Keep Calm and Travel on


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I have come to acknowledge after many years of vagabond voyages, that travel can be stressful. Especially transatlantic air travel.

Granted, I’m not in my twenties, or even thirties anymore, but the uncomfortable seats, the queues, the airborne germs trapped in that ever-so-snug cabin just don’t seem to do it for me like it used to. And then, something extra-ordinary happens to remind me just how unsophisticated the human face of travel can be.

A few days ago I was due to travel from Baltimore to London, when just before take off, the plane fully boarded with passengers, discovered a fault in the cooling system. For four hours we sat on the plane at the terminal while the crew tried to identify and fix the problem. They served us snacks, cocktails and even dinner. Then, amoung the single serving entrees served without any turbulence due to the fact we were at the airport on the ground, they announced we would, in fact, not be travelling that evening. Half eaten meals, tray tables and drinks exploded through the aisles as people scurried to get off the plane as quickly as their sardined-in bodies could move.

Once we disembarked, the terminal was mayhem. Passengers wanted answers and no one on the ground staff know what to do. The good citizens of India on the other end of the 1-800-airways number, there to solve all our travelling needs, had not been informed of the glitch. All parties pointed fingers in any direction other than themselves to try to put an order to the chaos. Peggy, with her BA badge on upside down, told us all about how much better it used to be when the airlines actually cared about their customers. Dan, also of BA acclaim, complained that all the flights had already been oversold and if the people in the call centre couldn’t help, no one could. On and on it went while customers and passengers alike locked horns without solutions. Everyone, except the captain of the plane.

There he stood in his captain’s hat, behind the checkout counter addressing each passenger with kindness, respect and patience. While he hadn’t done anything personally to contribute to the fault, he took responsibility and worked quickly to start finding new flight assignments. He delegated the hotel management to another staff member who took names with pen and paper. Peggy was reassigned from whinge-master to taxi-voucher-lady, and within two hours, we were all on our way somewhere.

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I arrived back at my mothers house eleven hours after being dropped off at the airport. The next morning as I proceeded to rebook my flight I reflected on what had occurred the previous evening. Despite the pushing, finger pointing, frustration and anger of some passengers, we all arrived, more or less, in the same situation, with a place to stay and a re-booked flight. How we each arrived into our circumstance, was different.

One of the big questions I used to ask when starting out with my yoga practice was, how much do we let go, and how much do we take control? If we have faith in God, does that mean that we leave it all up to Him or Her, sit back and do nothing to propel change? One of my doctors once said it best when he confided in me ” most of the time, we are doing the best we can to make the best choices at any given moment with the information available at hand”. One way to see it is, it’s God who gives us the time and the choices, and it is up to us to make the choices. If we can let go of the ego and our selfish reasons behind our choices, then it’s also God in each of us who is the decision maker, rather than our small self, the one who often makes decisions for the wrong reasons.

In the end, I chose to sit back and assess the situation at the airport. I chose to ask questions about my options when it was my turn in the queue, and based on that I chose to ring up British Airways and to ensure I had a seat assignment before showing up at an airport in a different city the next day. Even though I was just as upset as the next passenger, I admired and aspired to be like the pilot; I chose to keep calm and travel on.

A Few Small Theories about Managing Challenge


stormcloudI don’t know anyone that has not had to work through a challenge. I’m sure there are a few people out there that don’t think they’ve been dealt any big blows, and good on them. Perhaps this is due to their super-human ability to overcome difficulty, or maybe they have simply been very blessed. Nevertheless, eventually, but inevitably, life will catch up in some way or another, and throw in one or two presents to remind us of what it is all about.

There are small challenges and big challenges, but in essence, the only thing defining what is small and what is big is our perception, and that is based on what we have experienced in life to-date, first and second hand.

Theory Number 1: What you hear can and will affect you, if you let it.
When working with hardship, what other people say, including, friends, doctors, employers, and enemies alike, will change your perception about the challenge you are faced with, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. Sometimes a kind word or suggestions may make what you are dealing with seem easier, or give you false hope. Other times we are met with unskilled communicators that leave a negative remark in vulnerable hands. In sanskrit, there is a term viveka, meaning discrimination. It is best to use this discrimination to filter out what side comments are useful, and which to simply let go of. At the end of the day, all these remarks should be handled with a grain of salt, or vairagyam, dispassion. No attachment, no re-play button on the message recorder. It may sound easier than it is, but truly, if you are holding on to something that is only increasing the challenge,  it is using up energy stores that you may need to get through the challenge ahead. Only you have the power to create a filter of what you let in to your world vision. Choose the helpful bits without getting too attached to them, and let the rest go.

Learn also, to discriminate fact from fiction, and stick with fact (and a pinch of dispassion). Even when a ‘fact’ is coming from a doctor or an employer, they are also doing the best they can to use their viveka and buddhi, sanskrit for intelligence, to communicate their best estimate or guess given the knowledge they have at the time. It doesn’t make it true, only true in their experience, which proves very important as they need something on which to base their work. An element of trust is involved, which is why it is so important to involve yourself in relationships based on reverence and trust.

Theory Number 2: The fear factor. Even fear is preferred to the unknown.
As a culture, we thrive on fear. In times of challenge and hardship, the mind craves a storyline that it can evolve and embellish; any hardship is nestled in a good strong dose of fear. It doesn’t take much looking around in the media to see that we gravitate to stories based on worst case scenarios, and celebrate those that overcome great risk, even when it ends in tragedy. The question is, if we didn’t have fear, how much sweeter would life be, and how much less painful would it feel when moving through our own cliff-hanger moments?

How do we manage fear? I can only say from my own experiences, having meaningful things to do goes a long way in sating the mind Whether it is taking up an instrument, caring for a friend, cooking, finding a good boxed set, or diving into work that you are passionate about, dwelling in fear speculation for too long is unhealthy. Am I recommending escaping the challenge rather than dealing with it? Yes, at least in small measures, I am. Making time to escape and finding small pleasures will help to renew energy stores you may need to face the challenge head on in those times when you can actually make decisions that make a difference. The moments in the evening or during slow points in the day when we tend to bury ourselves in fear and worry are not those moments.

The perception of the challenge at hand is only as large as the fear that is feeding it. A wise Buddhist master once said (and I paraphrase) ‘fear and hope are our two biggest mental obstacles. Fear leads to worry. Worry never solved anything. Why worry? If you have a problem, you can fix it instead of worry. If you have a problem and you can’t fix it? Don’t worry, you can’t do anything about it anyway, just don’t hope it goes away. Hope? Hope leads to let down. Make hope a belief, then it will happen. Hope without belief is fear in disguise.’

Theory Number 3: Enjoy this one while you’ve got it. There will always be another.
It is widely understood that being in a time of difficulty leads one to want to be anywhere other than there at that moment. Learning to stay when times get tough is an important lesson. One challenge begets another, and while the size, form and circumstance may be different, when we learn to stay, the misconceptions and tethers of tension and adversary tend to fade away and we can see the situation more objectively. Life is a rich and diverse landscape, and the more we can accept there will be patches of rocky cliff line that tumble and open onto a soft, grass-feathered plain, the more we might be able to accept all of it in good measure. The preparation for the journey comes with discernment and intelligence, not fear and worry, about what lies ahead.

Theory Number 4: Get out of the mind and into the body.
Even when the mind is full and rife with worry, the body is available. The body is an enormous resource that we largely take for granted as a vehicle there to serve us, only to get from point A to point B. Don’t get me wrong, getting from point A to point B can be important, however, the body has an extraordinary ability to settle and to clear the mind. Taking even ten minutes a day to come back to the breath, to lie on the floor and link some simple movements to the inhale and exhale will bring great satisfaction and clarity. Moving the body with the breath gives the mind a focus that is not on the hardship at hand, and can be done in a way that is accessible to every body, whatever the limitations may be. The key here is to make each movement meaningful so that you are not just going through the ‘motions’ but you are really inquiring to how it feels to be in the body, what is happening when you move, even a finger? Undoubtedly you will find that you don’t just move the finger, but you might relate this particular movement up the arm, into the shoulder, the jaw, and so on. The body is an interrelated organism just as we are interconnected with all of life. These movements have the potential to unlock tension from within the body and bring about a new perspective to the mind. A mental shift is all it takes to make magic.

Jivamukti Focus of the Month, Nov 2014: Soul Power, by Sharon Gannon


fom_nov_v1_0hanam esham kleshavad uktam
The greatest obstacle to the practice is one’s own prejudices 
based on one’s own preferences ~ Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (PYS IV.28)

Yoga is the practice of getting happy. Not ordinary happiness, but deep and lasting happiness that is unshaken by the ups and downs of life. Through yoga we wake up, slowly and over time, and as each bit of the veil of ignorance that keeps us from knowing our true selves falls, we see more and more clearly what is, and with that we gain power to choose to live life aligned with the flow of Divine will. Those of us on this path face both tremendous challenges and tremendous opportunities at this time. Our culture of materialism, exploitation and utter disregard for the well-being of other animals, all of nature and the Earth herself is inching us ever closer to a breaking point, while at the same time we are undergoing a huge shift in consciousness. To navigate through this tumultuous time and emerge into the light, we must dissolve a crippling prejudice that has put many of us to sleep for thousands of years, distorted our minds and coerced us into viewing slavery, exploitation and the mass murder of other animals as normal. The root of that prejudice is the lie that animals don’t have souls.

In the sutra above, Patanjali identifies prejudice as the greatest obstacle to yoga. Prejudice is always based on misperception, which comes from ignorance. Ignorance arises from being told a lie and believing it and then continuing to tell yourself and others that lie—deepening your belief in it to such an extent that it affects how you see yourself and the others whom you are prejudiced against, resulting in a distortion of the truth. Prejudice is a mental affliction that pollutes the mind with deception. To rid yourself of prejudice, you must destroy the lie at the root. Only knowledge can burn prejudice at its root and reveal the truth.

Many religious traditions maintain that non-human animals do not have souls, or that they do not have the kind of souls that enable one to connect to God. Patanjali tells us that if we look deeply we will see the truth. In fact, you don’t even have to look that deeply to see that other animals have souls. If they are breathing and the heart is beating, this is evidence that a soul is present. To be alive is to have a soul. All living beings, regardless of the color of their skin, hair, feathers, scales or fur, and whether or not they walk on two legs or four or none at all, are persons—they have souls.

This is evident in our language: the word anima is the root for the word animal, and it means “soul, that which animates.” Thus, by definition, all animals have souls, whether human or non-human. Every living being has a soul. When someone dies, the soul leaves the body, and that is the only time that we can justifiably point at someone and say they don’t have a soul. It is the same no matter what kind of person you are: you may be a human, a cat, a dog, a cow, a bird or a fish person, but regardless, all living beings have souls; if they didn’t they would be dead.

It is also evident in countless stories of animals behaving in ways that go far beyond the rigid notions of animal behavior that culture and science have limited them to, ways that in many cases display more humanity than many humans display. For example, dolphins caring for their dying friends, dogs who forego food themselves in order to have enough to feed their families, octopuses who decorate their dens, birds who use words to express regret, and many more. If these animals were nothing more than automatons whose behavior is dictated entirely by their genes, how could they demonstrate such connectedness with others and the world around them?

Jivamukti means liberation for the soul—all souls, not just human souls. To reach liberation, we must rid ourselves of prejudice. Asana and meditation practice can help. Bhakti can help. Being vegan can help. But no practice will be effective unless we are willing to open our minds and hearts to see beyond the “reality” presented to us by culture. When we reach liberation, we will find that there is actually no difference between individuals of any species. We are all one—we are all one Divine soul.

-Sharon Gannon

Putting the Head on Yoga Asana (the last workshop of 2014)


image378Workshop, The Architecture of Asana: Part 3 (The head and neck)
Sunday, November 2nd, 1.30-4.30pm Indaba Yoga Studio, Marylebone

 

An awareness of the head, jaw and neck in asana practice is crucial to being balanced in body and mind; after all, it houses all of the nerves that help us to function physically and mentally. However, most of us have ongoing confusion about a myriad of details – anything from where the ‘crown’ of the head is, to the gazing point, or dristi. This three hour workshop will focus on the cranium and neck and their relationship in key asanas and pranayama. While it is a workshop and will have a slightly different pace than a normal 90 minute class, be prepared for a full asana practice as well as an asana lab at the end, where you can bring your questions.

Hope to see you there as it will be my last workshop in 2014.

Sound Advice


600394_421617931239046_1475004198_nOn October 11 and October 18th there will be LIVE MUSIC in class, provided by Luc Acke and Javier Rodríguez Huertas at Indaba Yoga Studio, Marylebone, 10-11:30am. Please come!

Tasya vachakah pranavah
Always chant OM; God is OM, supreme music
-Patanjali

Living and working in London means that all around, there is sound. Police sirens, bus horns, jack hammers and cars whizzing past provide a colorful if not distracting backdrop. Sometimes moving beyond the chaos of the cataclysmic sound waves can be challenging.

The practices of yoga provide a framework of moving from the gross (large) elements to the subtle. We work from the outside, in, so to speak. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali outlines and eight-limed path (ashtanga) the provides steps for transformation; transformation from our belief about being rooted in our belief about who we are as a physical form, to being something more subtle, something timeless. The eight-limbed path consists of the yamas (restraints), niyamas (self-restraints), asana (seat/connection), pratyahara (looking inward), dharana (concentration), dyana (meditation), and samadhi (enlightenment).  Throughout these practices, we learn to cultivate our listening skills, ultimately arriving at the ability to hear even the unstruck sound, the soundless sound of Om.

In the sanskrit dictionary, there is a word nadam, which translates loosely to sound. Nada Yoga is the yoga of deep inner listening. The related word nadi means river or stream. Nadis are the channels in the subtle body through which consciousness flows.

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika states that samadhi (enlightenment) is achieved when the anahata (unstruck) nadam can be heard. The ultimate goal of Hatha Yoga is to hear this soundless sound which is Om, the dissolution of all sound and the music of the spheres. To do this the yogi must first perfect the ability to listen.

Sound is the essence of all energy. The first vibration, the Nadam, was “unstruck,” meaning that it occurred at a time when there were no things to strike against each other to make a sound. This first very subtle vibration is still resonating through each and every vibration that has arisen since the beginning of time.

To begin the practice of Nada Yoga, the yogi first practices pratyahara, shutting off as many external sights and sounds as possible and drawing inward. The first stage of pratyahara is to become still and quiet, and allow an inner tranquility to permeate the senses.

This is not easy to do, so a prerequisite might be to refine the ability to really listen. One way to do this is by appreciating good music. Be selective; it is helpful to choose music that induces an inner state of well-being. Practice listening to your own voice and to those around you. See if in walking through a busy city you can look for the sound of Om, even in the jackhammer, even in the car’s horn.

Once external listening is refined, we can cultivate the ability to listen inward. Yoga practices provide techniques for tuning our instrument, for transforming an ordinary body into an extraordinary instrument for Divine Will; for love. Through the practices of Nada Yoga, the yogi’s mind becomes absorbed in the inner sound of Om.

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