated w lillith- first wife of adam who refused to be submissive
Pawnee- protection
Ojibwa- evil and death
Pueblo- skeleton man- god of death/also fertility
symbolically associated with clairvoyance, astral projection, magic
Ancient rome- beleifs that owls extract secrets- a symbol of the darkness within
***One who works with owl medicine will be able to see and hear what others try to hide. you will hear what is not being said, and you will see what is hidden or in the shadows…this can make others uncomfortable because they will not be able to deceive you about their motives or actions. Owl people have a unique ability to see into the darkness of others souls and life. This is very scary to most people.***
Owls fly silently- those with owl totems should practice silence- keep silent and go about your buisness- this will bring you the greatest success.

Krishna Das

Friday, October 12th, 2012

Recently Karuna hosted a Kirtan and workshop with Krishna Das. KD, as many affectionately refer to him, has been visiting the Karuna community for nearly 16 years. Now synonymous with the practice of  Indian Kirtan in the states and around the world, KD has created a bridge for many from the west with this practice of the east. One way that he does this is by incorporating western styles of instrumentation and chord progressions with the chanting of traditional Hindu devotional poetry. Another way KD supports and enlivens our practice is by sharing stories of his own particular path to becoming a practitioner of Bhakti Yoga,the Yoga of devotion. In the workshops that typically follow his Kirtan at Karuna, KD shares stories of his practice and of his teacher, Neem Karoli Baba or, more commonly referred to as Maharaj-ji. In these stories it is clear to the audience how profound and deep KD’s love for Mahara-ji is and how that love fuels his practice of Bhakti Yoga. Once an aspiring rock musician in the 60’s, KD spent three years in India with Majara-ji learning the practice of Bhakti and Kirtan. He has spent his time since those powerful years expressing the grace of his teacher through music and chanting.

KD speaks of his devotion and faith in a very accessible way. He does not position himself in front of us as our teacher but rather as another walking beside us in our practice. He humbly and honestly admits to his own struggles, offering his experience in a relational way that puts him alongside the audience. His insights don’t come across as challenges but rather as encouragements and support.

The energy generated by the beautiful music and chanting is uplifting. In a radio interview with Gary Goldberg KD remarked that “trying to think yourself out of a box made of thought won’t work”.  Practicing Kirtan with KD invites us to replace thought with prayer and analysis with love.

“The words of these chants are called the divine names and they come from a place that’s deeper than our hearts and our thoughts, deeper than the mind. And so as we sing them they turn us towards ourselves, into ourselves. They bring us in, and as we offer ourselves into the experience, the experience changes us. These chants have no meaning other than the experience that we have by doing them. They come from the Hindu tradition, but it’s not about being a Hindu, or believing anything in advance. It’s just about doing it, and experiencing. Nothing to join, you just sit down and sing.” ~Krishna Das

We feel fortunate to have shared the Karuna space with this beautiful practitioner over the years and look forward to seeing him again next year!

Please Call Me by My True Names. Thich Nhat Hanh.

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

This Thich Nhat Hanh poem can be a powerful meditation on oneness and compassion. Written after coming out of a long meditation, Thich Nhat Hanh emerged with the question “Can we look at each other and recognize ourselves in each other?”

In our practice can we, as Thich Nhat Hanh has, say yes to each person in the poem? Each of us will probably have a harder time saying yes to some of the images more than others depending on gender, life experience, etc.

Please Call Me by My True Names
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Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.
Look deeply:  I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, whose wings are still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope,
the rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that are alive.
I am the mayfly
metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes,
arrives in time to eat the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who,
approaching in silence, feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
I am the 12-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.
I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man
who has to pay his “debt of blood” to my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.
My joy is like Spring,
so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so full it fills up the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are but one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

Eileen read this to Friday’s Pranayama class while we were in our final relaxation, savasana. As I tried to say that  I was each person in the poem, I was brought to tears at the image of the pirate and the young girl. As my mind resisted any relation of my heart to the heart of a child rapist I started to turn my meditation to the Maitri Sutra, 1.33, in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. While I am sure I will have many obstacles arising and falling away in my cultivation of compassion, this sutra is a powerful tool to help me through.

maitri-karuna-muditopeksanam sukha-duhkha-punyapunya-visayanam bhavantas citta-prasadanam

By cultivating an attitude of friendship toward those who are happy, compassion toward those in distress; joy toward those who are virtuous, and equanimity toward those who are non-virtuous, lucidity arises in the mind.

~Erin

Wreck Your Body?

Friday, January 20th, 2012

There is a storm going on in the yoga community stirred by the New York Times Article, “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body”. Many are questioning the validity of the claims made by Broad about the hazards of practicing yoga. The students and teachers at Karuna have been discussing the implications of this article and the apparent misuse and skew of information and we would like to share some of our thoughts.

Teachers never stop being students and students are forever growing to become their own teachers. The responsibility to avoid injury is placed on both the student and the teacher. Karuna’s student and teacher responses to the article have stated that ego and ignorance, asmita and avidya, both in teachers and in students, are to blame for injury. Yoga, in the full sense of the practice, is a means to liberate oneself from ego and ignorance. As students we are working to cultivate awareness of asmita and avidya and to choose actions that are not borne of the two. As teachers we are providing tools for this endeavor. The responsibility to prevent injury lies on all of us, on teachers and on students alike, to maintain a clear path where information is known and made available by the teacher and is sought after by the student. This requires us all to be present in each moment of our practice.

Although there are a few rather large problems with the NYT article, Karuna’s community is pleased that the article was written.  For our teachers it has brought about a heightened sensitivity to injury and how to better provide for the students with special needs.  It has reinforced the diligent check-ins for students at the beginning of class and throughout for people who have pre-existing injuries / conditions.  This can only make us better teachers.   At Karuna, we teach our students a clear vocabulary on “how to feel” whilst getting into the pose, being in the pose, exiting the pose, and after the pose.  In other words, bringing awareness to every single part of your practice.

IYNAUS, the Iyengar Yoga Association, wrote a letter to the editor of the NYT  that opens with “if yoga hurts, it is not yoga.”  What IYNAUS and Karuna’s community are expressing is that yoga, as a whole, following the 8 limbs, guided by the yamas and the niyamas, is a practice that should not be injurious to the practitioner. We can’t just separate asana from yoga. When asana is separated there is potential for injury.  The Yama Ahimsa, non-violence, is at the foundation of the practice of yoga. This practice of nonviolence is in thought, deed and act. Practicing asana with ahimsa requires us to be gentle with our bodies, to back off when pain is present, and to look for ways to prevent pain by communicating with our teachers so we can learn. The Niyama Santosa, contentment, is an essential observation in yoga. Practicing asana with santosa requires us to be truly ok with what is. In asana, if one cannot do a pose comfortably, ahimsa tells us to back off and santosa tells us to be ok with that. A certain amount of emotional pain will come up because we are working on the deepest level of our samskaras.  This is okay and we learn from the 8 limbs and from Ahimsa to work with this. If we don’t employ these teachings, among the vast amount of other teachings available to guide us in our practice, it is arguable that we are not doing yoga.

We recommend that you read these articles to help guide the clarity of your opinions:

New York Times

Roger Cole

IYNAUS

Richard Rosen

Surrender vs. Resignation

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

Written by Eileen Muir, inspired by Adyashanti while she was on a silent meditation retreat with him.

Resignation is a painful place to be in. It is often a strategy we do in order to not feel
pain, fear, or sometimes terror. It is a sort of ‘pretend surrender’. Often we do ‘pretend
surrender’ when we think we can’t do real surrender. There’s a dull tamasic energy
connected to it. The mind takes over and approximates surrender. It imitates it.
Resignation is a grey, grim place as a stance. You can resign with your head but not
with your heart. You can surrender with your heart but not with your mind. What keeps us from surrendering? We resign ourselves when we are unable to confront the truth of the situation. We cannot possibly know what will happen when we let go. But we often project an image of what that will look like with our mind. It really requires a leap of faith! A willingness to be aligned with your intention. A willingness to be aligned with truth. A willingness to see and feel it all! What do you know that you are trying not to know? Surrender throws us out of our comfort zone. You start to see through images of darkness, which are not our true being. Surrender is like relaxing into yourself. It’s a softening and a willingness to be vulnerable. It opens you up as a portal to liberation. It is dynamic and energetic, with a lot of spaciousness around the heart. .Resignation is flat, it is contracted, and it is from the mind. It is a kind of giving up, there is no energy flow in resignation. When you surrender, you feel exquisitely alive, you are flowing with the rivers of life, and there is abundance of energy available.

-Eileen Muir

Surrender vs. resignation was presented to the Advanced Teacher Training and below are a few responses from our students.

Kendra Renzoni: Teacher, Studio Manager, and   Student in Advanced Teacher Training

Surrender like a baby monkey or like a baby Kitten: I am like the baby monkey, holding onto my mother’s neck. I am TOTALLY with the path, momma monkey, God, the teacher, but I am holding on and there is no way I am letting go. I am not like the baby kitten, which hangs limply from the jaws of its mother as she leaps and dodges and weaves. I am so scared that if I don’t exert effort on our journey I will be dropped from the jaws of the mother cat or that I will become a burden, not worth carrying. However,
I know that I carry some things that could be called “difficult” to carry… but still I carry them because they are so nurturing. They are nurturing because they give me freedom from my suffering, it is my surrender to knowing that, that makes them easy, and they don’t feel difficult to carry. How does Isvara carry all of us?

Ann Ramsey, 300-Hour Advanced Yoga Teacher Training student

Giving up is influenced by assumptions and expectations, they create judgment, fear and a concentration of avoidance. This keeps us at a superficial level in all aspects of our life, including our asana, preventing space for curiosity to allow exploration to penetrate deeper and move through the difficulty, releasing patterns ( in muscular tension and samskaras) that create the obstacles. The Yamas and Niyamas are our compass though, through all of these experiences, holding downward dog for 4 minutes or dealing in relationships. Surrendering makes space to consider the possibilities of the relationship between effort and letting go. The letting go of attachments (assumptions, expectations created by the mind/samskaras) or muscular tension that cause agitation, that may teeter us on the edge of giving up. This helps to cultivate being in the present moment of practice (asana/life) rather then being distracted thinking about the outcome. Moving through the asana (life situations) is surrender, rather than moving around (avoidance) towards giving up. (more…)