Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Analyzing Asteya

Ramakrishna Ashram, Mysore India

Asteya: Non-Stealing or the Opposite of Stealing

When I introduce this concept to my young students I always ask them to list for me things people can steal which aren't possessions.  Here are some of the answers they give:

1. Confidence
2. Heart
3. Ideas
4. Happiness

I add Time and Focus and Attention to the list.  Then I ask them to give each other full focus as one by one they lead the group in Sun Salutations.  From then on they never forget.

Asteya.  There are so many levels to what this instruction of Non-Stealing can mean.  Stealing comes even from accepting a gift that doesn't belong to us a teacher once told me.  What's a gift that doesn't belong to us?  The one we know deep inside there is a hidden price for, those gifts which are not really gifts.  With many gifts there is an expectation of something being given back in return.  As long as that is there it will cloud our thinking and our purity of action, taking us further away from the self realization which is yoga.  The deeper we go into our practice, the more hesitant we'll be to accept anything we didn't truly earn and even those things we have.  Focus becomes on doing the work and staying away from collecting objects and accolades which quickly become distractions.

After explaining that the Sanskrit "A" in front of the word Steya can be taken to mean "the opposite of" (stealing), I had one young student surmise that ASTEYA could mean giving, give back, or service.  I liked that definition, and it works.  In it is also the answer to how to work on this concept of Non-Stealing.  When we want to avoid a behavior it is helpful to cultivate the opposite habit.  If we become completely involved in giving, it soon becomes habit for us to give instead of take.  After forming that habit, stealing feels unnatural, and wrong to our inner being.

Why we steal is the next question that arises.  Is it a feeling of scarcity?  A fear of falling behind or not having reserves?  Do we feel cheated and owed?  Is it unconscious habit?  There are many motivations, some extremely deeply rooted, which drive our behavior.  It's helpful to remember that all the Yamas and Niyamas have positive results.  Only by experiencing the positive results of Non-Stealing will we be encouraged to keep vigilant about this behavior.  The effect of being firmly grounded in Non-Stealing is that all means will come to you.  If you think carefully you probably already know at least one person who lives this way.  She never seems to want for anything even though she never seems to try too hard.  There's a trust. 

Don't listen to me!  Build your trust through experience.  Practice the month of August, non-stealing.  Don't take anyone's space, time, gifts, or ideas.  Treat it as an experiment and share your thoughts and experience with me on Instagram by tagging @landyoganyc and hashtag #alleightlimbs.  I can't wait to hear what you find! One vigilant practitioner will take home a well earned Lululemon mat and mat bag at the end of the month.   Keep Sharing!  Keep Growing!  Keep Practicing!  All Eight Limbs.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Anger, Truth & Yoga: Betraying the Bluff of the Modern "Yogi"

We've been celebrating TRUTH this month as part of the All Eight Limbs movement.  I've been enjoying so much everyone's posts on Instagram and the positive feedback when I shared some of my personal truths instead of the usual Universal quotes.  I made my first confession there, "I have good days and bad days."  Now I want to tell you more.  I even get angry. 

I get angry.

I don't just get angry.  Often I choose anger.  It's must more fun than sadness and must more usable for creating change.  I enjoy my anger energy, thrive in it.  I love it most when it comes out slashing in red cutting through the untrue swift and clear, and with precision.  In those rare beautiful moments when my anger is manifest and expressive, it is the perfect tool for destruction.  And destruction is essential for creation.  That's why I'm always saying, "Make space."

I've been thinking a lot about Anger and the bad reputation it's gotten in the often confused modern day yoga world.  These days yoga teachers seem never to stop smiling, as if doing so will prove yoga makes one happy all the time.  One by one they've all made this silent agreement and now it feels near betrayal to call their bluff.  Behind the scenes and beneath the grin, though, trouble looms.  Inside burning are lies and resentments.  Lies and resentments are worse than anger by a margin too large to calculate.  They stew and boil and grow until they overflow unpredictably.  They cause internal sickness and that sickness can spread. Lies and resentments are the things of wars of genocides.  That was the truth I felt from my Rwanda experience and Rwanda's been on my mind too.
Chamundeshwari Temple

I prefer my anger outright.  I was thanking it today.  Thanking it for coming hard in my belly and breaking through a sadness that was there.  I don't get angry much anymore, but when I do I recognize it as a powerful energy useful in my creative process.  Managed correctly it has been the stimulant for many of my projects.  I've come to understand and appreciate my anger.  Now when I feel it, I channel it, gratefully.  It's a fuel I can use and it can make me strong and clear and productive.  I've worked with that fuel before.

I was thinking about my anger and how I play with it and enjoy it and allow it to help me when I remembered it was Chamudheshwari's birthday.  She's the Goddess of this city Mysore where I am currently living in India.  And she is fierce.  She killed the demons Chanda and Munda and then took their names Chamunda.  Hardly apologetic.  Talk about owning your anger.  There are plenty more stories like this in the Hindu tradition and while yoga practitioners are not by any means required to practice Hinduism, I think it's important to point out that our yoga tradition comes from a place that is A-Okay with anger.  So anyone trying to prove they are a "yogi" by smiling all the time, may in fact be proving nothing at all, and giving themselves and awful ulcer.

 On my down a resting spot overlooking all of Mysore.

Of course confessions are dangerous, so I must add a disclaimer. Please don't say I've suggested we all be mean.  No.  We did in fact celebrate a month of AHIMSA (non-violence) last month, and hopefully we are still working on that practice.  I know I am.  Yoga philosophers always link Ahimsa and Satya, urging us to speak truth but in a way that is not harmful.  I'm suggesting we look at the Ahimisa/Satya connection the other way and make sure our Kindness is Truthful.  After all, without that, it's worthless and phony and fake.  In my experience the way to get to a place where it's easy and natural to be kind and happy most of the time, is to acknowledge and move through all the different emotional energies that present themselves.  That's where the yoga practice has made me a kinder, more patient, more smiling person.  That's the work that shows up on the mat each day.  The amazing thing is the emotions pass so quickly when observed and not repressed, sometimes dissolving simply in their being named.  Perhaps that's the meaning behind Chamunda taking the name of her demon victims.  By owning the expression of her anger, she becomes released from it and is able to move through to her next phase and create.

Whatever the meaning you take.  I hold this to be true.  And in the spirit of Satya and truth telling, I wanted to share with you my truth.  I am not a yogi, but I am an aspiring yogi with a pretty serious practice and I still get angry.  I get angry.  I get sad.  And as I said on my instagram, I have good days and bad days.  Does that mean the practice isn't working?  Of course it is.  I'm so much more aware of the impermanence of emotion and of how to process and remove negative energies from my system.  I'm more aware of others emotions and energies too.  This whole thing is a process.  Skip the process and fake the perceived smiley ending and you'll end up feeling awful inside.  Not only that, but by faking your process you gain nothing, no knowledge of self and no chance at all at becoming a yogi.  Submit to the yoga and you'll likely have to feel some unpleasant feelings, but you'll get through them, grow from them, and learn how to articulate them with an artistry that suggests you desired them all along. 

Practice yoga. All Eight Limbs.

*Special thanks to the brilliant minds and souls here with me here in Mysore and who have inspired my thought process with their incredible contributions to every conversation.  You are lifting me through your presence.