Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sasha and Sarvangasana

Yoga Sutra II.46 
strira sukam asanam.
Asana is a steady, comfortable posture.1

I was practicing some yoga postures on Easter morning when Sasha (short for Alexander), my 17-month-old son, crawled over and starting climbing on me.  It seems like when I want to hold him he just wants to crawl away, but when I let him be to do some yoga or something then he wants to climb all over me demanding my full attention.  He is not walking yet, so this morning he decided to use me in shoulderstand (sarvangasana) as a prop to stand up.  He finds it hilarious when I try to practice yoga postures.  Although my shoulderstand is far from perfect as you can see in the picture, with Sasha hanging on to my pants laughing at me - this was a perfect posture for a perfect moment.

A comfortable and steady posture helps prepare the mind for meditation.  The various postures help us tune into the moment, by acting like a harness to yoke the wandering mind to the body.   With each changing posture I'm reminded of how the moment passes and I can not cling to it because it will always slip through my fingers and crawl away just like Sasha when I try to cling to him.

1. translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda. Integral Yoga. (pp. 178-179).

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Kleshas at the Movies Part I: Asmita Becomes a Gremlin.

Trying to get rid of your ego is like trying to get rid of your shadow.  
- Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev 1

Asmita means "I-ness" and is actually a beautiful thing.   It is necessary part of our survival, and it allows us to express creativity, uniqueness and individuality.  Asmita only becomes an obstacle when it becomes inflated and we begin to feel separate or isolated from others or become attached to asmita,  and allow it to run the show.   In yoga the key to overcoming this obstacle is to deflate the ego rather trying to destroy it because the ego, just like our own shadow, can not be destroyed.

I like to compare asmita to our little mogwai friend "Gizmo" from the 1984 movie Gremlins. Gizmo is a lovable and loyal pet if taken care of properly by following three rules: 1) Keep the mogwai away from bright lights especially sunlight.   2) Keep him away from water.  3) Never feed him after midnight. What happens if these rules are not followed?  Bright lights will harm him and sunlight will kill him.  If he gets wet he will reproduce and the new mogwai are not so loyal and lovable, but rather rude and mischievous.  If a mogwai eats after midnight then he forms a cocoon and turns into a violent, mean and nasty gremlin. 

I watched that movie again last Christmas vacation and I realized how bad the acting was, there's no reason to watch it again unless you want to punish yourself.  It seemed a lot cooler as a child in the 80's.   None the less I feel compelled to dig up old throw back movies and give them a little yogic spin.  To me Gizmo represents the ego as it was meant to be - an obedient companion to Atman (true self).

When Billy, Gizmo's new owner, spills water on him, he multiplies.  Water represents emotional attachment to asmita.  Which results in an inflated ego that clings to vrittis (all kinds of different thoughts). These new mogwai trick Billy into feeding them after midnight by chewing the chord to the clock at around 10pm.  Billy, being not that bright or aware, feeds them a bucket of fried chicken. All of them eat except for Gizmo who remains loyal.  Soon after the midnight snack they form cocoons and hatch as gremlins the next morning.  One of the Gremlins finds a pool and jumps in, and then the multitude of gremlins terrorize the town.  Its the same when we feed the ego with all the pleasures it wants then it will take over our bodies and oppress the Atman

The solution is to simply look inward at our own gremlins and shed light on them and they will dissolve.  An effective way to dissolve gremlins is with the three step process of Kriya Yoga.  At the end of the movie the Gremlins (the offspring of asmita) are killed off, but Gizmo (our original asmita) remains unharmed.  

1.  Simone, Cheryl and Sadhguru Jaggi VasudevMidnights with the Mystic: A little Guide to Freedom and Bliss. Hampton Roads, 2008. (pg. 168).

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Taking on an Iceberg with Kriya Yoga.

In fact, that person who is not tossed about by sense experiences and always stays balanced in pain and pleasure is fit to experience immortality. 1  - The Bhagavad Gita (II:15)

To kick of this new year, we will begin to examine the obstacles we want to overcome while on our yoga journey. Chapter II of the Yoga Sutras introduces the kleshas:  the obstacles or pitfalls that get in the way of the yoga practitioner.  The whole purpose for Kriya Yoga is to overcome these obstacles and reach samadhi (Yoga Sutra II.2).  Our practice becomes taking on these obstacles (the 5 kleshas) and our ultamate goal is to reach samadhi.  So let's focus on the practice of overcoming the obstacles first, and save samadhi for another time.

The five kleshas together are like an iceberg; only a small part is visible.  The tip of our klesha-iceberg is that part we can see above the surface: raga, (craving, desire) and dvesha (aversion, hatred).   Lurking beneath the surface are the sneaky asmita (egoism), and abhinivesha (fear of death, clinging to life).  At the core of the iceberg is avidya (ignorance, lack of spiritual wisdom).

So here I am crashing into the tip of the iceberg caught between raga and dvesha.  In contrast to the opening quote from the Gita: I find myself "tossed about by sense experiences..." and I find difficulty in becoming "balanced in pain and pleasure".  Maybe there's a way I can remove this iceberg from the ocean so I can see what's under the surface?  Maybe I can start to melt this ginormous block of ice?  This is where Kriya Yoga comes in handy.

Kriya Yoga provides the practitioner with the tools to dissolve this massive iceberg. For the purpose of study it is useful to break Kriya Yoga down into its three parts, but in practice all three parts should be integrated in order to work together.  Imagine tapas as a blow torch that begins the melting process.  Svadhyaya is the sword that can slice off a chunk of iceberg that we want to work on today.  Put that chunk in a large cauldron and keep dicing it with the sword.  Keep the blow torch going as well and soon it will be water. Then cover with a tight lid like a pressure cooker. Boil the water into steam. Then the steam can be released through that hole in the lid: isvara pranidhana. So there you have it, all three parts of Kriya Yoga working together for a common purpose: to overcome the kleshas.

1. As translated by Sri Swami Satchidanda. The Living Gita. Yogaville, 1988. (pg. 14).