Forgive Me Father For Forgetting

Yogis believe that if the mind is truly fixed on God at the moment of death then we achieve the highest level of samadhi – true enlightenment. It may seem odd, but as I grew up believing in a Heaven that good people go to when they die, I find this an easy concept to digest. It’s hard to explain, but somehow yoga seems to reconcile with every inherent religious/spiritual principal I have ever had.

God, to me, is the purest, kindest, most compassionate source of everything. My naive perspective of a ‘good’ person simply accepts that someone who believes, respects and worships God so much that they think of them at the moment of death must have followed a path in their life in which they sought closeness to God – be that closeness a search for ‘forgiveness’, ‘redemption’, ‘love’, or ‘unity’… All paths to these require that one is compassionate – a true quality of a yogi.

We can try to explain with words the concepts that we instinctively veer towards, but it’s difficult, maybe even impossible, because the truth is that although we know deep down what is right, it must be experienced to be understood, not simply described or taught with language or books. The knowledge within come from the Self, the True Self that is with us all and continues to exist even after our bodies have passed. Moving through the yoga poses, one physically passes through the shapes and forms of all living beings, and yet at the same time detaches from them all, as the True Self is Realised.

Once this is achieved even the poses are no longer needed. All of the tools and methods that one uses to obtain this experiential understanding of Unity are no longer needed. Like when Neo in the Matrix takes the red pill; once you know the Truth there is no turning back. Thankfully yoga provides a more gentle path to Realisation than Neo’s, and for me, to coin the Beatles, right now there is nowhere I can be that isn’t where I’m meant to be, nothing I can do that can’t be done. True talent on earth – legendary movie makers and song writers that appeal to the whole world – seem to have it all figured out. A coincidence? I don’t think so. They just found a way to express the Knowledge that we are born with, it’s just that some of us need to peel back the layers, work through our karmas and release our sankaras to face and accept It.

Feeling Connected

By the second week the meditation, pranayama and sattvic diet come easy to me. My practice of the asanas and sun salutations have waned these past few days, but only because I ran a half marathon on Sunday and my body has needed a couple of days to recover. I was never much of a runner until two years ago, when a friend encouraged me to do the half. I had no idea what I was in for, but running with 10,000 people proved to be an amazing experience. Despite going through phases during the 21K where I felt like my legs couldn’t carry me any more, or thinking that I wouldn’t make it, somehow I did and the feeling after was really euphoric. Last year, I had trained really well for the race, but this year I didn’t, yet somehow I beat my time, and I realise that so much of it was down to connecting with the collective consciousness of the other runners and overcoming my ego.

The teachings of yoga ripple through my daily life. Everything begins to make more sense, as I see the Truth, that We are All One. Seeing the Self in every living being, naturally my capacity for compassion increases and I feel a connection with the people, plants and animals around me and without trying – without attachment to the fruits of my actions – even my small self thinks, feels and behaves better.

My Mind is Expanding

After only a few days of practicing the pranayama and meditation techniques each morning, I become very acutely aware of a pressure sensation in my head.  The ‘logical’, ‘analytic’ and ‘reasoning’ part of my mind tries to explain it as a consequence of the neti and breathing exercises affecting my sinuses – but I know that something more profound is happening.

It feels literally as though my mind is expanding and the little pathways in my brain are being re-wired to prepare me for an understanding – of what exactly, I don’t yet know.  Negative and limiting thoughts drip away from my consciousness, freeing me for what is yet to come.

The sensation is there almost constantly throughout the day.  I notice it most when I’m alone – walking, driving or sitting at my desk at work.  Thinking of God seems to increase the feeling. This week has already unfolded to be one that I will never forget for many reasons.  In our earthly lives my hubby has been offered an amazing new career opportunity – something we’ve been trying to manifest for a while.  My brother, who only moved to Canada a month ago, has found some work for the first time since he got here.  And my director told me this week that she would like to promote me.

It’s hard not to connect the dots and wonder if all the great things that we manifested this week were brought into being, in some part, by the spiritual journey that I am on.  Without creating any attachment to this good news as a consequence on my actions, I realise that it has all happened unexpectedly, as though the world opened up and so did we and I am overwhelmed with gratitude.  Om Namah Shivaya!

Everything Smells Like Garlic and Onions

onion_garlicFollowing a sattvic diet for 30 days means coming up with new meal plans. My hubby and I are usually pretty healthy and start our day with a green smoothie, but it’s lunches and dinners that take a little more thought as I adjust to my new source of food energy. A sattvic diet consists of food that is light and easy to digest.  Most whole foods, fruit and veg may be consumed fresh and not overcooked to get the most nutrients from them and, where possible, organic to avoid ingesting chemicals. This bit is not too difficult, as I’m blessed to live in a part of the world where these things are easily available, but then it gets tricky because we should not eat onions, garlic or salt. Personally, I could probably make do with some steamed veggies and brown rice or quinoa for dinner each night, but as I also cook for my hubby and brother, I’ve had to get more creative in the kitchen!

Dinner on day 1, was lightly cooked bell peppers stuffed with mash potato and turmeric served with steamed asparagus. Day 2, was a cauliflower, tomato and coconut milk curry. By day 3 it was Monday, and being back in the 9-5 routine combined with my regular cleansing, pranayama, medition and asana practice there wasn’t much time left for cooking, so I made a large quantity of a split mung bean, carrot and wild rice concoction which could be eaten with fresh salad for the next few days.  It was bland, but served us well, and the boys in my household started to cook something extra to go on the sides with their evening meals.  I put turmeric in everything to add some flavour, but also because my teacher says it’s good for inflammation.

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika teaches that food should not be taken for sense gratification, but to sustain the inner consciousness, so eating should be considered part of one’s sadhana.  The prohibition of garlic in the sattvic diet, may be surprising.  It’s not because garlic has any adverse health effects, but because it leaves such a strong smell and taste in the body that it can make it difficult to concentrate and focus the mind during meditation.  Apparently, when pilots first started flying planes they were prohibited from eating garlic before their shifts for this very same reason!  In addition, garlic is thought to be an aphrodisiac and thought to arouse sexual fantasies which are not conducive to one who is trying to establish a higher state of awareness.  But aside from all these subtle benefits, one of the things I notice shortly after I begin the program, are heightened senses of taste and smell.  Foods that seemed bland at the beginning of the week, seem more flavoured by the end of the week and nearly everywhere I go I can smell onions or garlic.  I wonder if everyone I get close to had garlic for dinner last night, or if I’m imagining it from some subconscious withdrawal that I’m experiencing!  Either way, it’s a gentle reminder throughout the day of the journey that I’m on and I feel like I’m making progress.

Crippled Only By My Ego

In the course we are studying the Dharma III yoga poses. This is the start of the intermediate poses. The dharma yoga series begins with some vinyasa sun salutation variations, and then when the body is warm moves into the poses.

In class on Sunday we worked on the poses, observing students who could demonstrate the poses, discussed them with Reno, our teacher, and then worked in pairs to learn and practice them. I love working on my poses, and with a little encouragement from Reno in this class, I was able to move into a more advanced variation of pigeon than I ever had before.

Dhanurasana Variation

Dhanurasana Variation

The class was great and I enjoyed helping other students that I was paired with to help them in their poses, wondering if I would really be able to teach one day. Towards the end of the series, is one of the most advanced poses – a dhanurasana (bow pose) variation. This is a beautiful pose when done correctly and Reno asked someone to step forward to demonstrate it. In an instant a fellow student passed me a yoga belt and nudged me up to the mat in the centre of the room. I had done this pose before, but never with people watching and I instantly felt insecure and my body became stiff. I tried but I felt self-conscious and imagined I looked something like a beached whale trying to get off the mat and back in the water. Despite Reno’s reassurance that I could do the pose as he’d seen me do the pigeon variation and his promise that he wouldn’t force me into the pose, I panicked and wanted off the mat! To hide my embarrassment, I turned to humour and tried to make a joke – threatening revenge on the student who had encouraged me to demonstrate the pose.

In a few short minutes, I’d let my ego hold me back from doing the pose, been unable to follow my teacher’s instructions, failed my fellow students by being unable to demonstrate a pose that I knew I could and had even lashed out at someone who had been kind to me. I went home feeling frustrated and disappointed.

That evening, I told my brother and husband what had bothered me and they laughed. What is the point of yoga if it makes you feel like this? Let it go. Sound advice from two people that you wouldn’t be described as stereotypical yogis! So, I resolved that I should take the lesson here, not to let my ego cripple me and hurt others again and tried to put the matter to rest.

I was still still thinking about it the next day as I was heading to a yoga class after work, and by chance the same student who had encouraged me to demo the pose walked past as I was waiting for the bus!  An uncanny incident, as she rarely takes the bus and was only in the neighbourhood for a special event. I thanked The Lord and cosmic powers for bringing us together and giving me this chance to explain and apologise.  It was no coincidence that our paths had collided in this unexpected way; it was as if the Universe was sharing the inside joke with me and I realised that what I had experienced in the past 24 hours was just what was meant to be.  When I explained, the other student was, of course, totally lovely about it all and forgiving.  It clearly hadn’t mattered as much to anyone but me, and understood what is meant in the verse of the Gita which says “‘He who is free from the notion of egotism, and whose understanding is undefiled- though he slays these men, he really slays them not nor is he stained by the result of slaying.’  This non-attachment is the secret of a sadhaka.

Because It Must Be Done

On Saturday we were given the detailed instructions that we are to follow for 30 days. Each day is to begin with the cleansing rituals of neti and dhauti. The neti that we are advised to do is called Jala Neti. This process involves passing saline through the nasal passage – in one nostril and out the other on one side and then the other side. This may sound challenging, but considering the alternative more traditional neti method that involves passing a thread through the nostrils, I know which one I’d prefer to do!

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, an ancient yogic text, says, “Neti cleanses the cranium and bestows clairvoyance. It also destroys all diseases which manifest above the throat“. Indeed, neti pots with pre-packaged saline solution are now widely available in pharmacies and are sometimes recommended by medical doctors for the treatment of various sinus conditions and allergies. The physical benefits are largely undisputed – the sinuses are cleared, which helps to relax the face and relieve tension, the breath is able to flow more easily as the nostrils are unblocked, and I’ll let you know about the clairvoyance benefit once I’ve had a bit more practice!

Then comes the dhauti. The old texts say this should be done by swallowing a strip of wet cloth to clean the digestive system, but again, I prefer my teacher’s method – half a lemon squeezed in warm water and drunk before anything else is consumed. Hey presto! And the natural balance of the body is restored and digestion is eased. There’s loads of scientific research online about all the physical benefits that this simple practice brings to the body.

Following this, as sadhakas we are then required to do Kapalbhati, Chandra Surya Kumbhaka followed by 10 minutes of seed meditation and at least 15 minutes of seedless. Having done this programme once before, I know that this all takes me about an hour, so I wake up a little earlier than usual and go through the motions.

At first it’s a fairly mechanical process: the alarm goes off, I put the kettle on to boil, I measure out a spoonful of salt for my neti and slice a lemon for my dhauti, but I know that in a short time these simple acts will have profound almost unbelievable effects. But for now, I move through the motions, as the Bhagavad Gita teaches, not for any attachment or desire for the fruits of my actions but simply because they must be done.

Making Every Pose an Offering

The course officially began on Friday evening, with a two hour intermediate dharma yoga practice. My practice had waned somewhat throughout April and it had been nearly two weeks since I’d last practiced, so it was with some trepidation that I attended class, but knew that to give the best offering that I could I should practice near the teacher, so quickly settled myself in the front row.

When class began, Reno mentioned that another one of his students’ son was ill and suggested we offer our practice to them. Having practiced with and had the chance to get to know this student over the past year, it was with no hesitation that I chose to dedicated my practice to her and her son and in that instant it no longer mattered that I hadn’t practiced for weeks and I diligently did my best in each pose, praying that he would recover and their family would be well.

Every pose should be an offering. This is a key aspect of dharma yoga. It isn’t necessary to get your leg behind your head and do all the fancy poses, but it is very important to dedicate your practice to God or someone you love.

Some people may struggle with the word God, and for those our teacher suggests substituting it with the word Love or the name of whatever higher power you believe in. Other people may struggle with the concept of devoting the practice to God.  The truth is that all the main religions encourage devotees to think of God as often as possible, and I can’t think of a better way to train the mind to maintain that focus. If you can hold God in your mind when you are twisted and upside down and your breath is changing, it teaches you to think of God when going through changes or feeling challenged by life off the mats. Then, it will be easy
to fix the mind on God in prayer and at calmer times throughout your life. Ultimately the poses become easier, and are performed in a dream-like state, and then I can only imagine the bliss that one might feel truly connected with the Self.