Yoga Circles http://www.yoga-circles.com Engaging The Yoga Community One Circle at a Time Tue, 12 Jun 2018 21:22:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.6 http://www.yoga-circles.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/YC-cover-150x150.jpe Yoga Circles http://www.yoga-circles.com 32 32 117807686 What Is Yoga? Here’s What the Yoga Sutras Tell Us http://www.yoga-circles.com/what-is-yoga/ http://www.yoga-circles.com/what-is-yoga/#respond Tue, 12 Jun 2018 11:38:04 +0000 http://www.yoga-circles.com/?p=1238 The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali—196 verses of yoga wisdom—begins by asking a fundamental question: What is yoga? Well, to be precise, the sutras begin with the sage calling yogis to take their seat. It’s time, he says, for the teachings of yoga. After we (the students) are presumably settled in place, Patanjali explains what we ... [Read more...]

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The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali—196 verses of yoga wisdom—begins by asking a fundamental question: What is yoga? Well, to be precise, the sutras begin with the sage calling yogis to take their seat. It’s time, he says, for the teachings of yoga.

After we (the students) are presumably settled in place, Patanjali explains what we have gathered to learn.

Citta vritti nirodha. (sutra 1.2)

Those three Sanskrit words define our practice. Here’s the English translation:

Yoga is restraining the mind stuff from taking various forms.

Citta is the mind stuff. Vritti is the various forms we want to keep the mind stuff from taking. Notice we’re not trying to obliterate the mind, just manage the “stuff” that’s in it.

You’ve likely heard the mind stuff referred to as “monkey mind.” All that chatter and worry and planning and fretting is what we want to reign in. Yoga, as you may know, means yoke. If we can yoke the various forms the mind takes, we can find peace. And peace, it turns out, is our true nature.

Understanding Yoga Starts with Understanding the Mind

The goal of yoga is to control the mind, so it doesn’t control us. That’s the short answer to the question: What is yoga? But we can’t just roll up our sleeves and control the mind by simple will and effort.

First, we need to understand what we’re dealing with. To that end, Patanjali’s sutras go into detail about all the crazy things the mind does.

Basically, the mind creates thoughts. Sometimes those thoughts are useful. More often, they keep us disconnected from our higher selves.

I don’t know about you, but when my mind is racing with thoughts, I can quickly spiral into a troubled and dark state. Even positive thoughts can create a kind of mental clutter that keeps me stuck. I may think too much about what I want or how to get things done, when I’d be better off letting go.

When We Let Go of Thoughts, We Open the Path to Truth

You know that experience of being so engrossed in something that you lose track of time? You’re one with whatever you’re doing, so it seems almost effortless.

But what happens when you think too much about something you’re about to do? Suppose you’re about to speak in public, play an instrument, or hit a golf ball. And you think about it. And you freeze! Has that ever happened?

When we move beyond our thoughts, everything flows. Yes, we probably needed to do some thinking at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way. Patanjali teaches us more about that as the sutras continue. For now, the teaching is simple. We need to still the mind, so we can do more of what we’re meant to do and be more of who we are.

What Is Yoga, then?

We don’t all define yoga the same way. For many people in the West, stilling the mind is more of a practical tool for dealing with stress and anxiety than a step along the path to enlightenment. But in many cases, once we’ve dealt with stress and anxiety and recognized its connection to the mind, we open the path to a deeper understanding of our true nature.

When you are you, you don’t need to think about it.

The first step on the journey of yoga is to recognize we are not our minds. Yoga helps us see the tricks of the mind with more clarity. Yes, the mind will continue its tricks, even after years of practice. But the more we practice, the better we become at knowing who we are and making sure our minds don’t get in our way.

The Five Modifications

Patanjali begins the teachings on the nature of mind by describing five “modifications.” You can think of modifications as types of thoughts that clutter our minds. They are right knowledge, indiscrimination (thinking we know when we don’t really know), verbal delusion, sleep, and memory.

At first glance you may think these are not all bad. In some cases, that’s true, but they can still lure us into attachment to thought. I’ll describe the modifications in more detail in a future post.

For now, the point is there’s a lot going on in our minds!

Yoga teaches us to use the mind to our benefit and let go of what we don’t need. In fact, it teaches us to let go of it all at some point. In theory, at least, we can get beyond the mind to an expansive state of awareness.

So, what is yoga? We may be able to answer that question after years of practice—practice that begins with learning about the nature of our minds. No rush, though. It’s a practice that continues to expand if you are willing to continue to practice.

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Rooting in Yoga: How to Experience More Stability in Your Life http://www.yoga-circles.com/rooting-in-yoga/ http://www.yoga-circles.com/rooting-in-yoga/#respond Tue, 15 May 2018 16:32:55 +0000 http://www.yoga-circles.com/?p=1229 The chakras system—the energy system of the body—is complex. Experts say we need to work with each of the main chakras carefully. We begin at the base of the spine with the root chakra. Rooting in yoga creates a foundation from which we build stability and strength. From there, we can focus on increasing other ... [Read more...]

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rooting in yogaThe chakras system—the energy system of the body—is complex. Experts say we need to work with each of the main chakras carefully. We begin at the base of the spine with the root chakra. Rooting in yoga creates a foundation from which we build stability and strength. From there, we can focus on increasing other energies.

The root chakra is called muladhara in Sanskrit. When the root chakra is open, we feel grounded, stable, and secure. Whether you take this literally or not, yoga offers tools for helping to increase a yogi’s sense of security. If you’re feeling insecure, you may need to focus on rooting.

Rooting with The First Chakra

Grounding yoga poses are great for establishing physical stability. Notice when your teacher tells you to “root into the ground.” You may be in downward dog, tree pose, or even headstand when this cue is given.

Remember, too, to concentrate on the root lock, called mula bandha. Mula bandha is the first of three energy locks in the body. Engage it by contracting the pelvic muscles. This protects the lower back and gives you stability and strength from the root.

Rooting the Mind

When we talk about rooting in yoga, we’re not just concerned with the physical body. We also need a stable, secure mind. Meditation is one of the best tools for this, of course.

You can practice a root chakra meditation specifically for muladhara chakra. Sit comfortably as you would for any meditation. Take slow, deep breaths into the belly, and move the breath all the way down to the tip of the tailbone. Engage mula bandha, keeping the contraction and awareness as you continue to breathe in and out deeply.

Rooting in Yoga with Color, Aromas, and Sounds

Colors, aromas, and sounds help open blocked energy and balance the chakra system. The colors of the chakra system correspond to the colors of the rainbow, starting with red—the color of the first chakra. Many yogis say wearing red clothing helps foster a sense of stability and security.

Chanting is another tool for balancing the chakras. Each energy center has its own sound. For the root chakra, the sound is lam. You can practice a simple mantra meditation for the root chakra by repeating lam until you feel grounded.

You can also try aromatherapy targeted to first chakra energy. Use grounding aromas like sandalwood and cedarwood as well as calming scents like frankincense and patchouli.

Benefits of Balancing the First Chakra

Remember the first chakra is part of a whole energy system that creates an integrated being. Each energy center has a role in your overall physical, mental, and spiritual health.

When the root chakra is balanced, your needs for security are met. If it is out of balance, you may be unable to meet basic needs for money, shelter, nutrition, or safety. You may also feel emotionally or socially insecure.

Without a strong root, you’ll have difficulty with the rest of the chakras. This makes sense, of course. When your basic needs aren’t met, you may be distracted by anxiety and fear. It can be hard to pay attention to anything else.

Of course, yoga alone won’t bring you financial security or physical safety, but it can you get in the frame of mind necessary to do what you need to do to become more secure. You can use the tools of rooting in yoga when you need to create or re-create a firm foundation. Rooting in yoga also helps you trust your innate ability to tap into the power to find what you need.

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Reviewers Wanted! Help the Yoga Circles Community Grow! http://www.yoga-circles.com/yoga-circles-reviewers-wanted/ http://www.yoga-circles.com/yoga-circles-reviewers-wanted/#respond Thu, 26 Apr 2018 17:54:49 +0000 http://www.yoga-circles.com/?p=1170 If you’ve been on the Yoga Circles site before, you know I created Yoga Circles to bring yogis together in person and online, so we can share the experience of living a yoga lifestyle in the modern world. If you’re visiting the site for the first time, you can learn more about the project on ... [Read more...]

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Yoga Circles

If you’ve been on the Yoga Circles site before, you know I created Yoga Circles to bring yogis together in person and online, so we can share the experience of living a yoga lifestyle in the modern world.

If you’re visiting the site for the first time, you can learn more about the project on the home page, and visit the Yoga Circles blog for more inspiration.

A year ago, I published Yoga Circles, A Guide to Creating Community Off the Mat. Then, my mom became ill, and I got sidetracked from the project.

I’m back on track now, and I need your help!

I’d like to send you a review copy of the book. If you’d like one, let me know! Before you do, though, you can download an excerpt (if you haven’t yet). It will give you an idea of whether you want to read and review Yoga Circles.

If you’d like a review copy, send me an email at maria@wellbeingwriter.net. I’ll send you a print copy if you’re in the U.S. If you’re outside the U.S., I’ll send you a digital copy.

Yoga Circles is for Everyone!

While I wrote the book to help people gather in groups to explore yoga more deeply, it works just as well for individuals. So please have a look, even if you’re not sure whether you’ll form or join a group. (On that note, I’m hoping to create a Facebook group in the near future, so you can always join our virtual community!)

If you like the guide and decide to create a Yoga Circle in your community, I’d love to feature your story on the Yoga Circles blog. If you’re not ready to share your story (I hope you will be soon), I’d love your suggestions and feedback. Please help me grow our yoga community!

Om Shanti! And thanks.

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Truth in Yoga: Authenticity or Just the Facts? http://www.yoga-circles.com/truth-in-yoga/ http://www.yoga-circles.com/truth-in-yoga/#respond Fri, 13 Apr 2018 14:36:22 +0000 http://www.yoga-circles.com/?p=1189 Every moral code includes truthfulness. Truth in yoga is the second yama, satya in Sanskrit. Why is truth so important, and what exactly does it mean to be truthful? When we talk about truth in yoga, we don’t simply mean giving straight facts, though. Healthy relationships are based on trust that the other person is authentic. ... [Read more...]

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truth in yoga

Every moral code includes truthfulness. Truth in yoga is the second yama, satya in Sanskrit.

Why is truth so important, and what exactly does it mean to be truthful? When we talk about truth in yoga, we don’t simply mean giving straight facts, though.

Healthy relationships are based on trust that the other person is authentic. We cannot be authentic unless we are honest about what we want. Being authentic also means being honest about what we can and can’t do. In this way, truth in yoga is a bit different—a bit more—than just stating facts.

What happens when we’re not truthful about what we want or need or when others are not truthful with us?

Why being truthful is sometimes scary

Suppose someone asks you for something you don’t feel able to provide. You may be afraid to say no because you don’t want to offend, hurt, or anger the person. Taking care not to offend or hurt another person is valid, but relationships are two-way streets.

Pretending to be able or willing to do something when it’s not the truth hurts you. And you matter. If someone is unable to accept your limitations, would it be better to work on developing more authentic relationships?

Another reason we’re often afraid to be authentic is we are insecure and worry what others may think of us.

What is the truth in yoga?

Years ago, I went to a lecture at a local bookstore. The lecture was titled “Radical Honesty.” The presenter, who wrote a book on the topic, believed we need to tell the truth 100 percent of the time. For example, this man suggested, if you someone is wearing an outfit you think is ugly, you should say so!

Really? What purpose would that serve? Always speaking your mind is different from being truthful, unless being mean and hurtful is part of your truth.

But what if someone asks you a direct question, and you know your answer is not what the person wants to hear? In that case, it helps to be tactful. (“You look fine” is a legitimate response.)

Risking Authenticity

When we risk speaking our truth, the consequences we fear often don’t happen. We need to be honest with ourselves as well as with others. Taking the time to contemplate and maybe even to journal about a situation before responding can be helpful. If we’re leaning toward a response to a request or question, we need to be sure we’re not hiding a deeper truth.

Do you agree to do more than your share of a project because you fear confrontation if you stand up for yourself? Are you spending social time with people you don’t really like, maybe people who don’t allow you to be yourself? Ask yourself why you’re doing this. Perhaps the idea of not liking someone makes you so uncomfortable you can’t admit it’s true.

Satya and Ahimsa

Truth in yoga is closely related to kindness and nonviolence. In fact, as we’ll learn, all five yamas (the ethical principles of yoga) are interconnected.

When you’re thinking about where to draw the line with truthfulness, remember to be kind! If being “honest” will do nothing other than hurt someone, it serves no purpose. If it makes a relationship more genuine, it may be worth the risk.

An important aspect of satya is alignment between what we believe to be true, what we say, and what we do. How many times have you heard he means well? Is it enough to simply have an intention (thought), or must we also act on that intention?

In The Path of the Yoga Sutras, Nicolai Bachman explains satya as alignment between thought, word, and deed. If we think—or believe—something is true but do not communicate or practice our belief, we are not practicing satya.

Similarly, if our words and actions are not based on an internal “knowing,” we are not being truthful. If we say one thing but do another, do something though we said we would not (or said we would do something else), we are not practicing satya. If we don’t check facts before we spread gossip or pretend to know something, we are not being truthful.

And if we are not truthful, we cannot be our authentic selves.

Do you ever struggle with truthfulness? What about authenticity? Share your thoughts!

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The Aquarian Age: Dealing With Cosmic Shifts Without Going Crazy http://www.yoga-circles.com/the-aquarian-age/ http://www.yoga-circles.com/the-aquarian-age/#respond Wed, 21 Mar 2018 18:33:22 +0000 http://www.yoga-circles.com/?p=1158 If you’ve listened to the tunes from the Broadway musical “Hair,” you’ve heard of the Age of Aquarius. At the time, it probably seemed like an imaginary age and a catchy tune. Turns out, the Aquarian Age is a real thing, and it’s probably happening now. What is the Aquarian Age, you ask? Good question! ... [Read more...]

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Aquarian Age

If you’ve listened to the tunes from the Broadway musical “Hair,” you’ve heard of the Age of Aquarius. At the time, it probably seemed like an imaginary age and a catchy tune. Turns out, the Aquarian Age is a real thing, and it’s probably happening now.

What is the Aquarian Age, you ask? Good question!

The Aquarian Age and Astrology

According to astrology, a new age dawns every 2,160 years, give or take. A few years ago, at least in the yoga circles I travel in, we began hearing about the transition from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius.

The truth is, astrologers don’t really agree on when this new age began or even if it has, in fact, begun. Apparently, it all has to do with the movement of vernal equinoxes from one astrological constellation to another. That’s probably a difficult thing to keep track of, so I can see why the dawning of a new age isn’t as easy to pinpoint as, say the first day of spring.

Some accounts say Aquarius dawned as long ago as the 1400’s, while other say it won’t happen until 3573! I suppose that’s not a long stretch of time for the universe, but it leaves us mortals wondering.

I’m sure you wonder what age it is all the time, don’t you?

Whether you’ve thought about this before or not, many people—myself included—believe there is a shift happening in the universe. Humanity is changing. Maybe that’s always the case, but for those of us with a spiritual bent, it’s an important awareness. The dawn of a new astrological age is said to affect humanity profoundly, perhaps even causing the rise and fall of entire civilizations!

In the Age of Aquarius, What Can We Expect?

If you practice Kundalini Yoga, you likely believe the Age of Aquarius is here and that it started in 2011—November 11, 2011 to be exact. Unless you’re in the camp that set the date as December 21, 2012!

As the Kundalini Yoga website 3HO explains (and I’m paraphrasing), when you’re dealing with a 2000-year timeframe, you can be off by a year or two.

The point is if you know what is happening, it will be easier to take this new cosmic ride. So, here are a few characteristics of the Aquarian Age to look for:

  • There will be a shift away from believing in or following an external source of power.
  • Emphasis will be less on gaining knowledge and more on making connections.
  • Inner-knowing will become more important.
  • The structure of hierarchies will become less effective than emphasis on equality and working together.

If you’ve been around for a few decades (or longer), you’ve probably been hearing grumblings about these kinds of things for a while. Following authority, black-and-white thinking, looking to something outside ourselves for happiness, and competition have certainly become suspect in my lifetime. Whether that’s due to the astrological age or just aging in general, I’m not sure. But I am sure of the wisdom in these things.

Making the Shift

At first glance, it seems the new age is a better age, doesn’t it? It allows us to think for ourselves, and no one is better than anyone else.

But it’s not so simple. Some embrace the shift easily, turning to spiritual practices like yoga and meditation, rethinking their connection to organized religion, caring about the planet and its beings, and experiencing bliss and joy.

For others, though, the shift is scary. Without the crutch of leaders or the power that comes from strengthening our own egos and position in the world, it’s easy to get lost. No wonder there is so much anxiety, depression, and prescription drug use in our times!

It’s both a wonderful time to be alive and a difficult time to be alive. I guess that’s to be expected when you’re setting the course for the next 2000 years!

How can we embrace the Aquarian Age without going crazy?

Kundalini Yoga teacher Santokh Singh Khalsa suggests a daily spiritual practice is essential to navigating the Aquarian Age. In addition, he says, avoid a victim mentality, and try not to give in to fear. Trust the universe, stay grounded, and focus and being a source of light for others.

Yogi Bhagan, who brought Kundalini Yoga to the West, has some suggestions as well. The guru’s Five Sutras for the Aquarian Age are snippets of wisdom we can turn to when challenged.

  1. Recognize the other person is you.
  2. There is a way through every block.
  3. When the time is on you, start, and the pressure will be off.
  4. Understand through compassion, or you will misunderstand the times.
  5. Vibrate the Cosmos. The Cosmos shall clear the path.

Yogi Bhagan’s sutras give us hope that we can work together and overcome any obstacle if we keep up our practice and help each other along the way.

For me, yoga practice and connecting with like-minded people are key. I also try not to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Trusting my inner wisdom doesn’t mean I don’t respect my teachers or that I reject my Christian roots, and when I struggle with uncertainty, I usually see it as an opportunity for growth. (Sometimes I just cry or take a nap.)

The awesome thing for me when I learned of the Aquarian Age was I finally had permission from the universe to doubt some of the things I’d believed growing up. Again, whether this is simply a side effect of getting older or truly a mark of a cosmic shift, I’m not sure. I’m just trying to enjoy the ride!

What about you? Have you noticed a shift you’d attribute to the cosmos? If so, I’d love to know about it!

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Honoring Our Yoga Teachers: Who Will Guide Your Journey? http://www.yoga-circles.com/honoring-our-yoga-teachers/ http://www.yoga-circles.com/honoring-our-yoga-teachers/#respond Mon, 12 Mar 2018 15:47:25 +0000 http://www.yoga-circles.com/?p=1142 In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali warns us of the pitfalls of attachment. Non-attachment, we learn, is a powerful spiritual practice. Human beings tend to hold tight to what we believe is ours: possessions, identity, the attention we believe we deserve. We may even cling to honoring our yoga teachers. Patanjali tells us we must let ... [Read more...]

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honoring our yoga teachers


In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali warns us of the pitfalls of attachment. Non-attachment, we learn, is a powerful spiritual practice. Human beings tend to hold tight to what we believe is ours: possessions, identity, the attention we believe we deserve. We may even cling to honoring our yoga teachers.

Patanjali tells us we must let go of attachment to clear the path to Self-knowledge. Notice that is Self with a capital S. Of course, honoring our yoga teachers helps us commit to the practice, at least as beginners. In a sense, we are all beginners. Throughout the journey, we will need to learn from those more adept and experienced than we are.

But we must also be our own teachers. And we must learn to let go of it all!

Yoga is an Experience of Being

As yogis, we can approach enlightenment, not through our thoughts, but through experience. This means honoring our yoga teacher and the experiences each of them gives us. It also means honoring the teacher within ourselves. As we move along the journey, we gather more tools.

One of the first tools Patanjali gives yogis is meditation. If you think back to your first experience with meditation, it was probably a lot different than it is now. The goal of meditation is to go within and connect to what we already know but have forgotten.

But how can we be sure we recognize truth within? Can we learn to meditate without a guide?

Honoring Our Yoga Teachers as Ourselves

Few of us can do anything—including learn to meditate—on our own. While truth is within us, the first step to uncovering it is acknowledging that we’ve forgotten it. A good teacher will show us the way to ourselves, not attempt to control us and our behavior.

To address the idea of honoring our yoga teachers, we can look to the Yoga Sutras and our Patanjali for guidance. The sage suggests there is an ultimate teacher who dwells within us. We need a starting place—a resource—to help us find our own inner light. Our yoga teachers are that resource.

That doesn’t mean we should defer power to our teachers. We need to choose our guides with care and not simply look for a set of rules or practices to follow. Yes, our teachers are more experienced and can direct us, but we must eventually find our own power and steer our own spiritual growth.

Different Paths to One Goal

There are many  yoga teachers and teaching styles. That doesn’t mean they are all equally effective. It just means we need teachers who can meet us where we are and help us move forward. And remember always the ultimate teacher.

Patanjali acknowledges that yogis can become enlightened in many ways. The pace can be slow, moderate, or quick, depending on one’s discipline and practice. The quickest way to enlightenment, though, is through devotion to the supreme teacher, Ishvara (sometimes spelled Ishwara.)

Honoring the Supreme Teacher

In sutra 1.24 (version by Reverend Jaganath Carrera), Ishvara—the supreme teacher—is described as “a particular yet universal indweller, untouched by afflictions, actions, impressions and their results.”

Ishvara is the teacher of teachers and the power that drives our inner voice. In some versions of the sutras, this power is called God.

Early in our yoga practice, we need teachers to help us recognize and begin to move beyond our egos and chattering minds. We need our teachers to introduce us to the practice of yoga. Then we need teachers who can help us advance.

Choosing Our Teachers

If you’ve practiced with more than one teacher, you know each is unique. To be effective, a yoga teacher needs to connect with students and vice versa. If something your teacher tells you doesn’t seem quite right, either in general or for you, pause. Before you find a new teacher, consider whether you are resisting truth or whether the teacher is misleading you. Sometimes, it’s not easy to know the difference. Let your conscience be your guide.

Remember, though, your conscience is not your mind; your conscious is Self Knowledge. A still mind will help you move toward inner knowing. The best teachers will lead us to Ishvara.

Yoga is a journey with no end. There is only practice. The longer you travel, the more infinite and expansive your perception of truth will become. Thank your teachers for their guidance on this journey. Especially thank the teacher that dwells within you!

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How to Deal with People: What the Yoga Sutras Say About Relationships http://www.yoga-circles.com/how-to-deal-with-people/ http://www.yoga-circles.com/how-to-deal-with-people/#respond Sat, 24 Feb 2018 16:10:46 +0000 http://www.yoga-circles.com/?p=1112 The Yoga Sutras are packed with wisdom. The goal is Self-realization, but along the way, we can use the wisdom of the sutras in everyday life. While we’d love to be enlightened beings all the time, we’re human. One way the sutras help us with our humanness is by teaching us how to deal with ... [Read more...]

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how to deal with peopleThe Yoga Sutras are packed with wisdom. The goal is Self-realization, but along the way, we can use the wisdom of the sutras in everyday life. While we’d love to be enlightened beings all the time, we’re human. One way the sutras help us with our humanness is by teaching us how to deal with people.

In sutra 1.33, Patanjali—the sage who authored these yogic verses—gives us basic guidelines that help us deal with four types of relationships.

By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and equanimity toward the non-virtuous, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness. (from Inside the Yoga Sutras by Reverend Jaganath Carrera)

Swami Satchidinanda calls these attitudes, the “four locks and four keys.” The locks are happiness, unhappiness, virtue, and non-virtue. More specifically, they are happy people, unhappy people, virtuous people, and non-virtuous people. Each of these types present a challenge for many of us.

The keys to the challenges each type of relationship presents are friendliness, compassion, delight, and equanimity. As Reverend Carrera explains, these keys are not directions about what to do. They are attitudes of the mind that serve us best if we want to be at peace.

How to Deal with People Like a Yogi

At first, it may seem easy to deal with happy or virtuous people. But that’s not always the case. Are you ever irritated by someone’s happiness? Or maybe virtuous people annoy you, because they seem to be—or think they are—better than you.

Patanjali tells us to be happy for others when they are happy, regardless of our own circumstances. He also suggests we can learn from (delight in) other people’s virtuous behavior.

Compassion for those who are unhappy is often difficult, especially if they are people we’re close to or spend a lot of time with. While friendliness and happiness go together naturally, that doesn’t mean we should be unfriendly toward someone who is not happy.

Friendliness may feel empty and disingenuous to someone who is troubled or sad, though. Someone who is struggling to find joy may find it easier to accept friendship once they feel our compassion for them.

We can appreciate and delight in virtue in many cases, but sometimes we need to take a closer look to find virtue in others. If we cultivate peace and look closely enough, we can usually find some virtue in everyone.

Notice Patanjali does not suggest we take the opposite stance with non-virtue. Equanimity is more apt to cultivate peace than reviling or detesting non-virtuous behavior. Often, there’s not much we can do about someone else’s bad behavior, but we can try to keep it from affecting us.

This is not to say we should be indifferent to behavior that harms others, just that we need to keep our emotions in check. We can speak up and speak out against violence, injustice and other non-virtuous behavior without hatred or counterproductive behavior. Aggression usually does little more than fuel flames.

Tools for Keeping Hold of the Keys to Happiness

The goal with all these tips on how to deal with people is “undisturbed calmness.” In fact, calmness is the goal of everything we practice as yogis.

In the next few verses, Patanjali offers tools for maintaining a calm mind through breathing and meditation techniques. While we tend to emphasize the physical practice of yoga, keep in mind the purpose of that practice. It is to prepare the body for mastery of the breath and for stillness—for meditation.

Are you maintaining a calm mind? If not, it may be time to return to the breath or to sit in meditation. Or perhaps look at your relationships and see if you are relating to people in a way that disturbs your mind.

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Embracing Our Shadow Side Turns Darkness Into Light http://www.yoga-circles.com/embracing-our-shadow/ http://www.yoga-circles.com/embracing-our-shadow/#respond Sun, 18 Feb 2018 18:53:03 +0000 http://www.yoga-circles.com/?p=1090 What if the things you dislike most about yourself are your greatest strengths? Crazy idea, isn’t it? Yet this is an idea my yoga teacher put out to us one morning. She was reading a book about embracing our shadow side. The idea that we think of greatest strengths as weaknesses is something the author ... [Read more...]

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embracing our shahdowWhat if the things you dislike most about yourself are your greatest strengths? Crazy idea, isn’t it? Yet this is an idea my yoga teacher put out to us one morning. She was reading a book about embracing our shadow side. The idea that we think of greatest strengths as weaknesses is something the author of that book suggests.

Before I decided whether my shadow is my strength—or whether anyone’s is for that matter—I needed to get very quiet. I needed sit with that idea and see how it might be true. Imagine what a transformation it would be if we could literally turn our darkness into light!

When my teacher first presented the idea that embracing our shadow can reveal our greatest strength, I thought how can that be? The first two things that came to my mind cannot possible be my strong points.

Or can they?

Our Shadow May Not Be So Dark After All

The parts of myself I immediately thought of were my temperament and my disciplined nature. As I kid, I was very quiet. Odd as this sounds, I didn’t really notice. I lived mostly in a spiritual inner world, and I would easily forget I was among people. In school, I often felt like I was watching a movie. Academic success came easily, so I did well in school without participating in classes much.

My peers lived in a world I couldn’t relate to very well. As a child, I was told I thought about things that were “too deep,” that kids my age “don’t think about.” I guess was an old soul.

Because of this feedback, I came to believe my inner world should be kept inside. It didn’t belong in the open, where everyone around me seemed to focus on other things. While I like who I am now, I still tend to see my temperament as part of my shadow side, mostly because I was told it was as a child.

I’m also naturally disciplined. Once I commit to something—a yoga practice, a healthy diet, a work-from-home schedule—I stick to it like glue. I’ve often wished I could be more flexible. But creating order from chaos is sort of my thing. Once I find a way to do it—with anything—I can’t stop without feeling uncomfortable.

What could possibly make either of these qualities my greatest strengths?

Well, I’ll tell you…

But I’m only telling you because my yoga teacher suggested we give embracing our shadow a try. (Thank you!) I’m choosing to trust that she—and the book she was reading—are right; our shadow side holds our greatest strengths.

Turning Darkness into Light By Embracing Our Shadow

Most people I know tell me I’m a good listener. I’m a good listener, for the most part, because I don’t talk a lot. People also tell me they envy my commitment and discipline. I’m generally fit and healthy because of it, so that makes it a good thing, a strength even.

I do value being a good listener. As I’ve grown older I’ve realized I value it enough that I wouldn’t trade it for being the center of attention or someone who always has something to say. Don’t get me wrong, when I have something to say, I say it. (More often, I write it.) But even so, I think most of the time words are not the best way to communicate, though of course, they’re all we have.

Silence teaches us who we are, says author Rich Lewis. Once we know who we are, we can share our gifts with the world confidently.

That’s why meditation, stillness—many things we learn in yoga—are so powerful. You can take the words you hear or read and sit with them in silence. That’s usually when true transformation happens.

My disciplined nature is also an asset. People know what to expect from me. They know they can count on me to do what I say I’ll do. My clients appreciate this quality for sure. And my body appreciates my commitment to treating it well.

Of course, I’m not perfect. I’m prone to getting tension headaches when I’m writing or listening intently to a troubled friend. I drink more wine than I probably should, and I’m a coffee addict. But for the most part, I’m in decent condition, which helps me stay on the path to enlightenment.

Where the Light Leads

For me the path to enlightenment is what life is about. For as long as I can remember, it’s been the only thing that truly matters to me. I have no idea how close I am, but the journey—the quest for union with the divine—is more enriching than any other quest I can think of.

So, while I may not always fit in a mainstream kind of way, I know I’m on the right path. For me, it can be no other way.

And very clearly the journey I’m on would not be possible without my shadow(s). Or to put it more accurately, the journey would not be possible if I didn’t have the clarity to turn the darkness into light—to be still, to listen, to stay committed to moving forward.

What about you? Can you look at the darkest corners of your being and find a way to transform your shadow side into your greatest strength? I hope you will. Let me know how you’re doing!

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Modifications of the Mind: Five Types of Thoughts Yogis Seek to Control http://www.yoga-circles.com/modifications-of-the-mind/ http://www.yoga-circles.com/modifications-of-the-mind/#respond Wed, 24 Jan 2018 13:13:55 +0000 http://www.yoga-circles.com/?p=916 The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are sacred verses that teach us why we need yoga and how to practice. First, we’re told to take a seat and listen. We will now learn about yoga. Yoga (or union) is the cessation of the modifications of the mind. Patanjali then describes the five modifications of the mind ... [Read more...]

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modifications of the mindThe Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are sacred verses that teach us why we need yoga and how to practice. First, we’re told to take a seat and listen. We will now learn about yoga. Yoga (or union) is the cessation of the modifications of the mind.

Patanjali then describes the five modifications of the mind we need to control. We need to control them, the sage tells us, so they don’t control us.

If we want to know who we truly are, we must still the muddy waters that cloud our minds. Then we will see clearly. This is yoga.

The Five Modifications of the Mind

The Yoga Sutras first show us how our mind works. We must understand how it works before we can learn to control it. Our minds produce five types of thoughts:

  1. Right knowledge – For example, there is a snake in your garden, and you think, “There is a snake in my garden.”
  2. Misconception – For example, there is a rope in your garden, and you think, “There is a snake in my garden!”
  3. Verbal delusion – You are told about a snake someone saw in your garden, but there was no snake. Perhaps it was a rope.
  4. Sleep – The mind continues to work even while we’re sleeping.
  5. Memory – All thoughts are based on memories. They can be dreams (while sleeping) or daydreams.

All of these modifications of the mind need to be controlled or eliminated to reach an enlightened state.

So, What’s Wrong with Right Knowledge?

If you’re like me, you looked at this list and wondered why stop thoughts based on right knowledge. It’s fair to say, if you’re going to have thoughts that distract you from your true self, they may as well be based on right knowledge. Patanjali agrees, suggesting that we first practice placing negative thoughts with positive ones.

The second two modifications—misconception and verbal delusion—are clearly of little benefit. So, it’s a good idea to become aware of both and do our best to stop or change those thoughts. How much time do we spend believing things that are simply not true or misunderstanding something because we haven’t seen clearly? We need to pay attention and notice.

Patanjali also points out that some thoughts cause pleasure or peace, while others cause pain.

Most People Cannot Stop Thinking!

In his book, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Sri Swami Satchidananda points out that completely stilling the mind is impossible for most people, especially beginning yogis. And we are all beginners. So, he tells us, if we’re going to have thoughts, we may as well thoughts that bring us peace!

Observing Our Thoughts is Practicing Yoga

When we observe our thoughts to become aware of which cause pain and which result in peace, we’re practicing yoga. It’s not the goal, but it’s an important step toward enlightenment.

If you’ve ever done an exercise in which you consciously observe your thoughts, you’ll likely find—at least at first—that most of your thoughts are negative. Many are probably downright false or misguided. Why this is the case, I don’t know. It seems we humans are wired toward negative thinking for some evolutionary reason.

As is the case with a lot of evolutionary reasons for things (like the fight or flight response), we’ve mostly outgrown the need to be negative thinkers. Yet, we still do it instinctively.

Learning to Shift Our Thoughts

Yoga is about overcoming that instinct. First, we learn when we notice our thoughts, we can choose to shift our attention. Then we begin to understand that thoughts in general are mostly a problem! Even positive thoughts cloud our perception of reality.

For example, Yay! I got the promotion! Wow, my website looks great! Cool, that person just complimented me!

These thoughts feel good, but what happens when we get attached to having such thoughts? We begin to identify with the accolades and accomplishments. In short, we can get an inflated ego and lose sight of our true nature, which is separate from external accomplishments.

So, while we know we eventually need to let go of attachment to any kind of thought, the first step in our practice is to master the shift from negative, painful thoughts to those that bring peace and contentment.

Yoga is a journey, and the journey begins with attention.

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Making Sense of Suffering: Acceptance and Transformation http://www.yoga-circles.com/making-sense-suffering/ http://www.yoga-circles.com/making-sense-suffering/#respond Mon, 15 Jan 2018 23:57:59 +0000 http://www.yoga-circles.com/?p=889 A friend of mine recently shared his thoughts about making sense of suffering. “I want to believe there’s a reason for suffering,” he said. “But what if there’s not? What if people suffer for no reason?” This friend is a Christian. Christians believe God rewards his children with eternal life. We are taught to bear ... [Read more...]

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making sense of suffering

A friend of mine recently shared his thoughts about making sense of suffering. “I want to believe there’s a reason for suffering,” he said. “But what if there’s not? What if people suffer for no reason?”

This friend is a Christian. Christians believe God rewards his children with eternal life. We are taught to bear our trials the way Jesus did, trusting that God will redeem our suffering. It seemed my friend had been taught suffering is noble, and if we do enough of it, we will be rewarded.

Making Sense of Suffering

I’m not sure I’m on board with this view of suffering as virtue. Suffering is inevitable, though. Everyone suffers. I can’t look at my own trials and ask, “Why do I have this set of sufferings while someone else has another? Why does that guy seem to have more gifts and blessings than I do? There is no reason I should have to go through life struggling with x or y or z.”

In yoga and other spiritual practices, we learn it’s not suffering but how we react to suffering that makes the difference. Making sense of suffering is not the goal. Accepting it and transforming it is.

If I want to be redeemed from suffering, I must react to it in a redemptive way. I must transform it. First, I need to accept that (a) it exists, and (b) I don’t always get to choose how or how much I suffer (although I certainly can invite unnecessary suffering into my life).

Getting back to my friend’s question, I don’t know the purpose or value of another person’s suffering. I can only experience how I react to things that trouble me. I can’t change the meaning of suffering, give it meaning, or take meaning away from it by thinking about it. In truth, I can’t give meaning to suffering. The best I can do is accept it and do my best to let it transform me in some positive way.

How Mindfulness is Redemptive

One of the best ways I’ve learned to do this with mindful awareness. Who, after all, is suffering? Maybe (I hope) suffering is not part of my true nature. As I’ve learned this practice, a remarkable thing has happened. I’ve become less attached to myself and more aware of my Self with a capital “S.”

This is not a new age mind game. There is profound value and truth in it. I’ve come to agree with spiritual teachers who say we are not our thoughts, our pain, our suffering, or any number of other things, including our thrills, pleasure, accomplishments. and blessings.

We can’t come to this awareness of who we are (and aren’t) by reading about it once or twice or ten or even a hundred times. We must cultivate it and practice it. That’s not easy. But it’s the only way to transcend suffering or at least to transform it and make it bearable.

I’ve learned as I’ve moved through this journey, though I’m sure there’s a swifter path than the one I’ve taken! I’ve come to believe:

  • My life is not about me.
  • Attachment to what I think I need, want, or deserve causes pain.
  • I am not my thoughts.
  • I am not my emotions.
  • The habits I’ve developed through my unique perspective often cloud my experience.
  • No one really knows the truth about most things.
  • It’s okay to not know the truth about most things.
  • Even though I can’t be sure of what’s true and what’s not, I must still make choices.
  • I have made and will continue to make lots of mistakes.
  • Believing I should not make mistakes or that it’s possible to be perfect causes a lot of pain.

As a yogi, I try not to dwell on suffering. I continue to practice, and in doing that, the inevitable painful trials of life are transformed.

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