Bringing Yoga Practice to Life

Last week at Heart of the Village Yoga Center, we started a new class entitled Yoga Philosophy: Bringing Yoga to Life. Formerly a subject presented largely in our Advanced Studies and Teacher Training programs, our hope is that these ongoing classes might help open the door through which yoga practitioners deepen their practice on and off the mat. We begin and end each class with guided meditations: opening with some Yin Yoga postures to help us settle into a place of presence, safety and ease; ending with an intentions-focused meditation to help us bring insights and teachings into our daily lives. For most of the class, we discuss some of the teachings of yoga through the vehicle of a weekly reading. We attempt to see our daily lives through the eyes of yoga philosophy.

This month, we are reading “The Untethered Soul” by Michael A. Singer. Last week, we discussed Part One (Chapters 1-4); this week we will discuss Part Two (Chapters 5-7). From the teachings of Patanjali’s Yoga-sutra, we learn that yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind. That is, through yoga practice, we systematically learn to still the mind and find peace of mind and focused awareness. First, however, we must acknowledge that our thoughts are indeed busy – that there is a constant dialogue of thoughts! Our senses are constantly taking in what is going on in our lives and our mind is constantly working to organize this information in a manner that makes us feel “safe” or “in control”. It’s a constant dialogue of voices.

In Part One of the book, the author does a wonderful job helping us observe the “busy-ness” of our thoughts, these voices! He helps us see that the beginning of a happy and more satisfying life begins with our ability to observe these thoughts and not get lost in them. Certainly, just as we intend to do as we practice yoga, we are taking our first steps towards awakening consciousness!

In Part Two, we will explore how we can open ourselves up to the ongoing flow modern world information that we take in through our senses, so that we do not close ourselves (and hold on to) the changing circumstances and experiences of life. The author helps us understand these concepts by explaining how everything is energy, energy that flows through us, or energy that gets locked up within us. Here, we learn how to open our “spiritual” hearts and to empower ourselves to choose a life of openness and unconditional happiness.

Each week, we will use the readings as a basis to dive a little more deeply into various yoga topics. As is our mission at Heart of the Village Yoga, each discussion is facilitated in a manner that respects the integrity and heart of each individual, and in a way that acknowledges our enhanced power of understanding (and intention) of the group through the diverse shared perspectives (and questions) of multiple individuals. Each discussion is also facilitated in a manner that drop-in students who have not done any of the reading will still find a class atmosphere that will invite them to be engaged.

Through our weekly discussions, it is our hope that our yoga and daily-life practices evolve and help us each find sustaining happiness. And, of course, through our yoga and daily-life practices, we hope that our weekly discussions evolve too in a manner that spark interest, and become more and more relevant to each participant and their daily lives.

For future months, we will continue to choose books that will continue to weave together the fabric of the many schools of yoga philosophy and practice, all in a manner that helps make our yoga practices come alive, and helps bring our yoga practices more deeply into our daily lives.

Yoga Practice: Finding Peace of Mind

“yogas citta-vrtti-nirodhah” 

These words in the ancient language of Sanskrit come from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a series of teaching “threads” of wisdom presented by a yoga sage said to have lived more than 2,200 years ago.

“Yoga is the stilling of the changing states of the mind.”

With these words, Patanjali defined the practice of modern-day classical yoga. He then went on to describe how to do this “stilling of our fluctuating states of consciousness” by recommending lifestyle practices, posture and breathing practices, focusing and meditation practices, all which provide a comprehensive system for finding peace of mind.

Even back then, our human brains were busy planning and worrying about future ongoings, and often stuck in past experiences, causing us to struggle to find peace-of-mind in day-to-day living! Nowadays, however, with so many informational systems available to inform us of worldly ongoings and to perhaps distract our attention from what’s actually happening right in front of us, these teachings seem even more relevant today.

With the modern-day breakthroughs in neuroscience and other mind-body sciences, we are beginning to understand how these ancient practices actually do work, how they actually “re-wire” our human bodies to help us take greater responsibility for our health and our wellness. Through regular practices, performed repeatedly in earnest over long periods of time, we have the ability to change our state of being. We do actually have the ability to help ourselves find peace of mind regardless of the circumstances we face each day in life. Just like a bodybuilder who trains to build muscles, or a student who studies to remember information or to apply knowledge, or an athlete who practices movements to increase performance, however, it takes practice – repetition. And it takes time!

As a yoga teacher, I know that many students come to me for the physical benefits of increasing body flexibility and ease-of-movement. But, I also see how many students keep coming back to yoga class for increased mental-awareness, enhanced focus, sustained energy and positivity, and decreased stress. I see how yoga practice helps with depression, anxiety, addictions, and post-traumatic stress. I see how yoga practice helps the conscious mind make clearer choices and the subconscious mind (the body) let go of past stories and physical, mental and emotional imprints. I see these results in my work, I read about them in modern scientific studies, and I know them from my own personal experience.

What draws people to classical, modern-day yoga – the physical practice of performing various postures – eventually becomes a lifestyle practice of finding peace-of-mind in the step-by-step experience of living our lives. Posture practice leads to mental focus and physical awareness. Mental focus and physical awareness leads to energetic and emotional clarity and attentiveness. Energetic and emotional clarity leads to paying attention to “what’s going on now”, discernment, and taking responsibility for making wiser choices. Making wiser choices leads to health, happiness, and peace-of-mind… and loving relationships (but that can be the subject of a future article!).

Where to start? Of course, there are many yoga teachers out there and many places to practice yoga and find online resources. But, you can begin right now, by paying attention to your breath, really paying attention to your breath as it flows in and out, and having the intention of feeling ease in the movement of each breath. If thoughts enter your field of awareness, notice them. That’s normal. But then just realize that the thoughts are just thoughts, and bring your attention back to the present movement of each breath. Try it for one minute. Maybe increase it to 5 minutes. Maybe 10? Try it in the peace and quiet of your home or in a beautiful outdoor setting. Or, try it while standing in line at the store! Smile… and feel the natural benefits of being present in your body. You have begun a yoga practice! And you have started a new lifetime practice to find enduring peace-of-mind!

 

 

A Story: Red Rose Running

One day a young book titled Red Rose Running went to a village elder with a very important question. “Golden Wolf, the world seems to be consuming much. Personalities seem to be getting very full of themselves. There is much conflict. I am worried about our future. I do not feel good enough. What can I do to change this world? What must I do to survive?”

Golden Wolf looked at her and smiled. He then said, “Red Rose Running, you are not alone. Go visit the popular Mainland Library down the street and spend 7 days and 7 nights observing other books. Come back to me and tell me what you think.

Red Rose Running went to the library and spent 7 days and 7 nights. She keenly observed how they were, what they did, how they looked and behaved. She watched them do their work. She watched them interact. She watched them eat and drink. She watched them sleep. After 7 days and 7 nights, she returned to Golden Wolf to report her analysis.

“Golden Wolf,” she said, “I noticed many things. It was hard for me to just observe and not get caught up in their ways, but here is what I think: They seemed to enjoy hanging out with one another in groups. Outside of the library, other books always seem so alone. The library offers a space where they can share their own stories and be together.”

“Yes, but what did you really see? What did you see beneath the book covers? What is your real analysis” asked Golden Wolf.

Red Rose Running pondered. “Well, I did notice that most of the books had very rigid covers that have endured through many generations. They had bold print, as if the ink had dried many years ago deeply into the storied pages. Their stories were largely about guilt, apathy, grief, fear, anger, and anxiety. Many of them seemed to find comfort in sharing their stories over and over again, some gaining pleasure from the sharing, others not even recognizing the repetition. Some of them shared stories of desire, desire for more of something or another. Many were proud of their stories in which they had accumulated much or in which they had won at a competitive game… or beat another at something. It was almost as if every book only understood their own story, and that they saw other books only as references to validate their own stories. They seemed to protect themselves with their own book covers; sometimes opening their covers to other books of similar stories. As I think about it, these books always seemed to hang out in groups… Hmmm, usually with other books of similar stories and book covers. They seemed to not trust books of different covers, but rather showed-off their own strong and rigid covers. If their stories were about being victims, it was almost as if they thought other books were intending to make them victims again. Their own individual stories seemed paramount in everything they did. They saw the world through the lens of their own stories. And the stories just seemed to go on and on and on, surviving one day after another. They were very devoted to their own stories.

Is this how I survive, Golden Wolf, show-off my own strong cover like these popular Mainland Library books and express my great story, making my story the most important story of all stories on this Land? Ahh yes, I have to be stronger and greater than others. This is my analysis!!! This is how I survive!”

Golden Wolf smiled again. “Red Rose Running, you are not alone. Go to the Island Bookstore across the slow-moving Ego River and spend 30 days and 30 nights observing other books. Come back to me and tell me what you see.”

As directed, Red Rose Running waded across the river, noticing its slow-moving yet changing currents, the many ebbs and flows, the uneven bottom surfaces of rocks and fallen trees. The water was cleansing. She spent 30 days and 30 nights and returned across the river to Golden Wolf and reported what she observed.

“Golden Wolf”, she said, “this Island Bookstore had many types of different books. It’s hard to make general observations. But here is what I saw: I saw many books with softer covers, lighter and faded print. Is was as if they got wet and lost their rigidity as they crossed the waters to the Island Bookstore. They seemed more willing to share stories with different types of books and book covers, almost as if there was a certain inquisitiveness or curiosity which attracted books to each other. There were far less groups that just hung out with one another. And it seemed that books were a lot more interested in understanding others stories then telling their own. This Island Bookstore also seemed to have a more transient population of books, almost as if they were going back and forth across many rivers. They wanted to hear my story… but as time went on, I seemed more interested in hearing theirs. Hearing their stories helped me understand mine. I seemed happier here as time went on, but it took me a little while to feel safe.

Golden Wolf, I want to learn more. I’m not sure if going to Island Bookstore helped me know any more about how to survive. It seemed that these books on this Island were perhaps too dependent on each other for survival? Their covers weren’t as strong and their individual stories of individual accomplishment seemed a bit more muddied. Maybe that was just from crossing the river, though. Hmmm, but there was a certain happiness on this Island as books shared their stories more easily. They seemed to feel safe as they opened their pages and let their covers be vulnerable and less protective. Their stories seemed more authentic and accepting. There was a willingness to share. There was even a certain courage to share emotional stories, especially stories of love and kindness and mutual understanding. I’m not sure, Golden Wolf. What shall I do next?”

Golden Wolf knowingly smiled. “Red Rose Running, you are not alone. Go to the Island of Bliss Fairgrounds across the fast-moving Soul River and spend 365 days and 365 nights observing other books. It is located well beyond the Island Bookstore. Come back to me and tell me what you feel.”

Red Rose looked across the turbulent and deep waters of the Soul River. This river appeared a lot more murky and dark. With courage, she leaped in and swam and swam and swam. She swam for her life at times. She noticed some other books in the river this time, all swimming to save their lives, some returning powerfully and confidently, some struggling with her making their way towards Bliss. She worked very, very hard with the clear intention of making it across the river. She noticed her power. She noticed her ability to focus and let go of pain and feel supported, like she wasn’t alone in the swim of her life. Exhausted, she finally arrived to the sandy shore of Bliss and slept.

Upon waking, she noticed that she had lost her book cover in the river. She felt naked. The pages of her story had faded even more. On this island, she noticed that there were many books with blank pages and no covers. Many books had gotten together and merged their stories in a way that past stories faded away each day and new stories were written. And the stories written each day were full of loving kindness, joy, and peace. Each book was dignified in a way that made past stories respected, but irrelevant. All that mattered was the authentic stories-of-the day! Every book had let go of their own individual stories. And there were fairgrounds everywhere, books celebrating their commonly-shared and interdependent stories. There was even singing and dancing! Each book knew exactly who they were without relying on their book covers or their stories for finding a sense camaraderie with others. There was such an atmosphere of wholeness and abundance and interconnectedness and mutual respect… and love! Everyone was helping everyone else! It seemed like an endless utopia.

Red Rose Running did not know what to do. After a week, she thought she knew the answers to her questions, and caught a cargo plane ride back to her village on the mainland.

She told Golden Wolf, “I know the answers to my questions. I will pack my things and just leave and fly back to Island of Bliss and live out my days! I can survive there; no one will hurt me there and I will survive there!”

Golden Wolf was quiet. He pondered the gravity of his answer. “Red Rose Running, in this manner, will you change the world? Will you survive on the Island of Bliss if your world does not change?

Dear Red Rose Running, there are no planes to the Island of Bliss. You must jump into the turbulent waters and swim. You must do the work repeatedly. For a long period of time. Have faith in your powers to swim. Know that there is always a destination, a way home. But you may have to make many river crossings. Jump in! See who is there with you. And celebrate! Through time, through your practice and your example, inspire others to jump into the waters too. Help them wash their stories from their pages, lose their covers in the water, and find their way. Use each swim as an opportunity to understand your deeper stories, the ones that don’t rinse away so easily. In this manner, you will change your world. The world. And the true nature of who you really are will survive!

You see, Red Rose Running, your world exists – and is re-created – in each living moment by what you are paying attention to. It’s your choice.”

“Where do I begin, Golden Wolf?”

Golden Wolf just said:

“Here. Now…. Here. Now, Loved One.

“Let your heart guide you to this truth. It all begins… and ends… here and now!

And each step, each swim, is important… it will change your world!

And you will find each island inside of you, now that you know that they do indeed exist. It’s up to you to choose what your world will be, which places to live and which rivers to cross… and which stories to let go into the currents of time.

Change your world. Choose the life you live. Write your new story – here – and now.”

Golden Wolf

Om: The Seed of Our Being

Om is a single-syllable mantra, a sacred chant, known as a bija – a seed mantra. Just as a tiny seed embodies a wondrous tree, in yoga, it is believed that the one-syllable sound of Om contains the infinite spiritual wisdom and creative power of the Universe. Humming the sound of Om reverberates in a manner that leads to us towards the experience of the infinite within us.

Patanjali, the father of classical (Raja) yoga, taught us in the Yoga-Sutra that when we chant this sacred syllable and simultaneously contemplate its meaning, our consciousness becomes single-pointed and prepared for a meditation in which our true nature is revealed. We embody sacredness.

There are 3 primary sounds of Om, which represent the 3 primary states of our being – a, u, and m. Each of these three parts serve as meditative seeds.

“Ah” represents our waking state, which is our subjective consciousness of the outer world.

“Oh” represents our dreaming state, or the consciousness of our inner world of thoughts, dreams, and memories.

“Mmm” is the dreamless state of deep sleep and the experience of ultimate unity.

By contemplating the meaning of each of these sounds as we hum them, we are led through the three states of our ordinary consciousness.

There is however a fourth part of Om, too: the anusvara, the after-sound of silence. This silence is the crown of the mantra. After chanting or humming the 3 primary sounds of Om, the vibration slowly dissolves into silence, symbolic of the transcendent state of consciousness, an enduring, blissful state, where the seed of our being is fully expressed.

The symbol of Om represents these states; the 3 bottom curves each represent the 3 primary states of waking (lower left), dreaming (lower right, and between waking and deep sleep symbols), and deep sleep (upper left); and the top dot represents the absolute state. The curve below the dot (and not touching dot) represents maya, the veil of illusion that gets in the way of our spiritual development and realization of the absolute state.

We chant Om at the beginning of yoga classes to remind us of the sacredness of our practice. It brings attention to the present-moment aspects of our awakened practice, paying attention with all of our senses. It also offers a doorway through which we explore our other states of being and our true nature.

The question is, in our daily lives where we interact with one another, are we in our waking-state or our dreaming-state? As in yoga, when we learn to pay attention to what is really going on in each moment, not caught in day-dreaming, worrying, planning, or just repeating habits and re-living memories, we start to awaken. We start to see. We start to see truths with more clarity. We start to see the interdependence of all things from an ever-expanding perspective. And we start to understand the unity of all things and see the jewels of life in every aspect of our existence.

And we start to understand and experience the chanting of Om, the seed of our being awakens, our consciousness expands, and the infinite spiritual wisdom and creative power of the Universe is unleashed!

In many respects, the seed of our being sprouts as we wake up while we are awake! Don’t go back to sleep! Om Om Om

“The gentle breezes of dusk and dawn have secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep!
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep!
People pass back and forth across the threshold between the two worlds-
That door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep!” – Rumi

FIVE KOSHAS: A Map for the Inward Journey of Yoga

We practice yoga to explore deeply the nature of our being. The five koshas (layers or sheaths) are integrated aspects of our being that we explore as we practice yoga and focus our attention on these various aspects of our being.  Yoga is an inward journey of self-study through these layers to our higher Self, our soul or Atman, wherein we find the gift of who we really are, and our oneness with the universe and universal consciousness (Brahman)

As we practice Hatha-Yoga-based yoga asanas (Raja Yoga) and pay attention to our physical bodies, our food and nourishment, we bring awareness to our annamaya kosha. We start to explore the outer, most vulnerable aspect of ourselves, our physical bodies, where deficiencies of deeper aspects manifest themselves – our muscles, bones, organs, and connective tissue.

As we bring awareness to our breath as it pulses throughout our body, we bring awareness to our pranayama kosha. We start to explore energy, prana (life force), as it flows through our physical bodies, our arteries and veins and the other various integrated systems of our bodies – our lymphatic, nervous, hormonal, and circulatory systems. We explore various energy centers of our bodies, chakras, that are located along lines of energy pathways, nadis.

As we observe our thoughts and the space between our thoughts, we bring awareness to the more subtle patterns of our bodies and our ability to observe these patterns, these thoughts and feelings, perceptions and behaviors. We start to explore the subconscious aspects of our past experiences and stored information, our manomaya kosha. More meditative practices of yoga, like Yin Yoga and Yoga Nidra, help us access and explore this deeper layer. When we engage with our subconscious body, accessed through emotional aspects of our being, we enter the doorway (and see through the veil of illusion) to our spirituality.

As we pay attention to our ability to observe and question truths with clarity, we bring intention to the choices we make in life. We start to explore wisdom and how we use our knowledge; we are exploring our vijnanamaya kosha. We explore our morals, our ethics, our intellect, and take responsibility for our inner growth and acquisition of knowledge. We explore who we are. We explore our spirituality. We practice Jnana-Yoga – the acquisition of knowledge and wisdom through study of sacred texts and literature.

As we pay attention to our deeper, more expansive relationships in this world, we bring awareness to our consciousness, interconnectedness, and heartfelt feelings of deep happiness and joy, contentment, peace, attunement and tranquility. Here, we explore our most subtle and true nature, anandamaya kosha, even if for only short periods of time at a time. We practice Karma Yoga – the yoga of selfless service, and Bhakti Yoga – the yoga of love and devotion. And we experience Samadhi – the eighth limb of Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutra (Raja Yoga), wherein we find integration with each other and with pure Oneness. We find unity as the relationship of Atman (our inner Self, our soul) and Brahman (Universal consciousness) is realized.

Modern neuroscientists point to our consciousness as being central to our reality. As we tune into our consciousness, we empower ourselves to live the lives we are each meant to live, our dharma, and move beyond our karma, the sum of our past experiences. We empower ourselves to move beyond fear, desire, anger, and pride; and move with courage towards acceptance, love, joy, and peace.

Starting with a practice intended to explore our physical existence, we find a pathway to a deeper understanding of who we are. The koshas provide a map for this journey inwards.

Why? From Professional Engineer to Yoga Teacher?

Almost 35 years ago, after graduating with a Master of Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, I became licensed to practice Professional Engineering. Today, as my license comes up for renewal, I notified the state professional licensing board that I am essentially retired from engineering; I will officially go on “inactive” status this month.

Why? Why retire from a highly-respected profession in an era when technically-skilled and analytically-minded people are in demand? Why move away from a profession in which I found intellectual-stimulation and achieved business-success?

For those of you who know me, you will understand that this “letting go” of my engineering identity has been happening for over 20 years, ever since about the time that I sat on top of a mountain in the Cascades with a National Outdoor Leadership School group and was asked to tell the group, “who am I?”.

It was around the time when my business partners looked at me with disinterest when I spoke about sustainability that these wheels started rolling. Momentum picked up when I moved to our current community here in Manchester, VT, 15 years ago, and design professionals looked at me blankly when I inquired about sustainable design opportunities. Sure, I found some like-minded professionals to work with in Brattleboro and Burlington, but the thrust of my work was always dictated by the wishes and priorities of the client, the person paying the bill. And then, especially here in Southern Vermont, the perceived completed-project-value provided by a structural engineers seemed to be discounted.

I found myself designing energy-efficient timber framed homes (and quietly designing sustainable-features into the houses I worked on), which was satisfying and creatively-stimulating. But, year after year, the houses got bigger and bigger, and less and less in line with my sustainable design interests. My builder and timber-framer clients were great to work for, and they afforded me the flexibility in my life to pursue multiple interests and maintain family-priorities, but their clients were demanding bigger and bigger houses which started pushing the limits of my personal capabilities and interests.

I realized that in order to influence the sustainable design priorities of the home-building public, I would better spend my time being part of a community that helped bring more and more awareness to the impact of the day-to-day choices we make, whether in construction projects or in how we interact with one another and with nature, in order to sustain life here on Earth. I remembered that my initial interests in pursuing “civil” engineering were motivated by aspirations to help people and communities. I saw new meaning in the business name that I had chosen when I started designing homes in Vermont 22 years ago, Gaia Structures. Gaia, Mother Earth, a concept that all living organisms on Earth are inter-related and will naturally affect the nature of their environment in order to make the environment more suitable for life.

And by cosmic design, I was introduced to yoga – a way of living wherein we “yolk” what we might previously have seen as separate (our bodies, our minds, our physical existence, our higher purpose in life) into daily practices of holistically living in the moment with full awareness, celebrating the joy of community and mutual-support… and making our environments more suitable, more fulfilling, for all of our lives.

So, teaching yoga for me is more than introducing asana practices, alignment, and individual-body modifications and healthy-living regimens. It’s about raising awareness, increasing ability to see truths more clearly, so that individually-motivated choices from a perspective of separateness turn into community-motivated choices from a perspective of interdependence and togetherness. It’s about inspiring choices that aren’t so much about building monuments to reward personal achievements often made at the expense of others, but more about building thriving communities which reward our abilities to make our lifestyles more sustaining and suitable for all of us.

From my perspective, yoga is entirely about living sustainably. Yoga is totally about Gaia, living in harmony with Mother Earth.

What I continually remind myself, as a yoga practitioner and as a teacher, is that positive change happens one relationship at a time, one moment at a time. If I re-member that all of life is indeed inter-connected, I will always know that each single thought, action, and word that comes from me, influences the world. And with practice, I might also be able to see more and more clearly how my day-to-day choices are indeed influenced by the world. But it is my responsibility to make wise choices. Yoga helps me see this higher perspective. Yoga helps me live with more awareness, more connectedness… and make wise choices.

Teaching yoga feels like the right way for me to influence the world, one class at a time, one person at a time… with a deep, heartfelt sense of humility towards the auspiciousness of the Universe and the Earth we inhabit. To me, this work is intellectually, physically, emotionally, and spiritually stimulating! For me, success is not so much about day-to-day accumulation of assets; it’s more about making day-to-day heartfelt connections with people and with nature, and maintaining a big-picture perspective of helping to make our communities more suitable for all of us.

The problem-solving engineer in me has not died. It has only moved towards the source of the problems we all face, and away from fears associated with feelings of personal separateness and attachment to personally-motivated goals for the future. It takes courage. It takes faith. It takes humility. And it takes work.

Yoga is now my vision and my practice. For me, so far, it has taken 22 years of practice to have the courage to finally let go of one perceived  identity and to trust another. Of course, I am realizing that it was never really about my self-perceived identity; it was (and will be) always about realizing who I really am!

Who am I? That’s really the question…

Photo Credit: Ali Kaukas

 

 

 

Bringing Heart to Life

For me, it all started when I started to let go of the mental thought-processes of doubt, worry, and fear, and allowed myself to fall into heart-centered feelings of unconditional love and deep faith in a higher power. For me, it was a process of realizing that life was much more than using my intellect to figure things out, or even just having a positive-based belief system. For me, it was learning to follow a path that included diving more deeply into my yoga practice – being more deeply devoted to the ideal of oneness, of One Love, of Christ consciousness, of learning to live in the eternity of each moment. For me, it was about embodying with wholeheartedness a lifestyle of loving awareness and authentic presence.

Of course, these awakenings usually come about in our darkest moments, right? It was no different for me. I remember the moment specifically – my body shaking in fear, my mind lost in endless cycles of unanswered questions. When the essence of life smacks you in the face, you wake up. When you get lost inside your head consumed by who you think you are, sometimes it takes a storm to help you re-member who you really are.

All of these years later, I look back at the wonders of life that have unfolded since that time. All of these years later, I look with amazement at the community that has come together at Heart of the Village Yoga to support one another – not only in the practice of yoga, but also in the quest to live more satisfying, heart-centered and community-building daily lives. All of these years later, I realize innately that it takes a village to realize the essence of life – it takes a community to practice loving awareness and to build loving relationships.

So now… a dozen years after I was smacked in the face… 9 years after a US Army veteran from St. Croix looked me in the eye and said, “You’re not leaving, are you?”… 6 years after I shared a vision with a US Air Force veteran from San Diego and co-founded Warriors Live On… and 4 years after I started a new journey with my wife at Heart of the Village Yoga… I have the opportunity to bring my heart to life by bringing the essence of our “Village” to California. Next week, Memorial Day weekend, I will have the opportunity to bring yoga to a group of veterans on a nature excursion on the Pacific Crest Trail outside of Big Bear. I have the honor to walk with presence and authenticity, as a warrior and alongside warriors, carrying with me the heart of our Heart of the Village Yoga tribe on a trek with Warriors Live On.

You might say that Warriors Live On initially grew out of our own healing experiences and practices, from those darkest times when my wife and I struggled through PTSD utilizing the practices of mindfulness and yoga and nature-based living, to our shared experiences of healing with Eva Belanger and other United States veterans, to our shared vision of bringing our own successes with holistic practices to a wider population of veterans through a new non-profit organization called Warriors Live On. Since its founding, Eva has been the force behind the actual manifestation of the vision; I have only been a voice of support from the other side of the country. (I remember writing a letter of support when WLO set out on its first nature excursion shared here on this site.)

Warriors Live On is now an organization which provides integrative healing processes for post 9-11 combat veterans who are battling the debilitating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Recognizing that the effects of PTSD on both mind and body can be healed, WLO now offers integrative programming incorporating nature treks, acupuncture, Somatic Experiencing, Organic Intelligence, yoga and nutrition. This multi-modal approach eases the symptoms of PTSD and opens the door to a new way of living.

To those of you who have become my family and my circle of friends at Heart of the Village Yoga, please know that I carry with me your love as I bring my heart – our collective heart – to a new circle of friends next week with Warriors Live On. To those of you who I will have the honor of being with next week, please know that I am humbled, honored, and excited to share this new journey with you.

Each of us has a story to tell and new stories to compose. But each of our individual stories are part of an ever-expanding larger story. Each chapter unfolds, usually where we direct our attention. When we embrace intentional practices, life has a miraculous way of letting those practices turn into reality. Sometimes, it takes a journey of a hundred steps to look back and see the first step. Sometimes, it takes a journey of a thousand miles to look back and realize you’ve been sharing the path with many, many others. Sometimes, it takes a lifetime of experiences to realize that it is all about living a life of loving awareness in the eternal gift of each moment.

Bringing heart to life begins with the first step, yes. Its enlightening now to have the good fortune to look back and see those steps, those chapters in my own life. But it begins again with the next step. And it expands as your heart expands. And it expands again when you have the love and support of a village. And it expands again and again when you realize that you a part of an ever-expanding field of relationships, mutually interdependent and connected. Bringing heart to life is about embodying loving awareness in each timeless step. Its about bringing your authentic self and your whole heart – a full heart, a clear heart, a strong heart, and an open heart – to life in each moment. Its about being a warrior and a healer for the benefit of all.

I am honored to recognize the warrior in each of you, and I am humbled by the wonder of our ever-expanding circle. To those of you struggling in this moment, take heart – and take the next step. And the next. It takes work. It takes practice. But, one day at a time, life unfolds. The gift of the current struggle will be the lesson learned that will help awaken the essence of who you really are. Have faith in your higher purpose… and take your next steps with intention and with open eyes, bringing your heart to life!

Please support Warriors Live On here.

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Awakening a Deeper Sense of Home

Yoga is a practice to re-awaken the natural loving-kindness that rests deep in our souls.

We re-vitalize feelings of love for all beings and all of Earth.

We direct awareness both inward and outward to feel deeply connected and at One with all of life.

We realize the gift of the present moment.

We feel humbled by the sacredness of Life, and empowered by our abilities to serve with integrity and dignity.

Practice might take the form of the classical methods of posture practices, breath work, and meditation; it could also take the form of service work, intellectual study, or devotional practice.

When we take care of our bodies and our own way-of-living, as well as how we live our lives in our communities and in service of the greater good, we each lay the foundation of a deeper yoga practice… and a healthier, more fulfilling and sustainable lifestyle.

When we each realize the sacredness of our own life and its importance to the greater good, we each see how isolated self-interests and personal feelings of separation and day-to-day living challenges are just pieces of a bigger picture, opportunities to see a greater good and a deeper sense of life-purpose.

When we let go of previously held perspectives which hold us back from these heart-opening practices, we feel free to explore the limitless nature of our spirit and the awesome adventure of our life and the gift of each moment.

We realize that our personal adventures are never alone, that we all travel through time and space together… that we each share the challenges and the opportunities that each moment in life offers us.

In this place, in these travels, we awaken a deeper sense of being-at-home… in our bodies, in our hearts, in our communities, on Earth, and in the Cosmos.

Here, we are One.

And in this spirit, I get on a plane Thursday to fly to India to explore a region said to be the home of yoga, ready to take an adventure into my own heart and re-awaken a deeper sense of being at home… Here.

To my friends and family, to my Heart of the Village community, I travel with you… and I am at home with you. This adventure is possible because of you!

To Jo, I look forward to this adventure of a lifetime… to the opportunity to explore the limitless nature of our spirits as we soar together… with open hearts!

I humbly offer these words with feelings of Love for all of you. Peace.

Babamanji’s Time to Remember

It had been a long week and Babamanji had lost his way. He felt separated. Amongst friends and family, he felt a little lost. Yes, everyone saw his outward smile, but somehow his thoughts wandered to past memories and he lost his presence.

He decided to spend the evening sitting under some trees and gazing at the constellations. There, he always felt at home. There, he always felt safe. There, he knew he would begin again to find his way and recognize from deep within the true nature of what was going on… and find his natural rhythm with the world again.

As first, as he gazed to the sky, the constellations were not visible. As he consciously slowed his breath down to access a place of inner peace, he started to feel content. He started to see that the constellations were obscured by clouds. He reflected on his ability to at least see the clouds.

As he looked to the eastern sky, he saw the constellation Ganesha, and he was reminded that many of the obstacles that we face in life come from our own thoughts and judgments, our own ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, and our own self-created feelings of separation. In every moment, there is a new opportunity to walk beyond these obstacles and across the threshold to see your higher self and to feel more connected with your true nature. In every challenge, there is a new opportunity to gain knowledge. Things started to get clearer.

As he looked to the northern sky, he saw the constellation Shiva, and he was reminded that life is indeed cycles of transformation, and that it was necessary sometimes for him to lose his way in order to express his true nature again more fully. He was reminded that the practice of yoga would help him find his way and help him embrace his life more fully. As he practiced some meditative yoga, he started to access the knowledge held deep within his subconscious mind – deep within his physical body. He started to access his natural compassionate emotional body. His gaze became more aware. He marveled at the wonder of the sky.

As he looked to the southern sky, he saw the constellation Hanuman… and his heart melted. For a moment or two, the clear image of Hanuman right in front of him took his breath away. He saw himself in the stars. His own light began to shine again. He wondered if he had lost his way because he was not being himself and letting his own light shine, or if it was because of the others who did not see his light? He wondered about all of the judgments people make of others and wondered if people put down in others what they fear in themselves. He wondered about his own ego, his own attachment to how he thought things should be, his own refusal to see truths, or his own fear of living authentically. Of course, these thoughts just seemed to melt away as he let go and settled wholeheartedly into his own feelings of unconditional love and devotion to a more sacred perspective of the world. Being immersed in nature always helped him do that. He felt the warm support of Mother Earth below him. He was reminded that we all come from the same place, that we are all living our lives together.

He started to see the constellation Lakshmi in the background, and he was reminded to embrace life fully, to feel the abundance of nature, and to express beauty and every aspect of his life. It became so clear to him that our bodies are indeed evolved to be happy and to build supportive relationships with one another. Our true nature is really quite remarkable.

By this time, it almost felt like his mind itself was becoming transparent as the evening sky became clearer and clearer. His mind felt still. His body felt at peace. His feelings of love and openness emanated from deep within.

He was humbled by his growing feelings of responsibility and empowerment.

He was humbled by the beauty which surrounded him in all directions – each tree enriching the earth with its own light. Each hillside reflecting iridescent light and vibrant beauty. With a glance northward, he saw his own responsibilities in these infinitely-connected reflections.

As he looked to the western sky, he saw the constellation Saraswati. And he was reminded to just let go and flow with nature, to just be his best self through a sense of moving with grace, gratitude, and openness to whatever comes his way… and to learn to express himself more fully by using his voice. It is time to play music, to read poetry, to sing, to spread joy… and to do his work with vigor.

By this time, as he looked directly overhead, all of the constellations were dancing together. Their light lit up the sky and filled Babamanji’s heart. His soul rested in the peace of the moment. His spirit soared with the stars.

In the background, he wondered if he even saw the constellations of Buddha, Jesus, and Kokopelli… and the images of his father, uncle, and other ancestors. He thought he heard them reminding him of his path… a path that he has naturally always walked… a path that inspires healthy work, self-reflection, and a yielding to the ideal of our interconnected nature.

And then, it was time to walk forward again, with intention, with integrity, with wholeheartedness, and with the wisdom gained from a time to remember.

Call me Babaman?

Sometimes, you have life-changing experiences. Sometimes, you don’t recognize the impact of those experiences until years later. Sometimes, you are immediately conscious of the magnitude of the experience as it happens.

Long ago, I didn’t realize the gift of going through personal traumatic experiences until years later. The experiences of head injuries, post-traumatic stress, and navigating family health-related setbacks opened pathways that at the time seemed so distant and unthinkable. I also didn’t also realize the long-term gift of training myself to endure hardship through long-distance bike rides and endurance races.

Whereas, I realized immediately that the heartfelt connection I felt with nature when I spent a month in the backcountry with a dozen other adventurers during a National Outdoor Leadership School expedition in the Washington Cascades in 1996 would be life-changing.

And last week, I also immediately realized that the heartfelt, joyful community experience of last week’s Bhakti Immersion in New Orleans with Sean Johnson and the Wild Lotus Band would be life-changing.

Immediately, I felt my heart open. Was it the music? Was it the group of like-minded, open-hearted, non-judgmental people who had gathered? Was it New Orleans? Was it Sean’s warm-hearted demeanor or his joyful spirit or maybe his storytelling? Was it the opportunity to use my voice and sing again?

Immediately, I felt connected. The lines of separation between people, things, experiences – past and present, seemed to vanish. I went to my nature-place, my place where I feel a natural oneness. Within a couple of days, I wrote this:

The whisper of the winds calls my name;

The arms of the trees embrace my soul;

The heart of the earth calls me home;

The light of the sky guides my way.

Who am I to question my path?

Who are they that guide my way?

I am always here.

My home is the wind, the tree, the earth, the sky.

I am the wind, the tree, the earth, the sky;

I am the breath, the body, the heart, the light.

You don’t have to look to find me!

I am here. I am here.

I am home. I am Om.

Sean asked me to include my name in the poem. I couldn’t! How could I separate myself from nature with a simple name? I am who I am because of everyone in my life, past and present. My name (Bob) is my father’s name (Bob) and my uncle’s name (Bob) and my father-in-law’s name (Bob). Or, near Boston my name is Baaab. My name is often said as one name with my wife’s name (BobN’Jo). I thought of all of the people who put their hand on my back and let me know that they had my back. And, all of the people who rested their hand on my shoulder and let me know that everything would be okay – it was okay to just be me! I am who I am because of all of these people.

I thought of Hanuman, who I’ve written about before. According to myth (as I understand it), when asked by Ram who he was, he said (deha bhavena dasosmi) that when he takes on the identity of his body (as an individual separate from God), he is devoted to God (or a higher power, if you will) with a full and open heart. This is the Bhakti yoga path. When he takes on the identity of a wanderer or a seeker (jiva bhavena twadamshakaha), he’s part of God. When he identifies with oneness or pure consciousness (atma bhavena twamevaham), he is God, the universe, infinity – when the interdependence of all things is realized. Was I identifying this quickly at this Immersion in New Orleans with this sense of the oneness and interdependence? I was feeling totally connected by love with everyone around me, silently but openly. In a palpable way, these moments where life-changing for me.

So, knowing that memories of the mind fade and that the mind usually creates new stories to explain reality as it happens in real time, I thought I’d get a tattoo to remind me of the feelings that I was feeling.

This shoulder tattoo will remind me daily of those who have supported me in my life on Earth by putting a hand on my shoulder and letting me know it was okay to be me. And to remind me that:

Our super-human powers come from our heartfelt devotion to a higher power and a sacred purpose;

Through our natural and holistic expressions of both our male and female aspects, we learn to evolve, transform and blossom through the light and the dark periods of our lives;

We honor our teachers, gurus, mentors, elders, spirit guides and ancestors;

We remain grounded to the earth while ready to serve humbly and selflessly, moving mountains for the benefit of our family, friends, community, Earth and all of life;

With our open hearts, and with compassion and kindness, we have power over our monkey-brains – we expose our true nature to be playful, joyful and loving!

Maybe now, I’ll call myself Babaman! What do you think?