Sutra 1.3: Your Essential Nature

I have been sharing a Yoga Sutra each month this year, and last month I shared what yoga was (at least according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali): “Complete mastery over the roaming tendencies of the mind is yoga,” Pandit Rajmani Tigunait translates. If you want to read that essay go here.

The next Sutra dives into what happens when we have achieved that complete mastery. The third Sutra Pandit Rajmani Tigunait translates, “Then the Seer becomes established in its essential nature.” I think of these first 3 sutras as the advertisement and enticement to start the practice. Do you want complete mastery over the mind? Do you want to rest in your essential nature? Then read on! The whole rest of the text is the teaching on how to do this.

What is the Seer, and what is our essential nature, though? This past weekend I spent time at the NW Yoga Conference studying with one of my teachers,Richard Miller. He shared this practice with us that I would now like to share with you.

Take a moment and feel the space behind you. Feel in front of you. Feel to the right side, and to the left side. Feel the space above you, and below you. Just rest in that awareness for a moment or two. What do you feel when you are aware of the space around you? What do you notice?

I feel spacious, expansive, calm, and present. Within that spaciousness other sensations definitely arise: a thought, a worry, a memory, a pain, a pleasure. That spacious awareness can be the observer or Seer of our mind and body movements. That spacious awareness is our essential nature.

Another practice. Pick a sensation in your body. It might be a tension in your shoulder or a softening of your forehead. Just watch your physical experience for some time. Bring it into your awareness. Now ask yourself what that awareness feels like? First we dive into the physical experience, and then we expand out into the experience of awareness itself.

What did you notice? I picked a tingling sensation in my foot. When I went to awareness I noticed a sensation of expansion. Awareness almost felt like a large container that could hold all the movements of my body, mind, and heart. 

One more entry point. Imagine you have been hiking to the top of a mountain, and you come onto the peak where the most majestic scene comes into view. You can see in all directions, and you are surrounded by other mountain tops. The sun is shining on your face. Maybe an eagle flies overhead. Imagine yourself in this place. What do you notice? It may feel similar to the other practices. It may feel different. This too can be a way to access the Seer and our essential nature.

Maybe you felt something. Maybe you got confused. Maybe you got frustrated. Maybe you felt peace. Feeling awareness can be quite subtle and not an easy practice, which is why the rest of the Sutras tell us how to get there!

Do you want to learn how? Stay tuned next month!

We have all had moments of resting in what the Sutras calls our essential nature, but we typically get drawn back into a more contracted state. A state of fear, worry, uncertainty. The practice of yoga can lead us to be able to hold that fear, worry, and uncertainty within the “container” of spacious awareness, consciousness, and our essential nature. According to this Sutra, we can merge with the experience of our essential nature and that can be our norm, rather than the state of fear, contraction, and uncertainty. I can tell you, after 12 years of practice, I have not merged with this state, but I sure have a lot less fear and uncertainty than I did before I started the practice.

I look forward to seeing you on or off the mat.

Sutra 1.2: What is yoga?

This February Satmato Yoga Therapy turned 3, I am celebrating 10 years of teaching yoga, and it is one year after we launched a successful crowdfund to fund and start Rainier Beach Yoga! We are chugging along with the studio construction and we hope to be open in the next couple months!

Last month I shared the first sutra of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Atha yoganusasanam, “Now begins the instruction on the practice of Yoga.” If you want to read more about this sutra go here.

If we are going to learn about the instruction of yoga the first question might be what is yoga? Union? Balance? Strength? Meditation? A pretzel-like shape made by the body? Connection? When you think of yoga what does it mean to you?

The topic of the second sutra answers this questions. Pandit Rajmani Tigunait translates it as, “Complete mastery over the roaming tendencies of the mind is Yoga.” Yogaschittavrittinirodhah, for you Sanskrit lovers.

So Yoga is all about the mind! How to attain this “complete mastery” is the focus of the entire text, but this sutra is helpful in teaching us more about the intention of our practice.

There are many benefits of our physical practice that are not to be discounted, and according to the Sutras our physical practice helps our body get ready to sit, meditate and know our minds. Through getting to know these “roaming tendencies” of the mind we can start to work with them more skillfully.

When I teach series classes on depression or trauma we inevitably focus on the mind-stuff (chitta vrittis) that happen during a challenging experience like living with depression or recovering from trauma. The mind affects us, and yet a lot of what is happening in the mind is completely out of our awareness. We are not aware of the stories that depression or trauma tell us and yet these thoughts are incredibly powerful. Getting to know these thoughts can be painful because they are not usually compassionate, kind or gentle. They can be harsh, critical and downright mean!

For many years I lived with the thought of, “I can’t.” This thought was with me in regards to physical activities, running a business, or basically doing anything out of my comfort zone. I was not aware that this story was running the show until I started yoga and meditation. “I can’t,” is not gone because I am aware of it, but it has lost a lot of its power. When the old “I can’t” comes into my awareness now I can watch it with spacious awareness, which can give me a sense of “complete mastery.” When Pandit Rajmani Tigunait says “complete mastery” I do not think that means our minds stop, or our old habits and patterns die, or that we never get angry or experience pain. In my understanding at this point in my practice I see this mastery as 1. getting to know our roaming tendencies and 2. letting them move through us without letting them run the show. I can watch the “I can’t” and still move forward in opening a business, doing a handstand or setting a boundary.

What thought patterns or roaming tendencies have you noticed in your life or practice? What helps you shift those patterns from mastering you to you mastering them? I would love to hear!

I look forward to seeing you on or off the mat.

Sutra 1.1: Now we begin the practice of Yoga.

For the past several years I have started my new year with a translation of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (one of the main texts in yoga). Everytime I read a new translation I get new insights into my practice, my teaching and my work with clients. I adore this text. If you haven’t read it I would reccommend it highly as it may offer you a new view of what yoga is. My intention for 2015 is to share a sutra and my thoughts with you each month.  This year I am reading Pandit Rajmani Tigunait’s version.

I thought it made sense to start with the first sutra (sutra is the Sanskrit word meaning thread). Atha yoganusasanam is the first sutra, which Pandit Tigunait translates to “now begins the instruction on the practice of Yoga.” The word atha is a special word. It means now, which is an interesting first word to start a text that is all about meditation. Atha also means an auspicous beginning. We are about to embark on something special: the journey of Yoga. How exciting! Pandit Tigunait added that atha is also “expressive of the self-luminous guiding intelligence residing in all of us.”

Atha is a doorway to our own intuitive wisdom that we can access in the present moment. Through that presence of being in the now we can access our own inner teacher that can guide us along the path of Yoga.

I once had a yoga therapy session years ago where the therapist asked me over and over, “what is happening now?” It was a session of me being present with myself, teaching myself about myself and being held in someone else’s presence while she was present with me. We were in atha together, and through our presence and our wisdom something magical happened.

What is happening now with you? In your body? In your mind? In your heart? By coming back to yourself (even if only for 10 seconds) you practice Atha. You practice being in the now with yourself. You practice tapping into the wisdom of this moment. It is so simple, yet it can be life-changing. Atha helps us put our foot on the path that is Yoga. Next month I’ll share what the Sutras say Yoga is! Stay tuned! If you can’t wait until next month get a translation and read for yourself!

I look forward to walking this path with you. We are all in this together.