Tag Archive: tantric yoga

A Commitment

When I enter into a contact improv jam, I make a commitment. I commit to paying attention with all of my being, to myself, to my partner or partners of the moment, to all the others in the room, and to a spatial, energetic, and creative attention to the dance itself and for the dancers as community and co-creators of the dance (and sometimes for the observers, too).

I think this is not unlike the commitment of the tantric yoga practitioner who ideally engages all of life with a simultaneous attention to the inner and the outer, to the dance between the self and all that to which ones self comes into relationship and to the dance of relationship.

Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.

Share

Artha, Kama, Dharma, Moksha (and Politics)

Last night, Paul Muller-Ortega, as part of the introductory talk for the meditation intensive, spoke at some length about the principles of ardha, kama, dharma, moksha.

As I have written about before, in the classical yoga view, it is the renunciation of the first three–material well-being, love and relationship, and right work or path, that leads us to the fourth–liberation. From a tantric yoga perspective, it is living and having the first three from the perspective of illuminated wisdom and discerning (viveka) insight (pratibha) that makes us free (jivanmukti) in this life.

One of the most exquisite things about a steady practice and study, is that each time we revisit a core concept, we hear and understand new aspects to bring into our lives.

When speaking of approaching these elemental aspects of human being, Paul noted that ardha includes not only material well-being, even wealth, but also the power that wealth brings and how we use it. Although he only mentioned that briefly amidst several other concepts, it really resonated with the current state of my being in relationship to the world and our country.

I have been contemplating deeply about wealth and power in this time of budget debate, and how they can and should be used to bring nurture, peace, and health to the maximum degree possible. (You might guess that I don’t think increasing spending for war and decreasing spending for education and health is going to bring us freedom).

Thinking about the power of money as part of our contemplation of our material well-being is something of critical importance at this time. If we shun or disdain in our minds wealth and power while still yearning for our own comforts, than we have lost an opportunity to bring the yoga principles into our lives as optimally as possible. (Of course, grasping and coveting money and power is completely destructive of the possibility of happiness, but most of us think about that, and it is why some say they are bad — money being the root of all evil, etc.).

If we are really in the world and want to be happy and to share and spread happiness, while living in accordance with the principles of the yamas and niyamas, especially the yamas: ahimsa, satya, aparigraha, brahmacharya, asteya (non-harming, truthfulness, non-greediness, aligning with spirit, and non-stealing), that is when we will start opening up the possibility of true living liberation.

Imagine, instead of thinking about material well-being as a “guilty pleasure” thinking of ways in which you can use your own well-being (and work through your practice to discover greater health and strength) to be a voice and power for good in your own individual way.

Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.

Share

Renunciation v. Discrimination (and Celebrating the Holidays)

A fundamental precept of classical yoga is that of vairagya or renunciation.  The yogin is meant to gradually renounce all of the life of mind and body until he or she transcends them and sees only spirit.  I have been thinking about how renunciation fits in with the holidays and how we, as a society, have come to celebrate them.  As some indulge to excess and all sorts of tinsel trappings, others denounce the excess as taking away from spirit and renounce the whole thing.  A reactive renunciation of the holidays wholesale because they are so commercialized can feel just as harsh as full consumption of the holidays, as marketed on TV, can feel bloated and unhealthy.

When we approach yoga from a tantric perspective, the practice is not geared towards vairagya. We seek instead to be fully engaged in life, trying to live each moment, taste each bite, breathe each breath, take each step as a way of connecting more deeply to the spirit.  This does not mean reckless indulgence.  It does not mean heedlessly consuming and taking into ourselves that which does not nourish ourselves or which harms other beings or the earth.  Through practice and study, we develop viveka or discrimination, which informs us of what will enhance our lives and lead us towards a place of light and health.

In the context of the holidays, to make them truly holy days, the tantric observer will not reject holiday celebrations out of hand simply because they have generally become commercialized and often unhealthy.  Rather, he or she will discern ways to celebrate and honor earth, family, friends, and self that are in alignment with nature and optimize the connections among them.  This may mean picking and choosing how and with whom to celebrate, but always with honor and respect.  This is an art that I am working on personally; sometimes it is hard to know where to draw the line, especially if co-workers or family are living in ways that do not feel nourishing for us.  Then the game is to not seem Scrooge-like to those who think that the holidays are about lots of heavy food and shopping, while we are choosing to honor the season in another way.

Share

Starry Nights, Tantric Yoga, and Pratyahara

On my previous visits to Sedona in the past year and a half, the moon has been full or nearly full each time.  Even though there was little light from man-made sources, the bright light of the moon illuminated the sky enough that the stars were outshone.  This trip, though, there was only a sliver of a crescent, and then, no moon at all.  In the absence of the moon, the stars blazed forth in all their glory.

I recently have been contemplating how the practice of pratyahara (usually translated as withdrawal of the senses) fits into a tantric yoga path. Pratyahara is the fifth limb of the eight-limb path of raja yoga, see Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.   In classical yoga, the aim of yoga practice is to transcend the body-mind, and the eight limbs provide the means for that transcendence.  It fits within that paradigm to withdraw from the senses to move towards meditation.  In tantric yoga, though, the aim is not to transcend or quell the body-mind, but to understand that the body-mind is an emanation of spirit and to live ever more full of the light of spirit. The senses are not something to be transcended.  Yet we still practice pratyahara on the tantric path.Why is that?

I think that in order to remember our own light, we sometimes need to choose to withdraw from the potentially constant stimulation of our senses; we need to pick darkness and quiet so that we can better discriminate between being delighted and inspired by the senses and being bound by craving stimulation of the senses.  If we get completely bound up in the senses and seek only to get more and more stimulated, we will forget the fullness and light of spirit.  We choose, therefore, at times in our practice, to diminish outer sensory input so that the inner light can shine more brightly.  When we return from the inner light to go back to the senses, we are then better able to appreciate the wonder of what our senses bring to us.  It is not unlike how we get to witness the extraordinary magic of the stars when we take ourselves away from the light of the sun, the moon, and the city.

Share

I hate [insert name of pose or class of poses] (and the kleshas)

One of the aims of yoga, according to Patanjali’s classic eight-limbed path of yoga, is to be free from being torn between the pairs of opposites — pleasure and pain.  We cannot be free if we are always grasping at pleasure or acting to avoid pain.  From a tantric perspective, we are not trying to disengage or transcend body and mind and the natural arising of pleasure and pain, but we still want to be engaged without an attachment or aversion that leads us into entanglement and suffering rather than towards openness and light.

One of the kleshas (afflictions) is dvesa, which can be translated as hate, dislike, abhorrence, enmity, avoidance.  Why wouldn’t we want just to avoid something that we dislike?  Sometimes we have no choice, and one of the benefits of yoga is helping us make peace with having to face or be engaged with things that are painful or distasteful.

I often hear students say, “I hate [insert name of pose].”  Last night, I heard it twice.  I am no stranger to the “I have to go to the bathroom poses,” the poses which are so challenging or uncomfortable, that I feel the need to leave the room. One of the most profound ways I have grown with yoga, though, is staying present for the poses that did not initially appeal to me, usually those that pushed my fear, trust, strength, anxiety, worthiness buttons.  One of the obvious superficial benefits of staying present and practicing the “I hate” poses is that they can yield an extra sense of accomplishment when we get them.  We can also learn more about our friends and colleagues by starting to understand why the poses are the ones that naturally draw them and thus expand our perspective on the fullness of life.

For example, arm balances are still most challenging for me, partly because I am more flexible than I am strong, and partly because I am fearful of falling.  I’ve started to appreciate how another person could be drawn to them for the exhilaration, the rush of danger, the excitement, the challenge, the very topsy-turvyness of the poses, although those aren’t sensations to which I am naturally drawn.  But I have learned how much practicing arm balances fuels the energy in my core and heart and when I get them, what it must feel like to fly.

The teacher’s duty (and I have been blessed with wonderful teachers who have given me this gift) is to offer the full range of experiences (within the parameters of the class level, style of yoga, and class description), so that every student gets to practice both favorites and least favorites.  This is not so much to make sure that every student gets a favorite sometimes and so is happy in the class when the favorite shows up, but so that the students are invited to be present, grounded, and open to his or her own light through the full range of delights and challenges.   On a day when I just get my favorites, I feel like I have been to the spa.  The real pleasure from yoga has been from the challenging poses over the long term.   It has been steadily coming to the challenge that has started easing my reactions off the mat to the inevitable challenges, pain, and losses of a full and active life.  In being less reactive to challenges, I also find I crave specific pleasures less, and so enjoy the pleasures that come all the more.

Yoga home practice challenge: pick one pose for which the phrase, “I hate…” usually proceeds it and make it an element of your weekly home practice for a month.  Witness your reactions on and off the mat.  Enjoy what happens next time the pose comes up in a class.  Maybe the phrase “I hate” will stop arising as soon as you hear the teacher name the pose.

Share

Shiva-Shakti Tattvas

The shiva-shakti tattvas, the two highest tattvas, are completely subjective.  The shiva tattva is, according to the philosophy, the ultimate reality, the pure “I,” undiminished and undifferentiated consciousness.  As something purely subjective, it is both everywhere and nowhere, in every being and simultaneously beyond them.  It is not dissimilar to Hegel’s Absolute (though I believe Douglas Brooks, who knows far more than I in this area, might disagree with me on this one), which “is and is not,” or Kant’s “unmoved mover.”

Shakti tattva is power — the power to tranform, create, manifest, diversify, cloak.  Shakti is the power to become embodied in objective form.  Shiva and shakti tattvas are thus inseparable.  Ultimate unbounded consciousness and freedom (shiva) only has meaning to the extent the power to move, create, and diversify (shakti) pulses and transforms the subjective into the objective, the unimaginable to the observable.

In our yoga practice and meditation, we seek to use the practices to reveal to ourselves the ultimate pulsation (spanda) between the objective and subjective, the observable and the unknowable, the individual and the completely universal.  One way I experience the first principle of Anusara yoga (open to grace), is taking the mat or my seat with an openness to sense and experience this ultimate pulsation (spanda) and play (lila), so that by using my body, mind, and will, I can better recognize the spirit that shines in all of us and use that recognition to inform how I relate to myself, society, and all beings.

Share

Iccha, Jnana, Kriya

Above (or perhaps beyond, or maybe more elemental, or more universal — words inevitably tangle us in discussing essential philosophical constructs) the six kanchukas (cloakings or coverings) are the five universal elements.  These are suddha vidya, ishvara, saddha shiva, and shiva-shakti.  John Friend suggests that we think of the first three of these tattvas as corresponding to the principles of iccha (will),  jnana (knowledge), and kriya (action).

When I think of the Anusara principles in practice on and off the mat, I think of them in terms of the tattvas, particularly the five universal elements and the five mahabhutas .   Those of you who practice and study Anusara yoga are familiar with the principles of “open to grace, muscular energy, inner/expanding spiral, outer/contracting spiral, and organic energy.”  As part of the physical practice of asana, I think of these alignment principles as corresponding to the mahabhutas (the five great elements of earth, water, fire, air, and space/ether; see previous posts on how I experience the alignment principles as relating to the mahabhutas).  At that level, “open to grace” has physical characteristics.  These principles, when applied consciously, help us to align the physical body with the energy body, so that we can more fully delight in our bodies.  When we are in alignment and experience expansion through alignment, we can more optimally move in and experience the physical and mental realms in a way that helps us recognize the universal spirit in all beings.

The reason I come to the mat, the ultimate purpose of yoga in an of itself and for me as a practitioner, is informed by the five principles of the universal.  The yearning to connect to the spirit is in essence an opening to grace at an elemental, non-physical level (an uber opening to grace).  The next aspect of our practice, which is more important than the physical technical details of the alignment principles, are what John Friend terms “attitude, alignment, and action.”  These are by definition more universal and fundamental than the physical principles and correspond directly to the principles of iccha (will),  jnana (knowledge), and kriya (action).  The essence of yoga, especially from a tantric perspective, is the will (iccha) to embody and experience the union of mind, body, and spirit with a radical embrace of our being.   Knowledge (jnana), when used as a way to align with our true nature, is not to correct, but to better enable us to align our body, both physically and energetically, and our mind so we best can experience and express our will to connect.   The ultimate action (kriya) of a pose or what we do off the mat is a spontaneous offering or an expression of our will to connect, using ever increasing refinement, skill, and knowledge.

Share

Yoga for Householders

Paul Muller-Ortega, who teaches philosophy and meditation from similar roots to those that inform Anusara yoga, spoke yesterday of the differences between the path of the renunciate and the path of the householder.  He strongly stated that neither path was better.  What he suggested, though, was that a householder will better flourish practicing yoga designed for the householder rather than attempting to practice renunciate techniques, while still staying in the householder path.

What does this mean?  I think it means that we become unhappy and conflicted if we try attempt the practices of the path of complete non-attachment and transcendence of body and mind while we are still very much staying in society and responsible for family, work, and citizenship.  The tantric, householder path, including that of the Shaivite tradition of Kashmir and Abhinavagupta, offers practices that enable one to live liberated in society, instead of suggesting that the only way to true liberation is to reject and transcend work, family, and community.  In yoga terms, the householder path is one that realizes moksha (liberation), through ardha (physical and material well-being), kama (love/relationship), and dharma (right work/path) rather than by transcending them.

Taking the householder path does not mean just indulging.  It still requires sensitivity, dedication, discrimination, and alignment.  I think it may be even harder than renunciation.  I know it is easier for me to just stay alone and practice, for example, than to bring yoga off my mat to how I work, consume, relate to others, and participate in society.  The householder path, though, is the one for me.

Share