Have you ever stopped to think why, when you start to get a little ungrounded (though you may not see it yet), someone tells you to breathe? And does that suggestion make you insane?
Our breath is the bridge between our physical body (perceptions, the finite) and our Soul (Truth, the infinite).
We can live out our lives never thinking about the breath, and our body will automatically breathe for us… though we risk having stressors dictate how we breathe– shallow and erratic. Without the full inhale, the life force that is carried through the breath will not reach below the diaphragm to move through and release the stress that is held there, and without the full exhale, we leave the stale air in our lungs leaving little space for fresh air to come in.
We live the way we breathe.
When we experience staleness in our day, and in our lives, changing the breath to make it full and complete can offer the freshness it needs to move forward and up. It can’t hurt to try– it doesn’t cost a dime, and the upside is limitless. It keeps us grounded and connected to something bigger than what we see before us.
Need a pranayam (breathing exercise)? Try this. Let me know how it works for you!
She broke through to me. I hadn’t felt this way since the honeymoon phase of my Kundalini Yoga practice. (To those of you who know what I am talking about, the honeymoon phase that I am referring to is Saram Pad and Karam Pad. I have been in Shakti Pad for a while now; a phase equivalent to that of a rebellious teenager who thinks she is invincible).
Krishna Kaur, in her fabulous workshop called, Breaking Through To You, started us with a lot of breath work.
Then right into stretch pose & the energizer series.
Teachers talk about the importance of starting each day with the stretch pose, but it wasn’t until Krishna Kaur delivered it that I really got it: that I need to do this every day. For 3 minutes. (Yes, build it to 3).
All of the 72,000 nerve endings in our body meet at the navel center (which is what the stretch pose works), and when you do this daily, the “right” way (only 6 inches off the floor, eyes focused at the toes, both legs up), you will strengthen your nerves such that NO ONE will get on your nerves (test it before you knock it). And, you will show up in this world from your core.
I don’t even think it’s what she said, but how she said it that made me get it at a deeper level. She vibrated it from her core in a solid, adi shakti, no excuses manner infused with so much authentic love for all of us. Her command is delivered with so much love and kindness, you can’t help but listen. She said, “I’m not here for love. I’m here for power- to see it in you!” as her voice and entire body contracted tall (yes, seems oxymoronish), using the bicep curl, to demonstrate power.
We continued on with leg lifts. I was pretty sure I was going to hate this day. She talked to us about how to achieve excellence: obey, serve, love and excel (or, obey + serve + love = excel).Since the obey part is difficult for us Westerners to get, what we are talking about is letting go of our resistance and listening to the voice of our true nature, our inner source of fulfillment, rather than letting the ego control us with the “you can’t tell me what to do.” It’s learning how to obey our integrity, also known as becoming a life student, that will help develop inner discipline and strength to do what we need to do in our lives without drifting (getting lost in the ego). We agree to obey our external spiritual teachers, at least until we are able to listen to and obey our true nature and filter our “questions” through a more expanded context.
We did the spine flex as we suspended our breath at the top of the inhale for as long as we could, then paused as we exhaled, repeating this for 11 minutes I think (exercise set for the lungs & bloodstream). Do this long enough, and it blows something open inside of you. You end up with more space, more energy reserve and more vitality. But you’ve got to get beyond the comfort zone. She talked about how teachers today tend to say to their students, “do it if you’re comfortable,” a relatively new age approach which not only carries a risk of making us too comfortable (compliments of the ego), it asks the question: how comfortable are we as teachers and what we stand for? She reminds us that Yogi Bhajan never said, “do it if you’re comfortable.”
We did the Aura Set. This is a short & powerful kriya that strengthens the magnetic field, protects us from negativity and helps project our true nature.
Speaking of which, there are two mantras we must do: Rakhe Rakhanahar, which, like a sword, cuts through, and protects us from, the negativity that comes from both our external world as well as from our thoughts & feelings. We can chant this daily, and anytime we catch negativity, which for many, could be as often as conventional wisdom says men think about sex. The other mantra is the Long Ek Ong Kar. It opens up all of the chakras and aligns us with the Divine.
We did another kriya that begins with leg lifts, followed by a downward-dog-to-upward-dog movement on repeat (but in Kundalini Yoga, we call these triangle and cobra pose, respectively). Then we did a kriya with tons of frogs, body drops and spine flexes. Then another kriya that made you feel like your arms were going to fall of– but let me tell you, as soon as she told us to put them both down, I felt a high that I hadn’t felt since the beginning of my kundalini yoga days. It was good.
Then the meditation to remove fear & split personality. Evidentally, we each have 16 different personalities. The mantra is aadays tisay aadays, aad aaneel anaad anaahat, jug jug ayko vays. Sitting in rock pose (on your heels), arms are in front of you with palms facing down, and you alternate from horizontal to 60 degrees with each word. Try this for 22 minutes.
Speaking of split personalities, there are 81 facets to who we are.
The Functional Mind consists of the negative mind, positive mind, and neutral mind. None are good nor bad, and all are important functions. The negative mind is our protective mind, and it tells us what can go wrong. This keeps us from getting run over by a car, which is a good thing. It can also keep us from moving forward or taking risks, which can be a bad thing. The positive mind tells us what is possible. It’s pure optimism, which can be a good thing. But if this goes unchecked… well, let your negative mind tell you what can go wrong! The neutral mind considers the two sides and makes the decision that is needed at that given time. In real time, it’s can look spontaneous. Typically, the long thought out process is our ego making justifications to keep us in the comfort zone, and the other side trying to battle it out (this is me talking, not Krishna Kaur). We really want to make decisions from the neutral mind. How to strengthen the neutral mind? Meditate. Chant. and Breathe. Be consciously conscious of your consciousness. –Yogi Bhajan
The Basic Mind, or Chitta, consists of Manas, Ahangkar, and Buddhi. A person coming from Manas perceives the world through the five senses. That is a lion. A person coming from Buddhi perceives the world by its essence, and what it intuits. That lion is powerful and fast. A person coming from Ahangkar takes it personally. That lion is going to come after me!
The Gunas are similar to the ayurvedic doshas. While doshas relate to our basic nature, the gunas relate to our mind. It is said that the entire universe is made up of 5 elements, and the how much of each of these elements that comprise every matter that exists in the universe is what determines the matter. Those 5 elements are: air, ether, fire, water, earth. Earth & Water make Tamas (like Kapha). Fire and water make Rajas (like Pitta). Air and ether make Sattva (like Vata). The 3 Gunas are Tamas, Rajas and Sattva. Again, there is no good or bad, and all are necessary. And, as with the others under the Functional and Basic Mind, there can be positive and negative qualities of each.
At any given moment, any of the 3 possibilities under each category (Functional, Basic/ Chitta, and Gunas) play into how we show up in the world. One combination might emerge when we are with our parents, another when we are with our children, yet another with our lover, and another with our boss. Given all of the combinations that can happen, there are 81 possibilities, or facets, of who we are!
Having said that, we do tend to favor certain qualities as our unconscious “default”. We were given an exercise during Krishna Kaur’s workshop to bring this up to our consciousness. My thoughts tend to originate heavily from the Positive Mind, perceive things through the Buddhi mind (though I can access Ahangkar pretty quickly), and my thoughts are more Rajasic. I was more Sattva minded before I sunk into Shakti Pad (having fallen off the honeymoon phase) and before I added more rajasic-tamasic food to my diet. If I don’t practice pranayam and the more physically intensive kriyas, I run danger of slipping into tamas. Being more aware of where you might be at any given time helps you to know what is out of balance for you, and what to add to come more into balance.
A word about the words we speak. The suggestion is to take a breath or two before you speak, and ask yourself, what am I really trying to say? What is the intention behind what I am about to say? What is the result that I am looking for? Is what I am about to say supportive of the result that I am looking for? And if talking on and on is your thang, it may be a good idea to practice saying things in bytes of 11 words or less. Beyond the 11 words, we run into danger of losing sight of our purpose and falling into our ego self (hello me– yes, I confess).
Words, thoughts and feelings are all considered “words” in this context. Once you put them out there, you can’t get them back. That vibration keeps traveling. And like a boomerang, what you put out will come back at you (like attracts like). Not sure you believe this? Check out your life. How does what you experience in your life align with what you think, feel and say? Keep checking this out for a while. You may decide that the “I just need to put it out there and get it off my chest” does not serve you as well as you thought.
About Truth: we all lie about something. When this happens, the call to action is not necessarily to correct it at the moment. Rather, go back to it as soon as you can, and get to the bottom of it: Why did you lie? And who are you lying to (someone else or yourself)? Does it fall under a unique-to-you “things I lie about” category? How is it serving you? This is about being consciously conscious of your consciousness. This is different from a call to just stop lying.
Keep practicing stretch pose.
As for me, Krishna Kaur’s discussions about the facets of the mind and about the words we speak, folded into all of the intense yoga & meditations that we practiced boosted me up a notch. I am resolved to obey my higher consciousness and I, for now (can’t guarantee that I won’t slip), think of my morning practice in the same way that I think of brushing my teeth in the morning: I don’t think about it. I never consider not doing it.
If you do not deliberately plant flowers and tend carefully, weeds will grow without any encouragement at all.
Positive affirmations work. Sometimes. When it does not work, it is because our thoughts are not aligned with our feelings. I may want to believe that “I love myself” and “I deserve happiness.” But somewhere inside, as I say it, a monster (I don’t know who put it there) says, “bullshit” and cancels out my affirmation. Just like that.
But you gotta fake it til you make it.
You just can’t walk around telling awful lies about yourself, to yourself, that you suck. That the other person’s happiness is more important than yours. That prosperity is just not in your cards. That you aren’t smart or beautiful enough. So it’s best to stop telling the story.
Truth is, you are incredible, lovable, beautiful, unique and deserve to be happy. It just may not feel true. Until it does, there is a technique that I believe is more effective than repeating affirmations that get canceled out by inner monsters. Until “I love myself” can roll off the tongue without the “bullshit” that follows, add something else that your monster doesn’t know what to do with.
Adding can be easier than subtracting.
For instance, some find it easier to add healthy foods into their diets than to subtract the bad ones. Focus on the healthy foods you added long enough, and the healthy habits can prevail as the cravings for junk food diminish. When the focus is on subtracting the junk food, the urge persists and eventually wins.
Similarly, if positive affirmations are difficult because you resists them, then use the same addition technique by repeating words that inherently seeds Self love and fearlessness, only you don’t fully know that it does. Because it’s not in your native tongue. Which is good, cause then your ego can’t go into full sabotoge mode. It can tell you to stop, but it can’t shut you down with the “bullshit.”
Any time your story comes up, immediately replace it with any of these three (there are many, many others, but 3’s a good start, right?):
Ek Ong Kar Sat Gur Prasad, Sat Gur Prasad, Ek Ong Kar
Raa Raa Raa Raa Maa Maa Maa Maa, Rama Rama Sa Ta Na Ma
Try it. Repeat often. See what happens. Here is how it sounds like on repeat. So you’ve got this story going on in your head that sounds a little bit like blame, shame or justification, and you say,
As I was writing this blog, I received a sweet phone call from a friend who stopped by this morning. He said, “This morning, I woke up very early with wonderful thoughts on my mind. And my navigation went to where my thoughts were going...”
As a yoga teacher, spiritual mentor and coach, I have the pleasure of witnessing students and peers journey towards a greater sense of Self, delve into the deeper questions, expand Self out to community and live into his/ her true purpose.
The most incredible, beautiful aspect of this journey is the budding into the next layer of Self, which stems from new realizations- which might have been there intellectually, but has now spread down into the body, and eventually will sit and evolve at a deeper cellular level. This expansive movement from the head to heart prompts a more actionable realization- I don’t want to do it, but I will be unfulfilled if I don’t do it. It nags at you.
It can be a scary, scary place, where community of peers and mentors can make a world of difference. This experience, at the feeling level, is called existential anxiety: anxiety, or stress, over having to take a risk; to do something that will put you in the unknown, and into that which is aligned with one’s truth.
Existential anxiety arises when people deeply contemplate their existence. This contemplation leads to thoughts and feelings of freedom and responsibility, which burden the individual to find a purpose in life–and to live genuinely according to this purpose. It also may lead to a sense of alienation and isolation in the world and a heightened awareness of mortality. German philosopher Martin Heidegger proposed in 1962 that existential anxiety can either be avoided by living “on the surface” of things or deeply embraced as an inherent part of being.
Which begs the question:
how will you deal with it?
Will you avoid by living “on the surface” of things?
Or will you deeply embrace (this heightened awareness) as an inherent part of being?
Lights on or off, your room looks the same. The difference is, when the lights are on, you can see where everything is. Though you might be able to navigate your room in the dark, the experience is simply different. Nothing else has changed, just that there is light, or there isn’t.
Life is the same way. We can decide to see, or not see, all of the beauty and gifts of life. I acknowledge that there are chemical imbalances in the brain that can impact our faculties, but for many of us, it’s pretty much our choice. I will argue whichever we choose is the right choice, for us, because that choice gives us the experience we need at that moment in time.
I went through a terrible time in my life, and I remember sharing my story with my brother afterwards. I ended my story with, “but I am so grateful for what I went through because it made me who I am today,” to which he responded, “But did it have to be thathard?”
For me, at the time, it did have to be that hard. Unfortunately. I was so stubborn. I needed it to kick me in the ass and wake me up.
Now, I no longer want it to be that hard.
I’ve learned that there are two words that I need to hold as action verbs for the lights to stay on, so that I may experience clarity and abundance in my life: Attention and Gratitude.
I must pay attention to the things that I want and to the things that are working in my life, and have gratitude for all things in my life, as they take me to where I ultimately want to go. Even in those times where it seems like things aren’t working out, those experiences also pave the road to make space for the awesome things to come. It happens every time… when the lights are on. When I turn them off- there are more “lessons.” Which, alas, I guess I needed.
On this week of Thanks: THANK YOU.
HAR HARAY HAREE WAHE GURU! May we be guided by Infinite Creativity, manifesting in our lives in a way that is unique to who we are.
May we be free from the obstacles of illusion,And be led to thy shores of fulfillment.
May we know what to do, where to go, who to talk to, and what to say,
May we dance in our light,
Celebrate and live our Truth,
and inspire others to do the same.
When our lives become challenging, it is easy to see all of the things that are not working and to dwell in our weaknesses. When we allow ourselves to focus on those things for too long, our challenges become overwhelm, and then we question everything.
Focus on what is working. Focus on the blessings and the resources you currently have. You may argue that you don’t have any. Rest assured that you do. Look for them, this is important. Then dwell in the gratitude!
Next, identify what is working for you and why (or how), and see how you can apply the why (or how) in the other circumstances in your life. This may take some serious thought, but it is worth the investment. This is especially critical for those of you who don’t think you have the time. Because everything can be broken down into our projections and our processes. And when we change these, the rest just happens.
I borrowed this slightly revised title from a newsletter I wrote last Spring about an all day meditation course called White Tantric Yoga (WTY), and I thought, this is totally what I am feeling right now about my morning Sadhana practice!
WTY is known as “the spring cleaning of the subconscious mind.” In Chicago, this event happens every April. Similarly, morning sadhana is a daily clearing of the subconscious mind. I don’t know about you, but I can use a DAILY. The sadhana that I practice, called the Aquarian Sadhana, consists of a 20 minute prayer called Japji (Song of the Soul), followed by about 30 minutes of yoga, followed by 62 minutes of chanting meditation. Sadhana- whether you are doing it for the first time, or re-committing to it- works on you. Things will shift in your life. Sometimes things get messy before they get better. But they do get better. And the greatest blessing for me right now is that I have the gift of a group to practice with, which I have taken advantage of by joining them almost every morning.
Sadhana has been my forklift. Equally, so has been my community. We celebrate each other, and we hold each other up. We help each other see what we need to see, and this includes our blind spots as well as our super awesome spots. Our friends are here to uplift us; to show us what we are capable of, and to hold us in that space. We can worm and wriggle, because things may get uncomfortable, but deep down we know that we are worming and wriggling our Selves into our greatness.
True, we can only look to ourselves to make us whole, no one can do that for us, but this connection to others absolutely makes a world of difference. So much, that it is said that we can only go as far as the 5 people closest to us (so choose your community wisely). At the very least- we know that we are not alone in our quest.
Experiencing pain is a part of being human. The question is, while you are in it, while you are sad, heartbroken, confused, afraid or angry, do you know that you are still perfect in your unique, delicious way? If yes, then go into your human-ness and feel what you feel knowing that your feelings do not define you. If you have self-doubt, then reach out. Connect with the people that show up for you and hold you high. Because their vision of you is Truth.
Sadhana is a powerful boost for elevation. But in the end, what we need is each other.