How to Stop the War on Yourself & Be Empowered by Non-violence 

11219120_10208130040558591_2277323543183753638_nWe all desire peace in the world, but then why do we wage war on ourselves? We all aspire to be non-violent, but then harm ourselves in subtle ways all the time.

Gandhi said, “non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind.” Last week as we explored how to actively practice non-violence in my yoga lifestyle programs, I was remind how truly powerful this principle is.

Ahimsa, non-violence, and the first principle of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, means so much more than just abstaining from violent acts, but means cultivating an attitude of kindness, caring and compassion toward all things. That’s right, ALL things! And this my friend includes the neighbour you detest, your cranky boss but most importantly YOURSELF!

Most of us think, “sure I’m non-violent, I don’t carry weapons or beat people up.” But those are obvious forms of violence that, while horrible, may have less impact than the insidious forms of violence we all tend to act out each day.

As promoters of peace in the world we must first remember that peace begin with ourselves. 

I know when I’m being highly self critical I tend to judge others more harshly. When I’m overly tired and not taking care of myself I don’t have energy to give to, care for and be as kind to others. When I’m battling with my body I rarely treat it well or feel my best in the world.

On the other hand, when I’m well rested, nourished and self loving I naturally act this way to the people around me. I have more energy for others and for my dreams. I’m more productive and creative and my positive impact on the world increases.

The opposite of self violence is self care and self love. 

When we are not caring for and loving ourselves we are actually performing acts of violence —small, subtle acts of violence that accumulatively have a massive impact on our health and the world.

The World Health Organisation now names lifestyle diseases like cancers, heart disease and diabetes as the number one killers in the world. It’s not war waged with guns and tanks, but a subtle war we all wage on ourselves when we choose lifestyles that harm us.

We see this subtle war on ourselves through poor nutrition, drug and alcohol abuse; through depriving ourselves of sleep in order to chase achievement and “success”; perfectionism and seriously damaging self criticism, eating disorders and body dismorphia; through pushing our bodies too hard or not listening to them.

Basically, through wearing ourselves out and not honouring and appreciating this body that carries us through life. This is the opposite of Ahimsa, non-violence, and it disempowers us as individuals and as a society.

The more we practice non-violence by taking care of ourselves the better we impact the world. 

The bazaar thing is that we often feel guilty about taking care of ourselves, like it’s a luxury. But if you really think about the cost of self neglect on your health, productivity, relationships, creativity and greater cost to society, you’ll realise this is no luxury — it’s a responsibility!

Start practicing non-violence and taking better care of yourself right now! Here’s how: 

  1. Identify one subtle act or habit of self violence that you’d like to change this week. This could be anything like putting yourself down, drinking that extra glass of wine that makes you feel drained, going to bed too late or over eating junk food.
  1. Think about what you get out of this self violent habit. We only do anything because we get something out of it, even if it’s bad for us. When we want to break a bad habit we have to replace it with something that gives us a similar benefit but doesn’t cause us harm. So get clear on what benefit you get from this habit. It could be comfort, stimulation, distraction, motivation.
  1. Pick a replacement that has a similar benefit but doesn’t harm you. For example, if I over eat to the extreme every night when I’m alone to feel comforted, I could choose to do a self loving and comforting practice like oil massage or reading inspiring quotes, or calling a friend before I eat dinner at night. That way I feel comforted by something other than food.
  1. Make a personal dedication to non-violence with yourself. For example, my dedications is: I am dedicated to believing in myself, loving myself and knowing that I am worthy of love no matter what my imperfections are.

Enjoy (and trust me you will, practicing this makes everyone feel so much happier)!!

Please share with us your personal dedication to non-violence with yourself! 

Hindsight’s a Bitch

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How many times have you looked back on a situation and thought, “Wow, if only I’d seen it from this angle in that moment.” Who hasn’t?! Distance and time always bring clarity,  but it’s so frustrating that we don’t always see so clearly in the moment. I guess that’s why they say, “Hindsight’s a bitch.”

Everyone experiences this because in the moment it’s often hard to have a clear understanding of the bigger picture. This lack of clarity in the Yoga Sutras is called Avidya, or “the veil of misperception.”

This is one of the most important concepts in the Yoga Sutras and sheds light on why all people find themselves suffering.

Ultimately, the purpose of Yoga is to lift the veil of Avidya, and the trusty old Yoga Sutras provides us with four tips for how to see more clearly in the moment (see below). Let’s look a little closer at the concept of Avidya. Here’s what TKV Desikachar says about it.

Now what is this avidya that is so deeply rooted in us? Avidya can be understood as the accumulated result of our may unconscious actions, the actions and ways of perceiving that we have been mechanically carrying out for years. As a result of these unconscious responses, the mind becomes more and more dependent on habits until we accept the actions of yesterday as the norms of today. Such habituation in our action and perception is called samskara. These [unconscious] habits cover the mind with avidya, as if obscuring the clarity of consciousness with a filmy layer.

We seldom have an immediate and direct sense that our perception is wrong or clouded.

Avidya seldom is perceived as avidya itself. Indeed, one of the characteristics of avidya is that it remains hidden from us. Easier to identify are the characteristics of avidya’s branches. If we know that these are alive in us, then we can recognise the presence of avidya.”

Recognising the Four Branches of Avidya as Warning Signs

This gives a tool to see our blind spots. When we realise that one of the four branches of Avidya (ego, aversion, attachment and fear) is showing up in our lives it’s a warning sign that we’re not seeing the big picture.

Ideally, we then catch ourselves and ask ourselves, “What am I not seeing/understanding?” We’ve explored this concept this week in my yoga lifestyle programs and I personally have done a bunch of journaling about this week. It’s fascinating, sometimes scary, but always helpful what can be revealed.

Below I’ve explained the four branches of avidya with a bit more detail and provided thought provoking journal questions for you to dive deeper into what might be clouding your current vision and understanding. Enjoy!

The Four Branches of Avidya, Misperception

1. Ego – Asmita Ego pushes us into identifying with things that change, with something other than our inner light (purusha), and expresses itself in statements
like, “I’m the worst/best/right one.”

Journal questions: Recently, what impermanent aspects of myself or life have I been strongly identifying with? How has this been influencing my decisions, interactions and beliefs? When I take a step back, and identify with my observer mind and inner light , what is the deeper truth or bigger picture?

2. Attachment – Raga Attachment shows up often as demands, cravings, resistance to change and a feeling of needing something we don’t need or know is bad.

Journal questions: Recently, what necessary changes have I been resisting? Or, what have I been craving and/or demanding and is this necessary? How has this been influencing my decisions, interactions and beliefs? When I take a step back, and identify with my observer mind and inner light , what is the deeper truth or bigger picture?

3. Aversion – Dvesa Aversion expresses itself as rejection of people, thoughts, experiences and especially things that are unfamiliar. Not wanting to see what something is mirroring back to us about ourselves.

Journal questions: Recently, what ideas, thoughts, people or new experiences have I been strongly rejecting? Why? What is that idea/thought/person/experience showing me about myself? How has this been influencing my decisions, interactions and beliefs? When I take a step back, and identify with my observer mind and inner light , what is the deeper truth or bigger picture?

4. Fear – Abhinivesa Fear appears in many aspects of our life and is perhaps the most insidious of the branches. It manifests as uncertainty, doubt, hesitation, anger, depression and in many other ways effecting our decision, interactions and lifestyle.

Journal questions:  What have I been afraid of, worried about, anxious about lately? How has this been influencing my decisions, interactions and beliefs? When I take a step back, and identify with my observer mind and inner light , what is the deeper truth or bigger picture?

How do you remind yourself to see the bigger picture? 

A New Definition of Purity 

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The idea of living a life of purity used to bring to mind virgin angles sheltered from the world, untouched by the sometimes harsh experiences of life, or celibate sages living in far off ashrams or monasteries. In other words, not the reality most of us live in, and as such I didn’t really understand how to strive for it as the Yoga Sutras suggests we should.

But I’ve discovered a whole new meaning to purity in recent years as I’ve explored more deeply the meaning of Sauca.

Sauca, means purity or cleanliness, and is the first of the niyamas, or attitudes of a yogi as outlined by the Yoga Sutras.

The more I use yoga practice to read my life in terms of energy rather than stories or ideas, the more logical all of these practices become.

Energy, or Prana, is the stuff of life, and really all of our yoga practices aim to improve the flow of life-force into us and through us. As Darren John Main says, “Prana is the difference between a block of wood and a living tree. It is the difference between a corpse and a living body.”

I’ve learned through practicing yoga and studying Ayurveda that the most important question isn’t, “Is this good or bad?” but rather, “How is this effecting my prana?”

In this way we can make decision based on what’s best for us as individuals, not based on a list of should’s, and the more we do this the more we learn to trust and take care of ourselves.

So, from that perspective I’ve redefined purity and cleanliness, Sauca: anything that improves my intake and flow of life-force energy is pure; anything that depletes, blocks or stagnates my life-force energy is impure.

In my yoga lifestyle programs this week we’ve explored how Sauce based on this definition plays out in our lives. And how we can make Sauca a practice rather than simply an esoteric ideal.

We often hear people taking about practicing purity in how we eat and cleanliness of the body, but below you’ll find some of the less commonly looked at areas of our life that we’ve been practicing Sauca.

Practicing Purity of Place

If we’re surrounded by clutter and mess then the energy around us will be blocked and have a big impact on how we feel, think and act.

Today, simple take some time to clean up the space around you.

Even if you only have 10 minutes just clear out some small drawer or your wallet. If you have more time and energy go to town and get cleaning! Notice how your energy feels afterwards.

Practicing Purity of Speech 

When our communication is unclear it means that the interactions surrounding that communication is not flowing optimally. Remember, think about everything in terms of energy and how it flows or stagnates.

We all know it feels so much better when we’re understood or when we’re understanding someone else clearly, and that when this isn’t happening there seem to be problems.

Today, simply remind yourself to speak from your highest self and deepest truth.

If you’re finding it hard to speak your truth take a moment to ask yourself, what is the limiting belief that stops me from communicating clearly? And, what is the deeper truth?

Practicing Purity of Thought

Our beliefs and thoughts are truly what create our lives.

Purity and cleanliness in thought means flowing and liberation of energy. The biggest way to stop the flow of energy is to have negative thoughts about yourself.

Unfortunately, this negative self talk also seems to be a universal trait of man kind. A lot of our modern culture actually perpetuates this negative self talk, particularly the advertising industry that plays on our feelings of inadequacy to sell us something we don’t need.

Today, let yourself hear the self limiting thought that is arising, acknowledge that there is a deeper truth beyond that self limiting though that will liberate your energy. Write that deeper truth down! Repeat it to yourself as much as you can!

How do you practice purity?

How to Stick to What’s Best for You

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We don’t really need to be told what to do to feel better, we all more or less know. The catch is, knowing what to do doesn’t mean we’ll actually do it. So why is that? Why do we often have such a hard time doing the things we know will make us feel healthier, happier, more energetic and peaceful?

I was deeply touched recently listening to a fellow student’s voice crack as she asked these very questions. I could hear the deep longing in her voice to understand as she said, “What is this part of me that stops me from doing what I know I really want? What is this resistance?! Where does it come from?”

Not only could I relate to her plea, but it made me realise that EVERYONE relates to it. I don’t think there’s a person alive who hasn’t struggled with moments of self sabotage or daily resistance to doing what’s best for them.

Our teacher wisely answered, “That’s a great question and I want you all to really look into it.” Ha!

So, I’ve been asking myself what the hell this is all about. Clearly, there are as many answers as people in the world, but given that this is a universal struggle, there must also be some universal underlying causes.

Serendipitously, one of the books I’m reading, ‘Daring Greatly’ by Brene Brown, revealed to me how this resistance relates to our belief in worthiness, scarcity and the ego. Not surprisingly, the Yoga Sutras threw out some very similar ideas thousands of years ago.

Brown says, “Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.” 

Looking back I can see how my sense of worthiness, or lack there of, influenced whether or not I stuck to self care practices and/or how much I resist them.

For example, I used to resist exercising every day even though I knew it would make my life better and now I honestly couldn’t imagine a day without exercise.

So what changed? I started engaging with exercise from a place of worthiness rather than a place of lack, scarcity or what Brown calls the “not enough culture.”

Exercise used to be all about staying fit to look good, which is definitely engaging with the world from a place of unworthiness, lack and feeling not enough. Somewhere along the way (no doubt greatly influenced by my yoga teachers and practice) exercising became more about feeling good.

When the internal question of, “should I exercise or not?” arose, I used to translate it into, “Do you want to look better because in the eyes of this culture you clearly aren’t beautiful/skinny/strong/ect enough if you don’t?” Which is quite frankly depressing and un-motivating. No wonder resistance came up!

Now, I mostly translate that same daily question as, “Do you want to feel more energised, clear and light?” The question has nothing to do with my worth, no dark underlying self doubts are wrapped up in it, and I think for that reason I feel less resistant.

The Yoga Sutras teaches us to identify with the part of ourselves that is unchanging, that is pure light, connected to God and the whole world. This is call our purusa in Sanskrit or in English our soul.

The Yoga Sutras says that ego, I-am-ness, is one of the five causes of suffering. Ego means identifying with anything other than our purusa. It’s believing that we are defined by the things in life that change like appearance, wealth, social standing or even health.

Both thinking, “I am the best” or “I am the worst” are ego, and according to the Sutras will lead to suffering. Brown says the opposite of lack is not abundance, that’s simply the other side of the same coin. The opposite of lack is “enough.”

Knowing that we are purusa, pure light, means knowing that intrinsically we are enough no matter what changes occur in our life, body or culture. This knowing gives us courage, and strength to keep trying and practicing without worrying about failure, success or results. This is the attitude that turns practices into habits and lifestyle.

So often we give up on something before we’ve even begun because we’re so afraid to fail. And we’re afraid to fail because we’re afraid what that might mean about who we are. When we wrap our identity up in the results of anything we’re not engaging from a place of worthiness but of ego, and following the road signs to suffering.

We may not need to be told what to do to live a healthier life, but in order to actually take action and stick to it we need to approach our attempts for change from a place of worthiness and connection to purusa.

Sadly the larger culture of airbrushed models and material obsession teaches us the opposite, making the whole paradigm shift fairly difficult.  I know the more I’m surrounded by people who engage from a place of worthiness the more this reinforces my ability to do so, and for that reason I see the support of conscious community as the final crucial element of bringing ourselves more and more into alignment with actually living the life we know we want to live.

Sharing our stories strengthens our culture of worthiness and wholehearted living, tell us what’s helped you overcome resistance to doing the things you know are best for you?

It’s Not Personal, I Promise! 

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I find it strangely consoling to know that humans have been confused and suffering in the same way for thousands of years all over the world.

When I read the Yoga Sutras, a book of wisdom written over 2,000 years ago, I’m reminded that all the psychosis we struggle with — fear, doubt, ego, attachment, ect. — are universal plights of the human race.

This ancient book of wisdom outlines in a very concise way the common struggles and pitfalls people faced thousands of years ago in an entirely different culture (India), and the bazaar thing is that it may as well be describing the average modern Westerner.

When I stop and take into account that societies and individuals all over the world have struggled with the same personal issues for millennia, it doesn’t instil in me a sense of hopelessness about our species. Quite the opposite, it makes me feel a bit more relaxed as these same issues crop up in my life.

When I realise we all experience the same problems, I don’t feel so alone in my suffering and I stop taking the issues so personally.

Recognising the universality of human psychosis makes me realise firstly that nothing is WRONG with me. It’s an old habit of mine to think “Why am I like this?” and “What’s wrong with me?” when I face my fears, doubts and ego. In my journalism days a teacher once told me that you won’t get the right answer if you don’t have the right questions.

Asking constantly what’s wrong with ourselves, in my opinion, isn’t the right question. It causes us to focus on whatever negative aspect of our selves is leading to the suffering, and leads us away from remembering that IT’S NOT PERSONAL, nothing is wrong with US, we’re just being human.

Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t need to work on overcoming ego, fear and doubt, but when we take it so personally we tend not to ask the right questions, and therefor not see beyond the issue causing suffering.

The second thing the Yoga Sutras reminds me is that many amazing people have forged the path to over coming these universal issues. Which means firstly that they can be overcome, and secondly we don’t have to figure it all out on our own.

The Yoga Sutras is just one of many amazing ancient texts that can help us live as humans with less suffering and pain, and for me personally it is the one that has made the most sense in my life.

The Sutras describe this confused aspect of the human condition as “being under the veil of misperception,”  called avidya in Sanskrit. And really, most Yoga practices aim to teaches us how to lift this veil of misperception.

The trickiest thing about avidya is that it’s hard for us to perceive that we’re misperceiving! 

"Avidya is the root cause of the obstacles that prevent us from recognizing things as they really are.  The abstcles are asmita (ego), raga (attachment), dvesa (refusal) and abhinivesa (fear)." - T.K.V. Desikachar, The Heart of Yoga

“Avidya is the root cause of the obstacles that prevent us from recognizing things as they really are. The abstcles are asmita (ego), raga (attachment), dvesa (refusal) and abhinivesa (fear).” – T.K.V. Desikachar, The Heart of Yoga

Thank goodness for the wise yogis of yore who forged the way through these murky waters because we’re lucky enough to have some tips on how to identify when we’re clouded by the veil of avidya.

The Yoga Sutras teaches us that because it’s hard to recognise misperception itself, we should look out for it’s four main branches. The four branches of avidly are ego, aversion, attachment and fear. When these four branches show up in our lives we can look at them and think, “Ah, I must not be perceiving clearly. I must not be seeing the whole picture.”

So when your ego next rears it’s head, or you find yourself stumped by fear or suffering because of attachment and aversion, stop, take a big breath, and firstly realise this is just part of the human condition. Secondly, ask yourself, “What am I not seeing clearly? What is the greater truth about this situation that would dispel my fear/aversion/attachment/ego?”

These questions, just like my journalism teacher taught me, will lead to the right answers, the ones that lift the veil of Avidya.

 

 

Do you dig trenches or carry buckets?

Do you dig trenches or carry buckets? 

by Morgan Webert

Have you ever done something with ease and then immediately after felt shocked and surprised because every time before felt like a struggle? Its as if suddenly, boom, there you are doing it and its no big deal!

While it might feel like that moment snuck up on you, more than likely you’ve been building up to it for a long time, slowly and diligently removing the obstacles that previously made it a struggle.

This removing of obstacles, Patanjali says in the last chapter of the Yoga Sutras, is the primary action of the focused yogi’s mind that reaches exceptional, super-human capabilities (YS 4.3).  He goes on to liken this action of the “mind that remains with its object without distractions” to a farmer who cuts a dam to allow water to flow into the field where it’s needed.

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In the most recent yoga anatomy lecture with Lesslie Kaminoff, he shared with us a parable inspired by this farmer metaphor.  Kaminoff compares two types of farmers.

The first farmer carries two buckets on a stick across his back up the hill to a pond to fetch water for his fields.   He does this day in and day out to keep his fields growing, just like his father did, and just like his son’s will do.

The second farmer, on the other hand, carries a shovel out into the fields and begins to dig trenches next to his plants and then laboriously digs a trench up the hill to the pond.  When finally he makes it to the pond, he cuts the last bit of earth, lets the water flow to his fields and takes rests appreciating his good work.

The metaphor asks us to ponder the nature of our actions. Are they more like farmer one forever filling empty buckets one at a time, or more like farmer two, creating space so that water may flow from the source and continue to nourish the field long after the works been done to dig the trenches?

The yogic system understands that the energy of the world exists within us and all around us, we do not need to create that energy, its already there.  Our job, and the task of our practice, is to decipher what stands in the way of that energy flowing optimally and then remove the obstacle.

We can draw this metaphor out into so many areas of life, but let’s have a look at how it relates to our breathing. 

Firstly, when we practice asana (or any aspect of life really) and find ourselves holding our breath, it often indicates a state of stress, physical or mental. Physically it often happens when students strain to get into or hold a posture.

While holding the breath might temporarily give a sense of stability, control or deepening, it’s actually depriving your body of oxygen, bringing or keeping you in a state of stress and not sustainable. Practicing like this wont strengthen or open the body, nor will it teach focusing and calming the mind.  Its like the first farmer forever hiking up the hill with his buckets.

images-1On the other hand, if a person learns to breath smoothly and fluidly through challenging poses (and moments of life), they will not only receive more oxygen to the brain and muscle tissue, but also learn to active the parasympathetic nervous system to calm the mind and find greater focus.

Cultivating these qualities will strengthen a yoga student both physically and mentally, making the inevitable challenges of life easier to deal with as they arise. Cultivating these characteristics and skills are like digging trenches up to the pond. You might not get the pose right away, the fields might stay dry while you’re digging, but eventually you know you’ll reach the point where you can sustain the posture with ease, deal with the mental challenge with a sense of ease, or water the field with ease.

So have patience and compassion with your struggles, but also be discerning, and dig those trenches to the source!