Month: March 2008

You are not your body

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Eckhart Tolle starts his book The Power of Now with a striking story about a beggar who asks a man passing him for some change. The man then answers that he has nothing to give and asks him what he is sitting on. The beggar replies that it is just an old wooden box. The man asks him if he ever opened it and the beggar says no, because there is nothing in it. The man then insists that he opens the box, the beggar opens the box and discovers that he has been sitting on a box of gold all his life. Today I am that man in your life. I am going to ask you to open your box and to look inside. 

Most of us get up every morning, we go to the bathroom and we look in the mirror at the image which is reflected back at us, thinking this is me. While brushing your hair you look in the mirror and think, look what I am doing or you do your make-up thinking I am going to look so beautiful today. The image in the mirror is you and without thinking twice you will confirm it to anybody who will ask you who is that in the mirror and you will most probably say it is me, so and so. And everyday we will repeat the same old story over and over until one day. 

That image in the mirror is not you, it is only a reflection. The moment you walk away from the mirror that image is gone and has no reality anymore, because it wasn’t really you, it was only a reflection, an illusion or maya, which was created by the play of light. Problem is most of us walk away from the mirror still thinking about that image in the mirror, identifying with it, thinking that image in the mirror, that is who I am.  

This identification with an image which is un-real, an illusion is how most people spent their whole life. They think this body, the outer reflection of the inner Truth is real, without realising that the outside is just a reflection. Once we have completed our journey with the outer vehicle (the body) the true Self (call it soul, spirit, divine spark within etc) will leave this earthly plain behind, and then the realisation dawns upon the Self that it was all the time only a reflection, an illusion. 

People will say, but I feel my body, so how can it be an illusion? Yes, it is true, we perceive and experience our outer world through our five senses and while in the body it is a condition of  existence to experience the world through the body. However, what I propose here is that people think the body is also the true Self. Yes, people will say I have a soul, but do they realise who is the soul? Can you bring yourself to the point to stop thinking that I am a body and soul, but that I am God?  

How can yoga help you to realise your true Self – the I AM?

Firstly, the practice of yoga is designed to bring awareness from the outer sensory world within to the inner metaphysical world through various practises such as yoga nidra, pratyahara (see article on the eight limbs of yoga) and meditation.

Secondly, yoga teaches you to detach from the physical (all our desires and attachments which cause so much pain) and tune more into the metaphysical or inner life. Part of the yamas and niyamas is to get our desires under control, all part of yoga practise and discipline.

Thirdly, yoga teaches you how to control the mind and therefore the emotions. Most people are controlled by their mind and their emotions. They react in a certain way, because their mind tells them this is how you should react. Emotions are the body’s reaction to our constant thinking by the mind. Through meditation and yoga you can learn to bring the mind under the control of the true Self, you can stop the constant chattering of the mind and realise in that silent moment the I am that I am.

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Want to do yoga in Pretoria?

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Yoga is a wonderful system of both physical (asanas) as well as spiritual (different yogas such as bhakti etc.) practices that can assist any person, young or old, over weight or just right, long or short to add flexibility, strength and a general feeling of well-being, peace and clam to your body.

Yoga is also suitable for people who suffer from sciatica, lower back pain, various stress related problems such as depression and anxiety, high blood pressure (if under control) and diabetes to help them to better control these afflictions.

So if you want to help yourself with the greatest gift ever, live in Pretoria, South Africa and want to challenge yourself a little bit, here is my details. It is never too late to start yoga.

For costs, venue, times and days, please see the side bar on your right for more details.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga

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The practice of yoga is an art and science dedicated to creating union between body, mind and spirit. Its objective is to assist the practitioner in using the breath and body to foster an awareness of ourselves as individualised beings  connected to the whole of creation. In short it is about making balance and creating equanimity so as to live in peace, good health and harmony with the greater whole.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, approximately 200 AD,  describes the inner workings of the mind and the art of living. and provides an eight-step blueprint for controlling the restlessness of mind and body so as to enjoying lasting peace.The core of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is an eight-limbed path that forms the structural framework for yoga practice. Upon practicing all eight limbs of the path it becomes self-evident that no one element is elevated over another in a hierarchical order.

Each is part of a holistic focus which eventually brings completeness to the individual as they find their connectivity to the divine. Because we are all uniquely individual a person can emphasize one branch and then move on to another as they round out their understanding.      

In brief the eight limbs, or steps to yoga, are as follow:

1.      Yama :  Universal morality

2.      Niyama :  Personal observances

3.      Asanas :  Body postures

4.      Pranayama :  Breathing exercises, and control of prana

5.      Pratyahara :  Control of the senses

6.      Dharana :  Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness

7.      Dhyana :  Devotion, Meditation on the Divine

8.      Samadhi :  Union with the Divine

Yamas and niyamas are the suggestions given on how we should deal with people around us and our attitude toward ourselves. The attitude we have toward things and people outside ourselves is yama, how we relate to ourselves inwardly is niyama. Both are mostly concerned with how we use our energy in relationship to others and to ourselves.The yamas are broken down into five “wise characteristics.” Rather than a list of dos and don’ts, “they tell us that our fundamental nature is compassionate, generous, honest and peaceful.”

They are as follow:

I. Yamas (Universal Morality)

1.      Ahimsa – Compassion for all living things The word ahimsa literally means not to injure. I like to think of it also as not to show cruelty to any creature or any person in any way. Ahimsa is more than just lack of violence. It means kindness, friendliness, and thoughtful consideration of other people and things. It also has to do with our duties and responsibilities in life too. Ahimsa implies that in every situation we should adopt a considerate attitude and do no harm.

2.      Satya – Commitment to Truthfulness Satya means “to speak the truth,” yet it is not always desirable to speak the truth on all occasions, for it could harm someone unnecessarily. We have to consider what we say, how we say it, and in what way it could affect others. It also refers to discovering your own inner Truth and to live it out in your daily life.

3.      Asteya – Non-stealing  Steya means “to steal”; asteya is the opposite. This also means that if we are in a situation where someone entrusts something to us or confides in us, we do not take advantage of him or her.

4.      Brahmacharya – Sense control  Brahmacharya in the east is mostly associated with abstinence or celibacy. However, this applies strongly if your are a monk, but most people practicing yoga in the West are people in relationships or marriages. Therefore in the West I like to think that Brahmacharya suggests that we should form right relationships with others, even our sexual partner, that foster our understanding of the highest truths.

5.      Aparigraha – Neutralising the desire to acquire and hoard wealth Aparigraha means to take only what is necessary, and not to take advantage of a situation or act greedy. We should only take what we have earned; if we take more, we are exploiting someone else. The Yoga Sutra describes what happens when these five behaviors outlined above become part of a person’s daily life. Thus, the yamas are the moral virtues which, if attended to, purify human nature and contribute to health and happiness of society.

II. Niyama (Personal Observances)

Niyama means “rules” or “laws.”  These are the rules prescribed for personal observance. Like the yamas, the five niyamas are not exercises or actions to be simply studied. They represent far more than an attitude. Compared with the yamas, the niyamas are more intimate and personal. They refer to the attitude we adopt toward ourselves as we create a code for living soulfully.

1.      Sauca – Purity“Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” my yoga teacher Sri Durga devi used to say. Sauca has both an inner and an outer aspect. Outer cleanliness simply means keeping ourselves clean. Inner cleanliness has as much to do with the healthy, free functioning of our bodily organs as with the clarity of our mind.

2.      Santosa – Contentment Another niyama is santosa, modesty and the feeling of being content with what we have. To be at peace within and content with one’s lifestyle finding contentment even while experiencing life’s difficulties for life becomes a process of growth through all kinds of circumstances. We should accept that there is a purpose for everything – yoga calls it karma – and we cultivate contentment to accept what happens.

3.      Tapas – Disciplined use of our energy Tapas refers to the activity of keeping the body fit or to confront and handle the inner urges without outer show. Literally it means to heat the body and, by so doing, to cleanse it.

4.      Svadhyaya – Self study The fourth niyama is svadhyaya. Sva means “self’ adhyaya means “inquiry” or “examination”. Any activity that cultivates self-reflective consciousness can be considered svadhyaya.

5.      Isvarapranidhana – Celebration of the Spiritual Isvarapranidhana means “to lay all your actions at the feet of God.” It is the contemplation on God (Isvara) in order to become attuned to god and god’s will.  

III. Asanas (Body postures)

Asana is the practice of physical postures. It is the most commonly known aspect of yoga for those unfamiliar with the other seven limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. For more information see my article on Blog about Asanas.

IV. Pranayama (Breath Control)

Pranayama is the measuring, control, and directing of the breath. Pranayama controls the energy (prana) within the organism, in order to restore and maintain health and to promote evolution. When the in-flowing breath is neutralized or joined with the out-flowing breath, then perfect relaxation and balance of body activities are realised. In yoga, we are concerned with balancing the flows of vital forces, then directing them inward to the chakra system and upward to the crown chakra.Pranayama, or breathing technique, is very important in yoga. It goes hand in hand with the asana or pose. In the Yoga Sutra, the practices of pranayama and asana are considered to be the highest form of purification and self discipline for the mind and the body, respectively.

V. Pratyahara (Control of the Senses)

Pratyahara means drawing back or retreat. The word ahara means “nourishment”; pratyahara translates as “to withdraw oneself from that which nourishes the senses.” In yoga, the term pratyahara implies withdrawal of the senses from attachment to external objects. It can then be seen as the practice of non-attachment to sensorial distractions as we constantly return to the path of self realization and achievement of internal peace. It means our senses stop living off the things that stimulate; the senses no longer depend on these stimulants and are not fed by them any more.

VI. Dharana (Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness)

Dharana means “immovable concentration of the mind”. The essential idea is to hold the concentration or focus of attention in one direction.  “When the body has been tempered by asanas, when the mind has been refined by the fire of pranayama and when the senses have been brought under control by pratyahara, the sadhaka (seeker) reaches the sixth stage, dharana. Here he is concentrated wholly on a single point or on a task in which he is completely engrossed. The mind has to be stilled in order to achieve this state of complete absorption.”In Dharana we create the conditions for the mind to focus its attention in one direction instead of going out in many different directions. Deep contemplation and reflection can create the right conditions, and the focus on this one point that we have chosen becomes more intense.

VII. Dhyana (Devotion , Meditation on the Divine)

Dhyana means worship, or profound and abstract religious meditation. It is perfect contemplation. It involves concentration upon a point of focus with the intention of knowing the truth about it. The concept holds that when one focuses their mind in concentration on an object the mind is transformed into the shape of the object. Hence, when one focuses on the divine they become more reflective of it and they know their true nature. His body, breath, senses, mind, reason and ego are all integrated in the object of his contemplation – the Universal Spirit.

VIII. Samadhi (Union with the Divine)

The final step in the eight-fold path of Yoga is the attainment of Samadhi. Samadhi means “to bring together, to merge.” In the state of samadhi the body and senses are at rest, as if asleep, yet the faculty of mind and reason are alert, as if awake; one goes beyond consciousness. During samadhi, we realize what it is to be an identity without differences, and how a liberated soul can enjoy pure awareness of this pure identity. The conscious mind drops back into that unconscious oblivion from which it first emerged. Thus, samadhi refers to union or true Yoga. There is an ending to the separation that is created by the “I” and “mine” of our illusory perceptions of reality.

These eight steps of yoga indicate a logical pathway that leads to the attainment of physical, ethical, emotional, and psycho-spiritual health. Yoga does not seek to change the individual; rather, it allows the natural state of total health and integration in each of us to become a reality. 

Asana purifies body and mind

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Hatha yoga represents opposing energies: hot and cold (fire and water, following the same concept as the yin-yang), male and female, positive and negative, sun and moon. Hatha yoga attempts to balance mind and body via:

• physical exercises, or “asanas”,

• controlled breathing, and

• the calming of the mind through relaxation and meditation. Asanas teach poise, balance and strength and are practiced to improve the body’s physical health and clear the mind in preparation for meditation in the pursuit of enlightenment. 

Asana eliminates

Asanas purify, strengthen and give flexibility to the body. When we do asana not only do we start to perspire, which eliminates toxins from the body, but we also place pressure on some of the glands in our body, helping us to rid the body of impurities and toxins associated with daily life. Through asana physical purification starts to happen, which also affects our subtle bodies. Without physical purification the move to subtle levels of consciousness cannot effectively happen. Asanas work to awaken and empower one’s innate but dormant nervous/psychic systems (often referred to as the nadis, chakras, energy, body, subtle body, etc.) so that even greater conscious integration and realization can occur through consistent effort. 

Purification Through Posture and Breathing

The first four limbs of Yoga (Yama, Niyana, Asana & Pranayama) serve to bring the mind and body into harmony and balance. A strong emphasis is placed upon the necessity of purification and detoxification of the body, and various practices are encouraged to purify the body and the senses, of which asana is the most accessible and easiest to master for most people in the West. The practice of asanas mirror many of the lifestyle changes recommended today by the health sector and can be invaluable to maintaining one’s quality of health.  

Yoga Postures (Asana)

The most widely known yoga practice in the West is asana, often known as Hatha yoga (asana means “ease” in Sanskrit). It includes a variety of physical postures and exercises that create immediate changes in the body. There are two main types of asana today: meditative and therapeutic.  

Meditative asanas bring the spine and head into perfect alignment, promoting proper blood flow throughout the body, and bringing the mind into a state of relaxation and stillness that facilitates increased concentration during meditation. At the same time, these asanas keep the glands, lungs, and heart properly energized. 

Therapeutic asanas such as the cobra locust, spinal twist, and shoulder stand are geared toward improving health and physical well-being, and have been commonly prescribed for patients with back, neck, and joint pain.  

Discipline and Awareness

Although yoga postures may involve very little movement, the mind is involved in the performance of every asana, to provide discipline, awareness, and a relaxed openness. The discipline and awareness help maintain the posture, and the relaxation and openness help stimulate the circulation of prana (life energy), allowing the student to fully experience the power and essence of the posture.

“Practicing with total awareness within the body is advanced yoga, no matter how easy the posture; practicing with your attention scattered is the practice of a beginner, no matter how difficult the posture. Hatha yoga trains the mind as well as the body, so focus your attention without lapse.” H. David Coulter.

Balance

According to the Yoga Sutras, a properly executed asana creates a balance between movement and stillness–exertion and surrender–which is precisely the state of a healthy body. The practitioner learns to regulate autonomic functions like heartbeat and breath, while physical tensions fade into relaxation.  

Welcome to Yoga

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Hi, my name is Willie Cloete. I am a yoga teacher in Pretoria, presenting Hatha Yoga to people crossing my path or who has been lead to my classes. The purpose of the yoga I teach it to make it simple and accessible to the Western body and mindset, but not neglecting the principal Eastern philosophy behind it. Here are some of the ideas I try to convey in my classes to my yogis:

The purpose of yoga – ‘who am i?’
Yoga means ‘union’ with God. It is the answer to the great question that, sooner or later, every soul on the verge of awakening will ask: ‘Who am I?’ Yoga leads us to the experience of the truth, both in our physical state as well as in our spiritual state.

Yoga – supreme spiritual science
Yoga is the ancient science of the mystics – eternal, universal and transcendent. Its origins are lost in Indo-Atlantean pre-history, but Yoga has always been practised by advanced members of human society who have recognised it as our divinely-intended, evolution-promoting way of life.

Integral yoga – accessing spirit through body and mind
The practice of Yoga integrate the whole being – mind, body and spirit. Yoga does not define body and mind as separate, but recognises both as an integrated entity. The Yogi begins to understand the ‘connectivity’ of the entire universe through his or her experience of the essential unity of the different aspects of the Self and, by extension, all creation.

Hatha yoga – within the body beautiful, the spirit soars free
What I present is Hatha Yoga in essence, but I also teach the yoga of synthesis. In other words I will included other practices such as Karma Yoga (doing charity), Bhakti Yoga(devotional aspect of yoga), Japa Yoga (to do mantras) and Dhyana Yoga (meditation) in my yoga classes. However, the main aim of my classes will be to:
• restore the mind to peace and tranquility,
• to alleviate the stress and anxiety of modern living and,
• ultimately, to transcend the perceived limitations of the body in order to set the mind free.

Yoga asanas (postures) actually balance the chemicals of the brain which naturally facilitates enhanced mental functioning.

Hatha Yoga comprises:
• Asana (postures);
• Pranayama (life-force control via breathing techniques);
• Bandha (energy locks); and
• Mudra (energy-directing poses and gestures).

Hatha Yoga is unique as an exercise system in that there is no strain on the body. Each posture targets a specific part or body system so that the entire physical being benefits. The stretches, inversions, forward and backward bends and twists of the asanas build up strength and stamina, tone and define muscles, activate the endocrine system and supply fresh blood to vital organs. Yoga practice actually cleanses the body, ridding it of toxins and vastly improving overall health.

The effects of Yoga are never purely physical. The postures, when correctly taught, enable the practitioner to take control of his or her physical and mental well-being; to triumph over the obstacles of daily living and to find inner peace. Its true purpose is to improve the yogi’s control of the vital energy whereby the brain and mind may be calmed; thus facilitating the advanced inner practices of Pratyahara (abstraction of attention and energy), Dharana (concentration) and Dhyana (meditation).

Guided relaxation and meditation – peace and bliss
Short guided meditations will guide you to soothing depths of relaxation and soaring heights of mental concentration. Learn how to use mantra repetition for relaxation and mudra for healing body and mind. My beautiful guided relaxations facilitate an easy, flowing entry into  meditation.

Deeper into yoga – let your light shine!
Yoga is a gradual process on training mind, body and spirit and as time progresses I will take you to higher states of understanding. Much of the work in the beginning is the foundation for your more advanced work as you progress and develop right understanding.