Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sasha and Sarvangasana

Yoga Sutra II.46 
strira sukam asanam.
Asana is a steady, comfortable posture.1

I was practicing some yoga postures on Easter morning when Sasha (short for Alexander), my 17-month-old son, crawled over and starting climbing on me.  It seems like when I want to hold him he just wants to crawl away, but when I let him be to do some yoga or something then he wants to climb all over me demanding my full attention.  He is not walking yet, so this morning he decided to use me in shoulderstand (sarvangasana) as a prop to stand up.  He finds it hilarious when I try to practice yoga postures.  Although my shoulderstand is far from perfect as you can see in the picture, with Sasha hanging on to my pants laughing at me - this was a perfect posture for a perfect moment.

A comfortable and steady posture helps prepare the mind for meditation.  The various postures help us tune into the moment, by acting like a harness to yoke the wandering mind to the body.   With each changing posture I'm reminded of how the moment passes and I can not cling to it because it will always slip through my fingers and crawl away just like Sasha when I try to cling to him.

1. translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda. Integral Yoga. (pp. 178-179).

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Kleshas at the Movies Part I: Asmita Becomes a Gremlin.

Trying to get rid of your ego is like trying to get rid of your shadow.  
- Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev 1

Asmita means "I-ness" and is actually a beautiful thing.   It is necessary part of our survival, and it allows us to express creativity, uniqueness and individuality.  Asmita only becomes an obstacle when it becomes inflated and we begin to feel separate or isolated from others or become attached to asmita,  and allow it to run the show.   In yoga the key to overcoming this obstacle is to deflate the ego rather trying to destroy it because the ego, just like our own shadow, can not be destroyed.

I like to compare asmita to our little mogwai friend "Gizmo" from the 1984 movie Gremlins. Gizmo is a lovable and loyal pet if taken care of properly by following three rules: 1) Keep the mogwai away from bright lights especially sunlight.   2) Keep him away from water.  3) Never feed him after midnight. What happens if these rules are not followed?  Bright lights will harm him and sunlight will kill him.  If he gets wet he will reproduce and the new mogwai are not so loyal and lovable, but rather rude and mischievous.  If a mogwai eats after midnight then he forms a cocoon and turns into a violent, mean and nasty gremlin. 

I watched that movie again last Christmas vacation and I realized how bad the acting was, there's no reason to watch it again unless you want to punish yourself.  It seemed a lot cooler as a child in the 80's.   None the less I feel compelled to dig up old throw back movies and give them a little yogic spin.  To me Gizmo represents the ego as it was meant to be - an obedient companion to Atman (true self).

When Billy, Gizmo's new owner, spills water on him, he multiplies.  Water represents emotional attachment to asmita.  Which results in an inflated ego that clings to vrittis (all kinds of different thoughts). These new mogwai trick Billy into feeding them after midnight by chewing the chord to the clock at around 10pm.  Billy, being not that bright or aware, feeds them a bucket of fried chicken. All of them eat except for Gizmo who remains loyal.  Soon after the midnight snack they form cocoons and hatch as gremlins the next morning.  One of the Gremlins finds a pool and jumps in, and then the multitude of gremlins terrorize the town.  Its the same when we feed the ego with all the pleasures it wants then it will take over our bodies and oppress the Atman

The solution is to simply look inward at our own gremlins and shed light on them and they will dissolve.  An effective way to dissolve gremlins is with the three step process of Kriya Yoga.  At the end of the movie the Gremlins (the offspring of asmita) are killed off, but Gizmo (our original asmita) remains unharmed.  

1.  Simone, Cheryl and Sadhguru Jaggi VasudevMidnights with the Mystic: A little Guide to Freedom and Bliss. Hampton Roads, 2008. (pg. 168).

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Taking on an Iceberg with Kriya Yoga.

In fact, that person who is not tossed about by sense experiences and always stays balanced in pain and pleasure is fit to experience immortality. 1  - The Bhagavad Gita (II:15)

To kick of this new year, we will begin to examine the obstacles we want to overcome while on our yoga journey. Chapter II of the Yoga Sutras introduces the kleshas:  the obstacles or pitfalls that get in the way of the yoga practitioner.  The whole purpose for Kriya Yoga is to overcome these obstacles and reach samadhi (Yoga Sutra II.2).  Our practice becomes taking on these obstacles (the 5 kleshas) and our ultamate goal is to reach samadhi.  So let's focus on the practice of overcoming the obstacles first, and save samadhi for another time.

The five kleshas together are like an iceberg; only a small part is visible.  The tip of our klesha-iceberg is that part we can see above the surface: raga, (craving, desire) and dvesha (aversion, hatred).   Lurking beneath the surface are the sneaky asmita (egoism), and abhinivesha (fear of death, clinging to life).  At the core of the iceberg is avidya (ignorance, lack of spiritual wisdom).

So here I am crashing into the tip of the iceberg caught between raga and dvesha.  In contrast to the opening quote from the Gita: I find myself "tossed about by sense experiences..." and I find difficulty in becoming "balanced in pain and pleasure".  Maybe there's a way I can remove this iceberg from the ocean so I can see what's under the surface?  Maybe I can start to melt this ginormous block of ice?  This is where Kriya Yoga comes in handy.

Kriya Yoga provides the practitioner with the tools to dissolve this massive iceberg. For the purpose of study it is useful to break Kriya Yoga down into its three parts, but in practice all three parts should be integrated in order to work together.  Imagine tapas as a blow torch that begins the melting process.  Svadhyaya is the sword that can slice off a chunk of iceberg that we want to work on today.  Put that chunk in a large cauldron and keep dicing it with the sword.  Keep the blow torch going as well and soon it will be water. Then cover with a tight lid like a pressure cooker. Boil the water into steam. Then the steam can be released through that hole in the lid: isvara pranidhana. So there you have it, all three parts of Kriya Yoga working together for a common purpose: to overcome the kleshas.

1. As translated by Sri Swami Satchidanda. The Living Gita. Yogaville, 1988. (pg. 14).

Sunday, December 5, 2010

3. Isvara Pranidhana: Follow What?

Hanuman (The Denver Art Museum)
The name that can be named is not the eternal Name.
- Tao Te Ching 1

Isvara pranidhana, the third part of  Kriya Yoga, is a little more difficult to approach and much less tangible than the first two parts (tapas , and svadhyaya). It means surrender and devotion to Isvara.  So what is this Isvara? It can mean "Lord" or "God", but it also can be any of the numerous labels we have to describe that undefinable mystery commonly labelled as "God".  However, I want to make it clear that a believe in "God" is not a prerequisite for yoga.  One can believe in God without surrendering, and one can surrender without believing.  I feel that both believers and non-believers alike can find a connection to Isvara pranidhana.

Isvara pranidhana can be compared to what happens after learning to play a musical instrument like the guitar.  First you put in a lot of hard work in training the fingers getting them placed on the fretboard and leaning technique to get a clear sound - this takes tapas.  Then you have to learn theory, and scales and chords and stuff like that in order to play songs - this involves svadhyaya.   Third component is much more subtle: the silence between the notes - this is isvara pranidhana.  Music is impossible with out that silence, that space between the notes.  In yoga class, it is the pause between the postures that one can really surrender and let go.

In my intersprititual approach I think isvara pranidhana is similar Jesus' call to "follow me"2 and Paul's call to know "the will of God"3.  To "follow" someone takes the utmost devotion from the follower, and to know "the will of God" calls for surrender.  As a Mennonite I choose to follow Jesus; as a yogi I respect that Jesus is just one of many forms of isvara.  There is no virtue for the Christian in believing that Jesus is the one and only way to God for all people.  Instead this is just another pitfall of the ego that all spiritual aspirants should work to overcome.  The three step process of Kriya Yoga is designed to overcome the pitfalls, or kleshas  - this is what we will look at next.

1. Tao Te Ching: A New English Version (Chapter 1). Translated by Stephan Mitchell. Perennial Classics, 1988.
2. Mark 8:34 
3. Romans 12:2

Sunday, November 21, 2010

2. Svadhyaya: Renew the Mind Then Deny Yourself.

The Art of Study
Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power
- Tao Te Ching 1
With svadhyaya we move inward to the realm of the mind where we can begin to study our authentic selves.  With tapas we turn the body into a laboratory, now with svadhyaya we turn the mind into a telescope so we can see our own selves clearly.

Two excellent tools to "renew the mind"2 are the study of scripture and mantra repetition. Scripture provides a blueprint of your authentic self.  Without doing the "building" yourself the blueprint is not of much use.  The practitioner needs to bring the wisdom of scripture to life.  All scriptures have this as there aim, so any of them will do - yogi's choice!  There is nothing wrong with choosing just one and making that scripture more important that the others for your own journey to your authentic self, but we should respect others who choose to focus on other scriptures.  All scripture is equally sacred and equally flawed at the same time, as the written word can only point the practitioner to the way, it is not the way in and of itself.

Mantra repetition is used to focus the mind on one point; a one-pointed mind is a "renewed mind".  Our minds when allied with the ego want to be simulated constantly and scatter in all different directions clinging to vrittis, thought waves.  Repeating a mantra  can be helpful in breaking the mind's bond to vrittis and eventually the ego.  The mantra is best repeated silently, and can be any sacred word or phase of one's choosing.  For more on mantras I recommend Eknath Easwaren's book The Mantram Handbook.

How am I not my self?- I Heart Huckabees

It is necessary to "deny the self"3 that is ego based.  The ego-self attaches to all sorts of labels and thoughts and concepts, stuff we should deny.  My practice of svadhyaya should help attachment melt away. It is through these attachments that I become "not my self".  Which brings me to this clip from the film I Heart Huckabees. This is a pivotal moment for the nemesis in this movie, played by Jude Law, when his false ego-self is exposed.  This false self allowed him to get ahead in the corporate world.  His focus was to impress others while hiding his authentic self behind a mask.  After the false self is exposed by the light of self-study, he can no longer wear that mask and behave they way he has without making himself sick.

1. Tao Te Ching: A New English Version (Chapter 33). Translated by Stephan Mitchell. Perennial Classics, 1988.
2.  see Romans 12:2
3.  see Mark 8:34

Sunday, November 7, 2010

1. Tapas: Nourishing the Body With More than Just Spanish Apetizers.

"Self-discipline is an aid to spiritual progress, whereas self-torture is an obstacle.1 -Sri Swami Satchidananda  
Face-plant on ice: tapas or torture?

Try to google "tapas" and what do you get? Spanish appetizers! You've gotta love those edible tapas but the tapas of the yoga variety is something differentTapas (self-discipline), as the first part of Kriya Yoga, lays the foundation for a solid yoga practice; the tangible practices used to discipline the physical body and our behaviors. It also provides the endurance to take on life's obstacles called kleshas in The Yoga Sutras.   The kleshas cause us much pain and suffering, and through tapas we learn to endure and eventually overcome this pain.  However, this is not a practice of creating pain through some sort of self-torture, as the opening quote reminds us;  So we are not being encouraged to be gluttons for punishment here.  Instead we try to cultivate a healthy body and refine our lifestyle.  These aims can be tackled with the practice of Hatha Yoga and Karma Yoga (two yoga paths that fall under the tapas umbrella).  So, it is for tapas sake that we practice the most popular yoga practice in the Western World: the yoga postures found in Hatha YogaKarma Yoga (The Yoga of Action) promotes a healthier lifestyle by encouraging us to partake in selfless service.

Tapas, Sacrifice and Carrying the Cross
 "Let me die in my footsteps before I go down under the ground" - Bob Dylan 
Now let's take a look at how the Biblical concepts of "carrying the cross"2 and "the body as a living sacrifice"3 compare to the tapas of Kriya Yoga.  To me, carrying one's cross means to live fearlessly; it means taking on life's challenges and burdens rather than hiding from them. It is a commitment to overcoming the fear of death.  This is the same obstacle, or klesha, that tapas is meant to overcome.  Both tapas and "carrying the cross" are methods of self-discipline that start with regulating our actions and attitudes to the world.  We are asked to take on our own selfishness and self-righteousness.

St. Paul's request to become a "living sacrifice" is also similar to tapas.  Rather than living for ourselves we are asked to sacrifice everything to something more than ourselves - what some call "God", and in The Yoga Sutras is called "Isvara".  Becoming a living sacrifice is hard work that requires one to examine one's actions on a moment to moment basis in an unending process of refinement.  In Karma Yoga the same idea of self-sacrifice is summed up with this passage from The Bhagavad Gita: "...if you want to be truly free perform all actions as worship.4"  With the same spirit that we turn outward with tapas, we also need to turn inward in a process that begins with svadhyaya, self-study, the next part of Kriya Yoga.
1 The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Intregal Yoga publications, 1990. (pg. 80).   
2. Mark 8:34 see also Matt. 10:38 and 16:24; Luke 9:23 and 14:27
3. Romans 12:1
4 3:9 of The Bhagavd GitaTranslated by Mitchell, Stephen. Bhagavad Git: A New Translation.  Three Rivers Press. New York, 2000. (pg. 63).

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Kriya Yoga and Christanity: an Interspiritual Approach by a Yogi-Mennonite.

This is my attempt to draw a comparison between Kriya Yoga and Christianity.  But first a few words on interspirituality. I first came across the term while reading the book "Jesus in the Lotus" by Russill Paul, who explains it quite well. I recommend reading his book.  While searching for more information on interspirituality, I found a site,  Lighthouse Research Trails Project, that gives very misleading information about interspirituality by making it look like some sort of threat to Christianity and by erroneously defining the term "interspirituality" as "the combining of the world religions".  No! An interspiritual approach does not mean mixing all the worlds religions into one religion.  Nor does it mean cherry picking the best parts of different religions and adding them to your own religion. It is an approach that not only recognizes the similarities among religions, but also respects their differences and allows them to coexist.  Here is a good page I found that helps explain further: What is interspirituality?
The above photo represents my personal interspirituality. Books: The Yoga Sutras, The Bhagavad Gita, The Tao Te Ching, The Sermon on the Mount According to Vendanta, The Bible (Die Bibel), Tostoy's translation of the Gospel (Chetveroyevangeliye), Figures: the Buddha and Christian Rychener one of my Mennonite ancestors. Background: symbol for the sound "OM".
For me to be interspiritual means I am both a Mennonite and a yoga practitioner.  Both paths complement each other well, but at the same time each one can stand on its own as a sufficient path. I also understand that they have many differences. However, different doesn't mean one is wrong or inferior.  Studying a second religion or spiritual path is like learning a new language. It will enrich your world view, and it shouldn't threaten your primary religion if you are secure enough in it.

Kriya Yoga, as defined in yoga sutra II.1, I find to have similarities with two passages from the Bible's New Testament: Mark 8:34* and Romans 12:1-2*. These two Bible passages and sutra II.1, all provide the spiritual aspirant with a three step process.  The three steps are:

Kriya Yoga                                            Mark 8:34                                    Romans 12:1-2
1) tapas                                                1) carry your cross                      1) your body as living sacrifice
2) svadhyaya                                        2) deny self                                 2) renew your mind
3) isvara pranidhana                           3) follow me                                3) know gods will
(surrender to a higher power).

How are the three concepts in Kriya Yoga similar to those in Mark and Romans?   We will begin to look at this question in the next installment of Yoga Goggles, as I will break it down part by part starting with tapas.

I would like to extend a special thanks to the authors of the following articles from Elephant Journal: Is Yoga Un-Christian? and Further Thoughts on Yoga and Christianity, for inspiring me to write this post.

*The complete passages:
Mark 8:34  Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (NIV)

Romans 12:1-2  Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  (NIV)