Thursday, July 31, 2008

Seva Yoga

"Seva" yoga is usually translated into English as "service". However, the word "service" does not really capture the essence of the word seva. Seva is much more than donating money to a charity, for instance (not that I am discouraging donations to worthwhile charities!).

A guru by the name of Swami Niranjan explains that the word seva is made up of two words: 'saha' and 'eva'. Saha means 'with that' and eva means 'too'. The word "seva" means 'together with' and describes those actions that seek collective upliftment through an understanding of the needs of others, and are based on togetherness and integration. Seva is an expression of compassion, of the desire to uplift and assist people.

Seva is selfless service. But the whole "collective" and "togetherness" bits make some people think you need to live in an Ashram to do it. On the contrary. There are people all over the world practicing seva yoga right now. You can practice with them. Also, if you begin to practice it by yourself, even those around you who are not aware of what you're doing will begin to respond differently. Herein lies the magic. It turns the focus away from the self. One begins to be very present & does not let the Ego-mind wander to past or future.

Seva can be offering a smile. Seva can be holding a compassionate space for a friend during times of trouble. Seva can be saving a worm from a puddle in the rain. Why would you save a worm? Because you understand that you and the worm are connected, on many levels. Just as connected as you are to your human friends. Worms till the soils that grow our food, that same soil where our bodies end up one day. By returning the worm to dry earth, you have just directly uplifted and assisted many people, though they do not know it. And the worm itself has presented you this karmic opportunity to be its rescuer; an opportunity to practice compassionate seva. No act of compassion is too small. So the real question, the one people don't often think about, is: why would you abandon a worm? If your response is anything like "I'd be too busy" or "it's gross" or "who cares?" then you haven't quite grasped how truly interconnected we are in this universe.

We are all made up of the same things; us, the soil, the trees, the worms. Call it carbon or stardust, we are all the same, just passing through different forms at different times. So from that viewpoint, seva becomes very easy. Working to understand and uplift ourselves automatically serves those around us, due to our innate interconnection. From this stance, when we want good for ourselves, it is unselfish. We want good for the world. Seva burns away the Ego. The practice of seva yoga transforms the personality in the same way that the practice of asana can transform the physical body.

Initially with asana, we confront an image of the body that the mind has created. This image persists due to a lack of awareness and understanding about the reality of the physical manifestation that is the body. This image that we have of the components of our bodies and what we can do with them, their mobility, flexibility and strength, is mostly illusory. With seva, we confront the mind itself and our (again, illusory) idea of who we are. We come to understand that the 'self-centered' Ego-mind is not our true nature. Rather, our true nature is to remain in non-judgmental constant connection with everything. This is the state that yogis call Samadhi - Bliss.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dealing with Emotions

After a little discussion on dealing with the different types of thoughts that may arise during yogic practice, and how to work with them, it's now time to discuss the emotions that may arise for us during practice.

As with thoughts, emotions are transitory - fleeting. But while you are experiencing them, they seem to be lasting an eternity. Especially the negative ones! Some people think that yoga practice is no place for negative emotions, or they try to use the practice to make the negative feelings disappear. This is not a wise effort. On the contrary, yoga practice is a GREAT time & place to deal with negative emotions, because we can start to see them for what they really are, rather than just blaming outside circumstances.

Some negative emotions that I (and countless others) have felt during practice: boredom, irritation, restlessness, fear, anger, hatred, self-loathing, teacher-loathing, loathing of the human condition, frustration, and that sense of just wanting to give up!! I am sharing this to demonstrate how normal it is for these emotions to arise. But whereas off the mat we might deal with these by shouting at the driver in front of us or arguing with our significant other, on the mat we learn to deal with them by BREATHING THROUGH them, and observing them as they pass. Over time, we learn that even the most intense negative emotions will pass quickly if treated with non-attached compassion and respect. Then, instead of making rude gestures at the bad driver in front of us, which drains US of our prana, we maintain our sense of mental and energetic balance and continue our practice throughout the day.

Speaking of mental balance, I had a great opportunity to practice in Ana's wonderful class last night. Many of you have heard me joke that right vs. left is not my strong suit, and neither are balance poses. Well, this is true, and has been getting more challenging due to medication I take that causes muscle tremors. Long story short, I could not maintain a single balance pose for longer than 3 seconds. My "monkey mind" started hurling some nasty (if creative) insults at me for this. For a moment, I agreed with its dismal assessment of my abilities. But then, 'yoga mind' and the breath came to my rescue. During each balance pose, after my best 3-second attempt at it, I stood in Samasthiti (Tadasana) and breathed fire into my breath and bandhas. A tiny piece of my "monkey mind" was worried about what others would think. But once again, I let that slide away & practiced my own powerful internal practice when needed.

Positive emotions can also be challening during practice, but in a different way. I may not have a good sense of balance, but I've always been flexible, so I immediately loved bendy asanas. However, this kept me stuck for a while, wanting to practice only the poses that felt good or were easy to do, while ignoring other poses. Eventually and with much patience, my teacher got me past this point.

If you feel sadness, feel it. Don't block it out. It may not seem so, but it is a gift, an opportunity to see more clearly. If you feel extreme happiness, feel it to its fullest! It too is a wonderful gift! Use your yogic practice to lessen your attachment to both negative and positive emotions, so that you are not at their mercy. Then, when emotionally-charged situations arise, you will be able to respond, rather than mindlessly react.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Yoga Smile :)

Did you know it's ok to smile during yoga practice? Even Ashtanga :)

But a yoga smile is a little bit different than the smiles we normally give out during the day. Those smiles have a social function; they help connect us to people and reinforce friendships and relationships. But the yogic smile is an inwardly-directed smile. It's a sort of inner dialogue. Just as with the Drishtis (gazing points), we are less concerned about the outside world than with our internal environment.

A soft, inwardly-directed smile during practice can do many things. Firstly, it can soften the muscles of the face, which often become unnessicarily tense due to the vigorous practice.

The yogic smile can also be used to diffuse thoughts that arise. If negative thoughts arise during an asana, do not fight them. Instead, gently smile at these thoughts, and they will start to recede. Soothe any fear, pain, or negativity as if it were a small child, deserving of boundless empathy. We are all deserving of this boundless empathy and acceptance, but it is hard to find out in the world. The BIG SECRET is that it is already abundant, in yourself! The jewel is in the lotus. You are perfect as you are. Smile inwardly, absorbing this knowledge into your being.

This inward smile can also be used to calm competitive, best-strongest-fastest thoughts; the type which Western sports considers to be a good mind-set. In a yogic view, these thoughts are really no more 'positive' than the 'negative' ones mentioned earlier, because they are very much wrapped up in attachment to certain outcomes. If you can only be happy based on a certain external outcome, your happiness is not under your own control. Learning to find happiness, compassion, and contentment is the ultimate goal of yogic practice. Learn to smile through your "easiest" and "hardest" poses, dropping judgement and offering full compassion to the self.

Off the mat, the inward smile can be extraordinarily helpful whenever you are feeling frustrated, annoyed, angry, etc. in the store, on the road, or wherever you are. Your chest probably feels tight. You might be teary-eyed. Try to disconnect with the ego-component that is viewing this frustration so personally. Try to smile at the part of you that understands that this is all temporary, that the world is unfolding exactly as it should. You are an amazing being with a divine right to be here. Smiling with compassion toward yourself gives you almost boundless energy to extend this smiling energy toward everyone you meet.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Thanks for a great Saturday class!

Just want to say thank you to everyone who came to the Full Series Ashtanga class on Saturday. It was a pleasure and a priviledge to go through the whole series with you! Any and all who are interested, please join us from 4-6pm this coming Saturday! I'm already looking forward to it! :)

(Note: Regular classes are Mon 7:30-9pm and Wed 5:30-7pm, as usual.)

Dealing with thoughts

Yoga is more about training the mind than the body. During our practice, we learn how to not get caught up in thoughts, but instead, how to drop them and become free of them. There are only five kinds of thoughts: Of all the countless thought impressions that come into the mind field, which form the matrix of the barrier or veil covering the true Self (or center of consciousness), they all fall into one or more of these five categories. In other words, while there are many individual thought impressions, there are not countless types of thoughts to deal with, but only five. This can help greatly in seeing the underlying simplicity of the process of Yoga, not getting lost in the apparent multiplicity in the gross and subtle realms.

Pramana: right
Viparyaya: wrong
Vikalpa: imagined
Nidra: deep sleep
Smriti: memory

Witnessing the five kinds of thoughts: By learning to observe the thinking process, and then to discriminate between these five types of mental objects, we start to gain a mastery over them, and their ability to control our actions, speech, and thoughts.

With mastery of witnessing: As that mastery comes within reach, we gradually find a neutral, non-attached (Sutras 1.15, 3.38) stance of witnessing, where we can observe the entire flow of mind, while remaining peacefully undisturbed, unaffected, and uninvolved. Meditation can systematically deepen.

Without mastery of witnessing: Without that mastery, we become victims to our own unconscious mental process, losing free choice in external life as well as the ability to experience deep meditation.

Friday, July 25, 2008


From 4 - 6pm. Hope to see you there!
:) -LD

Drop all doing

Spirituality, as Osho says, is a flowering. It is the ultimate energetic luxury. Only when things are overflowing with vitality & prana do they bloom. Throughout our day, our energy goes on leaking out - drained out of us by what we do, wasted on small annoyances and petty grievances. People talk just to talk, having no sense of the innate energy of silence. We cannot sit still. We are obsessed with "doing", we cannot stop doing. This is what we have to drop in yoga. Drop the doing. Drop the striving. Find a place to 'just be' in each pose. And then, having dropped all the unnecessary things, you will find you start blooming, as if out of nowhere.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

UPDATE on Saturday Full Series Class

We are definitely still going ahead with the Full Primary Series class starting this Saturday, July 26th. For this week, we will keep the 4pm time slot, but if you would prefer the class to be earlier, we DO have the option of moving it up to as early as 1:30-3:30pm, if this fits people's Saturday schedules better. (Thanks, Ana!!) If this interests you, PLEASE leave me a comment here, send me an email, or talk to me on Saturday.

I'm so greatly looking forward to sharing the First Series with you in its entirety! I promise you'll feel amazing afterward :)


Sunday, July 20, 2008

NEW! Saturday Full Series Class!

I'm pleased to announce that, as you may have seen in the recent A2 email, there is going to be a Full Primary Series class on Saturdays, starting next week (the 26th). The class will run from 4-6pm, and can be approached from 2 basic angles: practicing the full first series with whatever modifications needed and ending at 6pm, OR practicing Mysore style, i.e. going until there is an asana that you cannot do and then going to finishing poses at your own time and pace. 

I invite you to join me on Saturday at 4pm! Ashtanga experience helpful but not necessary. See you then!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Full Series Class update: July 26th?

Hi :) It looks like we might be holding the (first) Full Series Ashtanga Class from 4-6pm on July 26th! Let me know via comments or email if this is a time/date you can make, or if the after noon of the 27th would be better instead. THANKS!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Sun A: It's all in the details

Whether you're new to Ashtanga or a seasoned practitioner, there is always new ground to be discovered in the simple things. Here is a wonderful video that goes through Suryanamaskara A in precise detail (copy & paste this link):

Try doing three of these at home every day, especially if you only take classes once or twice a week. You'll really start gaining strength and fluidity. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Moving meditation: You don't have to sit still

I had several reasons for getting involved in yoga, but one was my inability to meditate. Simply put, I could not sit still for longer than 10 seconds. I marveled at this inability of mine. The task seemed so simple: just sit. But it was unbearable for me, to the point that I would jump up and start to scratch my arms and sides as if there were ants all over me. My nervous system felt completely overwhelmed. And everything I read on meditation stressed that forcing things would lead nowhere, so I felt stuck. Until I realized that mediation could be practiced in motion.

I saw a video of monks practicing walking meditation in their monestary garden, and immediately started practicing in my own living room. I had always been a pacer, but now each step brought my mind with it into the present, keeping it anchored, the flitting thoughts of past & future less and less disruptive. Bringing the concept of moving meditation into my yoga practice transformed it completely. I had been gaining strength and flexibility, but I still struggled with my tumultuous, competitive, brewing thundercloud of a mind. Truly learning to link each movement to a deliberate Ujjayi breath allowed my mind to become peaceful at last, contentedly flowing with the breath.

I have told students that if I could give them the gift of a quiet mind, I would! But not only can it not be gifted, it cannot even really be adequately described, because words cease to be the connection to the world. Instead, you are directly connected to everything, without the veils of language, social convention, etc. Plugged in directly to the source. And we are all wired to do this. But again, "do" is the wrong word. It is more akin to not-doing, to dropping all patterns. A little like the moment you stop trying to see the optical illusion and then, there it is, as it was all along. You were just on a different wavelength! A contemporary monk remarks, "in meditation, the convention of personality starts to unfold into energetic patterns; patters that are ephemeral but karmically potent when they're held onto... You experience yourself more like an energetic sphere of sensitivity than as a 6-foot tall vertebrate who's a man or a woman. The mind itself becomes different; something that's part of what's going on, not something separate thing that makes judgments about it."

The yogic system of breath, bandhas, and asanas has been around as long as it has because it works. As Sutra 1.2 tells us, Yoga is the mastery and integration of the activities of mind. So even if your mind still feels loud and incessant, keep practicing. Do so especially if this is the case, since the difference you will experience will be profound. And eventually, you'll be able to sit, with a quiet mind. Believe me, if I can do it, anyone can.