All the people tell me so, but what do all the people know?

“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”
― Rumi

My mom had a dream a few weeks ago about existence. It stuck with her, and she asked me if I thought we are humans trying to live spiritual lives or are we spirits trying to live as humans? I quickly responded, I believe in the latter, we are spirits trying to live as humans. She was surprised I didn’t need to ponder it, and I laughed saying I’ve thought about this already many times in my quest for understanding life.

I don’t call myself a spirit, but a human with a soul. As I think about expressing my definition of it, I find it difficult to put into words. It’s not in any one particular book or dogma of faith, but an awareness of more, not more ego, not individuality, but of energy and stardust, of each life force being a minute, but integral, piece of the universe.

I’ve pondered faith and religion far too frequently than most. My beliefs have wavered, faltered, doubted, and questioned in so many different ways. Growing up Catholic and attending parochial school in an era where fear was a tool to enforce my allegiance backfired. I couldn’t grasp Jesus’ message of turn the other cheek with the concept of purgatory much less judgement day. I personally think people mess things up by trying to put too many rules and definitions in such concrete terms. How could pure compassion and the miracle of existence be part of religions that condemn nonbelievers? I’m relatively certain I can find similar mixed messages in just about any religion. There is no one size fits all, or best for everyone, in reality, there is more than one road to the same end. “Let each man take the path according to his capacity, understanding and temperament. His true guru will meet him along that path.” Sivananda Saraswati

In conference with Sharath, while I was there, someone asked a question about faith and guidance. Sharath stated simply to gain knowledge of faith and spirituality, not to follow his faith of Hinduism, unless of course that was also your path. Ashtanga yoga most certainly can have a spiritual aspect to it, but so can almost anything that is your yoga, whether your yoga is prayer, music, dancing, running, meditating, or mountain climbing. Conversely, those same things can have no meaning to some, or different ones. The choice is not meant to be enforced or judged.

In one of my favorite translations of the Yoga Sutras, by Sri Swami Satchidananda, he states in the introduction , ” Sri Pantanjali was the epitome of acceptance of all methods and of broad-mindedness of approach. He did not limit his instruction to one particular technique, to members of any particular religion or philosophy, or in any other way. He gave general principles and used specifics only as examples. For instance, in delineating objects for meditation, rather than saying, ‘Jesus is the only way,’ or ‘Krishna is the highest Godhead, meditate on Krishna, ‘ or ‘ Only meditation on a sound vibration, or mantram, will bring the Yogic results,’ he simply gave various possibilities to choose from and then concluded, ‘ or by meditating on anything one chooses is elevating.”

Personally, I had a tough week. My husband was deathly ill in the hospital, and thankfully is now home, but not out of the woods yet. Of course I was by his side and present to his needs and doing the best I could to assist him, help the medical team, and take care of my family. I still practiced yoga throughout it, and devoted my energy to his healing. My soul, my energy, my ability to give, absolutely was strengthened by my practice. For someone else, maybe that would have been reaching out to their clergy, or sitting in prayer, or meditation, or some other positive concentration of faith, even just faith in the best infectious team of modern medicine. My soul, my spirit, was soothed by a vigorous practice of stilling my mind through asana. I wouldn’t assume that would work for everyone, just as I wouldn’t assume a piano is the only way to play music. It’s a rich, lovely sound, but this world gives an orchestral beauty of different instruments and voices, who am I to decide which chord strikes your heart and soul best?

Conference Notes March 9th, 2014

Sharath’s son was sitting on stage as we all waited for conference to start today, when his father joined him, a playful mirroring of son to father played out. Sharath sat in padmasana, then he did, Sharath rose in uthpluthi and after beat, so did his boy. It was a sweet moment we all enjoyed with laughter. Sharath said his training in yoga started the same way, as he was a boy in uthpluthi mirroring his Grandfather. Someone then asked if the whole family practiced yoga? Sharath answered, yes, then paused and said sometimes with much humor.

Sharath then dove right into a discussion on ashtanga. Ashtanga has eight limbs, four external exercises that effect the body and the mind. Within those are five sub limbs of daily life, the Yamas. Ahimsa, do no harm . He stated it’s within you, no one watches you all the time but you. Satya or truthfulness, being true to yourself and others. Asteya, meaning, not stealing. As Sharath pointed out, even in asana, only take what is given to you in parampara, in this way true yoga comes through. Brahmacharya, defined as celibacy, but not as we understand it in the western sense. Sharath emphasized this as very important, being devoted to your partner and your partner being devoted to you. And finally, Aparigraha, not taking more than you need and not accepting any higher levels with deserving through effort.

The Niyamas are the other subset. Shaucha, or cleanliness has two types, antah shaucha and bahir shaucha. Antah shaucha is internal, pure thoughts, thinking and action. We cleanse the nervous system with asana and ideally keep the body pure with healthy eating, going a step further stating as a Brahman he is vegetarian, as killing an animal goes against ahimsa. He stated that he understood there were cultural differences amongst us all, but that over time the body changes to craving a more purified diet, citing examples of too much cholesterol or sugar, being junk, and toxic. Bahir shaucha is conversely external cleanliness. Keep our environment clean, our bodies, and MATS! (to much laughter) Santosha or contentment was something he stated everyone needed. To have internal happiness and satisfaction with what you have, keeps suffering at bay. Tapas, Sharath stated, are having a disciplined life. Having structure and stability, like a set schedule for waking, sleeping, practicing. By having a timetable, you are able to hold off on many disturbances in your life, which in turn clears your mind for sadhana, it is impossible otherwise.

Next was self study or swadhyaya. Sharath asked what was self study? Watching a you tube clip or video of asana? No. To deepen your practice it is important to gain knowledge. Read manuscripts and deepen your learning of God to gain more clarity in your practice otherwise it is no different than going to the gym. It’s important to know what you are doing. Gain knowledge reading and asking a guru for guidance. There must be effort, a guru can push you, but you must be willing to put in the effort. No climbing, no coconut.

The last niyama is ishwarapranidhana. A connection to one Devine. Sharath spoke of japa, as a tool for this purpose, chanting everyday, meaningfully, with good thoughts, pure, from your heart. He spoke of connection through a church, temple, or other house of worship, but stated it shouldn’t be because you are forced to be there like a child with their parents, it needs to come from you. He brought the discussion back to his son, initially sitting by him, mirroring his actions. He said that is how he learned yoga with his grandfather. The connection came from within himself and grew, never forced.

Yes, asana, usually comes first, but to bring clarity and meaning to your practice, you need the yamas and niyamas. Spirituality follows when you practice in this way. Your outward appearance doesn’t make you spiritual, transformation happens from within.

Q&A…

What if I like lots of faiths/gods?

Sharath simply stated choose one. He then told a joke. A Christian, a Muslim, and a Hindi all fell in a well, as they were Indian, they couldn’t swim(laughter) first the Muslim prayed to Allah, “Oh please save me Allah!” And he did. Next the Christian said, “Oh please save me Jesus!” And he did. Last the Hindi cried out, ” Krishna, Shiva, Ganesha, Rama oh please save me!” All came but they were so busy fighting over who should do it, he drowned. Everyone laughed as Sharath explained westerners have a harder time trusting and surrendering to faith. Faith gives you internal strength, keeping you stable through adversary.

Proper knowledge of faith and culture is important in this. Everything in India is colorful, but have proper knowledge. Understand what is the purpose of the god, like Ganesh being the remover of obstacles. What is the goal? More importantly gain knowledge of your own first, then explore, there is so much to learn. All the Hindi gods are part of the one whole God. Jesus was the greatest yogi with his message. There is only one supreme God, the universal.

Next a woman asked about home practice, the difficulties of it, three kids, who is her teacher…

Sharath said family is the biggest most important yoga, and three children is very hard 10th series. (Much laughing) he said to have patience, and follow one teacher as often as you can, get a picture of Guruji for energy flow so you are not alone. Teachings won’t die, even when the body does. As for himself, he only ever had one teacher, Guruji. That was right for him, this lineage was enough.

Sharath said life is like 4wheel drive. There will be different terrains, off road, on road, smooth, bumpy, changing all the time. Yoga is life terrain management. You can handle many things when you have yoga.

Everything is one

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