I watched as a bright golden leaf framed by a clear blue sky floated lightly to earth. My mind was transfixed on the leaf that marked the advent of autumn and the cycles of seasons within life.
I was reminded of a quote by the great poet of India, Rabindranath Tagore, "Let life be beautiful like summer flowers and death like autumn leaves."
What a wonderful way to view the seasons of life! Birth and the beginning of life in spring and the activity peaks of life’s summers are a prelude to the closing of a cycle in autumn.
Fall is a favorite time for many people, as its cold crisp air pierces the ripple of late summer winds, and I wonder if it is possible to make these transitions from the early years to the later years in life without mourning the passing of time? Is it possible to make the transitions from one era of life to another without clinging to what was? Is it possible to let go if we can’t perceive what is yet to be? Or is it possible to live in a suspended state of fearless expectancy of what is yet to be revealed?
As the golden leaf lingers in the crisp morning air, my thoughts travel to those affected by loss and tragedy in our country, and around the world, those forced into life’s changes with little warning. I hold all beings everywhere in my heart, and want to see them transcend the pain of the past and move into the transformative unfolding of the future. The leaf that was once the bud of spring now is a beautiful reminder of its lovely past in a future that is yet invisible to its own transcendence.
And always, Yoga offers us flexibility in body, which represents the agility in mind that makes us bend with the winds, whether chilly or warm. It helps us make these transitions through the seasons of our lives, not with a sense of failure or foreboding, but with joyful expectancy of faith in the Divine loving hand that is guiding us from one place to another in the fulfillment of our life’s destiny.
The Thanksgiving holiday is a reminder that it is far greater than simply a gathering to share a meal based on age-old tradition. It is a time to truly give thanks from our hearts for all that has graced our lives, rather than dwelling on what has been lost. What a great opportunity this coming holiday is for forgiving the past and releasing hardened places in our hearts! Thanksgiving is not only once a year but also an attitude of appreciation that we can practice every day of the year. As we transcend our own tears, we can see and feel the tears of others.
One great Bhakti (devotional) teacher who was a living saint from India once said to me, “Be thankful for judgments and criticism…through them, you will have greater compassion for others.”
During this holiday, and each day we can send love and healing to those whose lives have radically changed and those who have experienced losses in our country and all countries of the world. The healing power of giving thanks can silently radiate out from Self, to community and our world.
Rama Jyoti Vernon
Many people of good will are overwhelmed by what we see going on around us these days. Now, we mourn victims of the shootings in the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue, and those in the Tallahassee Hot Yoga studio, along with victims of seemingly endless mass shootings, and gun-related tragedies too numerous to mention here. My heart goes out to all who are affected directly and indirectly…family, friends, and colleagues. I cannot help but think how this might magnify the already prevalent fear and lack of trust throughout this country.
I often ponder how the timeless teachings of the Yoga Sutras emphasize the ways we can remain true to ourselves and our values, through Yoga. Instead of losing heart during turbulent times, now more than ever, we can truly practice the tenants of Yoga. We can rise above the fray of polarization to remain in discrimination, which in the Yoga Sutras is called viveka.
Viveka is one of the first words Patanjali, the father of Yoga, gives in the first chapter of the Yoga Sutras as a way to “still the turbulent waves of the mind.” Discrimination in ancient times was another word given to describe the function of the Buddhi mind. Buddhi is from the Sanskrit root verb bodh meaning to know. It is known as the “over” or “higher” mind. This part of our mind sees differences but does not compare the differences, as "This is good, that is bad. This is right and that is wrong.” The Buddhi mind is like standing on a mountaintop where we can get a 360-degree view of the valleys and lands far beyond.
This is a challenging time for Yogins to leap to an ethereal vision and hold it for the highest and best of all humankind. It is so easy to be pulled into the fray of what Patanjali calls the alternating state (vichinna) where one emotion overwhelms another and then later reverses itself. Vichinna is a state of mind where we struggle to rise above painful contractive thoughts of the past. My husband, a Unity Minister calls this alternating state “wrestling with Angels.” At one point in our life we may forgive a past hurt and injury to rise above it and feel only love and understanding. Then one morning we may wake up and find that the wave of forgiveness and love is overpowered by the old emotions of hurt, anger, and an inability to forgive.
At this time in our country’s history, our anger and disillusionment may be directed to our political leaders, because these emotions can arise from feelings of powerlessness to make needed changes in a democracy that is supposed to be based upon transparency and honesty. I have been wrestling with angels in this alternating state of emotion, related to our political leaders. At times, I feel my consciousness lift above the polarities where divisions converge beyond the clouds of illusion. But at other times, I am caught in the valley of the play of this world where I cannot access the Buddhi mind. At times, I lose my discrimination where I don’t just objectively observe differences; I begin to compare those differences, which is more of an element of the ahamkara, the ego mind.
As I wrestle with my angels of discrimination and ego, I keep thinking about an ancient saying in the scriptures of Yoga, “When we focus on another persons defects…we take on those defects.” In the Yoga Sutras, there are brief passages that say if we send good thoughts to others, we will grow stronger. It is also believed that when we send out negative thoughts towards another, we may lose strength and grow weaker.
This seems to be a time that requires more discrimination of the Buddhi mind than ever before. Can we see the bigger picture by ascending the rarefied peaks of consciousness? Or are there times when we are pulled from the higher and more expansive views into the valleys of deception where our greater vision is obstructed by our own lack of true discrimination?
I don’t know about you but I am pulled from my journey of ascension into the pit of sadness when the wheels of injustice continue to roll over what may be perceived as the powerless. But, at the same time, it is incredible watching how people are now taking back their own power and standing up to what we perceive as injustice. Could this also be Yoga? After all, we do our standing posture to strengthen us, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. The standing poses give us the resolve not to rely on others for support, and the independence to stand alone when needed. We no longer are influenced by the opinion of others as we dive deep into the central core of our being and our psyche to find stability and what is true and just, and what actions (or inactions) are right for us.
This seems to be a time in our country’s history when, as Yogins we can make a decision to involve ourselves in society. Some people may perceive the teachings of Yoga to guide us towards inaction within the material world. But indeed, they could be to move us deeper into action. We can do this while holding the greater picture, like the image of one of our hands reaching up and connecting to the heavens while extending our other hand to the earth plane in the service of humanity. Could this be the Yoga of this millennium? Is it possible to remember "the union of Yoga that already is" while integrating our growing strength through our practice into the service (seva) of the needs in our world today?
“If our desire is to serve humanity, we will be crushed and broken-hearted. But if our desire is to serve God, no amount of ingratitude can keep us from serving our fellow (sic) human beings.”
The Yoga Community is now mourning the transition of another beloved teacher, Baba Hari Dass, who passed on September 25. Babaji was one of the early pioneers of the l960s who brought the spiritual teachings from East to West.
I was traveling when word came to me that one of my beloved teachers, Baba Hari Dass had left this world for another Loka. I had been thinking so much of him for several weeks before his passing, remembering the wisdom he had shared with me in letters and in person over so many years.
I first knew of Babaji as the teacher in India with whom Neem Karoli Baba instructed Rama Dass to study. When I heard that Babaji was coming to the United States, and would be within driving distance of my home in the Bay Area, I knew it was important to see him. I quickly organized a group of my Yoga students to attend one of his first satsang gatherings here in the United States.
We were surprised to find that Babaji was silent, but as in a game of charades, he was highly animated as he gestured with his hands, nodded or shook his head when we didn’t understand. A small blackboard hung around his neck held by a soft thick twine. It was a miraculous experience to watch this wiry little sadhu scribbling quickly in chalk, to answer life’s universal questions. He seemed to transcend the spoken word as he transmitted his vast wisdom through the gesture of silence.
A man sitting near him in the front row asked a profound question, “Babaji, how can I practice ahimsa, and remain in non-violence if a robber breaks into my home and I have to protect my wife and children?” There was a moment of silence where I thought this must be a Zen Koan with no answer…only the question. Then Babaji wrote swiftly on his little blackboard as one of his devotees read out loud, “If you were truly in non-violence, the situation would never occur.” I was stunned! He went straight to the core of the question. He didn’t diplomatically spiral around the question. His answer was like an arrow that awakened my sleeping consciousness.
When he finally settled in Santa Cruz, California, I would again take small groups of Yoga students and teachers to see him. Mt. Madonna was a small rustic building in the early days. We would hang out in his room as he encouraged our questions and delighted in our dialogues. He was so joyful, enthusiastic, and playful that he lifted our spirits, and always inspired us. Whenever I faced life’s challenges, Babaji was constantly there, striking to the heart of any issue with his impeccable insight and wisdom.
At a time when I was struggling with the issue of having several spiritual teachers but no Guru, he wrote me a three-page letter that soothed the pain in my heart. The last passage of his letter said, “Be like the Bee that sips the nectar from many flowers…but remember, don’t stay on the lotus after the sun goes down.” When the sun goes down, the petals of the lotus close so the bee is locked in and cannot fly. He was one of the few teachers in those days that didn’t emphasize the need to dig a well in only one place.
When I contacted Babaji with a severe Kundalini experience after the birth of my next to last child, he knew instantly what was needed. He sent me a message that I needed to come to Mt. Madonna for special Ayurvedic treatments and remain in seclusion for a short time. When I hesitated, the words he conveyed went through my heart like an arrow, “You will either go into Samadhi or go crazy.” His perceptions were like a profound laser beam. When I finally responded to his suggestion, I was healed.
There are so many memories of this great Sage who illumined the path of Yoga, and helped close the gap between East and West. His memory and legacy transcend his physical form, as his presence and teachings live on in those devotees closest to him and all those whose lives have been touched by him.
As I write this now, knowing that Babaji is no longer in his physical form, my heart is filled, not with sorrow but with joy. His name Hari Dass means “servant of God.” His lifetime was dedicated to serving God whether it was building a Hanuman Temple, putting on plays of the Ramayana, helping those who sought his council, or infusing greater understanding of Yoga through his teachings and writings on the Yoga Sutras. He has left a spiritual legacy for all who have been touched by his vast teachings.
There is the joy of knowing that those closest to him will carry on his wonderful work. Mt. Madonna continues to be a beacon of light in learning and healing modalities where the land infuses the visitor with unspoken spiritual awakenings. In his silence, Babaji has touched the heart of humanity through his presence of Being. I once asked him if he would ever end his vow of silence and he hastily chalked his reply…”When God Wills.”
JUNE 16, 2018
Rama Jyoti Vernon
It is three o’clock in the morning.
I was awakened by vivid images: children being ripped away from their parents on the borders of our country; a baby pulled from its mother’s breast; two and three year olds weeping and wailing for their parents. For the rest of their lives, the endless pain of lack of trust will haunt these children and their parents. There have been repeated inhumane acts throughout history that have demonstrated the inhumanity plaguing the human condition. As Pete Seeger wrote, and many have sung, “When will we ever learn?”
How can those of us in Yoga, who understand the law of cause and effect, be silent and allow this situation to continue through the support of our current leaders who are deaf and insulated to the pain and suffering of others? Are they our representatives? I think not!
We become part of these decisions when we are born into a country of origin. We are part of the dharma of the laws of that land and if that law of dharma, which is supposed to bring order, social stability, and organization, creates chaos, instability, and suffering, it is no longer dharma but adharma. Adharma goes against the grain of the laws of nature and humane social conditions. It destroys instead of builds, and we become part of its destruction if we acquiesce in our silence.
In the scriptural studies of Yoga philosophy and the law of karma, it is believed that
if we are born into a country that unjustly makes war upon another and we do not
protest, at least in our own hearts, then in another life we will be born into a country that is made war upon.
What can we do? It is the eternal question wherever people feel helpless in making
changes. Yes, in Yoga it is possible to rise above the sea of samsara, the sea of
endless pain, to experience in consciousness a place beyond the duality, separation,
and forgetfulness of the unified soul consciousness. However, in Yoga, even if we
have a glimpse of this paradisiacal state, does it mean we cannot try to alleviate
human suffering on this earth plane?
Swami Vivekananda would say that the world (and its problems) is like the kink
of a dog’s tail. As long as we are holding it we think it is straight. But the moment
we let go, it will just kink up again. Does this mean we can never effect change? Is
this the difference between pragmatic action and static inaction?
When we see injustice do we remain silent, thinking someone else will do something
or do we go into our meditation and practices asking what our dharma, our destiny,
our life’s purpose is in this instance? Do we shed our own tears for the suffering of
others? Do we go to the border to light candles, participate in a “sit in” or go on a
hunger strike? Do we write our government representatives or participate in a march on our state and/or nation’s Capital? Or do we continue to turn a deaf ear to the lies told by leaders that thrust the blame on everyone else but themselves? Do we continue to share our thoughts with those who we feel are lacking in discrimination due to radical political choices they are making?
I awakened in the middle of the night asking the invisible Masters what I can do,
and wondered if Germans in l930s Germany did the same. It is always difficult to know when the tide of human decency turns into a cruel regime that conditions the minds of its people while insidiously stripping away the freedoms they are accustomed to. Why is it that so many leaders come to power only to have power over others, but not to serve the needs of their people? Are we being lulled into a hypnotic slumber until it will be too late to awaken? A frog when dropped into a boiling pot will jump out. However, if the heat is turned up gradually, it will be too late for him to escape the boiling cauldron. Is this the acceptance of the abnormal becoming the “new norm?”
Dawn is breaking, the birds are singing, and now rain is softly falling as my tears fall with it. Some might say this is not yogic thinking. We are to be unattached. However, there is a very thin line between non-attachment and indifference. As the Masters say “until we know attachment, we will never know true non-attachment."
I arose to sit with eyes closed, holding the people in all war torn countries in my consciousness. I felt the mother’s grief of the loss of her children, and the children’s loss of the parent. I felt the pain of the wounded in body and in heart. I felt the loss of those who will never return to their homes and lands wandering to seek refuge wherever they are accepted. I held the children and parents fleeing violence and persecution seeking safety and protection in the embrace of Universal consciousness.
That is what I can do! What can you do?
Now is the time to arise from within, like a spiritual warrior guided by the power of compassion, and discrimination, in whatever way we are called. Perhaps for some it is a time not to be silent but to speak out, and stand firm in the winds of growing tyranny and divisive policies that separate nations, states and people. For others, there may be a call for inspired, transformative action, or some may wish to offer the power of silence, prayer and meditation.
Yoga means Union, transcending the allusion of separation to see the Oneness of all humanity and human unity. Together let us hold a vision of a world where peace can prevail; where our thoughts, words and actions are no longer weapons of destruction but are divinely guided to lift the hearts, minds and spirit of others. Perhaps if enough of us hold this vision we can reach a critical mass to impact the collective consciousness of all humanity.
It was a full moon night as our plane touched ground in the garden island of Kauai, Hawaii. The fragrance of exotic flowers wafted through the indoor/outdoor airport. As Hawaiian music played in the background, Mira, my daughter and I just looked at each other. Her look was of joy to luxuriate in the warmth of the air and sounds of the sea. Mine was of longing for the cold and snowy climate of Christmas.
In the morning we awoke as the sun rose over the distant mountains. A river lazily passed by the screened lanai where we were sleeping. Exotic birds were singing as a family of geese pranced by with their small offspring sandwiched between them. Bandied roosters sped by our window as a whitish looking owl flew over the calm river where the fish would jump at dusk.
My heart filled with love and gratefulness to be brought to this place after a year of continual travel and teaching. What a blessing it is, wherever I go, to share yoga and the Yoga Sutras! The green all around was exhilarating and brought vibrancy back to my tired body. After a summer of heat waves my attachment to snow and cold dropped away as I slipped gently into this paradisiacal moment in time.
Even though Hawaii was testing it’s siren that would warn of a missile attack from North Korea, the people did not seem frightened, and life on this island drifted on as usual. Right here and now, this felt like a fiefdom of serenity and sanctity in the midst of political storms swirling around the planet. Mira and I decided to take a media fast and live in the beauty and peace of each moment. The world cannot reach us here, I thought as concerns of the future dissolved into an ocean of “all-thing-ness.”
The ever-changing clouds passed over the peaks of majestic mountains, one range taller than the next. They seemed to stand like sentries of protection for those who live in their shadows. As I gazed at the mountain, I was reminded of a passage from the Mahabharata, the great epic of India, “As a man on the hilltop sees a man on the plains, so one having ascended the palace of knowledge and becoming free from sorrow now sees others who are suffering.”
As I reveled in the embrace of this magical island, the concept of suffering seemed a world away. As the lyrical songs of birds swirled through the air, I realized that in the perfection of this moment, there is no conflict between nations, states and people. There is no suffering of the pathos from the aftermath of war or fear of impending wars. In this moment there is no regret of the past or anxiety of the future, there is no justice or injustice, rights and wrongs. There is only the eternal “Now!”
All of yoga seems to be about cultivating that “Now” through practices that create calmness of the waves of the mind. In that state I wondered, is there any pain or suffering in self, community or the world? Is there a place of peace that already shines like the sun above the clouds and is always shedding its light even though we may not always see or feel it.
I walked a few feet to the edge of the river. Its placid surface was like a mirror reflecting my own image. As I gazed into the water, I thought of the Sutra 1.3, “Tada Drastuh Swarupe Avasthanam.” When the waves of the mind become calm then, “The seer and seen become one,” or is it “realize the Oneness that already is?”
Suddenly, a fish jumped creating a circular ripple that expanded to the banks of the river. Even though I could no longer see my own reflection, I thought how these ripples were like the unending rings of compassion. How can we feel what another feels until we have ascended the hilltops and dried our own tears so that we can see and feel the tears of others? Until then, as the ancient yogis say, what we think is unattachment, is only indifference.
There is a wonderful commentary in the Yoga Sutras, “To the yogin, who is as sensitive as an eyeball, the world is painful.” Yoga awakens our sensitivity like a cobweb drawn across the ball of the eye. If the same cobweb is drawn over the thickest skin of our arm would we feel it? The sensitivity of an eyeball is an example of our conscience. Things we may have not felt at one time, now through our practices, we can feel and understand its affects upon ourselves and others.
When we realize how we have knowingly or unknowingly wounded the hearts of others and actually feel their pain, we cultivate compassion. When we soften the hardened areas of our heart to forgive those who may have knowingly or unknowingly wounded our heart, we cultivate forgiveness and in turn, compassion.
There is a practice in Hawaiian culture, which works with forgiveness and reconciliation, called Ho’oponopono. Although many people are familiar with its modern day application, many do not know its history and use within the ancient Hawaiian culture. The Hawaiians, much like the yogis, believe that illness is a result of breaking ‘spiritual laws’ called Kapu in Hawaiian, transgressions that may have harmed another (like the law of Karma in Yoga). They believe illness is caused by the stress of anger, guilt and holding on to the memories of the past. In order to heal the illness, the deeper issues of the mind must be healed and forgiveness sought from the person/s involved. Or if that is not possible… from the Gods.
This was done using a Kahuna, a healing priest who would perform Ho’oponopono ceremony by gathering the family or persons involved. The priest would open the gathering with prayer allowing the stories to be told and emotions released. Once the roots of the hurt had been acknowledged, then they would release the held emotions and end with a reconciliation feast. Perhaps this is the origin of why families get together for holiday feasts.
In modern times, Ho’oponopono was combined with practices from India and China and the concept of Karma. It took the form now known as a mantra repeated over and over, “I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.” This involves healing the origins of conflict by taking full responsibility for our own actions knowing that everything that exists outside is a projection of the inner landscape. This is aligned with the practices of yoga and the sutra that speaks of the yogin as being as “sensitive as an eyeball.” This means that whatever hurt ripples from our own consciousness is immediately felt and rectified in the moment.
The Christmas hustle and bustle may not be outwardly evident in this corner of the world, but the spirit of Christmas is ever present within this ancient wisdom tradition. Here, the Hawaiian Christmas tree stands solidly in the ground, free from ornaments, shining in its own symmetrical glory. The spirit of Aloha supports the spirit of the Holidays, which in the Hawaiian culture is timeless and eternal. “I love you. I’m sorry.Please forgive me. Thank you.”
Have a Happy and Healing Holiday
~ Rama Jyoti ~
Rama with Bhavani Maki, founder/teacher,
Yoga Hanalei; author, The Yogis Road Map
Photos by Mira Murphy
This morning, I was awakened by the crow of a rooster. When I opened the door to feel the fall air, a gust of wind suddenly blew the dry autumn leaves into the house. As they circled around my feet, I thought of nature’s seasonal changes and how they relate to changes in our lives, our country and in the world. The fall winds of change are symbolic of the withering and dissolution of one era before the rebirth of another.
As we enter into this Thanksgiving season, and the coming holidays, we are reminded to give thanks and gratitude for what we have rather than regret for what we don’t have.
I am reminded of the gratitude I feel for the many seasons I have spent studying the Yoga Sutras. And now with the help of so many, I am grateful for the miracle of publishing the first segment of a study manual, Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, Gateway to Enlightenment, Chapter 1, for the many students who have come before, and those who are yet to come, immersing themselves in the study of these ancient texts, whose meaning I have been blessed to receive.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali refers to afflictions in our lives as kleshas, which comes from the root verb, klisht meaning to inflict. These kleshas are considered to be the reason for our afflictions, pain and suffering in life:
1) Avidya - not knowing the nature of our oneness with the divine and with all beings, sentient and insentient
2) Asmita - egoism, which is the I-sense that identifies with the body, mind and personality
3) Raga - attachment to objects, or people; wanting to maintain the status quo
4) Dwesha - aversion, resistance, avoidance, not wanting to see things as they are
5) Abhinevesha - clinging to life and the fear of death; fear of change, fear of the unknown
The essence of all of yoga is to transcend the kleshas so that the mind can remain in the state of Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhaha (yoga is to quiet or still the waves of the mind). This means in all circumstances, all instances, all seasons, and phases of life.
These kleshas go through five stages of transformation. They exist within each of us, individually and they exist collectively as family, community, and country. They lie in the hidden depths of our subconscious and are known as the origin of samskaras (indelible impressions in the psyche). Samskaras are the product of our desires, actions and experiences throughout life or lives. Asana, pranayama, and meditation practices are meant to bring these impressions up to the surface of the conscious mind where they can be seen, healed and released from our cellular memory. As Mr. B.K.S. Iyengar would say, “The invisible must become visible before it can be eradicated” (or transformed).
For many people, this year has been one of uncertainty, instability, doubt and fear. For so many it has been a year of loss — of loved ones, property, jobs and security of the future. In an instant, the unprecedented winds of storms, flooding, and fires have changed lives. In times of change there is a sense of grieving — for the loss of what was and the uncertainty of what lies ahead. We are now experiencing this as individuals and as a nation.
It seems as if our 45th president is a catalyst for change. He has inspired so many kleshas in us as individuals and communities. Instead of seeing this as negative, we might see the positive influence of bringing the alligators up from the muddy waters of our own nature as well as the swamp of the collective. When that which has been hidden comes to the surface, it can be a bit frightening at first.
As stated in the Yoga Sutras, these kleshas at first arise from the hidden depths of the subconscious psyche to become fully blown and out in the open. As we continue our practices, they eventually move into the alternating state where one emotion or event overcomes the other. Eventually, they come into a thinning state where they no longer have the same emotional hold and power over us. This state is where the mind is not as scattered and comes into a concentrated one-pointed state of awareness.
When the kleshas arise out of the hidden depths of our subconscious whether individually or collectively, it can be a startling experience. It looks like all hell is breaking loose. But, perhaps it is just the light of heaven trying to break through.
The ancient Greek goddess Chaos always preceded change. Change can be frightening but out of chaos comes a new dharma, a new order or societal structure. I cannot help but observe collectively that this is what we may be witnessing today in our political, religious, business and entertainment community. The greater the light, more shadows appear.
It is an exciting time in history when the collective samskaras that have been hidden and repressed for a very long time, are now surfacing for healing and releasing. It is a major time of transformation when those who have had no voice in the past are now coming forth and speaking out regardless of repercussions.
Wow! Are we practicing yoga as a nation? When that which is lying in darkness and confusion begins to surface and comes up into the light of new understanding, it is a time to give thanks. This is what I am thankful for this holiday. I am thankful for the voices of those who have finally been heard and those who have yet to be heard. This includes the native people of this land who, at first, welcomed and helped the pilgrims survive the freezing winters. As history tells us they shared a communal meal on the commemorative day we call Thanksgiving. I have always wondered if this is a day we should be celebrating? However, it seems as if now, Thanksgiving has morphed into a day when we actually do remember to be grateful and give gratitude and thanks. It’s interesting that the words grateful and gratitude come from the same source as grace. In grace, we give thanks for those in our life, we give thanks for the love we share and have shared with others throughout our life, regardless of the hurdles and patterns of the past.
Thanksgiving gives us a glimpse into the possibility of a heart free of the burden of past wounds. It can be a time of forgiveness that opens our subtle heart to receive the light of universal love. This is a love that embraces all beings. It transcends all boundaries, walls and belief systems that separate nations, states and people. In the light of deeper understanding, subtle passageways within us will continue to open to ever-expanding compassion we might call grace. Grace is the universal gift of divine love, forever omnipresent and omniactive, and those who live in this state of grace, consciously and constantly live in eternal gratitude and thanksgiving.
As I sat on the porch of our log cabin looking out at the acre of green grass encircled by tall trees, I thought of a verse in the Bhagavad Gita. “The yogi who perceives the essential oneness everywhere naturally feels the pleasure or pain of others as his or her own.”
The autumn leaves continued to fall. The leaves of the maple trees were starting to turn their usual bright scarlet of the season. A red cardinal landed on the porch railing in front of me. We seemed to delight in each other’s company before it darted off to new exciting adventures. After a long hot summer of travel and teaching, it felt so good, not to be somewhere or do anything. The sun was playing peekaboo through the tall pines as the birds called to one another through their songs. I inhaled the crisp air of the changing season. My heart filled with the beauty and serenity of the moment. In the moment, there is no pain no physical and spiritual hunger, no wars, suffering or lack; it is a moment where leaders of nations truly DO care and those in positions of power are there to serve the highest good for all people.
While the sun began to set behind the trees, a cool wind began to blow. As I walked through the fallen leaves back into the house, I wondered if I had awakened from a long dream, remembering that dreams can come true.
Have a Thanksgiving full of love and gratitude,
Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash
"Once you’ve seen one eclipse, you’ve seen them all,” I silently grumbled while sifting through piles of paper for my next book on the Yoga Sutras.
As I got to the verse in Chapter III that is about the solar entrance in the body that reveals the entire cosmos, the TV popped on showing the first appearance of the eclipse in Oregon. I stopped writing and sat stunned as the shadow of the moon crossed ever so gently over the burning fierceness of the sun. It was as if the moon was a powerful and slow moving goddess who in that moment of time aligned with her masculine counterpart in a magnetic field of love.
I began to cry with the beauty and sacredness of the moment. All I could say was, "I didn't know...I didn't know!" I marveled at all those who did know and sought the path of totality to witness this historic event in person.
As I watched the image, I could see the unending light still expanding its corona or aura beyond the dark shadow of the moon. The silvery light called Baily’s beads bubbled in the margins around the perimeter like universal pearls. This truly was a sacred moment in time. The moon in yoga is equated with the feminine energy, which at this moment was shielding the burning fierceness of the sun like a beautiful goddess bringing a healing balm to this planet.
The sky darkened and the atmosphere grew suddenly colder, according to my daughter Mira who was among the 30,000 people who gathered at a festival in Oregon. For this one moment in the cosmos, the sun and moon met as equals, showering their grace and blessings on all beings not just of this country but also of the world. Mira was very moved by this event and wrote a magnificent article on her experience. I asked Mira to share her powerful insights, which follow here:
The solar eclipse that rippled through the U.S. in its path of ‘totality’ has been a powerful shift for the earth and humanity, something I, along with many others have felt deeply. I’d like to share some of my reflections and experiences regarding this potent time in history.
Astrologically speaking, the eclipse is a time that is considered tricky and dangerous. It is recommended not to look at the eclipse, but hide inside and meditate, do mantra and pray. It is a time when the veils between realms become thin, when our major luminary — the light of the sun — is occluded and we are cast into darkness. It is a time when we are more vulnerable to spirits and entities. Because of that thin veil, it is a potent time also for prayer and intention, which can be planted in a very open window. Mantra, prayer and intention are magnified 100-fold.
As I drove north from California with a friend towards the path of totality days before the eclipse to join the Oregon Eclipse Festival, which attracted around 30,000 people, we entered a foreboding picture. From all sides were warnings of the worst traffic jam in U.S. history, gas stations running out of gas, and stores running out of food and water. The governor of Oregon declared a state of emergency. One person told us to hide the back-up emergency gas can we would need if we got stuck idling on the highway for 12 hours, because someone might steal it. On top of that, my Ayurveda friends were warning of the astrological “danger.” My friend asked incredulously, “Are you going to look at it???” At that moment, I really didn’t know. I thought I might hide in my tent at the moment of the eclipse, which would be ironic considering I would probably be the only person to make the journey, fight the traffic, and not even look at it!
When the moment came, my friend and I gathered at the sun temple with the hoards of people gathering together with the First Nation’s people who were initiating a space of ceremony. We found a separate space under a tree to create an altar and prepare for mantra. We chanted the Maha Mrityunjaya 108 times, through the entire window of the eclipse. This is one of the most healing mantras to assist times of transition — like birth and death — and asks that we may detach from the vine effortlessly like a cucumber that has ripened and is ready to let go. At the moment of total eclipse, an intensity dropped in. It got cold, and an eerie silver light cast upon the earth. My friend started crying and it felt like together, we were carrying a deep wound of earth and humanity, and seeing it through a birth canal until we would emerge back into the light.
I looked the eclipse right in the face and it was one of the most powerful moments of my life, truly life-changing. To look such a cosmic event full in the face, to cast aside the fear and doubt and step fully into that moment of potency, felt like stepping through a window into a place of power.
I am an eclipse baby, born a couple hours from a full moon lunar eclipse, which is considered inauspicious in astrology. Since this solar eclipse, I am learning and seeing the power of the eclipse energy, not as something to fear and avoid, but a potent power that can be utilized for healing. My whole life has been a journey of moving into the dark and emerging back into the light, which has given me a strength and comfort in those dark places and transitional moments of time and space most people seek to avoid.
In Sanskrit we call these points of transition sandhis, which literally means joint, like dawn and dusk — the joint between night and day, the change of seasons, or transitional phases of life. In the space of sandhi, vata (air and ether element) is increased and it is considered a time we are vulnerable and need protection. The eclipse is a major sandhi. This is a time where distortion can be magnified, but it has a power in it too.
Humanity, especially this year is moving through a sandhi and what has become resoundingly clear to me in this eclipse window is the potency of this moment in time for healing wounds of earth and humanity, for past and future. In the weeks following the eclipse, I feel I’ve been half in this world and half in a space of magic with messages pouring in from the ethers, from plants, from animals and all pointing to the same thing. Fellow awake souls are hearing the call to gather and reconnect, moving through deep spaces of change in their own lives to step fully into who they are. Even waiting in line for the bathroom at a co-op in Mount Shasta I start talking with the stranger behind me about the major changes blossoming in her life and the messages coming from others about her path in this life. Everywhere I go I feel I recognize people, as if we’ve known each other before and are gathering again.
This is the message: It is time to SHINE, to cut all the blocks and fears that keep you from your true expression on planet earth, it is time NOW to be who you truly are and DO what you came to planet earth to do. The earth URGES us just to show up and be present to each other and to opportunities for healing divisions. It is a time for reconciliation with past wounds, we always wound each other so we can heal and grow and it’s time to rise above the details of the drama and see it from the buddhi mind — in its ‘path of totality’ where we can give thanks for the opportunities to learn and grow and let go of the pain which keeps us locked in contraction. It is time to dream the possibility of the best possible outcome and show up as the best version of yourself and hold the best possible expression of others.
It’s also a time to speak truth. Digest the pain within yourself first to have the most powerful expression — anger and bitterness will weaken your power and the words will not land. When you can speak truth from a higher place of love and wisdom — it will move mountains of change. It is time to heal the wounds of masculine and feminine — as the sun and moon have united together. It is a time to heal wounds of past lovers and relations — by doing this on the individual level it will ripple into the healing of the universal masculine and feminine.
It is a time to dissolve masks and the roles of what we are to each other, to see each other in that stark moment of naked truth and support each other from that space — and equally important to assume the mask and role again. It is okay to play with masks of selves as long as we see it for what it is and remain connected to the greater truth of who we are.
Gathering at the Oregon Eclipse Festival with 30,000 people has restored my faith in humanity. You would think you would see some of the worst of humanity arise when that many people gather but everywhere I looked people were kind, clean, considerate and respectful of each other and the earth. It’s not perfect Utopia. I know there were altercations I didn’t witness, but for those numbers of people, I expected worse. I was continually impressed with the magnitude of human creativity in art, performance, music, crafts and offerings. May this be a prelude to the potential of how we can grow together as our population increases.
The eclipse was first visible in Oregon — all those people gathered in one place, led by the First Nations people in ceremony — planting seeds of intention and prayers in a potent time and space to ripple across the U.S. — in hopes of imprinting upon this country (thus affecting the world) the potential of how humans can come together in respect and consciousness.
This is bigger than you and me and the work we do together with each other, the earth and the animals, and NOW has the power to heal wounds of humanity, our ancestors and the future generations. Time and space has come to a point within this eclipse window. Be the best of who you are, shine bright and go forth with the WHOLE of your Self – all expressions finding integration within you to do the work you came here to planet Earth to do.
Photo Credit: Gary Gilbert, The Seattle Times, Madras, Oregon
It was a hot and lazy afternoon when I drove through the iron gates of the property where my husband and I live in East Texas. We are told we live in the “belt buckle” of the Bible Belt, in a beautiful town where half the population is Baptists and…Oh Yes…most of the population is registered Republican.
The owners of the property, Charlie and Jackie live in a gracious brick manor house shaded by magnificent trees that spread their branches wide to filter the rays of the summer sun. In front of their house is a pond with a fountain that was home to three ducks Mandrake, Matilda and Marmaduke. They were perfectly matched with lotus white bodies and long swan-like necks. They were inseparable from the moment they met.
Whenever I would see their little forms snuggling under the trees, majestically waddling on the green grass, or gliding together on the placid waters of the pond, I would take a deep breath knowing that all was right with the world.
One day, as I entered the property, a giant hawk swooped down so low it almost hit the roof of the car. Two days later, the female duck, Matilda was missing with only a trail of feathers left in her wake. We all mourned her disappearance and wondered how she met her demise.
Charlie is now raising ducks hatched from eggs and caring for them like a parent with a child. There was one duck who had grown to full size. Charlie introduced him to the two remaining ducks. There was only one little problem. This new duck had a pompadour of feathers perched on the top of his head like a crown. He looked quite regal and very different from the other two ducks.
Over the days, the two resident ducks became increasingly vicious, biting the new duck’s neck and head and leaving him wounded and bleeding. What had once been a peaceful “Garden of Paradise” now became a battleground of differences. The new duck looked so different that he became a target and was bullied and isolated by the other ducks.
I began to see parallels with the drama of the ducks to what is happening in our world today. Could it be that the world stage is being enacted right here in this Garden of Eden? Were these little ducks a reflection of what is happening in a country and world that is more divided than ever before?
Could it be that the human species like other species in nature, when given the opportunity, reverts to the familiar comfort zones of those who look like, act like, speak like, worship like and, yes, here it is, vote like they do.
Everywhere I travel and teach, I hear similar stories of the separation in families due to the recent political election. A Republican strategist from a long time Republican family could not bring herself to vote for Mr. Trump. So, as she said, she cast her vote for the candidate she felt would be a steadier, more predictable and experienced choice for president. She crossed the aisle of the “great divide,” voted for Clinton, and was alienated by family and friends. Even her favorite uncle refused to speak to her at a family function, while other family members publicly criticized her and Republicans like her on social media. They even questioned her faith as a Christian.
On the other side of “the aisle,” Clinton supporters were horrified when good friends voted for Trump causing one to say, “I didn’t think intelligent people would vote for Trump.” So many were shocked by “the lack of discrimination” in people they had known and worked with for many years.
A yoga teacher in Oregon was faced with a temporary dilemma. After the election one student in her class didn’t think she could return because there was a Trump supporter sitting next to her. In turn, the Trump voter felt discriminated against and didn’t think she would return.
A woman in Texas lost life-long friends of 40 years when she posted her political leanings on social media.
Yoga teachers throughout this land have shared stories of unhealed wounds of separation in families, friends and marriages. They thought after the election people would come back together and life would go on as usual, but this is something different. It appears there is a growing chasm of separation that has not yet healed.
As events unfold every day…every hour, more and more people are feeling uncertain and insecure about their future as individuals and our future as a nation. They are fearful of the economy, an impending nuclear war, and a leader they feel is not in touch with reality. As one politician said, “It’s not about policy, but pathology.”
In yoga, it is interesting that in asana, when one part of the body is limited in its range of motion such as stiffness in a knee, hip, or hamstring muscle etc., the entire body becomes limited in its range of motion. It automatically holds itself back from moving ahead into its fullest potential expression of the pose. For some, it feels that as a nation, we are hamstrung by the weakest part, which they see as our leadership.
Our body is a hologram of consciousness. When an injured or stiff part becomes more flexible, the other parts can then move more freely, guiding the body deeper into the full expression of a pose.
The question now is are we holding ourselves back as a nation waiting for our leader to “catch up?” Or are we witnessing a leader that is less conscious than the people he represents? Is he like that rigid part of the social body that prevents convergence, integration, progressive ideas and a future that embraces all brothers and sisters of the One Humanity?
Are we held back because of the lack of progressive vision of our leader or are we holding ourselves back by enabling this weakest part to dictate to the whole?
Through the window of the ducks, I wondered if I was witnessing the nature of human beings who are not able to cross the great divide and embrace something or someone different from them.
Are we witnessing the inability of those who cannot reach across the aisle, not just of the political divide but the aisles of division in all aspects of our post-election lives? The effects of anger and sometimes hatred can be seen on those insecure with the new leadership.
A nun went to confession asking for forgiveness of her hatred toward our new president. She said the priest was not very helpful because he too, was struggling with his own prejudice and frustration, of what he saw as the darkest time in American history.
For its safety, Charlie moved the young unusual looking duck to the back of the property where he happily strutted around with its tuft of head feathers fluttering in the breeze, like a thousand-petaled lotus. Life went on as usual until the aggressive and most violent duck disappeared with a heap of feathers as the only imprint of his short life. We speculated it could have been a hawk, raccoon or even coyote.
The one remaining duck of the original three, sat unmoving on top of the fountainhead in the center of the pond. He looked forlorn and fearful. I marveled at his instinct of preservation in positioning himself so that wild animals and hawks could not reach him. But I was sad that he had lost the innocence of trust.
Charlie then reintroduced the duck with the pompom and brought in another duck with dark tan markings over half of her body. After a few days of eyeing one another from a distance, they came closer and closer. Now in trust, they are inseparable. It is amazing how different they look from one another. Yet, with all their differences, they waddle together under the great trees, nestle together in the shade of the flowering plants and swim together in the still waters of the pond.
Is this prophetic of our future as we cross the great divide of consciousness to appreciate and even rejoice in our differences as well as commonalities? Wouldn’t this be a demonstration of the true union and “Oneness” of yoga?
Now each day, first thing I do as I enter the garden gate is to look for the ducks to make sure they are all there and safe. To me, they have become a barometer of our society. After a time of struggle and separation, they now seem to be masters of crossing the great divide to demonstrate the convergence of differences and uniting life’s polarities. They are my teachers of yoga.
Last year during the end of the U.S. presidential campaign, I could not help but compare the electoral candidates with the pantheon of Hindu gods & goddesses. There are over 300 million deities all relating to attributes inherent in human nature and cultural values. Of all theses attributes, there are three Mahadevas (great deities) that represent the three main principles of life—Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the sustainer, and Shiva, the destroyer, also known as the transformer.
We can see the symbolism of these three Mahadevas manifesting in groups, organizations, families and governments. Brahma, the creator can be seen when a person who is a visionary creates a system, product or organization around his or her idea. Then those with administrative inclinations and skills would be needed to help maintain and sustain a structure for this vision. This would relate to the god Vishnu.
And then there are those who strive for change and creation of something new. There is a belief that to bring forth an evolutionary spiral of transformation and co-creation, old and outdated systems must crumble for the new to be born. This can threaten existing structures and those who wish to maintain the status quo. Change brings up fear of the unknown, especially when it is rapid change.
During the 2016 campaign, I compared Hilary Clinton to the quality of the god Vishnu, who represents the householder, the family, and economic stability. Hilary promised to maintain what had been created by the previous administration as a springboard for the future. Those who voted for Hilary obviously wanted someone with many years of political experience in governmental and diplomatic relations who would give a stable foundation of something known and secure.
Donald Trump seemed to attract voters who wanted change. They may have been out of work, in desperate need of health insurance, diehard Republicans or independent spirits who wanted any kind of change. The slogan “Make America Great Again” captured hearts and imaginations.
In many instances, people were voting against the status quo in voting for a government outsider who campaigned on bringing a businessman’s approach to government. Trump promised to “drain the swamp.” Some voters now feel that perhaps bigger, wealthier, and more powerful, well-dressed, alligators were added to the swamp.
I could not help but loosely correlate Donald Trump with Shiva. Instead of launching off preset foundational structures, he wanted to tear down old structures in order to create something new.
Shiva inhabits the highest Himalayan abode known as Kailasa. Mr. Trump inhabits the penthouse in Trump Tower overlooking corridors and waterways of New York. Shiva transforms lives with the fierce swiftness of his mythical sword, while Trump changes many lives with a dramatic slash of his presidential pen across executive orders. Shiva destroys without always replacing. We can see this in the uphill attempt at changing the Health Care Act—repealing without replacing.
The celestials of heaven seek out the help of Lord Shiva when the demons (representative of the individual and collective ego) are threatening to take over the universe. What a parallel! The GOP and their supporters sought out a candidate that could unify their party and win the vote, regardless of their own hesitancy and disinclination.
There are politics even in the garden of the gods. When Shiva’s beloved wife, Sati did not receive an invitation to her father’s house for a yajna, (fire ceremony) she went anyway thinking this was an oversight. When she arrived, her family ignored her presence and she discovered that she and Shiva were not invited due to a slight breech of protocol that Shiva had committed at a previous gathering of the gods, sages and rishis. Sati was so humiliated in front of the auspicious gathering that she brought forth her yogic powers of self-immolation.
When Shiva heard the news of his wife’s death, he tore a lock of hair from his head and threw it on the ground. Out of the lock of Shiva’s hair, arose a fearless and invincible warrior named Virabhadra who led Shiva’s armies to destroy the fire sacrifice and avenge his wife’s death. This warrior represented the most extreme part of Shiva himself. When slighted or wronged, Shiva would unleash his powers of chaos in the need for justice, or as some might call it—revenge.
When a part of Shiva took the form of a ferocious warrior it was a reflection of a hidden part of his own being. In this warrior form, Shiva wielded weapons in his thousand arms and destroyed the fire sacrifice, the host and guests. He created so much havoc and destruction that the celestials finally had to intervene. They begged him to restore order and the lives of those in the path of his destructive rampage.
This can be compared to Trump’s emotional reaction to the situation in Syria driving him to take military action, like Shiva giving birth to the military aspect of himself. Virabhadra was born out of Shiva’s grief of loss that morphed into rage and a resultant aggressive action.
Donald Trump, throughout his campaign, like Shiva, became unstoppable, mowing down anything or anyone standing in his path.
In playfully comparing Shiva to Donald Trump, I began to see the Ley Lines connecting ancient myths to present day politics. Life with Shiva is unpredictable. It is spontaneous. One never knows what form his rapid changes will take, resulting for some in fear and uncertainty of the future.
Those who voted for Trump, tossed their discrimination aside and believed the campaign promises in their passion for a better life, and a country of their dreams. Unfortunately, in our quest to follow the visionary words of a leader, the dream can become a nightmare of instability and confusion. Is this a classic case of jumping from the frying pan into the fire? Perhaps this kind of change is not exactly what some supporters had in mind.
Swami Vivekananda was the first yogi and swami to come from India to the United States in l893 to attend the World Parliament of Religions. He made a great impression through his imposing presence, vast wisdom and brilliant mind.
In one of his many talks to the American public, Swamiji was asked about the convergence of politics and spirituality. He replied, “The world is like the kink of a dog’s tail. As long as you are holding it you think it is straight. The moment you let go—it just kinks up again.”
In light of rapidly changing events in our country’s political landscape perhaps the question is: Are we holding on? Or are we letting go?
The 2012 NYT article by William Broad was recently reprinted with the following,
"Editors’ note: We’re resurfacing this 2012 magazine article for Smarter Living so you can feel a little less guilty about skipping that yoga class."
Following is a "resurfacing" of Rama Jyoti's response:
The article in the New York Times that recently "resurfaced," entitled “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” may be a blessing by re-opening a conversation about Yoga. For years, those of us who are the ancient veterans of Yoga in America, who have been practicing and teaching since the1950s, have been concerned over the new fitness direction that Yoga has taken in this country.
Let’s face it. The term Yoga has been hijacked. The author of the article, Mr. Broad, is narrowly defining yoga according to his experiences with his injured yoga teacher, Mr. Black. For those of us who have been enlightened by Yoga for nearly six decades with no injuries to self or others, the article was horrifically corrosive. After reading it, I was worried about the risks of getting out of bed or of walking. I could shorten a hamstring without realizing it! But what about the risks of sitting at a computer all day and incurring repetitive stress injuries. Where can we go? There is nowhere to hide, not even in the inner sanctums of Shavasana, the corpse pose.
No mention was made in the article of varying methodologies of Yoga. All paths and lineages were painted with the same brush. Indra Devi, Swami Sivananda, Pattabhi Jois and Mr. BKS Iyengar although very different from one another, are lumped together from their early teachings in the mid-20th century.
As I discovered over the past 55 years, Yoga is a way of “Being” not just doing. It is the exploration of what Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita calls inaction within an action. It is the essence and means to quiet the waves of the mind. When the waves are still, as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras say, “The Seer and the Seen become One.” Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, “They realize the oneness that already is. “
In the l950’s, 60’s and even in the 70’s Yoga was still intact. However in the late 70’s, Yoga began to slip into a mode of physical exercise. Instead of exercise, perhaps it is more accurate to view Yoga as ‘innercise.’ To experience Yoga as an ‘innercise,’ it is important to bring the breath back into our practice, and teaching, and allow it to move our body organically into a pose.
As the essence of all Yoga is to ”still the waves of the mind,” if we practice asana rapidly without breath, we create more restlessness, the opposite of Yoga. The breath, not the teacher or the clock, is the gage as to when it is time to come out of the pose. If the breath is erratic and staccato it is time to “slowly” exit the pose.
In l970, I was asked to give a talk and demonstration of Yoga to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s cabinet ministers. The presentation was well received and afterward some of the cabinet ministers said, you looked so relaxed, you didn’t even look as if you were in pain. You actually looked as if you were enjoying it.” I was stunned. “Yoga helps us to come out of pain not create more,” I finally replied. “Yes, I do enjoy it, it is my communion with God.” They were astounded. Mrs. Gandhi’s Yoga teacher who was in attendance was fascinated and then offered to demonstrate how he practiced Yoga. He grabbed his leg and forcefully put it on his opposite thigh and then grimaced and grunted with pain as he forced the opposite foot over into Padmasana, the Full Lotus. Yes, even the Indians can have stiffness in hips and legs. There are different approaches, I realized that day, and that this “Yang” approach could lead to injuries and dismissed it as a potential practice. He was surprised that my approach did not create but helped to heal peoples’ past injuries.
If our lives are not evolving from the practice of Yoga, perhaps we need to change our practice and our teachers. This New York Times article is a wake-up call for the Yoga teaching community to slow down, and re-evaluate one’s teaching and practice style and perhaps contemplate bringing the breath back into Yoga.
Years ago, I hosted Indra Devi as well as Mr. Iyengar. I went to Indra Devi’s class. She did not just teach Yoga...she WAS Yoga. Her presence filled the room casting a mantle of light upon us all. I realized that as teachers, we need to keep our connection to the Divine. It is the unspoken that touches the hearts and minds of the students far more than the technique. Her presence was a reminder of Why we were practicing Yoga..not just How.
It is not Yoga that creates strokes in relatively young and healthy people but the way in which they practice with rapid movements and no preparation which leads to spinal (and neck) compression rather than elongation. The author wrote of Mr. Iyengar emphasizing in the Cobra arching the neck as far back as possible. However, the neck should not be forced back in any pose as it creates cervical compression and restricts the circulation from moving between the spinal cord and brain. I remember many years ago, Mr. Iyengar emphasizing the extension of the back of the neck, because Cobras do not throw their heads back and look up but drew their head back and elongate what would be the back of their neck. The eyes instead of looking upward would be drawn towards the back of the head and intently gaze straight ahead without wavering.
In the incidence of a college student who intensified his practice by sitting in Vajrasana on his heels for hours a day, his injury cannot be blamed on Yoga but on his own ambition and lack of discernment. Vajrasana is NOT a classical sitting pose for meditation.
The article also alludes to the Shoulderstand, as “tucking the chin deep into the chest. No! That is not the way it is practiced. In Sarvangasana, we bring the chest to the chin...not the chin to the chest. We roll the upper arms outward affixing the outer elbows to the earth. “This is a SHOULDER stand...not a NECK stand,” Mr. Iyengar would say. Known as Sarvangasana, meaning the whole or entire parts of the body, the Shoulderstand is commonly referred to as the Queen of Asana (The Headstand is the King) and is known to affect and benefit every gland, organ and system of our body. It affects the physical as well as subtle body. The article mentioned it stimulates the thyroid. No, it does not unless the thyroid is hypoactive. Sarvangasana balances the thyroid rather than stimulate it. Matsyasana, the fish pose is the one that is stimulating to the thyroid and is excellent for those with hypoactive (underactive) thryroid. The fish without the shoulderstand first, can be over stimulating to the nervous system because of the affects to the adrenaline glands. Those of us who have practiced these poses for half a century can testify that it balances the thyroid and parathyroids which are responsible for our metabolic processes and metabolism of calcium.
In Shoulderstand, the 7th cervical vertebra eventually does not even touch the mat. Sarvangasana is known to prevent strokes and heart attacks as well as alleviate neck and shoulder tension. It beneficially affects the cerebellum which doesn’t only coordinate muscles but is what the Yogis call the seat of the subconscious mind. Mr. Broad also relates this pose to the thalamus gland. However, the thalamus which relays sensory messages to the outer brain also relates to subtle energy center that awaken our conscious to vaster states of awareness. The thalamus which holds a blue print of every cell of the body sits above the hypothalamus which is now known as the master endocrine gland. Perhaps one day the thalamus may be recognized as the true master endocrine gland that regulates all others under its hierarchical structure. This gland relates to the crown chakra and is impacted by Sirshasana, the Headstand, far more than the Shoulderstand.
In relation to Sarvangasana, the article refers to the pons, attributing only the role it plays in respiration. It does, but it is also the switchboard or relay center between the spinal cord and the brain. When there is compression or tension in this area, we see the aging process in the slowing down of the reflexes. Sasrvangasana preserves the youthfullness of the reflexes. The area of the pons where the spinal cord meets the base of the brain is known as the medulla oblongata. This is the area that Swami Paramamahamsa calls the “seat of the soul.” Within the arena of the “back brain” is what is known in the Yoga Sutras as the “Cave of Brahma,” the creator.
Sarvangasana is a pose of meditation where the heart is above the head, which the Yogis relate to the ego. In it, the ego is humbled and the heart reigns supreme over the mind, if only for a short time. This is an extraordinary pose that also elongates the carotid sinus and arteries and can diminish excessive plaque which instead of creating, can actually help prevent strokes and heart attacks.
Sarvangasana increases circulation of blood, lymph and cerebral spinal fluids. The article states concerns for the basilar artery which arises from the union of the two vertebral arteries that feed the pons. He references that reduction in blood flow to the basilar artery has been known to produce a variety of strokes. In a correct shoulderstand, there is no pressure upon the basilar artery, but the pose can benefit its circulatory flow.
In referring to the woman of 28 who suffered a stroke while attempting Urdva Dhanurasana which is correctly known as the “Upward Bow.” It is not the wheel, which is something different. Again depending upon the teaching, the head is not placed on the floor as this can induce compression in the neck if the arms are weak and the shoulders are not flexible. In any pose the neck is never compressed or arched. Again, what were the instructions? What was trying to be achieved? What is being promoted in the name and of Yoga? There is also no mention of the impact of pharmaceutical drugs and the effects of legal or illegal drugs ingested into the system. How do we know the condition of the people getting injured?
Please Mr. Broad and Mr. Black, do not blame Yoga but look to the teachers’ interpretation of what they call Yoga. Many years ago a group of long-time teachers came to Swami Satchidananda voicing their concerns over the direction that Yoga was taking in this country and how it was taught as aerobic exercise that would eventually lead to injuries. Swamiji was pensive and then said, “You must trust...trust in Yoga.” Thank you for opening this discussion that will allow everyone in the Yoga community to stop and take a big breath.
Rama Jyoti Vernon (c) 2012