Saturday, March 28, 2009

Yoga Nidra Meditation and the Quiet Mind

Yogaschitta vritti nirodhah.
Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1.2

Tada drastuh svarupe vasthanam.
Then the seer is established in his own essential nature.
Sutra 1.3

Heyam duhkhamanagatam.
Suffering which has not yet come should be avoided.
Sutra 2.16

This is the crux of Classical Yoga, the philosophy of the Yoga Sutras. The goal of Yoga and the way toward the goal is to quiet the mind. When the mind is quiet, we are able to realize our greatest potential and future suffering may be avoided.

The fluctuations of the mind are thoughts and when the mind is full of chatter, we see the world as we are, rather than as it really is. Thoughts act as lenses that distort our perception of reality. Thoughts may be like a big dog that we are attempting to walk but who is really taking us for a walk, dragging us around to wherever he would like to go. The Gita says that for one who has control over the mind, the mind is an ally, but for one who does not have that control, the mind is the greatest enemy. The idea is that we train our dog, our mind, so that we are in control and no longer a victim to negative self chatter. Healthy thoughts create health. When the mind is quiet, we are able to hear the voice of Inspiration and Divine Guidance. In that silence is infinite possibility and potential.

As the Yogi gains more control over her mind, she also finds that she begins to gain some control over her physical body. Swami Rama, a grandmaster in our lineage, was one of the most studied Yogis in modern history. He was able to, documented in front of western scientists, lower his blood pressure, stop and start his heart at will, change his brain wave frequencies and even to change his weight on a set of scales as scientists looked on! Just recently, while teaching a Yoga class, at the end of class in the very quiet relaxation portion, I felt the need to sneeze. I told myself that this would be a very inappropriate time to sneeze because it would disturb my students and to my greatest surprise, I was able to suppress a very strong urge to sneeze. This may seem trivial, but at the time, it was very practical and important to me. Even to be able to will our bodies to get up and out of bed when we need to or to follow through with an intention to not eat, not smoke, etc- having some control over the physical body would be handy.

On a larger scale, as we control our minds, we also find that we have more of an influence over our outer world. Dr. Wayne Dyer says that we draw to us in life not what we want, but rather what we are. We are essentially what we think. What a person believes either is true or will become true. If our thoughts are peaceful, then we are peaceful. If our thoughts are of worry, anxiety and fear, then we are afraid. If our thoughts are of anger, then we are angry. If our thoughts are of gratitude, then we are joyful.

In the 60's, psychologists were experimenting with new modalities for anger management- primal scream therapy or hitting pillows. Even the Beatles were practicing the primal scream. The theory was that by physically acting out our anger this would encourage anger to leave the system. But, over the years as the data from studies was compiled, scientists discovered that the opposite was actually true. The more we express our anger, the more anger we feel. The emotions we feel draw to us like a magnet more experiences and situations that allow that emotion to express itself again and again. The Buddha said that this is the difference between pain and suffering and between one arrow and 1000 arrows. The first arrow is the painful event, but the other arrows that keep coming are our holding onto that pain and our refusing to simply let it go. It would be helpful to allow emotions to be like food, we take them in and then we release them. Experience the emotion fully, but then let it go. There is some aspect of choice in expressing our desire to change a situation in a calm, peaceful way rather than in an angry tirade and this is where mind training becomes invaluable. An angry person is at their weakest state really because they have chosen to be a victim in that moment and because we draw to us what we are, more situations and events come our way for us to play out that victim role over and over. Whole lifetimes for some.

So these are the benefits of a quiet mind, but exactly how does one quiet the mind? In an asana class, as we anchor our awareness in concentration, the mind naturally becomes quiet. In our tradition, we use the 3 concentration techniques, or tristana.
At the end of asana class, we practice Yoga Nidra. Yoga Nidra is the Yogic sleep and a form of meditation. Yoga Nidra is an attempt to move into the deep sleep state in a conscious manner and to maintain wakeful awareness. Not an easy task, but like all meditation techniques, the more we practice, the easier it becomes. When we fall into the deep sleep state each night, we completely disengage from our thoughts. While we sleep, we have no idea of our names, what color we are nor what our fears and worries are. Our attempt is to replicate this state of distance from our thoughts in Yoga Nidra. As we create more distance between us and our thoughts, the thoughts begin to lose their power. Because energy follows awareness, in the quiet mind state of Yoga Nidra, prana begins to build in the body rather than going off into the past or the future with each thought. Prana has enormous healing potential so each practice of Yoga Nidra is a window of opportunity to restore radiant health. It is said to be 4 times more restorative than regular sleep and sends energy to the immune system and the body's cellular repair network. With a 15 minute practice of Yoga Nidra, the body produces a substance that is very similar to Valium so it is very peaceful and even pleasurable and studies show that with regular practice, practitioners need higher levels of exposure to stress to produce the same chemical stress response as before. These benefits are spontaneous and progressive. We do not need to worry if we are doing it "right". We simply practice and attempt to keep the body still and to stay awake.

One of the reasons that I practice Tantra is because it is a householder's lifestyle philosophy rather than being for renunciates. (monks or nuns) The Tantric practice of Yoga Nidra uses the Sankalpa technique to enhance our worldly and material life. A Sankalpa is a profound resolution of something we wish to achieve or become in the next 6 to 18 months. We formulate an affirmative statement to encapsulate the intention and drop it in to the settled mind of Yoga Nidra. Some guidelines for the formulation of your sankalpa are: it is a short concise affirmative statement of gratitude, it is in the present tense, it is only about us not anyone else (not your business nor your karma) and it is what we would want for ourselves even if the situation did not change. The idea is to get to the heart of the matter. Often, when our intention is about money, what we really want is to feel safe and secure. So a sankalpa about prosperity might be Thank you that I am safe now.
Thank you that I am peaceful.
Thank you that I am joyful.
Thank you that I am loved.
Thank you that I am connected to my Source.

Yoga asana is a great start, but at some point you need to meditate.
May Ezraty, Yoga Works founder and long time Ashtanga Vinyasa and Iyengar Yoga practitioner and teacher

Friday, March 27, 2009

Sustainable Diet/Lifestyle Talk

We are very excited to announce a lecture by Bert Herring, MD, on sustainability through diet and lifestyle.

Shri and Stan are both on his reduced calorie/ long fast lifestyle diet. It is a plan to lose weight if one would like to lose weight, but more importantly are the benefits of more energy, more mental clarity and living a sustainable lifestyle. There is an amazing amount of data on the benefits of a reduced calorie diet. Diets are a very personal thing, what works for one person does not work for another. If you would like more information on this lifestyle diet then either download the book for free at or come to this lecture.

Friday, April 17, at 5:30 pm
Location: Bliss Yoga Shala

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Master Status

Malcolm Gladwell is a New York journalist and author whose latest book, Outliers, is a study of the circumstances and experiences necessary for success. The central premise in Outliers is the 10,000 hour rule which says that true mastery of an activity takes at least 10,000 hours of practice. I cannot say I agree completely with the author. I do not believe we can assign a specific value to “master” status. What is a master anyway? Yet, the book makes a good point in light of all of our 200 hour Yoga teacher training programs and western Yogis who practice for several years and give up practicing because they do not become enlightened or even worse, because they believe they are enlightened. If one practices Yoga 3 times a week and the class is 90 minutes, master status, using this guide, comes in a mere 42 years. Even for the serious practitioner practicing 2 hours per day it would take 13 years.

It has been said that the difference between master and disciple is that the master has less fear. As we practice, we move closer to the fearless state and inspire others to live in this same radical way. I have struggled with fear my whole life and fear has made many important life decisions for me, intentionally and unintentionally. In one aha moment in my life I thought how nice it would be to live without worry and then in the next moment I asked what is stopping me from living this way now? In that moment a cellular shift occurred in my body/mind complex. I became, as President! Barack Obama says, intimately acquainted with one of my blind spots, a recurring habit of thought. These blind spots are samskaras in Yoga and they dwell beneath the surface of the conscious mind and color our every thought, word and action. Bringing these blind spots to the light of day and integrating them into life is the work of the Yogi. As Yogis we chase our pain- we interface with that which rattles us willingly and often. And every time we face the rattle, we gain shakti, power, and we become stronger.

You fear. Sharat, no fear.
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois speaking of his nephew, Sharat, the new heir apparent to the Ashtanga Vinyasa lineage.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Purnamadah Purnamidam.
That fullness led to this fullness.

In the Upanishads, the name for the Infinite is simply ‘That”. I am delighted with this name for the Divine. “That” is our Mother and our Father, where we came from and where we will return at the time of our death. The more we become acquainted with That during life, the easier our transition is at death. Swami Rama said that for those who are close to the Infinite, death is like going home and for those who are not close, death is like an eviction notice.
That fullness led to this fullness. That unmanifested Absolute is full and this manifested relative is full. We are just like our Source. The Vedas express Being as the ultimate reality and they found It within man.

I am That, thou art That, all this is That, That alone is, and there is nothing else but That.

Yoga in America is way too asana oriented. Ninety percent of yoga asana is a waste of time. The asana must be done to prepare the body to hold the light of the soul. Most people just want all of the stuff the ego likes: a firm body and ways to impress people. We should be striving to find a real connection with the Divine.
Aadil Palkhivala, 30 year student of B.K.S. Iyengar and long time Yoga teacher

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Have a Boring Day!

I heard recently on NPR that when we are bored our minds are in fact very active, particularly in the creative areas. The mind's job is to process information and if there is no stimulus on the outside to process then the mind will go inward to find stimulation. Yoga theory works in the same way. Hatha Yoga is essentially giving the mind very little outside stimulus so that it begins to make the journey to the inner terrain. We put the body in physical shapes based on sacred geometry and give the mind the simple jobs of keeping the eyes still, engaging the core, creating sound with breath and monitoring that sound. Compared to the high level multitasking and barrage of electronic stimulus that we normally require the mind to withstand, this is quite boring.
Of course I have experimented with practicing to music or entertaining students with ever changing creative sequencing, but I keep coming back to this idea that boring is better. The regular practice of a balanced sequence seems to be more effective.

Through repetition the magic will be forced to rise.
Alchemist's Precept

In fact, by giving the mind simple jobs, it is actually able to take deep rest. The activity in the creative parts of the brain does not fatigue the mind. This type of thought energizes the whole system.

In a recent study, half of the participants were asked to remember a 7 digit number and the other half were asked to remember a 2 digit number. At the end of the experiment, all the participants were offered a choice of a salad or a piece of chocolate cake. More of the people who had to remember the 7 digit number picked the chocolate cake and more of the people who were asked to remember the 2 digit number picked the salad. The researchers concluded that when the mind is fatigued, we simply do not have the energy to make positive lifestyle choices. Many scientists today make the argument that our minds are always fatigued with our modern lifestyles! We work more hours per day now with fewer hours devoted to rest and relaxation and the nervous system is constantly overstimulated with electronics. It is more important now than ever to find ways to give the mind rest like Hatha Yoga or meditation. When the mind is well rested, we have more energy to devote to more positive lifestyle choices and the journey of life is really just one long series of choices. Where you are now is a direct result of past choices and the future is determined by future choices.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Harmony of the Non Gap

Ken Wilbur is an amazing visionary. While much of his work focuses on the common ground between spiritual traditions, he also loves to look at the differences in belief systems, what he calls the anarchy of the gaps. These differences may provide fertile ground for growth. I actually prefer to look at the parallels between paradigms. Seems like we have enough division on the planet as we can handle so looking at those ways in which we are similar may be healing.
I read recently about a man here in Jacksonville (Arbus magazine-March/April issue) who offers seminars to help insomniacs. He says that even though insomnia is not a virus nor a bacteria, it is treated with medications like it is an illness. Poor habits are the cause of insomnia and the workshop retrains people who have trouble sleeping to develop healthy habits that contribute to optimal sleep.
If we look at parallels from different traditions regarding sleeping habits, one that is consistent is the directive to go to bed early and to get up early. Texts from both Ayurveda and Chinese medicine state this over and over. I have studied with many master Yoga teachers from many traditions and without exception, every single master teacher I have studied with has an early morning spiritual practice. Early morning is a perfect time to practice Yoga. The body is very light from not having food for 8 hours or so and the rest of the day, eating and showering, is easier to manage in a practical way. If we do not have all day long to think about practice that evening, we are less apt to decide to skip it. Of course many of us have worldly obligations that prevent early morning practice but if we have a choice between evening or morning, early morning is the best choice. Traditionally, the Yogi begins his practice while it is still dark and the practice ends as the sun begins to rise and the final practice is an offering to the sun, a prayer of gratitude for one more day with the gift of a precious human body. At one point the serious seeker needs to prioritize life and material obligations are built around spiritual practice not the other way around. I have found personally that the Universe supports spiritual practice as a priority in a tangible, abundant way.
Yogis get up early.
Yogarupa Rod Stryker

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Advanced Practice

What does an advanced practice of Yoga look like?

We begin to develop:
  • A priority for peace. The value we place on a peaceful life and the amount of peace in our lives increase.
  • Expanded creativity. We find new outlets for creativity to express itself and/or we are more tuned in to the voice of Inspiration.
  • Faith. The need to judge people and events as right or wrong diminishes and the embrace of what is grows. We feel on a cellular level that everything is perfect and karma is unfolding exactly as it should.
  • Fear diminishes. Fear based thought patterns decrease and we develop the courage to let our light shine.
  • The capacity for love, compassion, forgiveness, empathy, generosity and joy expands. We become more even keeled and find that negative emotions no longer overwhelm us.
  • Our experience of the 5 senses becomes heightened yet we find that more and more we are not a victim to our animal urges. We gain more control over the 5 senses.
  • Psychic Faculties. Intuition develops, people call when we think of them, the gut instinct grows and synchronicity or meaningful coincidence happens more and we begin to see synchronicity as Divine guidance.
  • Interpersonal skills are cultivated. Studies show that with 7 years of meditation our ability to develop positive, nontoxic relationships is enhanced.
  • Prosperity, yes prosperity. When we work on transforming all aspects of ourselves in a balanced way, prosperity is the natural outcome.
  • We become more globally aware. We understand that we are indeed affected by the price of tea in China and by the suffering of any of the planet's inhabitants.
  • The ability to go consciously into the alpha state develops. (That state where the mind is quiet, peaceful and very powerful, a state we are now able to see in the laboratory with brain wave monitors.) As the Yogi gains more and more control over the inner world, she finds that she has more of an impact on the outer world. The Yogi becomes an instrument of peace for her family, workplace and friends.
  • Miracles happen. Every single sage that has walked the planet and performed miracles has stated unequivocally that we all have the ability to do what they did and more.
  • And yes, the body may surprise you in asana practice. Advanced poses may become available.

So how does one attain the siddhis of advanced practice? A regular asana practice is just the starting point. Yoga teaches us of 4 possible states of consciousness. One is waking state, the second the dream state and another is deep, dreamless sleep. We all have access to these 3 states yet there is another state that is possible for those who begin the journey of faith. The Turiya state or transcendental state. This is the state beyond waking state. Every master from every tradition has found a way to move into this expanded state of awareness. Many Yogis with dedicated practices may experience the Turiya state through temporary glimpses but the master has learned to dwell in the transcendental state. The Turiya has not been well studied by modern science, but one of the outcomes of the Chinese invasion of Tibet has been that Tibetan monks with advanced meditation practices are now in the west and some are being studied as we speak. Perhaps the Turiya state is the maturing of the alpha state.

Yoga gives us 3 practical ways to experience the transcendental state. Pranayamas- breathing techniques, especially with long retentions of breath. Meditation- there are many, many techniques. And Yoga Nidra- the Yogic sleep or conscious relaxation. One way to take your Yoga practice to the next level is to begin a practice of one of the 3 stillness techniques on a daily basis.

Practice and all is coming.

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

Monday, March 9, 2009


Welcome to the New Blog!

Yoga is 1% theory and 99% practice.
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

I grew up in a Sears home. My grandfather ordered a house from the Sears and Roebuck catalogue and built it on land in the rolling hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. At the heart of the house, where my parents still live, is a staircase. To this day, I still remember the exact places on that staircase where the wood gives way and creeks with an audible moan. As a teenager coming home later than my curfew, if I did not avoid those places, the sound would stir my mother from that twilight sleep that all parents experience when their children are not at home safely in bed yet. I became an expert trekker of that staircase.

When western mountain climbers and adventurers attempt to hike Mount Everest, most employ native mountain guides, or Sherpas. The Sherpa knows the dangerous mountain pathways intimately and leads the way for the trekkers to ensure safe passage.

As Yoga teachers, we are guides on the pathway of growth and transformation. I am normally an open minded person, but my friends know that I simply have no tolerance for Yoga teachers who do not practice. If you are a Yoga teacher now who is reading this and are not practicing daily, I will not go as far to say that you should not teach because the way of the Universe is perfection and we are all exactly where we need to be right now. Yet, I am the voice that I wish I had heard during my Yoga teacher training. Practice, practice, practice. A good rule of thumb is that your practice time during the week should exceed your teaching time. The world has enough dabblers. Snoop Dog, the grandfather of hip hop music, said that if you are going to do something, be great at it.

All great Yoga teachers have a great commitment to their personal practice.

Remember to nourish yourselves regularly- drink from the well that quenches your thirst- one is only able to give from an overabundance of energy. Eat well. Get enough sleep. Spend time in nature. Turn off the tv. Turn off the tv. Seek out sources of inspiration. I stay inspired by reading and spending time with teachers on a regular basis. Having a formal relationship with a teacher yourself can be invaluable. There is great karma attached to teaching. It is a huge responsibility. As teachers, we need to be so intimately familiar with the terrain of asana, pranayama and meditation that we are able to illuminate that path for others.

Teach with a bright, cheerful countenance using examples, reasons, and scriptural citations.
At the conclusion of the teaching, the lecturer and the listeners together should dedicate the virtue of the session to the welfare of all sentient beings.

His Holiness The Dalai Lama