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 – 01.20.15 (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

YAMAS AND NIYAMAS – 11.11.14 (APARIGRAHA – Hanging in Mid-Air)

Yoga allows us to walk on a tight rope … so to speak.  Half moon, standing splits, tree and other such poses allow us to figuratively walk on that tight rope.  Hanging in mid-air.  The moment before we find ourselves floating, defying gravity, we have to let go.  Let go of the foundation we have on our mat.  Trust the physical body.

The beauty of Yoga is that it allows us to take our analogies to both the exterior and the interior.  The physical benefits we receive from balancing postures find improved coordination, increased strength and stability.  Balance poses provide emotional benefits like relieving stress, reducing tension and fatigue. They also help to improve focus, concentration and memory.  I bring up all of these benefits because we have to trust that they are waiting for us.  Balancing postures can be intimidating and move us from our comfort zone.  However, the benefits of letting go and attempting are so amazing.

Aparigraha gives us the opportunity to let go and find something in the present moment.  Reach and we may miss.  Grip too tightly and we may find ourselves stuck in the past.  Have the trust that the moment provides so much for our bodies and our minds.  Soak up the joys of a healthy body and soak up the calm of a healthy mind.  Fly with freedom just like a trapeze artist and live the life you imagined.

Hanging in Mid-Air

Much like the moment when the breath is completely exhaled, the trapeze artist has a moment when they are suspended in mid-air.  My understanding is that they have to let go of one bar and wait in mid-air for the next swinging bar to reach them.  If they hold on to the current bar, or reach for the next bar, their timing will be off and they will fall.  Instead, they must let go fully to be ready for the bar swinging towards them, trusting the timing of the swing and not their own effort to reach.

I’m not a trapeze artist, but my experience of letting go feels very much like being suspended in mid-air with nothing to hold on to.  It is raw, naked, vulnerable, and uncomfortable.

The practice of nonclinging is as free as swinging from bar to bar effortlessly, in perfect trust and perfect timing.  Any kind of holding too long or grasping too far forward in an effort to maintain a sense of security is deadly to our spiritual growth and the natural unfolding of our lives.

Book – “The Yamas and Niyamas” by Deborah Adele

YAMAS AND NIYAMAS – 11.3.14 (APARIGRAHA – The Breath as Teacher)

A new month finds us looking at the next personal ethic in Yoga, Aparigraha.  If we prefer to play with our toys, we have missed the point.  Aparigraha, or nonpossessiveness, can also be interpreted as nonattachment, nongreed, nonclinging, nongrasping, and noncoveting; we can simply think of it as being able to “let go.”

(Side Note – I still need to see that movie!)  Nonpossessiveness asks us to look at life as if it is on loan to us.  Each physical possession that comes our way will eventually become a possession of someone else.  We may cling to it tightly due to sentimental reasons or our own greed, but all physical possessions will move on to a new owner one day.  I still have the first teddy bear that was given to me.  It is extremely significant to me.  One day though, it will be passed on to another fortunate individual.  

As we gain possessions in our lives, there is a lot of freedom to be had at allowing them to serve others.  To me, this is the hardest personal ethic to stay consistent with.  I like my hockey jerseys, my road bike, my Honda Element, my Droid Turbo cell phone and other personal possessions.  How do I find the balance here?

I’ve also seen people lead double lives to simply please others through possessions.  We are all guilty of this to some degree.  How often do we make a purchase with the thought of how it will make someone feel towards us?  It simply leads to stress, frustration and wanting.  The freedom of aparigraha grants calm and allows us to enjoy the time that we have.  Hold on loosely …

(Had to balance out some Frozen with a splash of 38 Special)

The Breath as Teacher

What if we could trust life like we trust the breath?  What if we could take in all the nourishment of the moment and then let it go fully, trusting the more nourishment will come?  Like the breath when it is held too long, the things that nourish us can become toxic.

When we experience the completeness of being loved, the satisfaction of a superb meal, the acknowledgment of work well done, we can easily want to hold on these moments and never let them go.  But it is the nature of things to change and by failing to let them change or move on, they begin to disappoint us and our attempts to hold on begin to make us stale and discontent.  What we try to possess, possesses us.

Aparigraha invites us to practice divine play, experience full intimacy and contact with the moment, and then to let go so the next thing can come.  The nature of the realm of Aparigraha is impermanence.  Everything changes.  Nothing stays the same.

If we can fall back to the breath and watch the belly rise and fall with each inhalation and exhalation, we can feel the truth of the transience of all things.

Book – “The Yamas and Niyamas” by Deborah Adele

Yamas and Niyamas – 10.27.14 (Brahmacharya – Walking w/the Divine)

As I sit here this morning, I look at my calendar.  It is full.  I feel like Captain Holt on the FOX comedy series “Brooklyn 99.”  I thrive off of optimization.

So yes, my application as a complete nerd is accepted.  The idea of efficiently running my life so that I experience every possible thing is fun.  I love the idea of having so many experiences and opportunities throughout my day.  My middle school classes can sometimes suffer from this because we try to do so many awesome things each and every day.  However, I’m constantly brought back by Brahmacharya.  I interpret it as “stop and smell the roses.”  If I rush in my personally and professional life, then I’ll miss the amazing moments created along the way.

One of my scholars (as we call our students at Allen Jay Prep) gave me an incredible reminder of this about two weeks ago.  The sixth grade Math content in Common Core asks teachers to cover a whole lot of concepts throughout the year.  We move at a pretty brisk pace.  Debora decided to remind me of Brahmacharya because the innocence of her mind naturally connects with an understanding of nonexcess.  She delights in the moments created in class.  As an educator and a yoga instructor, you never truly know what participants are experiencing and taking from the moments we aid and guide them through.  Debora gave me an incredible moment because she said I challenge her.  She said I ask her to struggle, I ask her to think deeply and I ask her to get upset, frustrated and sometimes even mad.  We roll a four gear system in my class.  Gear two asks scholars to actively think and use prior knowledge and instruction to problem solve.  Its hard.  Its pain-staking.  The reason behind it is that I don’t want to be the excess.  I don’t want to be a “sage on the stage.”  I want to provide just enough to spark wonder and inspiration.  And that inspiration needs to be intrinsic.  I want scholars to see the mystery in the moment of instruction and find their own interpretation.  Its fun.  

I need to continue to grow in adding this to my personal life.  I keep myself so busy that I sometimes miss the mystery.  I have mystery very organized and neatly packed.  Sometimes it needs to be random and free.

Walking with the Divine

When I didn’t know the day, or the time, or the temperature, an innate intelligence began to set the next thing in motion.  Without a schedule or a plan, being and doing blended until they felt the same.  There was no purpose, except for the pure delight of the moment.  God’s heartbeat.

I have read many self help books and have benefited greatly from them.  That said, I think mystery is what begins to shape-shift us into a deeper understanding of our humanity.  As we move deeper into the practice of “walking with God,” we will find that excess doesn’t own us quite as much as it used to.  When we get the real nourishment that divine mystery gives us, the pretend nourishment of excess becomes less and less interesting to us.

We don’t need to to be the center of attention and activity all the time.  I think it might surprise us to realize how much crazy activity we create in our days just so we can feel important.  We wear our busyness like a badge, like our busyness would somehow impress the rest of the world, or impress ourselves. 

Brahmacharya reminds us that we aren’t embodied in this form to feel dead but to feel alive.  We aren’t embodied to snuff out our vitality and passion through excess but to bring it to full expression.  “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs.  Ask yourself what makes you come alive.  And then go do it.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Book – “The Yamas and Niyamas” by Deborah Adele