spiritual practice

Being a "Good" Yogi

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How do you measure the efficacy of your yoga practice? The answer to this question is often only thought of in terms of flexibility and strength but that is not a measure of a yoga practice, it is only a measure of an asana practice. Asana is only one branch of yoga and if that is all you are doing, I hate to break it to you, but you are not doing yoga, you’re just exercising.

 

The modern yoga industry sells this version of yoga idea to make it more “palatable” for the masses, more salable, more commercialized and easier to reap a profit. This is a gross appropriation of an ancient practice for the commercial industrialized world. A “palatable” yoga practice is as far from yoga as yoga can get.

 

Yoga is a spiritual practice. Spirituality like yoga is also marketed to the masses in a “palatable” way, as a thing that makes “life all good”. But calling life all good is just spiritual bypass. Life isn’t always all good. Sure, from the spiritual perspective it’s all divine, but that’s not all good. Sometimes the divine shows up in shitty ass ways. Take the 400 years of white supremacy that makes up the backbone of the democracy we call America; it’s shitty and it’s an invitation to doing great soul-searching work; it’s the divine showing up say look here and do the work here. Spirituality is not about transcendence of the world but deeper involvement in it. Spirituality is the act of recognizing our ego is not in control, something bigger is dealing the cards, and our response to the hand we get dealt is where the work gets done; that is where the human evolves, that is where a better world is created – internal and external. That means acceptance, accountability, commitment, awareness, forgiveness, compassion, and most of all love.

 

That awesome pose you can do doesn’t mean shit in the face of life – ugly, real, honest life; that picture of you in some awesome pose just means you can do some awesome pose. If you use the journey into and out of the pose as a reminder of how to face and dance with life off your mat, it means more. If you can use the pose to remember that life isn’t comfortable and the way you choose to perceive the experience you are having in your mind, a choice that may or may not disturb the resonance of peace and love in your heart, then it means more; to explore the boundaries of your fear and your relationship to courage while there, and to continue - not despite the adversity but in the face of it - then it means more; to explore the nature of your willingness to reckon with self-accountability while rumbling with the self-aggrandized ignorance of your beliefs, it means more. If you’re only striking some awesome pose for that great Instagram shot and more followers, it doesn’t mean shit; and it certainly does not mean you’re some advanced yogi.

 

Sure, I can do some pretty big asana poses but my ability to do those poses is not my measure of the efficacy of my yoga practice. I measure the efficacy of my yoga practice in my capacity to sit in the company of myself when I’m feeling fucked-up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional without asking those things to change, but rather addressing myself there with more compassion, love, accountability, courage, and forgiveness. I measure the efficacy of my yoga practice in my ability to be compassionate towards others who are living human lives; ignorant, self-aggrandized, shut down, and afraid. I measure the efficacy of my yoga practice in my ability to be more like my hero’s, people who have stood or still stand with love and courage in the face of adversity for the sake of the greater good. People who lead and have led the way for the rest of us to follow. The list is long and the majority of them are people of color.

Having flexible joints and muscles doesn’t mean you have a flexible mind; doesn’t mean you can rid yourself of a destructive belief for one that is life enhancing. Having strong joints and muscles doesn’t mean you have strength of character nor the ability to be in the presence of difficult people or experiences without getting taken out by them. Strong and flexible joints and muscles are not measurements of a strong yoga practice, nor a strong spiritual practice, they are only poor imitations. If like me, you are a white yogi and you want to be a “good” yogi in the world today it is time to educate yourself on white supremacy; have difficult conversations about your complicity and privilege with yourself and others; stand for something bigger and more life enhancing than your desire to nail that press handstand and do it in public. Let your conviction and commitment to a cause greater than yourself be a measurement of your yoga practice no matter how many followers or students you gain or lose; no matter how big your poses get; no matter how much anger and grief you have to sit through; let your flexibility of mind, strength of character, and spaciousness of spirit speak for you.

With Love, Allways, In All Ways, For Giving, In Joy,

Genevieve

Unraveling The Human Condition

  Who knows why the human condition is the way it is? It seems that no matter how many people contemplate, pontificate, philosophize, and analyze, it is still what it is. And much of the time what it is translates to challenging. In addition to the adversity we all face as humans experiencing life on planet Earth, we also have a shared experience of feeling alone or separate from one another on our paths to peace, and freedom from our suffering.

Many of the great spiritual practices all nod to this shared experience, and in many ways it is in dissolving this feeling of separateness that becomes the central focus of these practices. For in the spiritual realm there is ultimately no separation, and it is the individual journey to realizing this truth that is the aim of the spiritual path. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali the teaching that speaks to this aspect of our human condition, yoga sutra 1:4 “At other times (The Self) appears to assume the forms of the mental modifications” clarifies that it is our mental mind stuff, which formulates our perception of the feeling of separateness. This sutra simply states that ones perception of separation from the greater unifying consciousness (The Self) becomes that which one identifies themselves with. It is in learning to recognize that in our identifications with the experiences of our lives, or in the “I am” statements we make, that we create the impression of being alone. Therefor, in practicing self-awareness, or mindfulness, we can become attentive to the mind chatter that creates these experiences of separation and see them for what they are, self-imposed beliefs that are formed as thoughts. However, learning to identify these thoughts is not an easy task. This is why "the quieting of the mental modifications" has to be practiced, over and over. It is in our practice that we become more self-aware and more capable of dissolving the impressions of separation before they even arise.

It is the hope of a spiritual practitioner, much like a philosopher, and even a life scientist to garner more meaning in this often-confusing landscape of human experience. Who’s to say if this is the way to unravel the human condition and truly know peace? It is definitely one way, and of course there are as many ways as there are humans having experiences.

To knowing peace and joy, with love, always, in all ways, for giving,

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Genevieve

You Are What You Eat

In a world of extraordinary stimuli and animation it is easy to be distracted and live completely disconnected to our most peaceful sense of self and the universal consciousness. It is not brash to say that all the great practices of a spiritual nature have been returned to for generations to remedy the frustrations and sufferings that come from such distractions and disconnection. In the same vein it is constant work requiring constant attention and mindfulness to return to, and with great skill perhaps someday stay connected to our innermost peaceful conscious state of being. One of the foundational texts of yoga is The Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali, which lays out the steps for Patanjali’s eight-limbed practice of yoga. Hatha Yoga, the practice of moving the body on the mat also known as the practice of Asana, is just one branch of the eight. The fifth branch is the practice of Pratayahara, simply translating to withdrawal of the senses. All the previous branches of the practice lend a hand to this practice of sense withdrawal being the four practices of outer body yoga, and pratyahara is the first of the four practices of inward body yoga. All eight branches have the shared goal of aligning personal consciousness and awareness to the universal consciousness, which is at the core of all things and is available to everyone at any given moment.

Being composed of two different words, Prati “against” and Ahara “food”, pratyahara is literally translated to mean against food, yet much more is implied. It is a common cliché to say “you are what you eat” and such a phrase is relevant to what is more deeply implied in this practice. Whereas we are literally the energy we take on from the food we eat, the belief structures we build from the impressions that nourish our mind, and the associations we hold in our heart space with the people who nourish our soul. These elements of what we “eat” make up the three levels of ahara (food) that we seek to mediate and temper in the practice of pratyahara.

Rather than taking the loose translation of pratyahara (sense withdrawal) too literally it is valuable to remember the cliché "you are what you eat” and therefor to mindfully abstain from taking in “bad food” as opposed to not eating at all. This type of sense withdrawal provides us with the clarity to more consistently moderate the fluctuations of the mind stuff. Bad food, just as wrong impressions and wrong relationships, are essentially malnourishing and detract or distract us in the pursuit of mindfulness and constant connection to the universal consciousness and the peace that dwells there. By moderating what we “eat” we free the mind to move more deeply within and therefore to strengthen the immunity of the mind. Just as a healthy body can resist illness, a healthy mind can ward off the negative sensory influences around it. Pratyaraha in effect then becomes the medicine that enables one to tolerate and not be moved by the distractions of this animate and sensory world setting the stage for an asana (easy seat) in their pursuit of the next three branches of the yoga, contemplation, concentration, and liberation. The practice of which is also known as meditation.

You are what you eat. Choose wisely.

With Love, Always, in All Ways, For Giving,

Genevieve