Magical Moments of Gratitude and Abundance

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Yoga is the flow of energy – within our selves and everywhere. For we are comprised of prana, the life force, and as yoga connects us to our selves we connect to prana. We are made up of our parents’ genes, our unique talents, skills and personalities, to the elements, to one another, and to so much more. With continuous yoga practice, one begins to experience the flow as it is as well as where it may be stuck in our bodies or minds.

Each morning during vacation I practice for several hours with the ocean as the backdrop. The sound of the tide connects me to the rhythm of my own breath and to my movements. For all yoga is attention training. As we focus on the ever changing flow of energy – of our respiration, in and out, of the elements of the pose and all of our subtle adjustments – we then stop, remain still, and experience the essence of the pose and the fullness of the moment. All dualities slip away and we are here. And here in the moment, I experience a deep sense of connection to everything. I feel such gratitude and abundance, and contentment flows, like my energy or prana.

My discovery of yoga in my early twenties was simply a surprise and a blessing. I have never wavered in my practice or studies since my first class 36 years ago. My awareness of consciousness and my appreciation of the vastness and beauty of the minutiae of the present moment continues to deepen as does the connection that I feel to the breath, the pause, the flow. One late afternoon I watched a lone swimmer quite far out in the ocean until my eye could no longer see him. As he vigorously swam for miles I knew that I was witnessing a most incredible expression of the mind-body-breath connection. As I watched his prowess, fluidity, rhythm, speed, and focus, I was amazed. I felt immense gratitude to observe such a incredibly beautiful moving meditation, and another example of the flow of energy.

Recently, I had a very meaningful dream. A white baby goat was the dream symbol that spoke to me as clearly as a bell ringing across a meadow. In my dream, I am sleeping and the goat is curled against my side next to Sarah, my black cat. As I am leaving my dream state and gradually awakening, I am confused and upset for I realize that it is only Sarah who remains next to me, in real time. In despair and still half asleep, I ask out loud, “but where is the goat?” All day the imagery of the goat stayed in my consciousness. I was struck by the contrast between the white and black and thought it suggested dualities. My husband suggested that I research its meaning. As I read I was excited to learn that dreaming of a white goat is a symbol for good luck and happiness and that it further symbolizes balance, respect and grace. But what I found really interesting is that the most common meaning is that of abundance and mirth.

Receiving my morsels along the path of yoga are like the crumbs discovered by Hansel and Gretel guiding them on their journey home. As I meander down my long and winding path tasting the rewards of yoga, I recognize that yoga has taught me devotion and has granted me many gifts: serenity, health, balance and joy. It has also provided me with a space to be – to find stillness and softness, strength and balance. From adolescence to middle age, from being single to married and through three pregnancies and deliveries, with the pillars of love and loss, wherever I am at in any given moment in time, yoga has been my Light and has ignited my own inner Light. I have learned to be present, to find space around my heart, and to connect with others, heart-to-heart. Daily I sit in gratitude and abundance. Perhaps my goat will come again soon to visit.

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“Are you happy in your heart?” Cultivating Samtosha or Contentment through Yoga

Recently, during a practise on the dock comprised of some simple asanas or postures, the late day sun sparkled on the quiet lake. And suddenly, a sensation of immense gratitude flowed forth. These feelings were for the universe for having provided me with all that it had over the past few months, and in particular to B.K.S. Iyengar. Just prior to embarking on my yoga studies in Pune, India this past June, I had experienced a very disturbing process with some members of the Iyengar Yoga Association of Canada and left feeling unsettled. It wasn’t the yoga process or the Iyengar methodology that was unsettling but rather the lack of yogic behaviors that was experienced first-hand and what I perceived as an apparent disconnection to the legacy that B.K.S. Iyengar was creating for his practitioners and teachers. My decision to try to share some of this with him during my time in India was made although I wasn’t sure how he would respond. Thankfully, he answered with kindness, compassion, support and guidance, and was my teacher in every sense of the word.

It was several weeks before I began to absorb the meaning of my interactions with B.K.S. Iyengar and to really appreciate the gift bestowed upon me by him. In these late day moments during my practise on the dock, when these strong feelings of gratitude spontaneously arose from my unconscious, I was touched deeply by the experience because the feelings that surfaced were honest, raw, uncensored, and welcomed. As I sat in gratitude, tears flowed for the understanding that Grace had placed me at the Ramamami Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute at this time. The understanding had evolved that B.K.S. Iyengar, or “Guruji as he is affectionately called by his students, was now truly my Guruji, providing me with exactly what was needed – guidance and hope.

Samtosha or contentment is one of the five niyamas or personal practices that we are encouraged to use. The niyamas are one of the eight limbs of yoga. Ultimately, contentment is one’s responsibility and part of this task is to maintain a focus on the gifts that life brings us. Patanjalli’s yoga sutra “Samtosad anuttanamah sukhalabhah” tells us to cultivate contentment by bringing satisfaction to whatever unfolds and by accepting that there truly is a Divine flow of life even if it doesn’t always go according to our plans. This sutra (chapter II, verse 41) states that from the continued practise of contentment and benevolence of consciousness comes supreme happiness. This verse guides us and gives hope and joy and suggests that through following the path of contentment, happiness is indeed attainable. My experience with Guruji and my recent spontaneous response illuminates and reflects for me this sutra, and my interactions with him seem to have been connected to other things in a unified and profound manner.

During the day at different times I attempt to focus on my blessings even amidst the not so positive moments, and then to touch down and sit with gratitude even when I am not sitting down. Through our immersion in yoga studies, we learn how to remain present moment-to-moment, and to accept that which is unfolding, breath-by-breath. When we inhale, we receive the breath with an acceptance for this Divine gift of life and for what each moment offers. With each exhalation, we surrender and there is also an acceptance for whatever is occurring, including embracing equally both imperfections and perfections. When we remain cognizant of practicing samtosha or contentment, we develop the ability to remain present – and happy – with the circumstances of this moment. We become more willing to live in this present moment with acceptance of whatever it brings and to more easily let go of the desire or need to change anything or anyone or the wish for it to be different than what it is. Then we are able to focus on gratitude.

One of the outcomes of practicing samtosha or contentment is that the moments during which feelings of longing for something other than what is or those moments when coveting for one’s self what others seem to have occur less frequently. Naturally, from time to time such feelings do arise but through my ongoing practise of svadyaya or self-study (another niyama or personal practise), I am generally more able to identify when I am experiencing jealousy, greed or dissatisfaction or when I have succumbed to the temptation to look outside of my self or the moment in order to feel content or happy. With this self-awareness and understanding comes the opportunity to consciously choose how I will respond. I return to Patanjali’s sutras, and this one in particular, and recall his suggestion to simply be content with the “whatever”, thus living in joy regardless of what will next occur.

Yoga’s recent surge in popularity during the past decade is well timed for more and more people report feeling disillusioned, disconnected and discontented while also searching for balance and satisfaction in their lives. Although the more common physical benefits of yoga are experienced almost immediately, over time there are other subtle or not so subtle positive changes that occur. For example, in addition to observing when the previously mentioned base emotions of jealousy, greed and dissatisfaction arise, the tendency to react with greater acceptance for the way things are has developed. This change has been fueled by the belief that we are provided with exactly what we are meant to receive at any given moment and by maintaining a simple trust in the universe. These changes are also because of my committed practise of samtosha or contentment.

I believe that one of the most beneficial outcomes of sustaining a long-term yoga practise is the natural evolution of this practise of contentment, and the concurrent feelings of happiness and gratitude that are experienced. Simple phrases such as: “whatever”; “it is what it is”, and “it’s all good” have become more common in the popular lexicon and are spoken more frequently albeit at times in a seemingly flippant manner. But with the continual and ever evolving practise of cultivating samtosha or contentment, I have observed that these phrases have definitely become more entrenched in my speech and are spoken in a truly heartfelt manner. More importantly, through the practise of this niyama and the guidance of this sutra, I regularly experience samtosha and gratitude, and thankfully, happiness resides in my heart.


 “Samtosad anuttanamah sukhalabhah” (chapter II, verse 41)

“From contentment unsurpassed happiness is obtained.”


In the Spirit of the Times

Arriving back in India last week and stepping out of the airport at 3 a.m., the heat, smells, sights and sounds were strikingly familiar although it had been a few years since my last trip to the Iyengar Yoga Institute to study. As the taxi left the Mumbai airport for Pune, the necessary combination of the patience of a saint, a good sense of humor and just the right amount of assertiveness was soon required.


First stop, air for the tire. Second stop, pulled over by three policemen hoping to find a reason for baksheesh (a tip). The last stop en route was at a checkpoint where we were held for having “invalid papers” during which time at least eight men gathered around to discuss the situation. After a total of 27 hours of travel, I finally arrived in Pune, and unpacked in my rented apartment only to discover that the electricity is shut off all day on Thursdays. No ceiling fan but LOL, I was back!

India is a total experience. It is an assault on the senses, and is colorful, diverse, crowded and magnificent. It is a land of contrasts from the squalid to the luxurious. Colorful and fragrant flower offerings are for sale on every corner (instead of our Starbucks) and these are created daily to be offered to the plethora of deities that are worshiped and revered in India. In addition to the many gods and goddesses, intricate images and sculptures, sacred texts, the diversity of religious denominations and the ritual of puja, there are of course, the holy cows that roam the streets.

In a place where spirituality is infused in daily life, and where tradition underlies everything, I was immediately struck by how much has changed here yet how little has changed as well. The last time I had seen BKS Iyengar he was still in his eighties and now he is 94. Although his appearance has changed, he continues to practice a wide range of poses including advanced backbends and inversions. His postures are fully supported with props and he holds them for long durations. I feast my eyes upon him during the practise sessions and I am intrigued, inspired and humbled by this man, a veritable genius in our time.

Assisting in the Medical Class, I feel honored to be able to help facilitate healing in others and to also observe BKS Iyengar working the room as if at a party. He is like an athlete in the zone, flowing from one person to the next, fully present. One minute “The Lion of Pune” is barking a command or pressing with such force on someone and in the next moment, he is bending down to kiss a young girl all the while leaving his indelible mark as he touches with pure brilliance.

Herein lies the mystique and transformative power of yoga. BKS Iyengar has made yoga accessible to the world and while the practise is bound in tradition, it is also constantly evolving. As I observe him practicing or teaching, I glance up to look at the hundreds of photos that adorn the walls of the Institute and I am transported across the lifespan of his practise. Change is truly the constant.

There is more traffic in Pune and available rickshaws are harder to find. I used to visit the Internet café in order to stay connected with home. Now I have Wifi. The rickshaw driver pulls out his cell phone. Walking to the vegetable market to select my produce sill holds an allure but there is now a “supermarket” in the new Pune Central department store just minutes from the Institute. However, staying true to tradition, each day I still buy the un-pasteurized “cow milk” (to be differentiated from the available buffalo milk) and boil it for my morning coffee. This has been something that I have enjoyed doing during every trip I have made to study here. Boiling the milk and using a percolator on the stove takes time and slowing down is a part of the learning for me here. I don’t want to give up this simple ritual. The coffee also tastes better.

Within Sacred India, many changes have arisen including technology, the emerging middle class, and the more common style of western clothing. Yet there remains an incredible sensory experience. Constant noise and movement threaten to overwhelm the visitor but the bombardment is offset by choosing to focus on the surrounding beauty including the rich jeweled colors of the saris, the sweet smell of the jasmine, the deep chants of the religious, the lyrical songs of the birds, the intense flavors of the food.

It is a privilege to return to India to study yoga at the source. I am grateful that the universe has at this time supported this experience for I am once again blessed to learn from the living masters of our time. As I open myself to all that this incredible country offers and in particular, the rich teachings of the Iyengars, I simultaneously open to my yoga practise. And change is what permeates both my inner and outer worlds. And just like India, where tradition underlies the changes, the constancy or ritual of daily practise provides for the ongoing process of change for the yoga practitioner. As I embark on this new-old journey, I reflect on the many changes that have occurred during my thirty-year yoga history and ponder what new changes will undoubtedly unfold.

Namaste,

Temmi

“I’m living in the moment, I’m living my life

Easy and breezy, with peace in my mind

Peace in my heart, with peace in my soul

Wherever I’m going, I’m already home”

Jason Mraz from his new album, “Love is a four letter word”

Finding the Stillness

Life doesn’t wait for nor consult with anyone. Change can occur in any moment. So practise. Be present. Learn where your center is and how to access it for when you need to go there. My sweet fifteen year old, a strong athletic intelligent beauty had a sports injury a few months ago. An emergency room doctor’s use of the wrong splint on her fracture resulted in a hospitalization and two serious infections, one life threatening. Thankfully, antibiotics and time facilitated the healing and we averted having to face anything worse than a terrible interruption in our lives and a scare.

The second time in a year and a half staying in a hospital advocating for loved ones, I again had to know where to go inwardly in order to remain grounded, calm and focused while still occasionally moving at a frenetic pace. In the first situation, my parents were both hospitalized at the same time. This past February, the work was endless supporting our daughter while trying to prevent her from slipping through the cracks in the system, unsuccessfully. However, I am grateful beyond measure for the many years of yoga practise that helps to weave together the fabric of my life. From this practice and the acquired skills and lessons learned, I was again able to tap into the source of my stability when needed, and for this, I am most grateful.

When life is spinning fast, and stress penetrates the skin, when change is in every moment and time just marches by, I try to move through the concentric circles that protect my heart. This is done symbolically while standing still in Tadasana (mountain pose). As I breathe, I ground through the soles of my feet, engaging muscles while quieting the mind, and I move in to access inner stillness. I am thus able to stand inside of the stillness for postures are tools to help reach deeply into yourself. I remain on my yoga mat, literally and figuratively, for as long as I need to.

The yoga mat is a symbol of the practise. It is a concrete manifestation that delineates the sacred space that one goes to when practising. It is a living mandala. For standing in the centre of the mat, the path leads home to one’s own inner point of stillness. This is found inside of the heart. When change arrives, in its simplest or grandest form, what is constant remains. The consistency of the practise, the strength of the connection with the Divine, and the rhythm and mystery of the breath… this is what remains constant and what pulls you towards where you need to be.

It really is simple. It is committing to remaining present and aware, awakened in each moment – breath by breath, moment to moment. Life passes. Time moves in one direction. But my yoga has taught me to stand still in the fullness of each moment. When I tune into this place, my reality has meaning. My practise has taught me to keep coming to the mat, year in and year out, to keep learning and to live my life with the understanding of what it means to be alive and to be present. My practise has taught me what yoga really is.

I don’t know what curve ball will be heading in my direction next. But I do know without a doubt that there will be one. And with humility and gratitude, I will continue to step onto my mat, to pause long enough to breathe with awareness and serenity, and to remain present in the Now. I will be standing still to catch the ball.

From Injury to Alignment, Winter 2010

At the end of a full week lived with my usual fast pace, I strained a muscle in my lower back. All plans for the day came to a halt and I immediately put myself into yoga postures as part of a specialized back recovery yoga practise that would help facilitate the healing. One of the stressors that contributed to my injury was visiting with my uncle the previous day, and observing his rapid loss of quality of life, descent into dementia and inability to get out of bed. Saddened by this and also focused on other family issues while managing all aspects of home life and work, my body was containing many intense feelings. I was primed for it to respond as it did. No matter that I have studied and practiced yoga for more than half of my life, my own vulnerability and susceptibility to stress still occasionally manifests itself in familiar yet painful ways.

I felt intense pain in my lumbar spine but knew that I would be able to ride through it over the course of a few days if I trusted the yoga therapy process. I needed to continue to honour the pain as my teacher in order to learn what I needed to at this time. Iyengar yoga is so powerful in all ways and especially in its therapeutic application. My friend, (not a yoga practitioner) dropped in just as I was working through the correct sequence of poses coupled with the necessary usage of props and adaptations, and was amazed at how I knew what to do for my injury, and at the yoga postures themselves.

Iyengar yoga is different from other systems of yoga in many ways. Though not everyone is drawn to this fantastic methodology developed over a lifetime of devotion and work by BKS Iyengar, it cannot be disputed that Iyengar yoga is a gem for everyone. There likely isn’t much that Mr. Iyengar’s brilliance hasn’t addressed and healed in over seventy-five years of experience. During my ordeal with pack pain, I was so gratified to have been taught how to work in an integrated way with limitations, injuries, conditions and pain. When I apply the potent therapeutic application of Iyengar yoga to work through my own issues, I am then more able to support the process of my students and clients. For this opportunity, to heal and to learn for myself and for others, I am most grateful.

The lesson is given to me, yet again, on how the body speaks out loud. It carries and conveys the stress, the emotions, and the challenges of our lives. Our inherent areas of weakness react. Listening to what my body has to say, and working with it, offers an opportunity for personal and professional transformation. As I listen and respond both intuitively and intellectually to the needs of my body, I offer it what it needs to heal through the specialized sequence of yoga postures, conscious breathing, and mindfulness. Again, I live my life in tandem with my yoga. After my injury, my practise was refined to meet the needs of the day. I simply adjust my practise, and apply my yoga in a way that is health promoting in order to bring my mind, body and spirit back into balance. As I work to realign my Self, I bring alignment to my life.

Awakening to the Divine Light – Thanksgiving weekend, October 2009

Some of my best yoga moments are not when I am on the mat.  Years of devotion to yoga have helped me to learn how to see that which is worth seeing and how to recognize value in what is really important. I am thankful to have learned how to be fully present in the moment and how to capture the experience with awareness, awe, and appreciation. The colours of the fall palette right now are at their warmest. They are stunningly rich and deep, and I simply love them. The crimsons and reds, ochre and mustard, rust, cornelian, apple greens, lime and dark greens – these colours are at once calming and inviting, and I am intrigued and excited as I stare unabashedly. Contentment and gratitude are my companions. Yesterday, amidst a sky of thick clouds, there was a fleeting moment during which the clouds separated and a small ray of light permeated through. The sun’s late day light cast it’s reflection on the water as it danced and shimmered across the lake’s surface. And today, when the sun emerged in the late afternoon, the light was again spectacular. As my kayak slowly skimmed the edge of the bay, I was enthralled by visions of the trees around the bay’s edge. In one section at the front of the forest three exquisite birch trees created balance and contrast. The environment beckoned me as I took in the glistening drops on the leaves from an earlier freak snowfall; the sun setting across the lake; the vivid torquoise sky; and the blending of a multitude of colours amongst the trees. Grateful to have the opportunity to be here as I brace myself against the bitter wind, I am a solitary figure on the water.  I steer the kayak around the lake on this cold Thanksgiving weekend, and it is breathtaking. The cold wind and fresh air are invigorating. The intimacy that I experience with nature and with God uplifts and inspires me. In viewing this masterpiece that is God’s creation, I understand what is meant by “the oneness of all things.”  The words of the yoga philosophies speak clearly to me. During my participation in a very challenging yoga Intensive this summer in France, many questions about yoga arose for me. Some of the clarity that I have been seeking as I explore what yoga means to me, and what I want from my yoga practise, came to me during my kayak rides this weekend. Some of the insights pertain to my asana practise and what it should be comprised of.  For many years, I have believed and have stated repeatedly, that what yoga truly means is living it each and every day both on – and off – the yoga mat.  This understanding continually deepens for me. Today I did my asana practise before my foray into the cold air.  My yoga practise, no longer about performing the asanas, later continued on the lake without any separation or break having occurred. Among the lessons learned from studying yoga are the understanding that what is really important is to open the heart to each moment; to share the fullness of that moment with those you love; and to be an honest, kind and good person. It is recognizing and appreciating the divine light in all. And, it is being fully awake for the ride. 2009