For most of us, we start yoga and we are so inspired by what we feel and experience during the first few months or even years that we need very little encouragement to motivate us to a dedicated and committed practice. Our bodies react in surprising ways to what we do with it in yoga. Our emotions start to calm down and we feel yoga is our weekly saving grace from a hectic schedule. And the mind, suddenly the monkey starts to just relax and the constant chatter of the mind dies down. We feel content, centred and even happier than before. Yoga works! And you need very little encouragement from anybody to be on your mat week in and out.
Then one morning you wake up and it happened. You feel stuck in your practice. You wish that your teacher would just do or say something today in class to motivate, inspire, and bring back the yoga mojo a little in you. In fact, you start to blame your teacher for not doing enough to move you to your happy and inspired place. You look in every class for validation; you want reassurance that you are still doing it right, that somebody notice your perfect downward dog or your gracefully executed headstand. As gregarious beings, we want to feel noticed and we want feel inspired.
As your teacher, I want to inspire you week in and week out, I want you to know I see you even if you think I don’t. It is a balancing act for teachers to be strict in terms of motivating their yogis to be in class no matter what, because how can we inspire you if you are not there? But, on the other hand we also need to tone down the discipline sometimes as many might interpret it as being too strict, to authoritarian and inflexible, when they need flexibility and tolerance.
A yoga class is not a one-size-fits-all type of practice. There isn’t a single recipe to encourage and inspire yogis. What worked yesterday will not work tomorrow, therefore for me over the years I focus less on the method and more on the ingredients, in other words, who are in my classes. The right ingredients will work together to make an inspiring and amazing dish – same with a class, the right people in each class will motivate and inspire people to come back week in and out. And if a particular class doesn’t work for you anymore, ask your teacher to move. Sometimes I ask somebody to move to another class. Each one of my classes has its own personality and each class is suited to some and sometimes it is not. Doesn’t mean the teacher and yoga doesn’t inspire you anymore, you just need to find the recipe where you will work with the other ingredients.
To get you started, here are a few ways to inspire you, to get to the right group where you will perform optimally again:
Let go of Expectations
Having a healthy expectation of yourself, yoga and your teacher is natural and a balanced outlook will inspire you. But expecting the impossible both from yourself, your teacher and the other yogis in your class is a sure way to kill the inspiration.
Remember your Original Intention
So many times we start doing yoga with one simple intention in mind, over time Ego starts to get hold of us again and we added too many intentions which become tiresome and we start to feel uninspired. Remind yourself again why you started yoga in the first place. Keep that intention alive as it will cultivate inspiration.
Know the Ingredients, Not Just the Recipe
Get to know the ingredients, in other words, reach out to the other yogis in your class. I cannot say this enough, you have a new family in your yoga group, but you need to reach out, be part of the group, and be that one ingredient that makes the recipe awesome. Be awesome when you walk into a class and realise you are part of a very special recipe with other awesome ingredients.
Sharing, Not Just Lecturing
As your teacher I am here to share. And I shall always share freely my advice, my knowledge, my compassion, my teachings, my asanas – I am not your mother, I am not here to tell you what to do and what not. I am here to share and to ensure that your practice evolves you and moves you. And in sharing I trust I motivate and inspire you. You need to find the inspiration and you can only find it, if you are in the class on your mat on a regular basis.
Own your Practice
Own your successes and small victories. When you eventually get something right, realise the magnitude of what it has moved inside you. Inspiration comes from noticing the small little changes after a while and realising that a regular practice makes the difference. You make the difference by being on your mat without excuse. As I always say, there are two reasons why you skip a class: your death and the flu. All the rest is just excuses. Come to class, even after an operation or giving birth, you don’t have to do anything, but being there WILL make the difference you need, because is it all about the energy.
Respect is not a FOUR Letter Word
Respect is a discipline and an attitude in life. Respect is not about appreciation and praise and admiration, but it is about being committed, disciplined and to be on your mat in class. It is beyond rules; it is an attitude that inspires you to be above the need for appreciation and praise. Respect is an inner knowing and attitude that inspire you to belief in yourself, your practice and I am the best I can be.
Yoga is about Growth
Lastly, if you think yoga is about being able to stand on your head or do the perfect cockerel, then your Ego has taken over and you will not feel inspired. Leave the competiveness at home, it kills inspiration instantly. Your Ego is your greatest obstacle to the growth yoga can bring. That constant growth inspires you to do a little more every time. But, if you have lost this motivation, you have also lost inspiration. Rekindle your own inspiration by focusing on the growth aspect of yoga and not the look-what-I-can-do aspect.
As your teacher I belief in the individual capabilities of each of my yogis. Each yogi in my class inspire me to be on my mat and to move and grow my own practice. I can only inspire you if you are in my class.
Have you ever left home for yoga class or work or going to a friend and when you arrive at your destination you can’t remember through how many traffic lights you are or any detail of other cars or anything from your journey? Or sometimes you read a book and three pages later you can’t seem to remember anything that happened or what you have read the last three or four pages? Of course you have, we all have! These are common examples of “mindlessness,” or as some people put it, “going on auto-pilot.”
We are all subject to the bad and good habits of our minds and bodies, of attention and inattention, of being in the here and now or being totally absent busy living in the past or future. Wherever we are the result is a us not being present most of the time in our own lives. And the unfortunate part of this inattention can be costly, we can miss really good opportunities, or we may miss information about our lives, our relationships or even about our health! However there is a way out of this inattention, we call it mindfulness.
It is important to note that we all have the quality of being mindful and the ability to apply and practice it within us. It is not a special skill you have to learn, in fact it is something natural in us and we just need to re-establish the habit and pattern to be mindful within us. To practice mindfulness is to first of let go of the idea that you are good at mutlitasking and to accept that we as humans are programmed to do one thing at a time and then we do it really good, we do it with mindfulness. It is the quality of bare awareness that knows what is here in the present moment. Mindfulness knows what is going on outside, and also, inside our own skin. However we experience life, through whichever sense gate life comes to us – eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, even the mind itself – mindfulness is capable of knowing that seeing, or hearing, or smelling, or tasting, or feeling, or even thinking – is happening in this, the present moment.
Truly living in the present moment isn’t easy, but it is highly rewarding. The best way to move forward on your own path to “here and now” is to understand the potential obstacles and plan in advance how you’ll deal with them.
It is an ongoing effort
Mindfulness isn’t something that just drops out of the sky and voila there you have it! It takes time and effort and constant reminding to be in the here and now. However, the more you practice it, the easier it gets to get into the habit of being in the here and now. As with most things in life, your mind will be fearful initially and your thoughts will be chaotic, your life would seem out of control. Previously you would cook, eat, feed the baby and dog and cover your son’s books at the same time, now you do one thing at a time and it might feel you’re wasting time, but give it a chance. Your situation will feel out of control and even helpless, but the more you focus on being fully where you are, the easier it will be to find peace of mind in the moment.
My Tip: Start small, baby steps, do one thing good and complete it and then move onto the next. Mindfulness is best practiced throughout your day. It’s not just for when you sit down and meditate. Focus on being mindful of your thoughts when you’re doing everyday tasks and it will be easier to remain mindful when things get tough.
There will always be distractions
It seems to be a law of the Universe, as soon as we start a journey there always seems to arrive more challenges with that journey as well. The distractions could be problems in your life, drama in your relationships, or old negative beliefs popping up from your past. Try to see the opportunity in the challenge – simply put you have an opportunity to practice present moment awareness and that is great! Our challenges will help us to become stronger, more resilient and better in tune with yourself.
My Tip: See the challenges, the distractions and difficulties not as negatives, but as wise teachers in disguise! They are really there to help you grow and realise who you are!
Be patient – progress takes time
We live in a world where we are forced into thinking that everything works like a McDonalds! Truth is our world needs slowing down, needs time, a plate of food that took time and attention to prepare taste so much better than a fast food hamburger, not true? Same with your progress, it might seems slow and excruciating, but have patience. There will be times when you attach to things and situations that you want, which will make it difficult to be fully in the present moment.
My Tip: It’s impossible to be mindful when you’re dwelling on the past or obsessing about the future. We all do those things sometimes. I’ve experienced it countless times in my own life. The more I want something, the more I fixate on not having it and wanting to get it. Once I release the attachment and focus on being grateful for what I have in the moment, my life seems to shift, and progress seems to happen naturally.
Don’t give up!
Any journey has that moment where we just want to give up or turn around. But it is during the times when you feel most frustrated that you are often on the verge of a breakthrough. Our lives are very similar to the seasons. We go through cold, dark winters, and joyful, expanding summers. It all comes and goes. It’s the ebb and flow of life.
My Tip: Realise that life is sometimes easier and expansive and other times it is difficult and contracting again. But, as you become more mindful of the challenging times, you realise they are there to help you grow and in time you will feel more peaceful and relaxed.
Our goals muddle our mindfulness
Being goal driven and orientated in life is necessary and fantastic. And the problem is not with having goals, but that we can become so attached to the “outcome” of our goals that we forget to be mindful of getting there. And the more we focus on the outcome and attach to the outcome, meaning we live in the future, the more frustrated, angry and negative we get. Sometimes to the point where we feel everything and everybody is against us!
My Tip: Attachment muddles our clarity. You’re likely pursuing your goals because you believe the outcomes will make you happy and not because you enjoy the journey! When we allow our goals to pull us too much into the future or even the past, it is not a goal anymore, but a chore that makes you unhappy! Focus on that which you want to achieve now, it will make you much happier!
The journey is the destination
Like the example with which I have started this article, most of us are barely aware of the journey, we miss the fact that the journey IS the reward, the utopia we looking for! Have you ever noticed that the path to reach a goal is much more exciting and interesting than reaching the goal itself? When we are young we look forward to being older and wiser and want to be older, but when we reach the milestone of a certain age we had in mind, suddenly that milestone doesn’t seem so great, but the journey to get to lets say 50 was such a great one!
My Tip: It is in the journey that we learn, grow, and become better. When you’re practicing mindfulness, remember that there is nowhere to arrive at. If you focus on what is going on right now, the rest take care of itself.
Sometimes you’ll want to be anywhere but in the now
In my life I have been in the presence of many great teachers, my own teacher Sri Durga, Sri Satya Sai Baba, Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, Swami Sahajananda of the Divine Life Society in South Africa and even they had to deal with difficult situations and chaotic thoughts from time to time. What I have learned from all of them is that it is easier to accept the moment for what it is than to fight it and trying to change it. When you do this, you become the guardian of your inner space and peace, which is the only way to feel good inside and find peace of mind, right now.
My Tip: Look to the journeys of those who went there before you and take inspiration from their journeys and know that your path will be full of opportunities to be great as well! It is up to you to recognise them!
Yoga has always been practiced in both the East and West, so it would be an error to consider yoga as exclusively “Eastern”. In fact, yoga, with its powerful techniques for creating a sense of inner peace, harmony, and clarity of mind, is absolutely relevant to the modern world – both East and West. Given the increasing pace and conflict present in modern life, with all its resulting stress, one could say that yoga has become an essential tool for survival, as well as for expanding the creativity and joy of our lives.
Although yoga does not “belong” to the East, it is easiest to trace its roots there, because cultural change has not obscured the origins of the science, and an ongoing tradition of yoga has continued to the present day. No one person “invented” yoga – yoga is a living tradition, a set of practices that dates back for centuries. And as such I would like to introduce some thoughts on the 5 Yamas that might make it easier for the Western yogi to understand and assimilate into his/her life.
AHIMSA – THE ACT OF NON-VIOLENCE
For many Western yogis this Yama is problematic in the sense that many yoga teachers immediately associate it with their diets and going vegetarian, not harming animals by not eating them and some teachers will paint the horrors of abattoirs to the yogis to drive home their point. However, those same teacher’s fridges are packed with amazing veggies, fruits and nuts flown in from the Middle-East, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. All the linen, plates and glasses in their cupboards are imported from China – because it was so cheap!
My approach is to consider the violence that was perpetrated against the Earth to get those magnificent veggies, fruits and nuts to South Africa. How much Ahimsa is in your decision to buy imported stuff from China if you consider their poor human rights record (think Tibet here), disregard for the environment and life in general, lost jobs in your own country because you support them by buying their goods?
For me Ahimsa starts with the little things we do. Support local farmers and their produce, that way you keep people in a job and you minimise your violent carbon foot print on the Earth. Support local industry by buying what is produced in your country at much better quality usually that the stuff from China. Once you have done that, then consider more challenging issues such as vegetarianism, again nobody says you have to be a vegetarian to do yoga, but perhaps you can support Meat Free Mondays or cut back on your meat consumption to say three times a week initially?
I know many yogis who are vegetarians who commit so much violence against their bodies because they insist to follow a lifestyle that is strictly speaking not suitable for everybody. They are ill, have all sorts of muscular problems, so many is diabetic and most of them are severely depressed due to a lack of B-vitamins in their diets and resort to violent medication to help them “cope” with life – not much Ahimsa in such a life either.
SATYA – THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE
Most of us try not to lie, we earnestly strive to be honest in our daily life and for most Western yogis this Yama is actually the easy one. Thou shall not tell lies, is one of the 10 Commandments so we grew up with it, we are experienced in this Yama.
However, Satya is more than just not telling lies. It is about telling the truth about yourself as well. It is a known fact that people, who are honest about themselves to others, are in fact much happier than individuals who withhold info about themselves or who pretend to be straight if they are in fact gay for example. This extends to your truth on your spiritual life as well; do you live two spiritual lives – one for the yogis and one for the friends and family not to upset them too much? Sometimes it is difficult and scary to that honest as we all fear rejection, judgement and criticism. But, living in fear constitutes living a lie and it is not worth the sadness and anger that comes with such a life.
Satya has wonderful benefits and here are a few to ponder and consider:
- Truthfulness grounds you in yourself. We weather the emotional storms much better when we are truthful, we are less dependent on approval from others and the pressure to conform is reduced.
- Truthfulness makes you trustworthy—both to yourself and to others. Other people see your transparency and feel that they can trust you.
- Truthfulness deepens relationships. It opens the door for genuine intimacy. Your honesty promotes honesty in others. It empowers them and gives them permission to be honest themselves. When people share honestly with each other about their feelings and their needs, everyone is more likely to have their needs met.
ASTEYA – DO NOT STEAL MY ENERGY
Again Asteya is a Yama that we are familiar with in the Western and Christian view of the world. It is one of the 10 Commandments and a Yama that we practiced since a very young age. But I want to look beyond the physical act of not stealing to the subtle art of spiritual stealing that most of us commit.
When we speak about theft at its core, it is when a person believes that anything is his – his money, his belongings, his spiritual growth, his spiritual connection. When a person is of the consciousness that these things are mine, he is stealing. Why? Because the truth is that everything is from the Divine. Nothing is really ours.
Your daily life is made up by the concept that this is mine and that is yours and we get upset when people intrude and “steal” from us. When we start to implement and practice Asteya it is inevitable that our worldview will also start to change from mine to ours. As long as we belief this and that is mine, it obscures our truth (Satya) and almost every argument and every form of negativity that comes about in a person’s life is based upon this concept of mine. And that is the stealing, to which I would like to refer here.
BRAHMACHARYA – A LIFE WITHOUT SEX?
In the classical understanding of yoga Brahmacharya refers to exactly that, celibacy, life without sex and this is a ghastly thought for many Westerners as most yogis in the West today are not monk, sannyasas or ascetics living in mountain caves or ashrams somewhere in the Himalayas. No, most Western yogis are householders, they are already married or in relationships and this will be an unfair expectation to most. On another level we refer to it then as fidelity in your relationship, being faithful and trustful to your partner in life. However, I want to look at the spiritual aspect of Brahmacharya.
We live in an age where we are bombarded with new spiritual ideas and concepts on a daily basis. And the temptation to take from that path and from this one and from that one is great, because we see in each of them something that rings true for us. However, my yoga teacher, Sri Durga Devi, was adamant that once we have investigated and explored all the paths, we should choose a path and stick to that path. Be faithful to that path, defend it no matter what and this is the spiritual Brahmacharya we all must practice at some point. My path is the path of yoga, I’ll defend it always and first and foremost I will promote it as one of the best paths to follow, I’ll always answer a question with yoga philosophy in mind, I’ll always ask myself what would my own teacher have said. The value of practicing spiritual Brahmacharya to your path is legio, but the greatest is that your focus is concentrated and you can make much bigger spiritual jumps than when you are unfaithful to your path and take a little from this path and a little from that one.
APARIGRAHA – DO I WANT OR DO I NEED
The principle idea behind Aparigraha is that we should strive to live a life that is not ruled by greed. Problem is in the World today we have constructed a world economy and financial system that is inherently based on greed. It is also in the nature of humans to want to have more and big business knows this and they pounce on this human trait by means of advertising which is based on fear most of the time.
In South Africa there is an advertisement for a large banking group where a man stands in a shop looking at a pair of shoes and he really desire to have those shoes. Then there comes a voice that asks if he wants it of if he needs it? His answer is:”I want to need it!” Unfortunately this is where the good part of the ad stops, next moment they offer him a credit card with which his greed is then fulfilled.
Most of us are on a daily basis torn between what we want and what we need and the practice of Aparigraha becomes so much more important for us. When I am torn between what I want and need, I always take a moment and ask myself do I really need this or is it just my greed, my fears that let me belief I want it. It’s a simple practice, but it has helped me not only to save thousands of Rands over the last ten years of my life, but it has paved the way for a simpler and less complicated existence as well, and there in is the value of Aparigraha for the yogi.
“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” ~Buddha
Many of us has programmed our lives with certain statements, ideas and thoughts, which we belief to be true and we repeat this process of affirming these statements, ideas and thoughts on a daily basis. Sometimes we repeat the same statement over and over to such an extend that we become that statement. The sad part of most these statements, ideas and thoughts are that they are repeated out of fear, ignorance and because we firmly belief that is who I AM.
My career life started out in 1994 as a 2nd language teacher and during my first year (I started teaching in the middle of the year) I inherited a class who was neglected by their previous teachers and who had a 0% pass rate in Afrikaans 2nd language. They all belief that they couldn’t spell and they didn’t want to learn Afrikaans (at that point SA changed from Apartheid government to the democratic elected ANC-led government) and would usually use statements such as “I don’t want to learn Afrikaans” or “I have never been able to spell” or “I don’t need languages, I am going to be a scientist” to convince me to give up on them.
Initially my work was less about teaching them Afrikaans than it was about teaching them that a change in their beliefs about themselves and changing their minds about their future will benefit them.
“I never want to hear you say you’re not good at Afrikaans in my class again,” I’d say. I’d ask them to switch to “I’m learning Afrikaans” or “I’m getting better at Afrikaans” or “I’m working on my spelling.”
So whenever they would employ negative self-talk I would draw their attention to that, stop the class and then transform it into positive statements. “I know it sounds freaky, but give it a chance,” I’d have to say. “Yes, I know it you don’t feel like changing your mind yet!” They’d roll their eyes and just laughed at me. Slowly but surely some of them started to change their minds, started to realise the impact of positive self-talk in their lives and some of them actually started to enjoy Afrikaans. Some of them employ it in their other subjects and they were less overwhelmed at the enormity of passing matric that year. By the end of that year and in the final exam nearly 60% of that class passed Afrikaans.
Keep Calm and Change Your Mind
Most of us repeat negative thinking patterns and self-defeating ideas, we sometimes nurture it, because that is all we know and we feel safe in them, even though we wish at the same time we could change it all. Well, there is a way out, it can change and that change starts with you changing your mind!
Let’s draw the class with language issue closer to our own lives. For a moment think of a statement that you hold to be true for you. Now, think carefully, where does that statement come from, who told you that it is true for you? And why do you keep nurturing that statement, even though you know it is not true for you, even though you know it makes you unhappy and want to change it.
If you read this blog, I am sure you know what is an affirmation. And this is the golden key to changing you mind and ultimately your life. Affirmations – I’m sure you’ve heard about them. An affirmation is, simply, positive self-talk, its a way of changing your mind. It’s a statement about ourselves or our situation, phrased in the present tense as if the statement is already true.
Affirmations are agents of change in our lives. I’d like to share with you 4 steps which I use to create mind changing affirmations:
- Identify your negative self-talk, thoughts, ideas and beliefs about yourself.
- Take those thoughts, ideas etc and create an affirmation for each one out of what you have written down.
- The next step is to carry those affirmations with you and use them, daily!
- And in time you’ll see the change you want to see in your life.
1. Step One: Identify those negative ideas and thoughts
I know you would want to type it on your PC or Tablet, but be old fashioned, sit down, think about them and write them down in a diary or journal. It is important that we physically connect our neurons with these ideas and thoughts on paper and at the same time we intuitively connect to them as well. What our bodies do, our subconscious learns from.
Fold a the page in your journal in half lengthwise, and then unfold it. On the lift side, write a list of those self-limiting statements you’ve been thinking and saying. “I can’t afford a new car.” Or “It’s hard to lose weight.” Or “I’ll never be successful in my career.”
Now, for a few days listen to yourself, write down the negative self-talk, thoughts and ideas as they arise, make note of the situation in which they have arise and why. Once you are sure you have exhausted that topic it is time for the next step.
2. Step Two: Create some affirmations out of those old beliefs.
This is the difficult step in this process. You need to create new statements for yourself, positive ones that can replace the old ones. Remember your fear of the unknown, your comfort zone will make it initially difficult to come up with new statements, but persist, it will come to you.
Down the right side of your paper, across from each left-side statement, write a new one that transforms that negative statement into a positive.
- “I can’t afford a new car” becomes “A new car is a real possibility for me.”
- “It’s hard to lose weight” becomes “Losing weight is easy for me.”
- “I’ll never be successful in my career” becomes “I’m good at my job and deserves success.”
The new statements must be in the present tense. Write “I am…” rather than “I will be…” or “I’m going to be…” Avoid using the word “try” because “I’m trying” is a self-perpetuating statement.
To get around your disbelief about writing something that feels untrue and seems impossible, you can write things like “I’m learning to….” and “I’m getting better at….” It’s still present tense, still a positive affirmation. Something like “I’m getting better at saving money” might feel better than “I’m good at saving money.”
3. Step 3: Begin using the new affirmation statements.
The next step is to make those affirmations part of your life and to start to belief them. As you repeat them over and over they will become the new tune according to which your life will unfold.
However, I have to warn you, changing years and years of programming isn’t easy, it take will, effort and determination to change your mind. And if you slip, don’t stay and wallow in the mud, pick yourself up and start by repeating those new affirmations again. If you catch yourself thinking or saying any of your old (negative) beliefs, stop yourself. Transform it into the positive, right then and there.
Ask your family and friends to help by simply pointing out any negative self-descriptions when you say them. When they do, transform the negative to the positive immediately, and say the new statement aloud to them.
You’re literally changing your mind.
4. Step 4: See the Change unfolding
Goethe said: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”
Changing your mind doesn’t happen over night. But starting to manifest a positive life with greater possibilities must be better than what we have. The power of this process is, as you change, those around you will see the change, and they will be influenced by that change. You become a powerful agent for change not only in your own life, but also in the lives of those around you. And that is an empowering thought I think.
If there is one idea in yoga philosophy that is difficult for most Western yogis to grasp and to get used to, it is the idea of Maya. Over the years as a yoga teacher I have come to realise that even harder than karma or reincarnation to digest, is the theory of Maya for Western yogis and I hope that this article will shed some more light on the subject for them.
Samkhya, also Sankhya, is one of the six (astika) schools of Hindu philosophy and classical Indian philosophy. Sage Kapila is traditionally credited as a founder of the Samkhya School. It is regarded as one of the oldest philosophical systems in India. Samkhya is an enumerationist philosophy that is strongly dualist. Samkhya philosophy regards the universe as consisting of two realities; Puruṣa (consciousness or God) and prakriti (phenomenal realm of matter or nature). Jiva is that state in which puruṣa is bonded to prakriti through the glue of desire, and the end of this bondage is moksha(liberation).
From this dualistic view flows the idea of Maya. Maya is part of prakriti, it is the realm in which we as reincarnated souls function within the limits of our karma and Maya serves as the catalyst through which we can experience prakriti. However, Maya is also part of this bondage or Moksha and we need to remember that all these constructs, Prakriti, Maya and Moksha are not real, they are part of illusion, the unreal, hence the famous words from the Shanti Mantra: “Om asato maa satgamaya, Tamaso maa jyotir gamaya, Mrityor maa amritam gamaya” (Lead us from the unreal to the Real, from darkness to Light, from death to immortality.) The only aspect that which is then real is Puruṣa as it is God or that part of us which is Light, Real and the only Truth.
The world of names, forms and constructions is then Maya. It is our human nature (prakriti) to names things, to put them in categories and to organise them down to the smallest atom and even name those atoms into smaller parts. And this is Maya, while in a body it has purpose and it helps us to make sense of a very complex world, but once we are dead this system has no use to us. We don’t know what awaits us on the other side and even if we will need these Maya constructs to function. It is generally accepted that we forget them as we exist then in Puruṣa, pure consciousness and there is no need for these constructs that we have created and learned while in prakriti.
The Western Dilemma
The main dilemma for most Western yogis are that we grow up with such a strong sense of our world and our bodies, that to tell us suddenly that your body is only an illusion is a bigger shock to the system than the law of karma. As one of my yogis once challenged me in class to come and feel, smell and even taste her body and tell me it isn’t real! For the Western mind the world around us is very real and no illusion, it is a place of joy and sorrow, ups and downs, love and hate and much more. So, to tell a grieving mother and yogi that the death of her 11 year old daughter is only an illusion is no comfort to such a person, but adds to the confusion and sorrow.
True vs. Truth
For me illusion or Maya is true as long as I have a physical body and ego! Yes, my body is true: – I can feel it, smell it, taste it and even sometimes hear it function. I can perceive my body with all my senses. My emotions, my nature, my personality, all these aspects of me and the world around me are true as well. There is no illusion in that. There is even no delusion in that as well. It is also true that we construct words and ideas to describe and categorise our world around us and these constructs are also true and necessary to function in Maya. It is important to realise that all of Maya is true; there is no need to deny our prakriti of even Maya, in doing so we delude ourselves even more and association with our ego becomes stronger.
But is it the Truth? No, it is not the ultimate Truth, this body, this world with all its constructs is not our ultimate Truth. It is not really who we are and that is the path of yoga, to guide us to understand that while Maya is true, Maya is not the Truth! The ultimate Truth, that which is Real, the Light, call it what you want, that is what Maya serves us to discover, Maya is the great reminder that while certain things are true, it is not the Truth and that we are on a path of discovery. The discovery we need to make within Maya is to realise the Truth – and at that a very hard thing to do as well. So Maya helps to differentiate between that which is true and the Truth.
In classical yoga the yamas-niyamas are very demanding obligations. They represent the yogi’s commitment to a life where ethics, discipline, constraint and self-control plays and integral part in the spiritual as well as mundane life of such a yogi. For the serious yogi they are his/her way of life and there is no negotiation. In Patanjali’s framework they are absolute in their compliance and meaning and very little room for interpretation.
In classical times, yoga used to belong to the sphere of the Ashram where monks and sannyasa (final stage of the ashramic life, total renunciation) and other spiritual aspirants practiced yoga. The yamas-niyamas were their guidelines for right conduct and they were prescribed and followed to the letter. However, by 1947 when India gained independence from Britain, yoga was practiced as an exception and not a rule. Many of the gurus and swamis of the time were extremely worried about the lack of interest in yoga in India during this time. This prompted great yogis to send disciples to the West to promote yoga and Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh to send his disciple Swami Vishnu-Devananda in 1957 with these words ‘many souls in the East are reincarnating in the West. Go and reawaken their consciousness and bring them back to the path of yoga.’ And the stellar growth of yoga in the West is from there astounding till this day.
But with it came a huge problem, many of the Western yogis were normal householders, they were married and many were initially part of the Hippie Movement in the 1960’s where especially the Brahmacharya yama was extremely problematic in an age of free sex. I have read many interpretations and as a teacher it remains the most difficult yama to explain to students who are married and have a duty and obligation towards their partner regarding sex. All the explanations of being constantly aware of the universe, immersed in divinity, divine conduct, continence, celibate when single, faithfulness when married etc. has never really satisfied me or my students and I hope my interpretation might add another view on this very important yama.
Unfortunately in the West we had mistaken the yamas-niyamas as a canon of behaviour, describing what is preferred and what is not. We have classified and codified them as superficial guidelines to regulate and explain certain behaviours, choices and even personality traits. The problem is they are not any of this, no matter how much we want them to be the above, the yamas-niyamas represent distinct classes of human manifestation and need not be narrowly interpreted as doing this or that.
Brahmacharya or “abstinence from sex” is a classic example of loss in translation. I do not think for one moment Patanjali was so naïve to overlook a need for the perpetuation of the human species and sex is the vehicle for that. I also am certain the Patanjali realised the pleasure factor that goes with sex. And in a way I think if he wrote the Yoga Sutras, which contains the yamas-niyamas, for the ordinary man, he would have most probably worded Brahmacharya completely different.
I think that Patanjali had no problem with sex between two people in a loving relationship per se. I think he most probably would understand the need for sex and also the pleasure we as humans derive from it. What I do think would have been problematic for Patanjali in this context would be total over indulgence and our mind’s attachment. And I think for that matter Patanjali would have a problem with over indulgence whether it was sex, eating, gambling, gossip, judging other, internet surfing, addiction or anything else.
One of the great pitfalls for many yogis is attachment. Our attachment to indulgence in anything is then a problem. For me in a modern Western context, Brahmacharya is then not a warning not to have a sexual life, but it is a warning against something much deeper – our attachment to such acts as sex and the pleasure we derive from it.
I know may yogis who are guilt ridden because they find Brahmacharya just so difficult to adhere to. This guilt burns them up and instead of becoming more joyful and contends with life, they fall into depression, anxiety and a life of guilt. They way out is to realise that Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras for a completely different audience than who is doing yoga today. I don’t even think that Patanjali contemplated the possibility of yoga in the West and how it morphed into different branches and styles. The way out is to understand the necessity for sex, but without the over indulgence and attachment to it.
Most people today have some idea as to what the chakras are and their function in our lives. However, in the West most of us still think that chakras is a concept that comes from the East and that we in the West have no idea or concept of it. And to some degree it is true, we are less aware of the chakras in the West than in the East, but that doesn’t mean that we are not familiar with it in the West and our wisdom and knowledge grow with every tick of the clock, to the point where the West have developed and establish a well respected study of the chakras through authors such as Anodea Judith, Caroline Myss and others.
Today the chakras, auras, subtle bodies and energy field have become much more common topics of discussion in western society, than ever before. More people are moving to a greater awareness of their own body energy – some from a desire for inner growth, others from a scientific (quantum physics) perspective and still others from a renewed sense of the sacred. In the West we have heavily relied on the eastern cultures who have described energetic connections between the mind, body and spirit. Chinese medicine relies on energy meridians that correspond to psycho-physiological states. Vedic scholars, centuries ago described the seven energy centres of the body (chakras) from a spiritual context. However, the West is busy compiling and developing its own understanding of the chakras in a very practical way today.
We do know the Chakras in the West
You just have to go into art history and have a look at the old paintings of the Renaissance and even before to realise that there was some concept of the chakras present already in the West way back then. The “halos” of energy painted around the heads of many of the saints and important religious figures constitute in my view and opinion the energy to represent the crown chakras of those figures. Did some psychic or intuitive person actually saw the opening of the crown chakra of a particular individual and the only way the artist could give expression was a halo?
I have an honours degree in language and literature and as a young student, who was already aware of the chakras and their meaning; I was always amazed at how familiar we are in the West through language of the chakras. Many of our euphemisms, espressions and poetic language tend to locate energy in particular area of the body. We speak of having a “broken heart” and feel actual pain in the chest when we lose someone we love (heart chakra). We criticize others for being “unrooted”, or “pulling the rug out from under us” (root chakra). When a situation threatens our self-confidence we feel “butterflies in our stomach” (solar plexus chakra), and get a “lump in our throat” when grief remains unexpressed (throat chakra). Personally, I am convinced that we have always been aware of the chakras in the West, but due to the strict censure of the Church we have choose to hide them a little, but the time has come for the West to be more open and vocal about the chakras and realise the impact they have on our whole experience here on earth.
By developing an inner awareness of the chakras it is possible to begin a process that includes transforming and reconfiguring these energies. In perceiving the spiritual psychology of the chakras it is possible to help achieve a more balanced, energized and meaningful life and I hope that this article will help you in achieving that goal in your life.
The Root – Muladhara Chakra
Birth is a very traumatic and disorientating event for all of us and it is a blessing that we cannot remember much of it. First of all you are suddenly pushed into a world of noise and lights and strange people and surroundings from the safety and comfort of the womb. Then at some point your umbilical cord is cut, which adds to the trauma of the birthing process. All these necessary events cut us from the security of the womb and existentially we experience separation from Spirit as we find ourselves embodied in a human form. As the umbilical cord is cut we find ourselves thrust into a dangerous, insecure and vulnerable world.
Suddenly we find ourselves in a dense, human body and we sense a world through our five senses that is very different from the one where we just came from. We must start to use our body now to experience all that we can and have to for this particular incarnation. Physically this body is made up of carbon and hydrogen – the constituent elements of the earth. The root chakra becomes activated at birth, a necessity which energetically reconnects us with the “sacred matter (Mother)” in our attempt to find our spiritual connection. We quickly learn that we cannot survive if we do not feed and nurture our physical body – making our relationship with the earth both necessary and integral to our survival. Belonging to a family, clan or group helps us to survive this initial shock of being incarnated; it provides us with security, safety and a sense of belonging. If we are strongly rooted in this initial phase of our life – strong familial ties, connection with grandparents and a safe environment for your development – we are are ensured a healthy and balanced root chakra, which result in a person that is generally happy, feel secure and has a positive self-image.
However, if our sense of security and belong was neglected as young children, when fear and disruptive behaviour was the norm in our environment and if we had a disconnected relationship with nature, our parents and our clan, then we end up feeling “unrooted” later in life. Insecurities and anxiety will surface and issues with our right to be here will surface as well. Feeling disconnected from earth (the mother principle, think here mother earth) will lead to various forms of depression and other psychological symptoms such as fear of becoming ill, aging and dying, feeling ungrounded and vulnerable, chronic anxiety and unnecessary neuroses surface as well.
It is important to remember that we can heal root chakra issues through compassionate self-healing techniques such as finding ways to reconnect with the earth through spending time in nature, doing gardening or hiking trips. Establishing a practice where we honour the earth as sacred and as the Mother by exploring our caring and nurturing nature through acts such as concern through environmental issues, participating in recycling programmes and voicing our concern about issues such as pollution and global warming. A great way of healing is to foster closer relations with estranged family members, or create a circle of friends where you feel safe, secure and have a sense of belonging. Joining groups, associations or clubs is also a great way to establish a sense of felling secure and belonging.
The root chakra corresponds to the physical age of man which is 1-7 years. It is interesting to note how many toddlers during this time eat dirt; many if they have the opportunity bake mud cakes at some point during this developmental stage. This stage is called the formative years and that points directly to the importance of establishing a strong root chakra based in a strong group or family system for the individual to further develop.
The Sacral – Svaddhistana Chakra
Now that the individual is more at ease and secure in his/her environment and have come to grips with physical reality, enters the next energetic challenge for the individual – the energy of the sacral chakra is about establishing relationships. The second chakra holds the energy of all relationships we encounter in our lives – the first relationship we encounter is that with our parents and the energy of this relationship lays the foundation for all future relationships in our lives. If we were nurtured by our parents we will find it easy to nurture other relationships in life, but if we experienced rejection, future relationships may be more challenging for us than usual. During this phase we learn the value of give and take of sibling rivalry; the devotion or betrayals of friendship; the intimacy and vulnerability of sexual attraction; and the ability to produce and nurture our own children.
If we do not learn to connect to others through emotional intimacy we remain alone, estranged or dissociated. When our early needs for intimacy and love are thwarted through abandonment, abuse or neglect, we find it hard to trust and begin to doubt our ability to attract love or find passion and joy in life. Eventually we end up with issues relating to intimacy, physical avoidance, accepting or perpetrating abuse in relationships, sexual dysfunction, parenting problems and a lack of passion and motivation in life.
To heal the energy of this chakra involves learning to recognise our wounded “inner child” and how to respond to the demands which manifest as episodes of painful memories that arise – these can be of neglect, rejection or abuse. A great deal of healing can be achieved if we can learn how to forgive not only others, but also ourselves and in that forgiveness we learn how to release guilt and blame. It means gently finding the courage to open ourselves to emotional intimacy and often a wise and trusted counsellor or healer can facilitate this process. Developing self-compassion and self-nurturing is the key to balance the energy of this chakra.
The sacral chakra corresponds to the physical age of man which is 8-14 years. It is during this phase that young boys will develop a love for their mother and the greatest hero in a girl’s life would be her father at some point. Proceeding to school suddenly they meet new people and they form “best pal” friendships and suddenly teacher is always right and you are always wrong, because teacher said so! It is also during this time that many will experience their first love and the elation that goes with it, but many will also experience the pain of a broken heart, learning the reality of relationships.
The Solar Plexus – Manipura Chakra
Now that we have established a relationship with the world and with those around us, the next challenge of the solar plexus chakra is to create a sense of self in relation to the world we live in – other words we need to learn to love ourselves now. It is time to assert our self-worth and self-esteem. During this phase we need to become masters of our own universe and in doing so we empower ourselves to fulfil our desire to be the best we can in this life. The energetic challenges of solar plexus chakra are are locked up in the desire to learn self-control, humility and awareness of our purpose in life.
However, if our desire to establish a strong sense of ourselves is met with over-control, shaming, authoritarian and intentional ego-damaging behaviour, we are left with a debilitated and wounded sense of self. These manifests as a sense of “I am not worthy” and guilt, other manifestations include a lack of confidence and poor self-esteem. Many feel disempowered, victimised or lacking a sense of purpose, feeling that life is a constant battle. In turn, when we feel deprived of power, we may resort to modes of controlling like bullying others; confuse aggressiveness for assertiveness, manipulating others with either tyrannical behaviour or emotional blackmail.
To heal the energy of this chakra comes about through restoring a sense of personal power, self-respect, courage, healthy humility and learning the power of grace. When we face our own stories and fears with compassion and loving-kindness, we learning that there is release and grace in these episodes and that is an extremely empowering moment for such an individual. If we learn to use the power of love to transform our issues of guilt and shame, we nurture a sense of innate goodness within ourselves, at the same time we create awareness that we are co-creators with the Divine, instilling a sense of personal power. Finally, becoming aware of the deep spiritual qualities of our own nature helps us to act responsibly and move forward with self-initiative, meaning and purpose.
The sacral chakra corresponds to the physical age of man which is 15-21 years. This is one of the most challenging periods of life not only for the individual, but also for the parents. Suddenly their innocent child disappears into his/her room only to emerge on morning looking like an alien. And if they don’t spend time in their rooms behind closed doors, your child spends more time in front of the mirror making sure that there is not a hair out of place. It is the time in life when the young adolescent discover his/her body and the powerful sexual energy it houses. The individual also become aware of he/her own sexual identity and how parents and society reacts towards them determines much of their behaviour later in life. Fortunately this phase also passes and the next phase is a more balanced phase.
The Heart – Anahata Chakra
The heart chakra serves as the bridge between the lower energies and the next three higher energies. As we exit the solar plexus phase into our heart, we come to experience ourselves as safe, connected and respected. Our energy begins to shift from a focus on the individual self towards a more generous and altruistic outlook. We notice that we feel grateful for the opportunity to live life, and want to give back. The heart chakra now becomes activated as the centre of love, compassion, kindness, devotion and generosity. The direction of energy in the body begins to move upwards in its desire to reconnect to the greater source of Divine love. We begin to experience universal compassion – the sense that we are connected to all beings on the planet. We may feel our hearts touched by images of young children a world away playing amongst the rubble of war. We know and have a sense of caring both for ourselves and others and feel compelled to take this love out into action.
As I have stated above, the heart is the bridge from the energies of the lower chakras into the higher chakras and if we experienced a lack of security, intimacy and self-esteem in the lower chakras, then we have problems with a heart chakra that will be closed and fenced off. Typical issues of the heart chakra are displayed and manifested as lack of compassion, anger, hatred, stinginess, being overly concerned with safety and protection, fear of loving too much and showing love to others, unexplained grief and heart-ache may all indicate wounding in the heart chakra.
To heal the heart chakra, we need start from the bottom and work our way up again. We need to first pay attention to the old wounds that still lurk in the lower chakras before we can successfully heal the heart chakra. Learning to love ourselves and our shadow places is the first step towards creating a sense of love and compassion for others. Accepting the gift of forgiveness and allowing ourselves to forgive allows deep healing within the heart chakra – forgiveness both for ourselves and others. Visualisation, devotional chanting, yoga, prayers and meditation are powerful vehicles for opening the heart. Many people find that compassionate encounters with the suffering of others are a means to open their own heart. It is also important to become aware of our own divine nature and beginning an intimate, sacred process of surrender to the Divine order. In other words let go and let God!
The heart chakra corresponds to the physical age of man which is 22-28 years. During this time many people bridge the divide between a life as a care-free youth or student into a responsible citizen who care for those around him/her. For most it is also the time during which they will meet their life partner, get married and settle into a life that is marked by much love and reaching out. It is a time that we cross many bridges, at age 28 an important bridge is crossed in the sense that up till then your body grew and was young, from now on the body will degenerate and age will take its toll as we progress.
The Throat – Vishuddha Chakra
Our voice with all its own vibrations brings us now in direct contact with other vibrations around us. As we grow into deeper awareness of our chakras, we also begin to discover our ability to tap into the vibrational energy field around us. The wave patterns of sound become our connection to an unseen world that we are aware of, but don’t know yet how to experience it. This is where the energy of the throat chakra becomes valuable as it helps us to make sense of all these different vibrations which we use for communication, self-expression, creativity, speaking our truth, and at the subtlest levels, telepathy, channelling and clairaudience (ability to perceive sounds outside the physical realm).
When our self-expression in the throat is repressed or silenced in some violent way, the throat chakra closes down and energetically our ability to express ourselves appears blocked. Instead of being a two communication system, the one way is blocked, energy comes in, but doesn’t leave us and this impediment of the natural flow of vibrations result in a person who has no voice or who carries no authority in his/her voice. We are all too familiar with the childhood maxim “children should be seen and not heard”, the silencing of women’s voices in our patriarchal systems and the stifling of creative talent for fear of ridicule impedes the flow of throat energy. Many people have deep and dark family secrets that they shamefully keep, others lives in constant fear, because they are being yelled at or shamed into silence by an over-bearing parent, all actions that will impede the throat chakra. Eventually the chakra will “shutdown”, the person will rather keep quiet than to speak his/her truth or mind in order to keep the peace and eventually this will lead to a complete lack of self-expression from such an individual, leading to frustration and anger.
Just as King Edward VI in the King’s Speech had to learn that he has a voice and that he has the right to speak in order to overcome his stuttering due to the stifling voice of his father and Queen Mary, we also need to realise that we have a right to voice. The next step to healing the throat chakra is finding our own truth and relearning the ability to express ourselves. Once we have achieve this we can proceed to give ourselves permission to cry, to voice our hopes, fears and opinions, we can share our stories and we can engage in active listening with others. We can honour self-expression through finding creative outlets – writing, art, gardening or music. For some people it is important to reduce the pollution of vibrational noise through meditation or silent retreat.
As the throat chakra begins to heal, the grosser vibrations of sound no longer create interference. We begin to tune into more subtle layers of vibration, including the development of psychic abilities such as telepathy and clairaudience and opening to divine revelations such as those experienced by mystics through the ages.
The throat chakra corresponds to the physical age of man which is 29-35 years. During this time many people find that they have to talk their way through life, they have to talk to get that next promotion or they have to talk to convince others of an opinions or view. It is also the most vocal time in personal relationships with our partners as many problems are sorted out verbally and we also need to do a lot of talking to our children who are suddenly at ages where vocalisation becomes important. It is also a very social period in the life of most and as such demands much attention to how we express ourselves in this phase.
The Third Eye – Ajna Chakra
Our third eye is not only the centre of our intellect, but this is the centre where we develop qualities such as discernment, inner knowing, wisdom and clairvoyance or intuitive seeing. It is the place where we develop our ability to stand outside of a situation, become the observer or seer and without getting too involved make conscious choices about the road ahead or the situation in hand.
From the third eye centre we develop and create our belief system and we learn to judge fairly like Solomon from this place. However, if we are faced with a fear-based and authoritarian belief system, then we start to doubt our own sense of wisdom and of knowledge and ultimately we doubt ourselves and our ability to form our own truths. The result of this inability to form our own truth leads to confusion, negative beliefs, blind faith, narrow mindedness and mental rigidity. We may feel cut off from our emotions and become overly attached to empirical, dogmatic theories and beliefs and very often the individual may be overly argumentative to the point where he/she will aggressively defend their point of view, even make war about it or kill for it.
Allowing the inner guru to take charge and to bring us to the point where we develop the willingness to see is the first step that we can take on healing out third eye. This willingness to see means that we open ourselves to that truth that is beyond physical seeing and allowing our intuition and inner knowing to become our guiding light and primary guru or teacher. When our inner guidance starts to develop and when we start to listen and trust our inner guidance, then we can assess our old fear-based beliefs, judgements and criticisms and as we see that there is nothing to fear, we can let them go and replace them with our inner knowing and new truths. It is also process of opening the heart and to start “feeling” the messages of the heart instead of “thinking” what they should be.
We can heal the energy of the third eye by placing a greater emphasis on using and developing our inner awareness and witness consciousness. Another import ant technique is to look for the symbolic and esoteric importance behind events or interactions. One of the most valuable tools in our shed of techniques are to record our dreams in a dream diary en to start to see a pattern in the interpretation of these dreams. Practicing equanimity, detachment, and surrendering judgments may also help us on our journey of healing. As we become aware of the deep spiritual qualities of our own nature, we move into a place of greater clarity, wisdom and acceptance in the third eye.
The third eye chakra corresponds to the physical age of man which is 36-42 years. Around this time most men and women will start to enter their menopause/andropause and we start a hormonal change in our bodies. As a result of this we start to rethink our lives, our purpose and many either divorce during this time or they change careers or they just start to relax more in life a bit, adopting a more relaxed attitude. Much thinking is done during this time as well, as most start to realise old age and retirement is around the corner, old beliefs is shed and overall the individual enters a more embracing approach to life than before.
The Crown – Sahasrara Chakra
Our innate nature is Divine and as we develop greater awareness of this, our energy is increasingly drawn upwards towards its desire to unify with our source of Being and Origen. In yoga this process is described by the last limb of yoga namely samadhi, this process of spiritual awakening or enlightenment is facilitated through opening the crown chakra. Energetically, an open crown chakra appears as light emerging from the top of the head, hence the halo above so many saint’s heads in paintings.
Connecting to Spirit or the Divine and living our Truth and the willingness to surrender to the Divine are all indicators of a balanced and properly functioning crown chakra. When we are at this stage we can inspire others with inspirational ideas or thoughts, we have the ability for prophetic thought. It also allows for a deepening of our devotion, experiencing Divine ecstasy, transcendence and liberation from identification with suffering.
If this chakra doesn’t function properly we experience this period as the “dark night of the soul” as it was described in the poetry of St. John of the Cross. When we are distracted or overwhelmed by the difficulties and pain of life, we may experience loss of faith in a compassionate Divine force. We start to doubt our own belief that we are spiritual as issues of disbelief and depression cloud our inner knowing and overshadow our Divine nature. We falsely identify with the world and our bodies (maya or the illusion in yoga) and feel “existential angst” which disconnects us from our realisation that we are on a journey back to the Divine. For some the sense of isolation and spiritual depression may seem unbearable and they may end it all with a violent act against the soul.
The greatest healer of this chakra when wounded is our ability to surrender to the Divine and to trust the spiritual process in our lives. To commence the healing process, it is wise to find a spiritual path or practice to which the individual can commit completely and with full surrender. It has now nearly become a cliché, but living in the present moment, trusting that we have all in that moment and that every moment is Divinely perfect opens us to all the experiences that life offers us and it instil in us a trust in the Divine process. Mystics, saints, great gurus and even the Christ and The Buddha through the ages have turned to prayer, meditation, contemplation, yoga and silent retreat to support their spiritual journey; we can learn from these great souls and make time for our own time with Divine on a regular basis. A trusted spiritual guide or teacher may offer compassionate facilitation along this path.
The crown chakra corresponds to the physical age of man which is 43 and onwards. If you listen to dinner conversation around a table where people of this age group is present, sooner or later the conversation will turn to “do you remember this or that” or you will suddenly realise how this or that friend of yours have change his/her views suddenly about the Divine. For many this time of their lives is an opportunity to open an elegant window onto the soul and see the miracle of the Divine in their lives in every moment. During this time many see a culmination of all the other ages and as they age there is a deepening of their understanding of the amazing qualities, attributes and spiritual nuances of their soul. It is the journey home manifested and we realise that our journey is not just about reaching our destination, but it is also about all those little stops along the way.