If you’ve ever been to any of my classes, you’ll know of my deep love for the monkey god Hanuman, his love and devotion to Rama leaves one in pure awe. Here’s an excerpt of my favorite story, with a little Minerva flavoring to it:
“Hanuman, the white monkey man, combined the best of animal, human being, and god. His simian body was very useful to him in traversing long distances in the service of Rama, leaping from limp to limp among the trees, and loping with long strides on the ground. Claws, paws, fur and tail were all indispensable to him in his many adventures. At the same time he stood erect, used his hands for manipulative tasks and taught himself grammar and the rules of language and communication through reading, writing, speech, arithmetic, algebra and geometry. He was equally capable of expressing himself through loud howls as through articulate poetry, song and music.
Hanuman possessed a natural spirit of inquiry and curiosity that led him into the sciences. Through his formidable moral sense, he knew that wickedness had to be confronted, fought and destroyed. Well versed in the scriptures, he recited them by heart, parsing and interpreting them rationally and with feeling. Hanuman’s diving origins enabled him to defy gravity and fly freely through infinite spaces; his terrestrial skills allowed him to live with awareness, enjoy the fruits of the earth, and walk upon it with every inch of his soles touching the ground.”
One day, Ravana, the charismatic king of Lanka kidnapped Sita, Rama’s beloved. Immediately Hanuman mobilized his whole army of monkeys, bears and birds to come to Rama’s aide and help to win Sita back. It was about to go down! Hanuman built the bridge to Lanka so all the allies could cross over; he carried Rama on his shoulders and leaped across the ocean to Lanka to go rescue Sita. But in the midst of the war, Rama got hurt and lay there about to die. There was only thing that could save him- some special herb from an island far away. No questions asked, Hanuman leaped across the ocean and went to this island. But once he got there he realized he forgot one important thing! He looked around and was like “dang- I don’t know which herb it is!” So he uprooted the entire thing and brought it back to the island of Lanka.
It was Hanuman’s devotion, service and unwavering love that saved Rama’s life.
Afterwards, Rama had a huge gathering with all the fighters and family and friends. Rama thanked Hanuman and said, “without your strength, devotion, and loyalty I would have been lost, Hanuman. I can never repay you, or do or say anything to express my gratitude to you. But as a small token of my appreciation, please take this.” Rama then gave Hanuman a bracelet he had worn the entire course of epic events. Everyone was in shock that Hanuman had received such a gift! The bracelet was decked out with numerous, flawlessly huge emeralds, rubies and diamonds.
Hanuman, in true monkey fashion, looked at this bracelet and was like “ummm, what is this?” He turned it around and around in his paws, squeezed it, making some of the gems pop out, and even held it up to the light, as if looking for something. He even put them in his mouth! After all this inspection, Hanuman was so disappointed. He then put the broken pieces back in Rama’s hand, shaking his head and told Rama “I don’t want this, it’s worthless!”
Again, the crowd gasped, they were just so shocked at Hanuman’s reaction. Having so much reverence for him, and here he was acting like every other monkey! With all the snickering and bickering Hanuman turned and said “What good is it?” to which Jambavan, the bear, cried out “What good are you? You receive the best gift of all, Rama’s own bracelet that has been near his skin for so many years! And you call it worthless. It is you who are worthless, you old monkey!”
“Nowhere on it or in it did I find Rama’s name,” Hanuman said. “What good is anything without his name?” and Jambavan said “You don’t have his name anywhere on you. Do you have any worth?”
“Oh, yes, I do! I do!” said Hanuman.
“Hanuman placed the fingers of his paws just beneth his rib cage, dug deep inside, ripped open his skin, and parted the flaps of flesh on either side, baring the large, pulsing muscle of his heart. And there upon every fiber of that organ was written “Rama! Rama! Rama! And his heart, too, with its every beat, diastole and systole, sang Rama! Rama! Rama! Rama! ‘This,’ Hanuman said, looking into Rama’s eyes, misted with tears ‘is far more precious to me than anything you might give me, Lord. As the richest gift of all, promise me that you will remain here, like this, till the last beat of my heart.’”
Every time she steps on her mat, Minerva thoroughly enjoys the dance between the breath and the asanas that create stillness in the mind. Come namaste it up with her Tuesdays 10:45am & 5:30pm, Wednesdays at 7am & Noon, Thursdays at 5:30pm and Saturdays at 11:45am!
There are 2 very powerful and effective practices that enable one to find the balance between effort and surrender.
In Sutra 1.13 it speaks of ABHYASA=PRACTICE
and in Sutra 1.15 it speaks of VAIRAGYA=NON ATTACHMENT.
It is through daily practice of these two ideas that Yoga or Sutra 1.2 Yoga Citta Vritti Nirodhah,
ability to lose mis-conceptions or fluctuations of the mind stuff, occurs and it is from there that the
realization of the TRUE self is revealed, not imagined self (Sutra 1.3).
How does ABHYASA reveal itself in your life? What daily practice or ritual feeds you?
How important is it to you to maintain stability and tranquility?
These were 2 qualities I longed for when I first started practicing and I hadn’t a clue how to cultivate them.
I wasn’t feeling it in my personal life or my job.
I was living in NYC feeling depleted and empty.
I lacked inspiration and motivation at the time,and had no time or energy to do, let alone practice anything.
A spiritual bottom was occurring, yet again.
I was introduced to the practice of meditation around this time and Yoga shortly after.
I was intrigued and smitten by the tranquility and calm I would experience and most importantly the feeling of connection.
The intimacy of my breath led to a new found intimacy to my own life.
I was falling in love with what was right in front of me.
Nothing on the outside had changed, but I was changing from the inside out.
I was cultivating an inner strength and discipline/commitment.
I was able to maintain a daily practice that I showed up for every morning at 7am.
I was “building” a practice, a foundation.
This was all so new for me as I did not grow up with much structure or discipline.
I was strong, ate incredibly clean vegetarian food, dropped some weight and was completely devoted.
Basically, I was attached, like a child to its mother’s milk, to this lifestyle.
I had no relationship to anything other than my work once again and Yoga this time.
I was suffering once again.
My relationships suffered.
Isn’t Yoga about relationship, I asked myself.
Is it not about consciousness, mindfulness and how I relate to the world, food, my actions, people etc..
So I started to let go a little and with the help of my teacher I began to recognize that Yoga is the DIRECT PARTICIPATION WITH LIFE!
I had heard someone say “Let go or be dragged”,
WOW! That resonated.
So I started to live a little. I started to see the meditation and mindfulness approach to daily house holding practices such as cooking, deepening relationships and Kirtan! I started to see and feel the beauty,spirit and peace that could transform my actions through continued practice AND letting go of any attachments I had to outcomes.
These continue to be ongoing daily practices that are infused with mindfulness and consciousness and on most days I can tap in and let go of the results. But, I am VERY human, and struggle with them as well, but honestly thats what keeps me coming back to the music, to the mat, my community and what inspires my teaching. I encourage you to find and explore the balance to practice/ commitment AND letting go!
The Bhagavad Gita is a wonderful text to support this practice on a daily basis.
Feel free to reach out if you have questions.
One breath at a time…
by Erica Martin
“I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”
― Judith Viorst, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Do you remember this book? I do. As a kid I had a love/hate relationship. I loved it because Alexander got me, he knew what it was like when it all fell apart. I hated it because it hit a bit too close to home. This was no happy kids book, this was my struggle and the struggle was real.
Many years later, when I became an elementary school teacher, I often found the words to this book echoing in my head throughout the day. Sometimes this internal dialogue started before I had even opened my eyes, or lifted my head from the pillow:
“It’s still dark out, I can’t believe I have to get up at this hour…I forgot my coffee on the counter…can you believe this traffic? I’m going to be late….Someone moved my copies! Now I have to make more. $&@!ing copier is broken. I don’t have enough time….”
It could go on and on and on and on. I had no idea how to quiet this daily reverie of “woe is me” and it was starting to drown everything else out.
Stressed, confused, and at a loss, I turned to yoga. That was supposed to calm people down, right? It just happened to be Sutras month at the Lotus.
For those unfamiliar, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, are a collection of 200 short sutras or threads that lay bare the entire science of Yoga. From definition and aim, to the necessary practices, the obstacles you meet along the way, and ultimately their removal.
I bought a copy and began to play Sutra roulette, letting the book fall open to a page and see what it had in store for me.
The sutras say that If you can control the rising of the mind into ripples, you will experience Yoga. This was confusing for me; I thought Yoga was the way to calm my mind, it was supposed to be the means to that end, not the destination itself! As it turns out, Patanjali gives us both the definition of yoga and the practice at the same time. He also gives us multiple ways to achieve that stillness of the mind
In sutras 1.31-1.34 we find a few such options:
One could try single-pointed concentration.
Oh, that didn’t work? Why don’t you try cultivating a different attitude?
Still no? Well then, why don’t you try some deep breaths.
Sutra 1.34: Pracchardanavidharanabhyam va pranasya
Or that calm is retained by the controlled exhalation or retention of the breath.
Whenever my mom would tell me to try some deep breaths, I would roll my eyes. When I would ask the same of my students, I would get a very similar response. Why are we so quick to disregard this piece of advice? It’s always been right in front of us, in the Sutras and on the lips of our elders.
Scientifically, magic happens when you take a deep breath, specifically when you lengthen the exhale to twice the count of the inhale. When you’re stressed, when the Alexander dialogue is running rampant, we begin to breath rapidly. This action is controlled by our sympathetic nervous system. It’s part of the “fight or flight” response — the part activated by stress.
In contrast, slow, deep breathing actually stimulates the opposing parasympathetic reaction — the one that calms us down
When I learned the truth of this, I began to practice it. Noticing when I became “triggered” and then meeting that trigger with a controlled breath. And it worked! It didn’t make the problems go away, but it gave me space between the stressful stimulus and my response. And in that space was my freedom. I could choose how to react, rather than feeling like everything kept happening to me. I had learned how to ride the wave, rather than getting trapped inside the whitewash of my own mind.
I began to narrate for my students when I needed a breath, “Wow, I’m really stressed out because nobody worked on their projects last night.” Followed by an audible inhale, exhale, and hold. When my students saw that I was walking the walk, the eye rolls became less frequent, they even began to breath with me and with each other.
This is the power of Yoga. It is not realistic for me to do a headstand every time the copier breaks or I miss the bus. It is realistic for me to take a deep breath.
Erica is new to the Lotus teaching family and is enjoying learning and growing as both student and teacher. She’s passionate about bringing the power of yoga to the youth and their teachers. She teaches Tuesday and Friday mornings at 7:00 AM and Alignment Lab on Sundays at 11:45 AM. More information can be found at her website.
“What are you experiencing right now?
How about now?
I did this exercise at a communications workshop a few months ago where a partner asked the above questions, and after I answered, they asked them again. This happened for minutes. While it may seem annoying to answer the same question repeatedly, it’s actually not, because we are experiencing new and different things constantly. My responses were something like “I’m feeling a bit nervous that you are watching me,” “I am aware of a pain in my right hip,” “I’m trying not to think about my grocery list,” and on it went.
This was an eye opening experience for me and it made the idea of being present more daunting; how can I ever be truly present with all of the changing thoughts, experiences and feelings happening within me? And then add on the stuff going on around me…chaos!
Enter the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, an ancient text describing Yoga as the science of the mind. This text clearly explains the aims of Yoga including the ‘necessary practices, the obstacles you may meet along the path, their removal, and precise descriptions of the results that will be obtained’ from Yoga.
The first 2 sutras (threads, or verses) are
Atha Yoganusasanam – The instruction of Yoga starts now.
Yogas citta vritti nirodhah – The elimination of the fluctuations of the mind is Yoga.
Breaking this down a bit more – I take this to mean the practice of Yoga starts now and one can define Yoga as the calming of the mind, which in other words is being present, i.e. aware of what is happening in the current moment, and maintaining this awareness moment to moment.
So, Patanjali is saying that now is the time to start practicing presence. And now.
The simplicity of these 2 sutras makes them easy to be quickly disregarded, but after spending some more time with them I’ve realized these are the 2 most important sutras in the entire book, and the rest of the 200 sutras are expounding on the wisdom captured in these first two.
In my personal practice, I’ve often foregone the ‘now’ to delve deeper into the past by reading words from the wise teachers (Bhagavan Das, Ram Dass, B.K.S. Iyengar, etc). This has quickly grown into desire for more books and more wisdom from external sources, and become more of a priority than my own asana, pranayama and meditation practices at times.
“Yoga is 99% practice, and 1% theory.” – Sri Pattabhi Jois
While it is important to continue learning and reading about Yoga, the 2 sutras above are a much needed reminder that true Yoga is a practice. The word practice implies taking action, a trying. While reading is fun and can make one feel like they are making progress (“another book down, woohoo!”), true progress on the Yogic path is actively working towards eliminating the endless mind chatter, now, in this current moment.
What does that mean? It means keeping your daily sadhana (spiritual practice), which may include the physical asanas, the breathing practices, and the meditation exercises which are scientifically designed to quiet the mind and bring us into the current moment. Practice takes time. Yoga is not something we can ‘master’; it’s an unending, internal experience.
In our fast paced society we are bombarded with information. Cool, exciting stuff is constantly being dangled in front of us, tempting us to commit some of our precious attention to it. While we may not like to admit it, the time that we have is limited. When we pick up a new book, or a new class, or a new TV show, something else has to be let go.
My current practice is to keep my personal practice sacred. To not let it be the thing that is let go. To discriminate between the actions that will allow more ease in my practice versus more complexity (e.g. am I now rushed in my sadhana because I scheduled an early morning meeting?). I’m committed to keeping my practice time absolutely sacred, and to trust that the wisdom in all of these books also resides within me; and it will take a long time to discover it.
“Without practice, nothing can be achieved.” – Swami Satchidananda
Sena teaches from a deep desire to make yoga accessible to everyone, and strives to infuse each class with a sense of playfulness. She believes that yoga can help us heal and that we all have the capacity to heal ourselves. She works at Google by day, and is gradually accomplishing her goal of getting techies into yoga, one engineer at a time.