Yoga with Mirella Nicholson

Yoga with Mirella Nicholson

Sunday, January 30, 2011

What's your motivation?

Substituting for my teacher is a lesson in humility.  The first student to arrive to class greets me by saying
"It must be hard when no one is ever happy to see you".  Humility wasn't exactly the bhavana I had been contemplating but apparently it was the lesson of the day. 

What I have been contemplating lately is what my motive is behind the "self-less service" that I do.  More accurately, not just my motivation but other people's motivation.  Have you ever had the experience where someone does something nice and thoughtful but the person is always reminding you of the nice thing they did for you?   It brings up the question "What was the motivation behind the kind act?"  I believe that the part about "self-less"  is often forgotten when self-less service is performed. 

This simple question "What is the motivation?" can change everything.  It's an exercise that I've been practicing.  Whenever I am about to do some "self-less services" or some act of kindness I stop and ask myself this question, "What is the motivation?"  Is the motivation "I'm looking for recognition", or "I'm expecting a reward", or "I want that person to like me", "I want to impress you".   If it is, is that still self-less service?  I don't think so. 

Let's examine for a moment what exactly the phrase self-less means.  Wikipedia says:  Selflessness, the act of sacrificing ones own interest for the greater good.  Sacrificing ones own interest is the important part.
Let's face it people.  Most times our motivation is more about our own interest rather than the interest of the  greater good.   It's time to give some thought to what motivates us.  My hope is that the simple act of asking this question, "What is the motivation?"  will help to bring more awareness and consciousness to my actions.

Practicing humility is a challenge.  What's even more of a challenge is trying to practice humility for humility's sake and not because you want others to say  "Oh, wow! look how humble he/she is".   Try asking yourself this question the next time you have the opportunity to do some self-less service  "What is the motivation?".  Just an exercise in awareness.  No judgement required - simply awareness.  Give it a try.  You can learn so much about yourself from this exercise.

Back to yesterday's lesson in humility:  I expect that students are going to be disappointed when they show up for class and there's a substitute.  I have felt that same disappointment.  On several occasions, upon seeing the substitute, I tried to quick figure out a way to back out of the room without anyone noticing.  The reality is that the student's statement really had nothing to do with me. It was about his disappointment that his teacher wasn't there.   Besides, the motivation behind the statement wasn't to be hurtful.  He was simply not aware or conscious of the words he said.   As my friend, Jon, says "It ain't all about you, hon!"

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Do you know what a mango tastes like?

For a little over a year now I've been participating in a study of the Upanishads.  We are blessed to have a teacher was has studied yoga texts for many, many years.  Each month, he generously opens his home to
us, spiritual seekers.   We sit at the foot of our teacher and read and discuss the beautiful poetic verses known as the Upanishads.

Last night we read the Mundaka Upanishad which talks about two modes of knowing. Knowing something intellectually and knowing something experientially.  Ed gave the analogy of wanting to know what a mango tastes like.   You can ask someone who's eaten a mango to describe it to you and you'll have some idea about the taste of it but until you take a bite you don't really know how it tastes.  The only way to KNOW what a mango tastes like is to eat one for yourself.

It's the same with spiritual practice.  You can spend a lifetime reading about yoga/meditation but until you step on the mat or sit on the cushion you only know it intellectually.  Once you've tasted the sweetness of the practice only then will you REALLY know what it's all about. Still, even haven bitten the mango for myself, I still doubt. 

What I learned last night is very simple, yet very profound.  "You need faith until you KNOW.  Once you know, you don't need faith anymore.  Until you know, keep the faith"  Just in case I missed the message last night God sent me another reminder today in SD's yoga class - his bhavana?? Faith.  You gotta love the synchronicity of life!  ( Is it the flow of Grace? Or is it just a coincidence?)

What I've been doubting has been my experiences in meditation.  What  I've been doubting is the flow of Grace.  I looked into the eyes of a woman I just met and saw the eyes of a teacher I wished I had gotten to know better.   What does that mean? Was I just imagining this? If not, why does she keep showing up in my life?  I don't know.  Until I know, I'll keep the faith.

I have faith in the yoga practice, I have faith that the veils of maya will one day be lifted and I'll KNOW but until then I'll  keep doing sadhana. I know the benefits of sadhana first hand - that I KNOW.  I will continue to open my heart through these beautiful yogic practices - Showing up each day to the mat helps me to strengthen my faith.  I KNOW the power of the practice and therefore I continue.   I hold on to the faith the one day, the answers to all the other questions of my life will be reveled.  Until I KNOW I need faith, once I know I'll no longer need faith.

"When He is seen within us and without, He sets right all doubts and dispels the pain of wrong actions committed in the past.  In the golden city of the heart dwells The Lord of Love, without parts, without stain. Know him as the radiant light of lights. There shines not the sun, neither moon nor star. Nor flash of lightning, nor fire lit on earth.  The Lord is the light reflected by all. He shining, everything shines after him.  The Lord of Love is before and behind. He extends to the right and to the left. He extends above; he extends below.  There is no one here but the Lord of Love. He alone is; in truth, he alone is." 

Om shanti, shanti, shanti!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Who's in your driver's seat?

When the ego is in the driver's seat you will inevitably end up going down the wrong way on a one-way street. The problem is that you may not realize that you're going down the wrong way until you're headed
for a head-on collision. Maybe I'm being a bit dramatic here but you get the idea. It's never a good idea for the ego to be in control.

I let my ego lead my practice on Sunday and I'm still paying for it today. Typically I only do the asanas
that I like and can do without too much effort during my home practice, with the exception of wheel pose.
I love, love, love wheel pose!!

This, my friends, is wheel pose.  This asana is always a challenge for me but when I accomplish
Urdhva Dhanurasana it feels awesome!  It's exhilarating and gives me rush like no other pose.
But, without proper preparation, it gives me a pain in my back and wrists.  With the ego in the driver's seat,
I pushed up into the pose without properly warming up and the head-on collision was my back screaming
at me.  With every challenge there is a lesson - the lesson here is always take the time to properly prepare!!

Here are a few reasons why I practice this pose:
       *The physical challenge - (that's the ego talking)
       *It helps me open my heart and throat chakras
       *It reminds me that I have more strength physically and mentally
         than I give myself credit for
       *It gives me a burst of energy that I sometimes need

Normally, these would all be good reasons to practice wheel.  However, on Sunday, the reason was not about opening my heart or increasing energy.  It was about feeding my ego.  The act of pushing into the pose was my way of pushing the negative self-talk out of my head.   When done properly, consciously, Urdhva Dhanurasana helps overcome self-doubt but not when it's done forcefully from a place of ego. 

In every challenge there is a lesson.  The lesson - ahimsa (non-harming) applies to our own bodies and minds.  The other lesson here, is to be conscious of our actions and our intention always and never let the ego in the driver's seat. 

**Here's my disclaimer:  Please use caution when attempting this pose. The complete instructions for wheel
can be found on the yoga journal website or you could take a yoga class with a certified yoga instructor- hint, hint -- come to class!


Monday, January 17, 2011

"release us from the bondage and sufferings of the mind....."

Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra
Om tryambakam Yajamahe
sugandhim pushti vardhanam
urva rukam iva bandhanan
mrityor mokshiya mamrutat swaha

We bow to the all pervading creative force - Shiva, absorbed in bliss, full of fragrance, the source of all nourishment.  As a fruit when it ripens separates easily from the vine, please release us from the bondage and sufferings of the mind and let us experience our eternal, blissful nature.

This was the mantra that came to mind during this morning's sadhana.  "Now is the time" is what I sensed at the end of meditation.  The fruit has ripened.  Can't avoid it any longer. 

Before Christmas I signed up for a distance learning course.  Dr. Frawley's "Yoga and Ayurveda".  I've wanted to take this course for the two years.  The package arrived the first week of December.   I was so excited to see that box.  I bought all the reference books. I bought new a notebook.  I couldn't wait to start!

I sat down and started reading right away.  Then it began...... the self-doubt.  The little voice telling me I'm not smart enough, I don't have enough discipline to get through the course.  I don't have enough back-ground in Ayurveda.  The list of reasons why I can't do it goes on and on.   "Well I was busy with Christmas"  I tell myself.  The truth?  I was scared.  Scared to fail at something that means so much to me.  It was easier to avoid it and pretend that I was too busy  to study then to work hard and fail. 

How many things do you avoid because of this fear of failure?  If you're like me - lots of things.  What if you do try something and you fail.  What happens?  Does the sky fall?  Will the sun stop shining?  I don't think so.   It's the ego that fears failure.  Isn't the object of this game called "reaching enlightenment" to transcend the ego anyway?  I think it is.  What if I only learn half of the material?  Is that a failure? I guess it depends on your perspective.  If I learn only half the material I will have learned more than if I didn't take the course at all.  That doesn't sound like a failure when I think of it that way.

Besides, what is the motivation behind taking this course?  Is it to impress others or is it to learn the material?
(okay, I admit it - it's a bit of both) But never the less, the object is to learn and grow.  The only way to do that is to try my best.  We only  get out of life what we put into it. 

This week-end I was reminded of Betheyla. At the beginning of a workshop that she taught - on the subject of Yoga and Ayurveda - she told the class not to try to write down every word she said. She asked us to pay attention and listen and not try so hard to remember everything. "Just take one or two things that resonate and put those ideas into practice" was her advise.

Thank you Betheyla, that's exactly how I'm going to approach this course.  I'm going to read it, absorb it and apply what resonates with me in my life and teaching. 

The little voice of self-doubt is always there for me.  Sometimes the voice is louder than at other times. I need to remember that listening to it is optional.  In the words of my teacher  "I can choose to stay stuck in fear or step forward in faith".   The choice is mine.  Today I choose faith. 

Om tryambakam yajamahe, sugandhim pushti vardhanam, urva rukam iva bandhanan, mrityor mokshiya mamrutat swaha...... 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Where oh where can my guru be??

One day I'm in the car with a couple of fellow yoginis.  We were in the middle of the 500 hour yoga teacher training program and I was lamenting that I felt like I needed a guru.  My wise yogini friend asks me why I feel like I need a guru.  "I need someone I can talk to about my troubles. Someone to help me make good choices and decisions" I tell her.  My wise friend replies "You don't need a guru - you need a therapist!"

I have spent many hours pondering the idea of a guru.  What exactly is the role of a guru? How does one find a guru? What qualifies someone to be a guru?  Yes folks, I have questions.  So let's begin......

Wikipedia says: A guru (Sanskrit: गुरु) is one who is regarded as having great knowledge, wisdom and authority in a certain area, and who uses it to guide others (teacher).  For our discussion tonight, let's say that we are looking for a spiritual guru.  Someone who has great knowledge and wisdom in the areas of spiritual living.  Someone who uses his/her knowledge to guide others.  

The saying goes "When the student is ready, the teacher appears" but we modern day yogis aren't buying this.  We set out to pick our guru.  Do you have a list of qualifications you want your guru to have?  Let's see...  The guru should be loving, kind, compassionate, forgiving. Anything else? Oh yeah... the guru should be someone who doesn't require anything of us.  We don't want a teacher who holds us accountable for our actions so we choose a guru who isn't really involved in our lives. Perhaps the teacher lives in India and only visits a couple of times a year in a public program or maybe the guru has even left their body.

Back to my original questions... 1)What is the role of the guru?
My opinion:  The role of the guru is to guide us along the path to self-realization.  To teach us, by their example, how to live a spiritual life(even when no-one is looking).  When we forget the yamas and niyamas the guru reminds us.  The role of the guru is not to judge us but to hold us accountable for our actions.  When our ego becomes inflated the guru is there with the pin to pop it! Put us back in our place (so to speak)

Question #2)  How does one find a guru?
My opinion:  We don't.  The guru finds us.  We follow the example of the great saints and sages that have walked this spiritual path before us to the best of our ability.  We do daily spiritual practice.  We love and serve others.  We should remember that through our interactions with others we are interacting with the Divine.  When are hearts are pure and we have transcended the ego - then and only then may we consider ourselves ready for the guru to appear in our lives.

When reading the autobiography of the yogi and other stories of the great saints, I've often thought that I'm not ready for a guru.  If I had a beloved guru and he spoke harshly to me or reprimanded me bruising my ego, it would break my heart.  Would you be ready for that? I still have work to do.

Questions #3) What qualifies someone to be a guru?
My Opinion:   A guru should be someone who has NO ego.  Someone who has walked the walk and not just talks the talk.   Here's the thing.... (IN MY OPINION OF COURSE) If the person tells you that they are enlightened and for hire as a personal guru - Run the other direction!  In other words - If he has a big ego - he's not guru material.  I believe that if I am in the presence of someone who is enlightened - I will know it.  My heart will tell me.

The Yoga Sutras talk about the fact that sometimes along the spiritual path when we have made progress and begin to develop spiritually the ego shows it's face again to distract us from the goal of self-realization.  Unfortunately, some of these spiritual seekers, who set out with good intentions become distracted.  They fall for the ego's tricks and begin to think that they have reached the goal of enlightenment when in reality they have taken a detour that is leading them to a dark and dangerous place called "ego-land".  

There is no elevator on this journey to Enlightenment.  We must walk this path through daily spiritual practice.  That means both on and off the mat/meditation cushion.  It's not enough to spend several hours a day in meditation - you need to live and breath your yoga (including the yamas & niyamas) in every moment and in every breath.   Then and only then can you consider yourself ready for your guru to pick you. 

Or you can find a therapist.....

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Satya: सत्या

Satya: सत्या is the sanskrit term for truth.  Satya is one of the yamas which are the foundation for living a yogic lifestyle. It's not just about not telling lies it's about living your truth.  The hard part for most is living and speaking your truth while still practicing ahimsa (non-harming). 

There are those who use the truth as a baseball bat without ever considering how their words effect the person receiving them.  When it's brought to their attention they justify their hurtful words by saying that they are only telling the truth.  There are others who stifle their truth with cupcakes and cosmopolitans.  They feel anger or hurt but rather than standing up for themselves and speaking their truth they use food/alcohol to push the feelings down. But no matter how many cupcakes or cosmopolitans you have, the truth is still there. 

What the practice of yoga/meditation can do is to help you to step back into a state of witnessing.  It's from this place of the witness that you can clearly see your patterns.  Once you recognize a pattern that is no longer working for you, you can take the steps to change them.   Whether your truth is a baseball bat or it's buried under the cupcakes and cosmos it's a pattern that is no longer working.  What are you going to do to change it?

For years I've been in the cupcake/cosmo camp.  Whenever I would feel hurt or anger I would convince myself that if I expressed it that it would make things worse.  I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings or get anyone mad at me so I didn't express myself.  Instead, I'd try to stuff those feelings by eating.  I thought that
it's better not to hurt anyone or make anyone angry than to express myself.  My feelings didn't matter anyway.   What I didn't realize was that this behavior did hurt someone.  It did make someone angry.  ME.   That realization was a ton of bricks on my head.  I did matter.  Hurting myself is also going against the principle of ahimsa. 

The dilemma is how do I express myself and do it in a way that causes the least amount of harm.   The truth of the matter is that sometimes the truth hurts but what's important is the intention.   Am I intentionally saying or doing something that I know will inflict harm? 

I'm just beginning to find my truth.  It's a process.  There is no quick fix.  Each day is a opportunity to practice.  The practice is to stay present and to pay attention to how you're feeling but from a place of witness.  Stepping back from the emotions means that you can respond rather than react. 

It takes strength and courage to look at our patterns honestly.  It takes even greater strength and courage to change those things in our life that are no longer working for us.   I invite you to take a look at how Satya shows up in your life today.  Take each challenge as an opportunity to practice yoga.