Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Purpose of Yoga

Yoga is a system of physical exercise, breath control, relaxation, meditation, spirituality, and health culture designed to strengthen the body, train the mind, and cultivate inner and outer harmony. Regular practice reduces stress and improves stamina, longevity, confidence, awareness, peace-of-mind and happiness.

Yoga has many benefits. Some of the the benefits of yoga include improved stamina, vitality, concentration, awareness, self-confidence, peace, happiness, longevity, and zest for life. Yoga strengthens your pulmonary and cardiovascular systems, tones and stretches your skeletal muscles, stimulates and massages your inner organs, improves your mental clarity, reduces anxiety and the effects of stress - maintaining physical and emotional fitness.

Yoga will provide you with increased energy, strength, flexibility, balance and can also give you a cardiovascular work-out. It provides effective stress management through positive thought patterns and deep relaxation techniques, which are essential for our modern lifestyle demands. Yoga’s meditative movements improve circulation and the health of internal organs while cleansing toxins out of the body and accelerating the body’s repair processes at a cellular level. A regular yoga practice will help improve and maintain both your physical and mental well-being.

Yoga has many obvious physical and mental benefits, but it’s true esoteric purpose is to cultivate the union (“yoga”) of the individual-self (jivatma) and the Cosmic-self (mahatma). For Patanjali (a dualist) this meant a kind of joining together of individual and Divine. In non-dual tantra yoga is seen as becoming aware of the true nature of your union with the Divine.

Yoga is a total comprehensive approach to spiritual, mental, and physical health and fitness. The practice of yoga makes the body strong and flexible, it also improves the functioning of the respiratory, circulatory, digestive, and hormonal systems. Yoga brings about emotional stability and clarity of mind, and - if you're lucky - Self-Realization and spiritual liberation (moksha).

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Four Aspects of Life

Our natural inclination is to grow toward the Divine Light, just as a plant naturally tends to grow toward the sun. Sometimes conditions encourage that growth, other times it is just one obstacle after another. The path that God is leading you down is the path toward the Light. The meaning of life is God-Realization (or Self-Realization). Your meaning - right here and right now - is the meaning you give to your life.

A Divine Life is living to serve others (including family) on their journey toward the Ultimate Reality while you continue on your journey. Devoting yourself to raising your family is one of the most meaningful lives available to anyone. Although it sometimes seems futile and insignificant, raising a family is one of the most important things a person can do. But remember, it is not necessarily selfish to do good for yourself first - you must care for your needs before you can offer care to others.

For me, yoga is not about physical exercise or health - yoga is my spiritual practice. The purpose of my practice is to develop a direct experience of my relationship with the Divine. The meaning of life for me is expressed by sharing my journey in order to help others touch the Divine. I am often distracted by the more mundane cares of the world, but thanks to the generosity of my students I am able survive without the energetic dissipation of keeping a more normal job. I am currently living a very blessed life in that I am able to spend all of my time studying and teaching and deepening my practice. Om!

For you - if you would like to enrich your mind, body, and spirit - then just do it. There is no reason to wait - there is only now so act now! The challenges you are facing right now in your life will not be any more challenging or demanding if you invest in wisdom for your mind, body, and spirit; in fact, the investment in yourself will make you more capable in dealing with the rest of life's challenges.

In tantra it is said that there are four aspects of life that need to be properly actualized - [1] life's purpose (dharma), [2] livelihood (artha), [3] pleasure (kama), and [4] spiritual liberation (moksha).

Dharma means law, but in this context dharma means (in part) "your life's proper purpose". It is the idea that there is a role or activity that you are supposed to be acting out - be it teacher, builder, fire-fighter, businessman, or bum. God-Realization requires we find our dharma and fulfill it. "It is better to perform your own dharma poorly than to perform another's dharma well." Raising children and caring for family is a part of your dharma, but it is not your entire life's purpose. (Dharmanidhiji calls your underlying life's purpose your "Nadi".)

Artha means wealth. We all need a certain amount of money for survival. Exactly how much we need depends on the responsibilities we have taken on and our dharma. The tendency is to want much more than we need, this leads to spiritual difficulty. Another common problem is earning your livelihood in a way that conflicts with your dharma.

Kama means pleasure. Life should be pleasurably (but not glutinously). It is important to enjoy life appropriately. Taste life's pleasures without becoming attached to them or developing a habit requiring a particular pleasure (and without causing harm to yourself or others). Don't lust for immediate gratification and don't indulge pleasures that conflict with your dharma.

Moksha means liberation. We are bound to this apparent reality ("samsara") because of the desires (and aversions) of our senses and heart (mind). Samsara exists for the sake of working through our karmas (karma is a huge topic). Liberation is to experience the Divine Reality and no longer be bound by the limitations of samsara. This is a very misunderstood topic and this brief description probably only adds to the confusion. Liberation is not escaping from reality, rather it is escaping into reality.

Integral Kriya Yoga is a system to investigate these four aspects of life and perhaps to bring them into proper balanced expression. Since this actually involves everything in life it is easy to be overwhelmed. But, "yoga is not for the weak." This doesn't refer to physical strength, but rather it is about will and resolve. If it were easy everyone would know they are enlightened (everyone is, they just don't know it).

There is no magic ... no instant enlightenment to earn (although God can grace you with enlightenment at any moment, mostly it is just the gradual unfoldment). There is an endless procession of hypothetical bull sh*t and interesting factoids, but information only adds a little to the process. The real treasures are the practices to practice - practices that reveal your true nature and aid you in your investigation and spiritual transformation.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Day Without Talking!

I observed a day of silence for New Year’s Day - January 1, 2011 (1/1/11). It was at once easier than expected and more difficult than anticipated, but it was an interesting practice.

From first waking until I went to sleep I abstained from all speech and all forms of media and communications. No magazines, books, or newspaper; no texting or email; no surfing the web; no video or music. Only dwelling in silence with myself and my Self.

My morning started like any Saturday - 5:00 AM on the road to Berkeley for my Siva Puja. Before leaving Antioch I hit Starbuck’s for a coffee just as they are opening. The barista didn’t like my hand gestures and said, “Choosing to be a mime is a lousy New Year’s Resolution! I know you can talk!” She was not amused, and I resolved to write a note before I ran into anyone else. On a scrap of thin cardboard I wrote, “I am observing a day of Silence. Thank you for your patience, And Happy New Year!”

Since there was no one else at the temple I didn’t need to perform and explain the puja for an audience, so I was able to do the entire puja as manasika (“of the mind”), focused completely on the perfect mental recitations of the puja mantras.

After puja I went to Safeway and then home for the rest of the day. Throughout the day I kept repeating “HLRIM” (“HLREEM”) - Bhaglamuki’s bija (Bhaglamuki is the goddess of speech) to not have the internal monologue running. I was not reminiscing about the past or dreaming of the future - I was entirely present in the moment. I managed to keep that sense of presence for the entire day with only a few brief lapses of attention.

Be here now.