A Simple Sort of Spirituality

spirituality kindness

“We can live without religion and meditation, but we cannot survive without human affection.” -The Dalai Lama The measure of your yoga practice lies not in the depth of your postures. It has nothing to do with your knowledge of Sanskrit, or your understanding of anatomy. You can travel to India, study with esteemed teachers, and spend hours daily in meditation, but you have accomplished nothing if you’re not kind to other people. Yoga can and should be a simple form of spirituality. By practicing postures, conscious breathing and meditation anyone can access a powerful means of revealing their best self. But all too often modern yoga practitioners get caught up in making the practice unnecessarily complex. Don’t mistake intelligence for enlightenment. There are teachers in the modern yoga industry that I would want on my team if I were ever to play a game of yoga trivial pursuit, but they are not usually the same people I would call on if I was asked to show an example of someone who truly embodies the qualities of an advanced yogi. One of the highest beings I have ever studied with had never practiced a single posture. He probably couldn’t have recognized the Bhagavad Gita from the Bible, and his idea of exercise was rearranging his living room furniture. But he was the only person I have ever met that I would consider an enlightened master. Wouldn’t it be a powerful message to the non-practicing public if the average yoga practitioner… [Continue Reading]

Lost in Translation: The Perils of Pigeon Posture

kapotasana

Of all the postures near and dear to the hearts of so many yoga practitioners, poor misunderstood Pigeon pose may well be the most precarious. Loved by so many, but executed correctly by so few, this pose stands out amongst all others as the most likely to help you and your local orthopedic surgeon get on a first name basis. Why? Because you’re doing it wrong. Pigeon posture was never meant to be a hip opener. The original intention of this pose was lost in translation, and the modern interpretation is more likely to cause harm than create inner peace. Here’s what happened: In the yogic renaissance period of early 1930’s India, the father of modern yoga, Krishnamacharya, set his hand to creating a sequence of postures challenging enough for the young boys under his tutelage. The results of his work still exist to this day in the form of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, and its influence is present in nearly every other approach to yoga that involves the physical body. In the second series of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga there is a posture known as Kapotasana, translated as Pigeon pose. This posture is clearly intended to be a back bend. In the third series of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga there is another posture known as Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, translated as One-Legged King Pigeon pose. The back bend in the previous Kapotasana is still present, but now the posture adds in the quality of external rotation of the forward hip, the quality that… [Continue Reading]

Sick and Still Practicing Yoga? Stop!

no yoga when sick

Should you practice yoga when you are sick? My answer is no. But as simple and as straightforward as that may seem, you might find it to be a hard pill to swallow. I did. I’ve practiced yoga for almost 20 years now and I’ve had to learn this lesson over and over and over again. I still have a difficult time communicating to my students why it’s not a good idea. The only opportunity I typically have to do this is when they show up for class in the midst of feeling terrible. No one wants a lecture in that condition. So here it is. Hopefully you are reading this when you are feeling your best and can tuck it away for the next time you’re not. Don’t practice yoga when you are sick. Just don’t. Trust me. Yes, I realize that there are many articles on the internet that will tell you that gentle forms of exercise are a good idea when you’re feeling under the weather, but these articles are likely written by people who may think they understand yoga, but don’t actually practice. One of the main differentiating factors that separates yoga from other forms of exercise is the intentional use of inverted positions. This happens when your head moves below your heart for an extended amount of time. While most yogis tend to think of inverted positions as being only those that are obviously fulfilling this purpose (Headstand, Shoulderstand, etc.) every time you do Downward… [Continue Reading]

Are you Self-Realized, Self-Actualized, or just Self-Important?

selfimportance

There are many different ways to describe the goal of an authentic yoga practice. Personally I like the term Self-Realization. It promises that through the discipline of your yoga practice you can realize who you really are, and I think that’s a worthy pursuit. But it seems to me like the term Self-Realization has come to mean something else. I think the average yoga practitioner today has been led to believe that Self-Realization is Self-Actualization, which is a completely different thing. And by striving to become Self-Actualized they are instead becoming hopelessly Self-Important. Wikipedia defines Self-Realization as the “fulfillment by oneself of the possibilities of one’s character or personality.” I humbly disagree. That isn’t what yoga had in mind at all. Self-Actualization is the desire for self-fulfillment, not Self-Realization. To seek out that which is truly unique in oneself and to express it in all its wonder. This idea resonates with the inner spirit of all that is to be a modern American. Be all that you can be, right? But that’s not a yogic concept. Yoga wasn’t interested in enhancing your personality but giving you a vehicle to transcend it. Two thousand years ago a wise sage named Patanjali defined yoga as the cessation of the agitations of the mind. He was indicating that there is an experience to be had when the mind moves to stillness. The sensations of your physical body, the quality of your breath, and every other aspect of a well-designed yoga practice intentionally funnels… [Continue Reading]

Why I Don’t Do Holy Yoga

hindu statue

Growing up as a young Roman Catholic boy, I served morning mass daily during my summer vacations and every Saturday morning during the school year. I would wake early and ride my bike six blocks to St. Jerome’s church in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Most mornings few people came. It would be just me, a priest, and a couple of elderly parishioners. I didn’t serve mass because I wanted to but because I came from a VERY Catholic family, and that’s what I was expected to do. I’m quite confident that my childhood can out-Catholic just about anyone’s. Try me. My mother was a former Roman Catholic nun, and I attended St. Lawerence Seminary in Mt. Calvary, Wisconsin, a private boarding school and training ground for aspiring priests. Even still, it didn’t take. I saw far too many actions committed by “holy” people that didn’t reflect the values and beliefs they claimed to hold. I got booted from boarding school my senior year, and I never looked back. I found yoga when I was 24. I was lucky. I found it in a book and not in a studio. Yoga classes were all but non-existent in the Midwest in the early 90’s, but the pseudo-religious studio scene was already alive and well in NYC and on the west coast. I began practicing simple postures and slowly the discipline revealed itself. Through yoga I learned an ethic for living a happier, healthier and more spiritually grounded life.  But it wasn’t the eastern religious… [Continue Reading]