YAMAS AND NIYAMAS – 03.10.15 (Svadhyaya – Projections)

I began my public education career as a middle grades science teacher almost twelve years ago.  I started with vis-a-vis wet erase markers and an overhead projector.

Now that I’ve dated myself a bit, there is no difference in the technological advances of today.  Classrooms have become equipped with Promethean ActivBoards or SMART Boards (and other competitor variations).  The concept remains the same.  The content that is on the transparency or in the computer is projected from one place to another.  Participants study the material and prepare for an assessment of some sort.  What is in is sent out, what is sent out is taken in.

Let’s apply this concept to ourselves.  What is in is sent out.  Svadhyaya asks us to take time to self-study, self-reflect.  Math, science, language arts, social studies and school in general is relatively straight forward in what is inside.  We can open a textbook and have a pretty idea the content that is inside.  We are quite the amazing variable.  We can look at each other and make inferences about the past, the present and the future.  However, we will never know a complete story.  We will never know each other completely.

What is in is sent out.  Therefore, we are asked to look inward and see our content, our character.  If we see hate and anger and bitterness in the world, then are those a part of us?  Where did they come from?  Why are they there?  If we see love and beauty and joy in the world, then are those a part of us?  Where did they come from?  Why are they there?  The projections that we see in our world cannot come from the outside in.  They come from the inside out.  Before we move quickly to judge the actions of the world around us, let’s first ask … what is inside us?

Svadhyaya – Projections

Do this experiment now:  without thinking, quickly write down the first five things that come to your mind that describe the world as you see it.

Every comment that you have used to describe the world will tell you more about yourself than about the world.  Every comment you make about the world, about another person, about an event, about life, is a projection of yourself and a clue to your interior landscape.  The world is your autobiography.

The world and others simply reflect back to us what we are seeing, not what is there.  It is as if wherever we look, there are only mirrors that show us pictures of ourselves.

“We cannot love or hate something about another person or the world unless it is already inside of us first.”

The world changes to fit the story you are telling.

As you begin to steadfastly pay attention to what you are saying to yourself about the moment, the other person, yourself, and life, you will get clues about the “boxes” you have wrapped yourself in that create you own little universe.  All of these utterances are projections of the parts of yourself you love, don’t love, can see, don’t want to see, or accept or can’t yet accept.

Book – “The Yamas and Niyamas” by Deborah Adele (BUY IT!!!)

YAMAS AND NIYAMAS – 02.24.15 (Tapas – The Control Burn)

Farmers use the concept of a “control burn” or “agricultural burn” to clear their fields of material that is no longer needed.  Growth has occurred and the crop has been since taken away.  What is left no longer serves a purpose and it must be removed to make way for new growth.  The removal of the waste material is the foundation for new growth.  Fire provides that transition.  In the presence of the fire, the organic material releases energy from the burn and cycles through the Earth.  In the wake of the destruction, new life grows and the waste has been the foundation!  


In the article, there is a quote that stands out.  “The only thing the farmers have to be really careful of is making sure that the fire doesn’t hop over that fire break and get into nearby surrounding woods,” Adams said. “On rare occasions, that does happen.”  The fire itself is all consuming and some of us are just not ready for the transformation.  Transformation cannot be forced upon us.  Maturity through Tapas happens when we are ready to let go.  I ran and ran from Tapas for a majority of my life because of the fear of what I would lose in the fire.  We all hold something with a tight grip because of fear.  A memory, a possible future, a person, an object … and we are driven by fear to not let go and possibly miss the experience of what may rise from its burning.

When we enter into Tapas, we are entering a field that is on fire.  We may not be aware of what that fire will consume about us, but we rest assured that we will be changed for the positive.  This doesn’t occur magically once in our lives, but becomes a routine.  As farmers practice this annually, what can the practice of Tapas grow in us each present moment?

Tapas – The Control Burn

Somewhere we forget that we had to learn how to walk, like young birds had to learn to fly.  We forget how many times we fell.  We forget that things take practice.  Ray Charles was asked later on in his career if he still practiced and prepared for concerts.  He replied that he played scales everyday, because when the scales were in his fingers, he could play anything.  The question becomes for us, what are we practicing for?  When is the last time we asked ourselves this question?

In yoga, having a daily disciplined practice is referred to as Sadhana and is much like doing a small controlled burn on ourselves.  It is the discipline of putting ourselves in places where the old debris that has collected in us can be removed.  We engaged in this process when we pay attention to the amount and kind of food we put in our body, when we move and exercise our bodies through walks, yoga, and other activities, or when we expand our mental ability.

Lord make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
– St. Francis of Assisi

This is a profound plea to change us from haters to lovers and from disturbers of peace to makers of peace.  This is the prayer of Tapas, and it invites us to be in life in a different way.

Book – “The Yamas and Niyamas” by Deborah Adele

YAMAS AND NIYAMAS – 02.03.15 (Tapas – Self Discipline)

The social and personal ethics of Yoga, the Yamas and Niyamas, allow us observe how we treat ourselves and those we interact with.  If I could have a favorite, then it would be Tapas.  I have gone through my life playing competitive sports and the concept of “burning” is not new to me.  In my adult life, I have continued with the several athletic hobbies that I have listed before.  I am in love with the “burning” sensation that I feel in my muscles from a long bike ride, the third period of a hockey game, and the final set of a tennis match.  Love it!

Where I had to look at Tapas from a different perspective was in regards to my habits.  Stress is a funny thing.  Sometimes we tend to live with it for no apparent reason.  We hold on to thoughts and feelings that are either rooted in the past or present.  When we do that, it affects our physical bodies.  Not cool.  

So I have a choice … continue to damage my physical body staying lost in the past and possible future I may manifest or use the “burning” to remove those choices and habits to become active in the present moment.  Which will we choose this moment?

**  Side note … anyone got any good soup recipes? 🙂  Tapas always makes me hungry for some reason too.

Tapas – Self Discipline

Tapas literally means “heat,” and can be translated as catharsis, austerities, self-discipline, spiritual effort, change tolerance, or transformation.  Tapas has the sense of “cooking” ourselves in the fire of discipline to transform ourselves in the fire of discipline to transform ourselves into something else.  It is our determined effort to become someone of character and strength.  Much like cooking an egg denatures the egg, changing it into a different structure, Tapas eventually changes our nature, turning us into a cauldron that can withstand any of life’s challenges.  Tapas is the day to day choice to burn non-supportive habits of the body and mind, choosing to forsake momentary pleasures for future rewards.

There is a bumper sticker which states, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” We can chuckle all we want, but there is great truth to this statement.  Tapas can take us to the place where all of our resources are used up, where there is nothing left but weakness, where all of our so-called “props” have been taken away.  It is in this barren place, where we have exhausted all that we have and all that we are, that new strength is shaped and character is born if we choose to fearlessly open ourselves to the experience.  It is perhaps the greatest gift life could offer us.

Book – “The Yamas and Niyamas” by Deborah Adele

YAMAS AND NIYAMAS – 01.27.15 (SANTOSHA – The Paradox of Not Seeking)

I am guilty of trying to fit a ridiculous amount of challenges, successes, failures and opportunities into my moments.  I love to experience as much as possible, but at the expense of being content.  For a number of years, I would revisit the past and argue with myself over time lost here and time lost there.  However, my thinking has changed.  Each and every one of those moments is framed in ice.  They sit there for me to see as they are.  They cannot be thawed out and manipulated into what I may think is more beneficial or pleasing.  They are there…forever.

Where I can find joy is in the moment that lies presently.  I use this blog to send out my thoughts to those I meet physically and digitally in hopes that my research and struggles may help in some way.  Writing on here takes time.  I’m not a fabulous writer, but I rest in the fact that my writing is honest and sincere.  This moment that I type right now I could be on my bike trainer, I could be doing some dirty dishes, or I could still be asleep.  I chose this moment for myself and for you.  Be content with each moment and fall in love with you.

SANTOSHA – The Paradox of Not Seeking

Discontentment is the illusion that there can be something else in the moment.  There isn’t and there can’t be.  The moment is complete.  That means if I am bored or sad, I will only be discontented if I am not content to be bored and sad.  Building contentment with boredom, sadness, impatience, depression, disappointment, and loss, builds our ability to be that tall tree so rooted in the earth that great winds cannot topple it.  Being content with our discontentment is itself a gateway to the calm depths within.

Santosha, or contentment, is performing duty and right action with pure joy.  It is the true understanding that there is nothing more that can or does exist that this very moment.  When we are purely in the moment, the moment is complete.

Scholars have learned that there is nothing missing; life is complete the way it comes to us in each moment.  When we understand this, we sink into contentment.

Book – “The Yamas and Niyamas” by Deborah Adele

YAMAS AND NIYAMAS – 01.20.15 (Santosha – Gratitude)

Western culture is built upon comparison.  I compare what I have to what you have.  In that comparison comes a number a number of responses such as jealousy, greed, stress, anger, frustration and the list goes on.  The possessions we do not have play so many tricks on us.

The “Thank You” game is fun to play.  However, don’t dip into the past and resist being thankful for the future.  Play the “Thank You” game in the Now.  What do you find yourself thankful for right now as you read this?  I am thankful for an open mind.  I am thankful for my health.  I am thankful for my love of helping others.  Your response may be similar to mine or completely different.  But I challenge you to stay in the present and play the game.  The results are quite interesting …

True joy and gratitude doesn’t come from the next possession, but rather the level of contentment we have with our true self.  When we let go of the image we believe others want to see and remove pettiness and smallness from our lives, there we will find true contentment with who we are.  Our own unique true self.  You’re beautiful.

Santosha – Gratitude

Let’s play the thank you game.  I had no idea what the thank you game was, but I began to search hard for clues and cracks and pauses in which I could, with some kind of honesty, say thank you to life.  What I discovered turned my world upside down.  It wasn’t long before my step was lighter and slowly almost everything began to bring a smile to my face and words of gratitude to my heart.  I was alive again, and my life was enchanting.

Practicing gratitude protects us from our own pettiness and smallness and keeps us centered in the joy and abundance of our own life.  When stimulation pulls at us and disturbance beckons us, it is the gratitude uttered from our lips that keeps us strongly rooted in contentment.

Book – “The Yamas and Niyamas” by Deborah Adele

YAMAS AND NIYAMAS – 12.9.14 (SAUCHA – Purity as Relational)

As with all things, there is a superficial layer and a layer that goes much deeper.  There is the epidermis on the surface and then the dermis as we dig deeper anatomically.  Purity is the same way.  On the surface, we might initially think of physical purity in the sense of cleanliness and sexual purity.  As we head farther down, we start to look at purity on an emotional and spiritual level.  Our purity is relational.

As a middle school educator and a human being, I see different levels of understanding regarding purity.  It doesn’t matter the level of maturity, we all experience relational purity.  When we sit down for a family meal, interact with a neighbor, get rear-ended at a stop sign, or even get into an argument with a co-worker, these are all moments of relational purity.  We have an opportunity to bring our past or our present into the moment.  If the past attends, then we might stain an amazing opportunity.  If the present attends, then we have an opportunity to experience joy, love, peace and who knows what else!

Our past can cause us to want to fix the present.  We act as if there is something wrong with the moment.  The moment is the Now and is free from the past.  Allow this moment to be free of our past and read below with an understanding that we have the freedom to think and feel however we’d like.  We don’t need to be fixed and we don’t need to fix others..  We’re already beautiful and so are the people we interact with.  We can strive to be pure with the Now and interact with it with our true self :).  Each moment is new!  Namaste!

SAUCHA – Purity as Relational

Purity is not our attempt to make something different than it is; rather it is to be pure with it, as it is in the moment.  We fail this guideline in any of our attempts to change, judge, criticize, alter, control, manipulate, pretend, be disappointed or check out.

When our thoughts or actions are presumptive like this we actually stain the purity of the moment.  When we find ourselves stuck in a traffic jam, disappointed with our meal, tripping over messes in the house, or dealing with a crabby family member, we are invited to simply be with these times in a pure way, not to judge them as impure moments.

So stop imposing our staleness on things.

Matthew Sanford, speaking from the experience of an accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down, says,

“I am not afraid of my sadness.  My sadness is an incredible gift that allows me to be with people who are suffering without trying to fix them.”

Being pure with all the pieces of ourselves increases our staying power with our own suffering, intimacy, joy, boredom, pain and anxiety.  We become safe with ourselves, and we become a safe place for others.  We become a person who can comfortably and compassionately sit with another without the need to fix them.

YAMAS AND NIYAMAS – 12.2.14 (Saucha – Purity as a Cleansing Process)

Are your days busy?  Do you feel like society puts an emphasis on “the more you get done, the more productive you are”?  I do.  All around us there is an emphasis on “multitasking.”    It isn’t healthy.

Don’t Multitask: Your Brain Will Thank You

I always attempt to put as many fun things in my calendar as possible.  It is a blessing and a curse.  In a busy day, there can often be no time left for the moment.  My busy day often leaves me with a messy kitchen and student work from my day job strewn about my classroom and coffee table.  And it stresses me out.  Do you have the same issues going on at home and work?  

Purity isn’t simply a physical term.  When applied to our mind, our home and our work, it becomes a life saving word.  I bought into the idea that chronic multitasking was essential for success.  As I’ve become older, I’ve realized that I don’t have a truly horrible memory.  I don’t focus all of my energy on the present task in the present moment.  I don’t take time to purify my mind.  I am guilty of this at home and work as well.  I allow other areas of my life (love for hockey, Android cell phones, nerdy TV shows like “Brooklyn 99” and other such hobbies) to pull at my attention.  I am excited about the opportunity to reflect on Saucha throughout the month of December.  My mind and sanity truly need it.  How’s your sanity? 🙂

Saucha – Purity as a Cleansing Process

The jewel of Saucha, or purity, carries a two-fold meaning.  First, Saucha invites us to purify our bodies, our thoughts, and our words.  As we purify ourselves physically and mentally, we become less cluttered and heavy; purification brings about a brightness and clarity to our essence.  Second, this guideline has a relational quality.

Taking steps to cleanse and purify ourselves will look different for each of us.  Cleansing doesn’t have to be earth shattering or weird to begin to work its magic.  It might take the form of increased physical exercise, or increased water intake, a day of fasting on fruit and juice, or perhaps a day of cleaning out closets.  Maybe we will choose to spend a day purifying our tongue so that we speak nothing of harm or untruth for the entire day.  Whatever form purifying takes, it always begins with an intention to “lighten” the load we are carrying.

Maybe your body is carrying poisonous toxins from a poor diet.  Maybe your mind is carrying the heavy baggage of victimhood or unforgiveness.  Maybe your home and workspace are full of clutter and junk.

Clean your body!  Clean your mind!  Clean your living and work space! 🙂

Book – “The Yamas and Niyamas” by Deborah Adele

YAMAS AND NIYAMAS – 11.25.14 (APARIGRAHA – How Many Bags?)

I’m excited!  It’s vacation time!  I’m fortunate to head down to Myrtle Beach, SC a little later today with my amazing parents.  Mom decided it was time to try something a tad different for Thanksgiving and I’ll all for it.  So I’m faced with this question – just how many bags am I taking?

The question is both literal and metaphorical.  In the literal sense, I have yet to pack and am left with two potential tracks to follow.  Take everything that I “think” I will need during the trip or pack lightly with an openness to the moments that will transpire.  I can take as many of the possessions as possible, but how might that affect the trip?  Do I dare limit the amount of bags I pack or do I load up the Element?

In the metaphorical sense, I could easily pack my past, current and future thoughts.  I could take all three of those bags with me on the trip.  My past does help to provide a picture of who I have become, but it is the present moment that truly defines me.  Do I need to take my past and the vision I want for the future with me?

So as we embark later today, those questions and these come to my mind.  In the physical realm, do I need the weight of possessions during my trip?  In the metaphorical realm, do I need the weight of my past and the expectations of my future during my trip?  Pack light, leave the past and expectations, and enjoy the moment.  Sounds like a good mantra for the week.  Just some thoughts :).

Have a great time this holiday with friends and family!

Just How Many Bags are you Taking?

The day before we were to leave, I said, “Ashly, we have to make plans.”  “Grandma,” she said, “that’s the whole point of getting away; make it easy, don’t take anything, not even plans.”

I found myself stunned at the simplicity of her understanding of retreat time.  In my mind I reviewed the large amounts of packing and preparation that had always burdened my retreat time.  Exited at the opportunity, I leaped into this new challenge before me to “taking nothing with me.”

In fact, how many suitcases full of expectations, tasks, plans, resentments, and unforgiven moments was I toting around with me every day?  Even airlines know to charge a fine when we pack over the limit I thought to myself, and yet I wonder how many of us are packing over the limit every morning and wearying ourselves through the day with this heavy baggage?

This craziness we do to ourselves is as silly as if we carried a heavy load of bricks around all day and continued to add more to our pile.

Pack light for the journey.  Strip yourself to raw nakedness and vulnerability.  This is the invitation of nonpossessiveness.  Are we up to the unpacking?

Book – “The Yamas and Niyamas” by Deborah Adele

Tuesdays @ Thomasville YMCA – 9.9.14 (Asteya – Stealing from Others)

It is easy to think of “nonstealing” as simply the avoidance of taking possessions that are not ours.  It goes much deeper than this.  The concept is the same, as stealing develops a mistrust and stress.  We are a crafty species and will steal out of jealousy and necessity.  This is a delicate line to toe.  This line asks to contemplate integrity and what it means.

Asteya, or nonstealing, calls us to live with integrity and reciprocity.  If we are living in fears and lies, our dissatisfaction with ourselves and our lives leads us to look outward, with a tendency to steal what is not rightfully ours.  We steal from others, we steal from the earth, we steal from the future, and we steal from ourselves.  We steal from our own opportunity to grow ourselves into the person who has a right to have the life they want.

Stealing from Others
Mantra – I am a forklift.

When we compare ourselves to others, we either find ourselves lacking, which makes us feel somehow cheated, or we find ourselves superior, which leaves us feeling somewhat  arrogant.  Our attention on others from a place of discontent within ourselves can lead us to live vicariously through others or to try to control, manipulate, or manage them in order to boost our own sagging ego.  We may find ourselves trying to “trump” or “one-up” their stories and successes and experiences by coming behind them with our own more fabulous tale.  It is all an attempt to make ourselves feel better about ourselves.  Thief.

Or perhaps we steal from others by not paying attention to them or discounting them.  In all the instances where we steal, we have made the situation about us, not about the other.  When we feel unhappy with ourselves or our lives, we have a tendency to drag people down with us or make snide comments that come from jealousy.

“Be a forklift; you should always be lifting people up.”  The question we can ask ourselves in our encounters with others is, does the other person feel uplifted and lighter because they have been with us, or do they feel like something precious was taken from them?  Have we brightened their day by taking a moment to listen, to sincerely compliment them, or simply to smile?

Book – “The Yamas and Niyamas” by Deborah Adele

Slow Flow Yoga – 8.10.14 (The Role of the Ego)

I just finished filling in for our Sunday Slow Flow Yoga class at Yoga Mindset this rainy afternoon.  I had taken a nap this afternoon and was a bit groggy leading up to 3pm, but the energy that each of the fifteen beautiful folks that showed up was contagious!  It was fitting that we took a vacation during our class since the current state of the Triad is pretty overcast and depressing.  There are a lot of folks that can attest that I don’t take enough time in my life for vacations.  I am a very routine-oriented person that keeps a structured calendar and fill it up quite quickly.  When I started putting Yoga into my life a number of years ago, I forced myself to start looking at life differently.  A vacation allows for a renewal and an opportunity to shut off the repetition of our busy lives.  In doing so, it provides a chance to reflect and dig deeper into our consciousness.  The memories and thoughts that we unpack can be joyful, discouraging and any other possible emotion.  In that process, we exemplify humility.  We’re not perfect beings and it is okay to acknowledge our successes and our failures.  Have you taken a moment to unpack lately?

The Role of the Ego.

The ego is a function of the mind that organizes itself into “I.” The ego is not a bad thing; without the ego, we wouldn’t exist.  The ego takes an event that the senses bring into awareness and makes it personal.

Where things get messy is when the ego forgets that its function is to organize the self and begins to believe itself to be the boss.  When this happens, we get stuck in the “I” of being separate, and we make our belief system the model of reality.  Our belief system is not wrong or right, but it is constraining; when we identify with these constraints, we run on old habits and we consent to being less than we are.

As we unpack the boxes of our belief system, strong and often painful emotions can be released in the process.  These feelings are often related to memories that we have unconsciously used to structure our reality.  Similar to returning from a trip, where we have to take each item out of our suitcase and look at it as we unpack, we have to look at each box and the hidden emotions of experience that led to each layer of protective wrapping around ourselves.

The path of growth is not a straight line; it does not look anything like what we think it should look like.  In fact, often our belief system of what growth looks like, is the very thing that stops our growth.  What we think we know stops our inquiry.  So have a beginner’s mind; to know that we don’t know.  It is this stance of humility that opens the door to learning and revelation.

Book – “The Yamas and Niyamas” by Deborah Adele