“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.
Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.
A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.
A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.
When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.
A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one's suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.
So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”
― Herman Hesse, Bäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte
Hello everyone! I hope you're all well and staying safe and content in your homes. Today, we will begin Lesson Two in our Kriya Yoga program, courtesy of our textbook "A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya." Yay, something to do, haha! ;)
I have to say, I am proud of us for completing Lesson 1 and for also not rushing it. We really took our time with it, and I think that the benefits can be deeply felt. For example, I can now sit in lotus pose comfortably for about 5 minutes. That, for me, is such an improvement compared to how uncomfortable it used to feel to hold just 30 seconds. In addition, I feel more present. I think this last benefit is the most valuable, honestly.
So let's just give ourselves a pat on the back for learning the following since beginning this journey in March:
With those matters explored, experienced, and then mastered, let's move on!
Lesson Two Syllabus
I'm looking particularly forward to Topic 7 and 8 ;) What about you? Which topic is the most intriguing to you, and why? Let me know! In the meantime, let's begin! Wishing you a happy yoga journey ~ Ashley ❤
A Quick Reminder: What are Shatkarmas?
Yogic science gives as much importance to specific cleansing processes as it does to asanas or pranayama. It is believed that without the regular cleansing of our body and system, then we will not gain the maximum benefits possible from our yoga practice. Basically, the idea is that when the body is free from impurities and pain, then the mind will also function properly.
Body cleansing is gained through the practice of shatkarmas, or the six purificatory techniques. They are essential from the point of view of physical and mental health, and these simple techniques are also highly valuable in healing internal disorders.
There are six main groups of shatkarmas or yogic cleansers as follows:
Each of these groups contains more than one practice such as jala neti, vaman dhauti (or junkal kriya), moola shodhana etc., which will be described at various stages throughout our journey into Kriya Yoga. They are all excellent practices which are designed to purify the whole body and bring about first-class health. They also bring clarity and harmony to the mind. I suggest you try some of them. :)
HERE WE GO!
Notes - Hatha Yoga: Danta Dhauti
Danta Dhauti, one of the shatkarmas, consists of a series of simple practices which clean various organs in regions of the head. These practices are danta moola dhauti (cleaning of the teeth and gums), jihva moola dauti (cleaning of the tongue), kapal randhra dhauti (washing of the skull), karna dhauti (cleaning the ears) and chakshu dahuti (washing the eyes).
These practices, as well as jala neti, are concerned either directly or indirectly with the main senses of the body -- hearing, seeing, smelling, and tasting. As such, they are important in enabling us to gain the best possible perception of the world around us. Remember, our sensory perception is dependent on the state of the associated organs. Therefore the following practices, though perhaps seeming rather trivial and simple, are a valuable aid in being able to communicate with and relate to the outside world.
Dinacharya - The use of Jala Neti is one of the key ingredients in a healthy dinacharya (daily routine) practice. A large part of this blog post is referenced from my most favorite yoga book of all time, “A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya,” written by my teacher, Swami Satyananda Saraswati.
With his guidance, we will cover the following common questions about Jala Neti:
Tongue Cleaner Recommendation
Personally, I'm a fan of the copper ones.
If you'd like to learn more about this little guy, consider reading this article from Banyan Botanicals. There's even a video to show you how to use it.
Asanas: An Introduction
Health of Mind and Body
The influence of asanas on one's mental outlook
Asanas as a step to higher awareness
Saraswati, Satyananda. A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya. Yoga Publications Trust, 2013.
When I first entered a public yoga class the year was 2005. I had been practicing on my own for a number of years, but I had never lived in a town before that had a yoga studio so close to my home. As a result of the convenient location and because of the amazing teachers I found I became an avid devotee of Devi Yoga in Sedona, Arizona.
Devi Yoga was the yoga studio for Ashtanga Inspired Yoga in Sedona and was owned by a powerful, powerful, powerful yoga teacher named Soni Gangadean. Her brother, Näthan Gangadean was also a yoga teacher at her studio and was very popular for his heartfelt classes full of breath, love, and energy. Näthan was also the yoga teacher to say whilst I was in downward facing dog (for what felt like a million hours), that downward dog was a "resting pose" and that we should try to find peace in that pose. Mmm hmm.
Soooo, as you can imagine, as a semi-new yogi to the powerful practice that is Ashtanga Yoga, I was in downward dog with shaking arms and tired legs, sweat was literally pouring off of my face, and my breath was shaky and shallow... So, naturally, in response to his "downward facing dog is a resting pose, find peace in this beautiful pose"... I thought to myself "WT serious fork are you talking about? This is not resting!"
So, you know... that happened.
But Näthan was sooooo right. And with practice and a different mindset, a more open mindset, downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) became a resting pose for me.
Näthan is magical. I don't really know how to say it any differently. His classes are always magical, always sincere, always beautiful. And so here you go, my gift to you, beginner or otherwise... An introduction to one of my favorite yoga teachers of all time, Näthan Gangadean. ~ Ashley
EXPERIENCE IT FOR YOURSELF
We are in this new world and culture of confessionalism when it comes to what we share about ourselves and our lives on the internet. I have been thinking lately about the moment when the confessionalism becomes a commodity of sorts. Society urges writers to share as much as they can online, to publicise themselves online in their blogs, youtube videos, and Instagram.
So I wonder, am I creating this blog as a way to publicise myself? As an author? As a "thinker?" As a yogi? Has a writer's private diary been lost in our culture?
I feel myself withdrawing from it all a bit, but I also find myself clinging to the ease of it. The need for it. The need to be heard. To have my existence witnessed, if even for a moment. I want to keep sharing the things I've learned because I know that Yoga is beyond beneficial, but I can't help reflecting on the "why" I share... I just want to make sure I'm coming from a legitimate, selfless place. And if I'm not sometimes, if I get a bit "sharey" or "personal"... is that so bad?
Where will this go? Will I eventually feel write more openly... experiencing once again that feeling of catharsis that results from an open-hearted release of self? Or will I continue to write from the Underground... and from there dispense of my critiques and studies? Or, and dare I say it, will I ultimately expel myself from the internet in total! We shall see. Until then... the new plan is to focus solely on Kriya Yoga and see what becomes of it. ~ Ashley
A Change in Plan
The Art and Science of Relaxation
During Yoga classes, wonderful changes can be seen in people. Many people walk into class with tension written on every line of their faces and on every word they speak. Aggression pervades them. Their bodies are filled with tension, worry, and unhappiness. They start practices, not necessarily difficult ones, and slowly but surely the stress and emotional turmoil begin to evaporate, melt away. They generally don't know it, but the yoga teacher can see the transformation on their faces. The students only realize their realization at the end of the lesson when they find that they are smiling, really smiling, not superficially, for the first time in days, and that they are actually singing to themselves as they walk down the street. They find that in comparison to before the lesson, they are feeling light, carefree, and have confidence in themselves. This is not an exception but the rule. These people, by the systematic process of relaxation techniques, have changed their whole attitude towards themselves, to other people and life in general. This transformation may only last for an hour or so, but it leaves a wonderful impression on the mind and helps to permanently encourage a more relaxed attitude towards life. It is a starting point from which you can fully begin to enjoy mental and physical relaxation as a normal part of your life, whether during intense activity, sleep, or whatever, and not as something that you experience only occasionally, perhaps during yoga practices.
I want your life to be an expression of relaxation and joy. The way is by cultivating the ability to relax under all conditions and at all times. Everything you practice in yoga brings about relaxation and a thorough revitalization of the body and the mind, whether it is by means of asanas, pranayama, meditation practices, or whatever. Yet there are some special techniques which are very simple, which especially bring about relaxation in a short period of time. These will be discussed below and at various stages as we make our way through our Kriya Book. ❤
Yesterday, we came to know our world through our senses -- seeing, touching, hearing, smelling, tasting -- and through the knowing faculty of the mind. We did so by eating one raisin mindfully.
As I mentioned in the last blog post and in the first edition of our mindfulness meditation practice, there's another important aspect of this meditation: becoming aware of interconnectedness. It can be helpful to think of mindful awareness as a lens. Sometimes we use it in a very focused way, as we just did with the raisin, using all our senses to observe every detail of our experience. And sometimes we widen the lens of mindfulness so that our awareness expands to take in the bigger picture. We nurture both of these aspects of awareness as we practice.
In this wider, more spacious view, we become aware of the larger context of being, in which we can see how everything is interconnected. Sometimes called, "looking deeply," this aspect of practice helps us become aware of the multitude of causes and conditions that are a very real part of our experience in this very moment. If you would like to experience this more expansive view, I invite you to follow along with a second set of Raisin Meditation instructions.
So, as promised, here is the second mindfulness meditation practice from one of the books we have been working with: Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond, by Nancy Bardacke.
For this practice, you will need the following:
Reflections on the Raisin Meditation
Was this really a special raisin, or was it the quality of attention we brought to the experience, the face that we were really there for the eating of it, that made the taste so vivid?
Eating can be one of life's great joys. How many such moments of sheer delight are you missing every day because you're not really there for a bite of an apple or the taste of a peach? And how many other moments are you not fully experiencing, like the smell of the morning air as you step outside or the delicate shape of the flower in your neighbor's garden that bloomed overnight? And how many joyful moments of your pregnancy (or this moment of social isolation/solitude) are you missing because you are so busy rushing from one thing to the next?
Regardless of the physical discomforts of pregnancy -- the nausea, the backaches, the shortness of breath -- and all the uncertainties and worries you may be carrying about the future (even if you aren't pregnant), if you take a moment to really see, you will find that in this very moment you are a living, breathing miracle, with a new human being growing inside of you! And if you are missing this miracle, how many more such moments will you miss during the process of childbirth and parenting?
Perhaps taking a moment to stop and ask, "Where does the joy of living exist anyway?," you may find that it exists in the sweet taste of an orange, the sudden smile that lights up your baby's face, the warmth of a hug from your partner or a friend, or the sweet smell of your baby's skin. When we practice mindfulness we become more awake and alive in the present moment, for ourselves and for our children.
In many ways, the heart of parenting is about being fully present with our children. One way we can learn how to do this is by learning how to be fully present for and connected to ourselves in our own lives right now.
Bardacke, Nancy. Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond. HarperOne, 2012.
When I look at amniotic fluid, I am looking at rain falling on orange groves. I am looking at melon fields, potatoes in wet earth, frost on pasture grasses. The blood of cows and chickens is in this tube. The nectar gathered by bees and hummingbirds is in this tube. Whatever is inside hummingbird eggs is also inside my womb. Whatever is in the world's water is here in my hands. ~ Sandra Steingraber
We come to know the world through our senses -- seeing, touching, hearing, smelling, tasting -- and through the knowing faculty of the mind. So today, we will begin our mindfulness practice by bringing our full attention to these senses, one by one, as we experience eating one raisin mindfully.
You might find this meditation a little odd. However, from a mindfulness perspective a little novelty can serve us well, waking us from habitual ways of seeing that can come between us and our direct experience of living. Thus, we are going to experiment with bringing beginner's mind to this experience, as if you were a newborn baby and had never seen a raisin before because, in truth, you have never seen this raisin before.
So, let's begin. As promised, here is the first mindfulness meditation practice from one of the books we have been working with: Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond, by Nancy Bardacke.
For this practice, you will need the following:
If you followed the instructions above, you have just eaten one raisin mindfully, bringing focused attention to each moment, observing the three pillars of experience: body sensations, thoughts, and emotions. There is much to learn from this meditation, and after you have practiced it, please spend some time processing your experience and perhaps sharing your experience with me in the comments below.
Becoming Aware of Interconnectedness
There's another important aspect of this meditation: becoming aware of interconnectedness. It can be helpful to think of mindful awareness as a lens. Sometimes we use it in a very focused way, as we just did with the raisin, using all our senses to observe every detail of our experience. And sometimes we widen the lens of mindfulness so that our awareness expands to take in the bigger picture. We nurture both of these aspects of awareness as we practice.
In this wider, more spacious view, we become aware of the larger context of being, in which we can see how everything is interconnected. Sometimes called, "looking deeply," this aspect of practice helps us become aware of the multitude of causes and conditions that are a very real part of our experience in this very moment. If you would like to experience this more expansive view, I invite you to follow along with a second set of Raisin Meditation instructions next time, in my next blog post. ❤ ~ Ashley
The World in a Raisin - A Mindfulness Meditation on Interconnectedness
~ IN THE MEANTIME, TAKE A LOOK AT THIS LITTLE YOGI ~
Bardacke, Nancy. Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond. HarperOne, 2012.
Do you recall how a few days ago, I wrote a bit about Pranayama: Breathing - Lesson 1, and I provided a recording with a lecture about the importance of breath awareness and deep breathing? And how I also gave the instructions to our first pranayama practice, Yogic Breathing?
I have been practicing Yogic Breathing now for a few days. It has not been easy haha. My mind really likes to wander around! So... In the following video, I chose to share this morning's pranayama experience with you in order to discuss the following issues that I have had (and perhaps you have had as well???) Am I alone here in the struggle? ;)
Anyways, if you find yourself wandering a bit or struggling too, then you're not alone! We will get through it together by practicing daily and by remembering to kindly and gently bring our attention back to the breath.
Please let me know how you are doing! Comment in solidarity haha.
In the meantime, please enjoy watching me confess my own struggles. And please consider taking advantage of the written instructions to Yogic Breathing that I've included for you below. :) Don't forget, you could also listen to the recording if you wished via the last blog post. The practice starts around 18:00, I think. OH. And if you're an email recipient of this post, you'll have to click on the link below in order to view the video. ~ Ashley
The Struggle is Real, But Temporary
Inhale slowly by allowing your abdomen to expand.
Try to breathe so slowly that little or no sound of breath can be heard.
At the end of the abdominal expansion, start to expand your chest outwards and upwards.
At the end of this movement draw your collarbone and shoulders toward your head.
This completes 1 inhalation.
The whole process should be one continuous movement, each phase of breathing merging into the next, without there being any obvious transition point.
There should be no jerks or unnecessary strain. Your breathing should be like the swell of the sea.
The rest of the body should be relaxed. Now start to exhale.
First relax your collarbone and shoulders.
Then allow your chest to move, first downwards towards the feet and then inwards.
After this allow the abdomen to contract.
Don't strain but try to empty the lungs as much as possible by drawing or pulling the abdominal wall as near as possible to the spine.
Again the whole movement should be a harmonious whole.
This completes 1 round of yogic breathing.
Hold your breath for a second or two at the end of each inhalation and exhalation.
Inhale and do another round.
Do up to 5 rounds on your first day of practice.
Every day increase your practice by 2 rounds, or as time permits.
Ten minutes yogic breathing is a reasonable length of time to eventually aim at. With enough practice you will find that the whole movement will occur naturally. No effort will be required.
It is written in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the ancient text on yoga:
"Life is the period between one breath and the next; a person who only half breathes, only half lives. He who breathes correctly, acquires control of the whole being." ~ Swami Satyananda Saraswati
In yoga it is said that each person has a fixed number of breaths allocated to him. If one breathes slowly then one will live longer, for the number of breaths is allocated for the lifetime; if one breathes rapidly the given number of breaths are used up more quickly resulting in a shorter life span. Whether you accept this idea or not, there is nevertheless a great deal of truth in it. A fast breathing rate is associated with tension, fear, worry, etc. which tends to lead to bad health, unhappiness, and of course a short life. A person who breathes slowly is relaxed, calm and happy, which is conducive to longevity.
Breathing is a process that we rarely give any thought to. It occurs automatically without our awareness, yet at the same time it is often something that most people do incorrectly. If breathing is a spontaneous function of the body, how is it possible to do it incorrectly? The answer lies with our respiratory muscles which become lazy over time and cease to give optimum inhalation and exhalation (23).
How can we change the way we breathe in order to feel more relaxed, calm and happy in our day-to-day lives?
Let's continue with our journey into Kriya Yoga
To update our new readers (Hi Hannah!), over the last many blogs, we have been reading and working through two books. "A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya" by Satyananda Saraswati and another book titled, “Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond" by Nancy Bardacke. In the last couple posts, we have mostly focused on building a healthy pre-meditation routine via the first yoga asana program found within the Kriya book. One (time) option for the program looks like this:
So far, I have also provided a presentation that includes photos of each individual asana/pose listed above (except for Naukasana - I'll explain that pose soon). Then I followed those items up with a brief demonstration of the poses as well as a quick Q&A regarding it. (Jala Neti information can be found here).
Let's review the breathing/pranayama portion of our Kriya Yoga program before we move on to the second lesson! :) I'm amazed at the progress I've made so far with this book. I literally feel like I am participating in my own yoga training. How do you feel about it? Feel free to comment and let me know :)
Below, you will find either a link (for email subscribers) or an audio tool (for web viewers). The audio includes our first pranayama practice! In the first half (1:00-18:00) of the recording, I take a moment to read the portion of the chapter that discusses the following important pieces of information:
Then lastly, I lead an exploration into what it means to really breathe. We break down what it means to experience abdominal breathing, middle breathing, upper breathing and finally, yogic breathing. Please feel free to skip the first half if you like, but once you get to the descriptions of the different methods of breathing, I suggest a careful listen. Sometimes these lectures have so much wonderful information and context, so if you do happen to skip the first part but are left wondering if you missed something, then perhaps give it a full listen.
A few minutes of yogic breathing daily can work wonders. It will make you much less susceptible to illness, and you will acquire more power, vitality and calmness in your daily activities. Your thinking and clarity of thought will improve.
The deep systematic yogic breathing will tend to retrain breathing nerve reflexes that may have ceased to be active by lack of use. In other words, at present you might be breathing only from the chest, hardly using the abdomen at all. Yogic breathing will start to make you breathe abdominally, intercostally and clavicularly during the day, and therefore, allow you to inhale the full amount of air that your body requires for nourishment and good health.
To develop the yogic breathing as an automatic and normal function of the body, try to develop the habit of consciously breathing yogically for a few seconds or minutes. If you feel tired or angry, sit down, or if possible lie down, and practice yogic breathing. If you can breathe slowly then your mind will become calm and revitalized.
Please, let me know if you practiced the recommended five Yogic breaths to start and how it made you feel. And don't forget, tomorrow, add two more breaths and so on. ~ Ashley
What Are We Going to Do Next?
The World in a Raisin: A Mindfulness Meditation
Saraswati, Satyananda. A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya. Yoga Publications Trust, 2013.
Since I began this re-journey into Kriya Yoga via the amazing book, “A Systematic Course in the Ancient and Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya” by Swami Satyananda Saraswati, I have seen a remarkable difference in my hips, back, and overall psyche. I have also had a number of questions come up. For example, I wondered:
I’ve answered some of those ponderings down below in this first video. And, in the second sped up video, I’ve demonstrated the asana portion of the practice in its entirety.
I WAS THINKING... if you have time now in your quarantine routine, and if maybe you would like to catch up and do the practice together, please reach out to me! I’m happy to walk you through the whole program from lesson one of our book. :)
Hi! Long Time, No See
If you happen to be a subscriber to my little blog, then you are probably receiving this in your email box instead of say, viewing it from my website. If that's the case, then most likely these videos don't actually appear in your email. That's because Mailchimp (the company I use to send out this blog via email) doesn't like the formatting of this video. I have no idea how to change that. What I do know is another solution. Click on the Links/Buttons below :) ~ Ashley