7:30pm – Kirtan
8:10pm – Video of Sri Swami Satchidananda
8:40pm – “Aligning to the Body- Aligning to Spirit”
Arathi (closing ceremony)
You can also view this Satsang live with Yogaville Livestream!
It’s been a long time since my glorious month at TT in Mexico which was in January of 2002. There we drank in prana, and spiritual advice was only as far as the next casita away.
Now I teach in Boston at health clubs. Away from the pure Integral Yoga setting, I have no immediate community to reinforce me. Instead, I am guided by the needs of the Yoga marketplace: My clubs ask that I teach a one hour class; I’ve had to make changes to the standard class to meet the demands of my students. Being out on my own has forced me to learn many difficult lessons. Some are joyful, some are humbling. I offer a summary here:
• Talking a lot isn’t the same as good teaching – In my enthusiasm, and insecurity, as a new teacher, I sometimes felt obliged to recite every possible correction, all the points of focus and the many benefits of the pose. I’d pour out a stream of verbiage that lasted the length of the posture. I now feel that endless coaching can be a distraction. That doesn’t mean that a well-timed reminder to return to one’s breath or square one’s shoulders isn’t in order, but silence gives the student time to focus on their internal teacher, rather than me. There is something divine in letting the class linger in quiet during a challenging pose.
• Look at the students when I’m teaching them – My students like me to demonstrate the poses and I find that working along with the class keeps me in touch with what they are experiencing in the pose. (To be honest, it also helps me to remember what’s next.) But when I’m doing the postures, I’m not watching the class. I’ve learned to bail out of a posture after I’ve demonstrated enough to get them into it. Now I can walk among the students, make suggestions and otherwise show I care about their Yoga practice. It makes a difference in the quality of their experience.
• Keep my own practice fresh and vital – I’ve taught as many as four classes a week, in addition to a full time job. When I’m spending that much of my free time teaching, it’s easy to neglect my own practice. I find that my class becomes stale and I forget what it’s like to be on the mat. I finally found a teacher that challenges me and allows me to pursue my spiritual practice via Yoga and that has made all the difference. It’s not an Integral Yoga class, but it is close enough for me to bring out the Integral Yoga spirit. It also reminds me of how it feels to struggle. Now when I teach, I’m awake and aware.
• A solid, but predictable, class is better than a spontaneous, but incomplete work-out – When I’ve taught the same group for months, it’s tempting to start to improvise, even in the middle of class. I find some variation keeps the students interested, but I’ve occasionally overdone it, diverting too far from the principles of a well-rounded class and ended up lost myself. Now I do my creative work before class, and make sure that every class includes a forward bend, a backward bend, a twist, a balancing pose and an inversion before coming to the final relaxation. Creativity is based on structure.
• Check my motivation for adding exotic poses to my class – Related to spontaneity I mention above was my desire to sometimes throw an off-beat posture or two into the mix. There’s nothing wrong with that on the face of it, but when I was honest with myself, I saw that there was an element of showing off: “Hey look at me, I know a lot of funky Yoga poses!” Now I think about the real value of bringing in an unusual pose before I do it.
• My tone of voice and attitude convey more than my words – I think more than half of Yoga is taught by voice. Students hear my words but they also hear how I’m saying them. When I want to elicit joy, I try to express real joy. I can feel the difference in how the class responds.On bad days, go back to basics – Recently, I was about to teach a Saturday morning class. I was feeling under the weather and for the first time ever, didn’t really feel like being there. I was uninspired, to say the least. Lacking any ideas for what to do, I resolved to simply teach a basic class, just like the one I taught to graduate from TT. Freed from having to think about the flow of the class, I hunkered down in the fundamentals. It worked. The quality of Integral Yoga is enough to carry me when I’m not all there. The class was solid and by the end, I was feeling much better too. It’s nice to know that will always be there for me.
• Tune into the weather – We all respond to the weather and it’s good to acknowledge that in class. I recently taught a class on a cold, rainy, gloomy Saturday morning. Taking a cue from nature, I slowed the class way down, explicitly telling the students that this class would be for cultivating a meditative spirit. We lingered in the postures. I spoke slowly and quietly. The class was intense in its own way and we left feeling at peace and perhaps at one with the weather.
• Ask my students if they are getting it – Six months into teaching I asked my regular crew of students what they thought was the most important thing to get out of the class.The answers were good, but not at all what I had hoped to convey as the ultimate reason for doing Yoga. It was an eye opener. Since then, I have worked to focus on my message, saying explicitly what we are moving towards. It’s helped me in thinking about how I structure my classes and I think it’s helped the students focus on the ultimate goal. At minimum, it helps them to understand why I teach what I teach.
There’s still much more I have to learn: I still feel very weak in giving corrections and making adjustments. I’m still not sure how much overt spirituality I should serve up to my classes of hip urbanites. I wonder if my tone is effective. Are my jokes really funny? Am I offering an appropriate balance of postures for overall health? I’ll be working on these issues and many others for years to come, I suspect. One thing I know is that my service as a teacher is a place to grow for a long, long time. Despite the hard lessons, or perhaps because of them, I love being a Yoga teacher.
Find out more about Integral Yoga Teacher Training.
(by Bob La Valee, from the November, 2003 IYTA Newsletter)
7:30pm – Kirtan
8:10pm – Video of Sri Swami Satchidananda
8:40pm – “Mindfulness and Inspiration” with Susan Stone
Arathi (closing ceremony)
You can also view this Satsang live with Yogaville Livestream!
For the vast majority of practitioners and non-practitioners alike, Yoga has become reduced to, and synonymous with, the postures and movements of Hatha Yoga. Yet, for most of its history, meditation has been the essential aspect of authentic Yoga practice. The word Yoga comes from the root yuj, meaning to “yoke or to harness” and signifies both spiritual endeavor, especially the disciplining of the mind and the senses, and the state of integration. Yoga includes the various philosophies and practices Georg Feurstein calls “the psychospiritual technology specific to the great civilization of India.” Its purpose is to liberate the practitioner from the existential human situation of duhkha, variously translated as suffering, stress, and dissatisfaction. Buddhism, a bona fide child of the Yoga Tradition offers a complete and coherent model of Yogic theory and practice and, like all authentic Yoga, it is moksha-shastra, a liberation teaching designed to free us from duhkha.
In an early discourse, the Buddha is asked if it is possible to know, see, or to reach the end of the world, where one does not suffer. He responds that it is not possible to reach such a place of peace by traveling, “However, it is in just this fathom-high body, endowed with perception and mind, that I make known the world, its arising and cessation, and the way leading to the cessation of the world.” The Buddha could not have more clearly stated that it is with the exploration of our bodily experience, where we so often find discomfort, pain, and suffering, that we can also find peace and liberation.
While the Buddha taught many practices, perhaps it’s his emphasis on mindfulness that has had the greatest impact. The Pali word ‘sati’ (Sanskrit. smriti), most often translated as mindfulness, is related to the word for remembering. To‘remember’ is to bring together all the seemingly disparate aspects of our experience into an integrated whole. In this way, remembering is synonymous with the definition of Yoga. Whenever we see our mind wandering from the intimate, immediate, spontaneous and obvious experience at hand, we remember to come back — to just this, right here, right now, using the breath as the “yoke.”
In both the Anapanasati (Awareness of Breathing), and the Satipatthana Suttas (The Foundation of Mindfulness), the Buddha instructs us to observe the breath, gradually extending our awareness to include the whole body. He instructs us to be aware of the movements and positions of the body, while standing, walking, sitting, or lying down, while bending over, or stretching our limbs, and notes that nothing is excluded from mindfulness, including such activities as eating, drinking, dressing, urinating, and defecating. No aspect of our lived experience lies outside of practice.
The relevance of this teaching for practicing Hatha Yoga is obvious. When we combine awareness of breathing with asana practice, we can observe how movement and posture affects the breath and how the breath affects the body. We become aware of habitual patterns of reactivity. For instance, do you hold your breath when reaching out with your arms into a deep stretch? Do you unnecessarily tense muscles not involved with the movement you are making? Do you compare one side of the body with the other? When engaged in repetitive movements, does your mind wander? In maintaining a posture, can you see the constant changing phenomena, or do you concretize the experience, reifying the changing phenomena into a static entity that you then either grasp after or resist, depending on whether you find it pleasant or unpleasant?
With the Four Foundations, asana practice becomes a fully authentic mindfulness practice, in essence no different than sitting or walking meditation. This is the practice of Mindfulness Yoga; the cultivation of mindfulness using asana as the vehicle for such cultivation. The practice of mindfulness, the Buddha assures us, “gives rise to understanding and liberation of the mind.”
The Four Foundations of Mindfulness include body, feelings, mind and dharmas. Each Foundation includes a variety of objects, meditations, and contemplations. When practicing asana, we can choose to devote our practice to any one of these, or work through them sequentially.
The First Foundation of Mindfulness is “the body within the body.” This phrasing reminds us that we are not distant observers of the body, with awareness located in our heads observing our body as an object, but rather awareness permeates the whole body, like a sponge saturated with water.
We’re encouraged to simply know an in-breath as an in-breath, an out-breath as an out-breath. We become intimately familiar with the experience of breathing, noticing the various and varying qualities such as deep or shallow, fast or slow, rough or smooth, even or uneven, long or short. Then, expanding our awareness to include the whole body, including its posture, and movement, we deepen our sense of embodiment. The body and breath do not get lost in the future or the past, so when attention is fully absorbed in the body, there is a fully integrated sense of presence.
Bringing attention to the parts of the body, we become cognizant of any reactivity to the various parts; which parts do we like; which parts do we dislike? Contemplating the Five Great Elements (earth, water, fire, air and space), the yogi begins to understand that life is not isolated in her own body; that there is no “self” separate from the elements. The First Mindfulness Training of ahimsa or non-harming reminds us to protect the lives of people, animals, plants and minerals. As our bodies cannot exist without these minerals, we begin to see that the distinction between organic and inorganic is ultimately conceptual – there is no real separation.
The final practice of the First Foundation is contemplating the existential truth that this body is of the nature to die. Looking deeply into the impermanent nature of the body, we are motivated not to take life for granted, not to lose our life in distraction and dispersion. The effect of this meditation can be liberating as we let go of all the effort we make in attempting to deny the only thing we know for certain – that we will die!
Practicing “Feelings within the Feelings,” we deepen our intimacy with experience by bringing mindfulness to feelings – not as a disassociated observer, but from within the feelings themselves. Feelings are not emotions but the “feeling tone” or “felt sense” of experience.
To see for yourself what is meant here, take a moment to close your eyes and just sit, with your hands resting on your lap, palms down. Settle yourself into the experience, noting how it feels to sit here – physically and energetically. You may note such feelings as “heavy,” “grounded,” “stable,” or “dull.” Then, maintaining your attention, turn your palms upward and note if there’s a change in the feeling tone. You may find yourself feeling “light,” “open,” “receptive” or “vulnerable,” among other possible feelings.
Feelings are a primal experience that precedes any reaction or emotion. The importance of bringing mindfulness to such feelings cannot be over-estimated. It is at the junction between feeling and reactivity that mindfulness provides the possibility of freely choosing how to respond to any given situation.
The Buddha noted that feelings condition our whole world. We spend huge amounts of energy trying to create and prolong pleasant feelings while attempting to avoid unpleasant feelings, and we become confused, bored or simply “checked-out” when experiencing neutral feelings. This grasping, aversion and ignorance, called the “three poisons,” are the roots of duhkha, poisoning the experience of life. If mindfulness is not present, feelings quickly give rise to moods, emotions, perceptions, ideas and whole stories and identities that cause duhkha for us and for those with whom we interact.
Hatha Yoga practice can either help us grow in awareness and insight, or create duhkha, depending on whether mindfulness is present or not. For example, when practicing an asana you enjoy, or experience, the psychological pleasure of the “successful” performance of a challenging posture, if you are not mindful, you can get caught in craving and clinging, seeking to prolong or repeat the feeling as soon as it wanes (as it most assuredly will since all phenomena are impermanent). While it is a pleasure to accomplish a challenging posture, without mindfulness, as the Gherandha-Samhita warns, asana practice becomes an obstacle to liberation because the ego-gratification is clung to, and identification with ego and the body becomes more rigid and solid. We get caught in pride and our identity as someone who can do “advanced postures.” When conditions change (through illness, injury or age) and we can no longer do what we used to do, we can become discouraged and even suffer despair.
Mindfulness shows us how quickly the mind seeks to push the unpleasant away, to eliminate it. Such aversion creates tension that is often more painful than the original sensation. The Buddha referred to this added anguish as “the second arrow.” Bringing awareness to neutral feelings cultivates greater clarity about our experience. In fact, most of our experience is neutral, neither pleasant nor unpleasant. Because this is so, we spend much of our time seeking intensity of feeling, or falling into boredom. Through greater awareness of the neutral aspect of experience, we remain present to experience and cultivate greater ease, enjoying the calm of neutrality.
In opening ourselves to felt experience, we allow ourselves to live life fully, not caught in patterned habits of reactivity.Rather than conditionally reacting to experience, we can choose to respond creatively. The key to this freedom is in bringing mindfulness to our feelings before they condition our reactivity.
The Dhammapada’s opening lines point to the importance of mind in creating the lived experience of our world:
Our life is shaped by our mind;
all actions are led by mind;
created by mind.
Duhkha follows an unskillful thought
as the wheels of a cart follows the oxen that draw it.
Suhkha follows a skillful thought
as surely as one’s shadow.
The Buddha taught that actions are preceded by volitions that create wholesome or unwholesome consequences. This is the teaching of karma; there are consequences to our actions. Rather than blaming external conditions for duhkha, we realize that the ultimate cause of duhkha is found in the mind – the same place liberation is found.
In turning attention to the activity of the mind, all psychological phenomena are included: emotions, perceptions, conceptualization, imagination, and discrimination – the citta-samskara or “mental formations.” Citta or mind is the totality of these ever-changing psychological phenomena, not a thing, or unchanging subject.
With mindfulness of the mental formations, we attempt to “know” a mental formation as a mental formation. When not mindful of mental formations, we believe and identify with them. When we recognize a mental formation as a mental formation, it loses much – or all – of its power over us. When mindfulness is there, the mental formation has already been transformed. While practicing asana, mindfulness of the mental formations provides a wonderful opportunity to observe and recognize our mental patternings and how they condition our habitual tendencies. Noticing how quickly the mind categorizes experience into “good” and “bad” can free us from believing these potentially limiting notions.
Discomfort may arise during asana practice. Much discomfort is really just a reaction to novelty, and much pain is the pain of change. Such pain can provide an opportunity to grow in mindfulness. Truly injurious or excessive pain should be honored, but the truth is, most of the pain that one experiences in asana practice is merely discomfort and not injurious. With discomfort, it is fruitful to drop out of your aversive reactivity and bring a gently embracing quality of mindfulness to the discomfort. When we do this, we see for ourselves that there really is a difference between pain and suffering. This is an important insight with real benefit to life off the mat. Working with mindfulness of the mind means that when the inevitable losses of life occur, you can just feel the pain and not add suffering as well.
Mindfulness shows how one creates a sense of self through reactivity, belief patterns, and dramatizing story lines; what Patanjali calls asmita. The more attached we are to our stories of self, the more tension and suffering we create, but it’s not until we really see this for ourselves that any opening can occur.
Mindfulness of the dharmas, provides the context of bringing mindfulness to specific mental qualities, and analyzing experience into categories that constitute core aspects of the Buddha’s Dharma (or teaching). These classifications are points of reference to be applied during contemplation to whatever experiences arise while practicing and include the Five Hindrances, the Seven Factors of Awakening, and the Four Noble Truths. While one can contemplate these dharmas while practicing asanas, a more accessible practice is to bring mindfulness to the impermanent nature of all phenomena. Contemplation of impermanence is a “dharma gate” opening to the understanding of the interdependent, conditioned, and selfless nature of all that exists.
Asana practice offers a great window into impermanence. From day to day, the body feels and moves differently each time we come to practice. We know things change, yet we put so much effort and energy into trying to live life as if that were not so! This is avidya, “not-seeing” as a kind of willful denial. But ignoring or denying the truth of impermanence perpetuates suffering and misery, and opening to the reality of change liberates that energy.
In Genjo Koan Zen Master Dogen writes, “If you examine myriad things with a confused body-mind, you might suppose that your mind and nature are permanent. When you practice intimately and return to where you are, it will be clear that nothing at all has unchanging self.” If “self” is understood as an entity that is autonomous, independent, and persistent over time, then insight into impermanence leads inevitably to the clear view that all things lack such an unchanging self. Even the consciousness of self that we take such pains to protect and bolster is not an autonomous, independent, persistent thing or entity; it is a process that is in constant flux, conditioned by everything else that is in constant change.
Because we are “empty” of a separate self, we inter-are with everything else. This is the Buddha’s unique contribution to the Yoga tradition: Dependent Co-origination, what Thich Nhat Hanh calls “interbeing.” Reading these words on the page, can you see the tree from which the paper comes? The tree’s ancestors? The earth, the nutriments, the rain, the sun? For this page of paper to exist all those conditions and many more are needed, including the loggers, the processors, truckers, printers etc.
The Buddha said that when we enter through the door of impermanence, we touch nirvana, here and now. Nirvana is the extinction of our notions and ideas about reality so that we may perceive reality as it is. Our grasping and aversion, our greed, anger and delusion are extinguished. Also extinguished is our attachment and bondage to concepts such as birth and death, existent and non-existent, increasing and decreasing, pure and impure.
Through penetrating the reality of impermanence, our grasping after ephemeral phenomena weakens. With this insight comes nirodha (cessation). This is the Third Noble Truth of the Buddha, often used as a synonym for nirvana, and also Patanjali’s definition of Yoga. Practicing asana, we may notice many small cessations. We may experience a pleasant sensation and the arising of a mental formation. With mindfulness, we see attachment, and based upon an awareness of impermanence, the attachment fades away. It happens once, and then again and again. Over time, the fading away continues until that particular attachment ceases. This is a small, but potentially profound taste of liberation.
Finally comes letting go and the insight that it is not you that lets go. Throughout practice, there was that vestige of self-consciousness that could take credit for the insight into impermanence, and cessation. The final thing to let go is the idea of a separate enduring self. The irony is that this is a letting go of what was never there! Letting go means to see through all that keeps us (falsely) separated from reality as it is. The supposed boundary between “self” and “other,” is seen as not real. Nothing needs to be removed or added or joined together! Enlightenment and liberation comes not in turning away from our human condition, but within it, and as its fulfillment.
Poep Sa Frank Jude Boccio, a certified Yoga Teacher and ordained Zen Buddhist Teacher, is also an Interfaith Minister and a lay brother in the Tiep Hien Order established by Thich Nhat Hanh. His eclectic approach is influenced by his study of a variety of Yoga approaches as well as his many years of Dharma practice. His book, Mindfulness Yoga: The Awakened Union of Breath, Body, and Mind, is the only full-length treatment applying the Buddha’s Mindfulness Meditation teachings on The Four Establishments of Mindfulness to Yoga asana practice. www.mindfulnessYoga.net.
(by Poep Sa Frank Jude Boccio, from the August, 2009 IYTA Newsletter)
7:30pm – Kirtan
8:10pm – Video of Sri Swami Satchidananda
8:40pm – Valentine’s Day Community Satsang
Arathi (closing ceremony)
You can also view this Satsang live with Yogaville Livestream!
There is a beautiful prayer of offering, or surrendering everything unto God, which explains our proper relationship with the Prakriti Dharma (the law of nature). It is usually repeated at the end of any practice: meditation, japa, puja, chanting, everything. Whatever you do, toward the end you can say this prayer:
Kayena Vaachaa Manasendriyair Vaa
Buddhyaatmanaa Vaa Prakriter Swabhaavaat
Karomi Yad Yad Sakalam Parasmai
It means, “Oh Lord, the Cosmic One, I offer everything unto You. I offer all the actions done by the body, word, mind, senses, intellect, and the soul that have been due to the functioning of the qualities of the nature or Prakriter Swabhavat. Swabhava is the inherent nature of something; Prakriti is the One Lord in manifestation. All that you see as manifested has this Swabhava or its own nature, which is constantly tossed by the three qualities and uses the body to do things. So, whenever you feel dull, then you know that the tamas has taken over.
Then, sometimes you feel that you can’t sit quiet, you have to do something. You might even say, “I’m in this mood; I’ll never do it.” All of a sudden the mind has gone into a rajasic tendency. At that moment things get done. “Make hay while the sun shines!” When your mind is dull and lazy, however much you push, you find it difficult. At such times, you get annoyed. “Oh, I’ve been doing so much, so much, constantly. I’m not even appreciated, however much I do.” The mind goes on like that.A sane person will see that you are in a tamasic state, and he won’t force you too much.
Sometimes we get into an in-between, very balanced state. You feel like doing but not overdoing. You are neither dull nor too excited. It is a kind of sane, tranquil state. This is the sattvic state of mind.
Any of these attitudes can just happen, without even your wanting it. That is the proof that the mind is being tossed by these three gunas (qualities of nature). When there is wind, the unprotected flame flickers; when there’s no wind, it is steady. It is not just the motives of the mind alone. Our mind is part of the Cosmic Mind, part of Prakriti or nature. So, when the waves—the sattvic, rajasic and tamasic waves—come, it gets caught in that.
We can develop the strength of mind to overcome these tendencies of influences. We can make an ordinary flickering lamp into a hurricane lamp. If there’s no shelter, if it’s not well protected, you have to always keep it indoors; you can’t even open the windows. The minute you open the windows, the flame goes out. But, if you shelter it with a nice chimney, you can take it even into the middle of a storm. That’s what is called a hurricane lamp, the flame is the same; it is well-sheltered. Properly sheltered, it can face the hurricane. The mind is like that. You can build up the strength of the mind. Then it can face all situations. All these movements are caused by the Prakriter Swabhava, the nature of the Prakriti, because everything is made out of these three gunas. If there are no changes in the gunas, everything is tranquil. That is the end of the cycle. In that pralaya, or equilibrium, they all stand still. So, in a way we need rajas and tamas as well as sattva to keep the world going. It is the rajas and tamas that create the entire show. If you read the seventeenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, you will see that everything is divided by these gunas.
Giving with the Gunas
Even charity is divided into these three categories. Once Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach told a story about the “holy miser.” He was not really a miser, but he looked like one. Why? Because he didn’t do anything to advertise what he did. He hid everything; he did all his good acts in secret. He didn’t want any praise for what he had done. That kind of charity is sattvic. The rajasic charity is when you give something with a good purpose—like building a church or a hospital—but you want recognition. During the consecration ceremony, you want people to come and take photographs of you and the building and put it in the headlines. It is charity, but it’s for name and fame—rajasic charity. Another way is to be lavish, spend plenty of money, buy a lot of food and drink and invite hundreds of friends. “Come on, drink as much as you want.” That’s tamasic. It doesn’t really help people to grow.
Meditation can be tamasic, rajasic or sattvic also. If you meditate all by yourself without others even knowing that you are a Yogi, a meditator, people will think you are just an ordinary person. You simply go quietly when there is nobody around and just sit and meditate. That is sattvic. Please don’t think I am discouraging group meditation by saying this. That kind of meditation is very helpful, but we can do it with the proper attitude. Sri Ramakrishna used to say, if you are really a meditator, you will do it when everybody is asleep. You may even make others believe that you are going to sleep. Lie down; then, when the lights are off, get up quietly and meditate. If anybody turns on the light, you can immediately lie down again. Let people think you are just sleeping there. That is very sattvic and quiet. In rajasic meditation, you want everyone to see what you are doing. You might be feeling a little dull; but, if you see somebody coming, you sit up stiff and straight. When the person passes by, you sag again. It’s all for show. You do meditate, but you want others to say, “Oh, look how long she sits for meditation.” The tamasic meditation is when you sit and immediately go to sleep. You don’t even worry about what people think.
Excitement or rajas is a form of disturbance of the mind. The opposite, depression or tamas, is also a disturbance. What we want is the middle, the balance. Balancing is tranquility or sattva. That is what we call samadhi. Don’t think that samadhi means to sit and forget the body and mind and everything and sit like a rock for months. If that were the case, what would be the difference between you and a rock? Real samadhi is to keep the mind in samatwam. Samatwam means equanimity. “Samatwam Yoga uchyate: Equanimity is Yoga.” Samadhi is that samatwam. Keep the mind well-balanced under all conditions.
That is why I always give the example of a wonderful surfer. The one who surfs well is one who can serve well. If we learn to surf, we can learn to serve. Whatever kind of waves there are, the surfer still maintains his balance. He enjoys the challenging waves. A person who really knows how to surf will even be waiting for the biggest waves. Why? He or she knows how to balance. It is the same way with waves of life. One who knows that balance can be anywhere and everywhere.
(by Sri Swami Satchidananda, from the May 2008 IYTA Newsletter)