January Focus of the Month – Quelling Thought Waves: Inhabiting the Body

meditation, body, thought, now, present, beQuelling Thought Waves: Inhabiting the Body

Have you ever had a moment when you felt perfectly at peace? when time seemed to stop? when duties, obligations, and worry fell by the wayside leaving you whole and unfettered, happy and free?

For too many of us, these moments happen only rarely, briefly, or never at all.

It’s likely that you can recall moments like this from childhood before you were bound by the weight of to-do lists, dependents, and the constraints of time. In adulthood, we have to work much harder to find the same kind of glimpses into perfect peace.

Thankfully, yoga offers us a handbook for rediscovering (or discovering!) this sense of boundless play. In the first chapter of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali states that “Yoga is the cessation of fluctuations of the mind,” the idea being that the mind, despite our belief to the contrary, is more likely to cloud our consciousness than it is to clarify and illuminate it.

In Sanskrit, the sutra (#2) reads: Yoga chitta vrtti nirodha.

Chitta is the stuff of the mind; consciousness; or the subconscious. Vrtti means whirpool but can be thought of as disturbances of consciousness; mental content; or thoughts. Vrtti is the turbulent cloud cover that obscures the purity and brilliance of consciousness. Nirodha is annihiliation or ending.

In their commentary on the Sutras, Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood quip that most of us – though we would love to believe that our minds are lucid, organized, and productive – are in reality walking around thinking superfluous, haphazard thoughts like: “‘Ink-bottle… Jimmy’s trying to get my job. Mary says I’m fat. Big toe hurts. Soup good….’”

Spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle also claims that the mind does not serve us in the way we would like to think it does, calling it “the greatest obstacle to enlightenment.” He points out that the mind is more likely than not, in any given moment, to be fretting about the past or anticipating some catastrophic event in the imagined future that will never actually take place. Rare is the person who can still her thought-waves and simply be. He offers advice for connecting with the body in order to silence the chatter of the mind, recommending that we first get in touch with the feeling of being in the body: “Is there life in your hands, arms, legs, and feet…? Can you feel the subtle energy that pervades the entire body and gives vibrant life to every organ and every cell?” Absorption in embodiment, he suggests, is a gateway to the present moment, which is always perfect and just as it should be (even when it isn’t).

emotions

Yoga too prescribes methods for quieting the mind which all involve, eventually, inhabiting the body exactly as it is, in this moment, without judgment or unnecessary discernment.

At its best, asana practice immerses us so fully in the coordination of movement that we forget, if momentarily, whatever troubles, plagues, or excites us. But it isn’t enough. If you’ve ever attempted a balancing sequence after a meal, or when you were under the weather, or really ever at all, you have probably experienced frustration and disappointment while doing yoga. Maybe you registered a dull level of grief or embarrassment when you toppled over or wobbled to and fro. If so, you’re not alone! Nearly everyone experiences these thought waves on the mat. On the other end of the spectrum, you may have felt victory, relief, joy, or pride when you executed a challenging posture without falling out of it. Positive thoughts are just as distracting as negative, says Patanjali, because they feed the egoic mind. The yogis say that we must learn to quell even these pleasurable thought waves if we are to truly master the mind.

So, if asana isn’t enough to bring our thought waves under control, what else can we do? Yoga offers at least three more strategies. One is to focus on the breath as we execute asana. At first, try using a visualization for the purpose of calling all of your attention to the breath. Common visualization are: ocean waves crashing and receding as the breath comes in and out; or a movement of light and energy up and down the body’s central channel as you inhale and exhale. After breathing steadily with the visualization for a time, release the visual and continue the breath, allowing your inhalations and exhalations to sync with the expansion and contraction of your body in a nearly automatic way. It takes much practice to find peace and easy coordination of breath and movement in the practice of yoga, but it comes.

Drishti, asana, Ardha_urdhwa_bhujangasana

Another method of stilling the mind during asana practice (or during vinyasa, which is the harmony of breath and movement), is to make use of drishti points, or focal points. New yoga practitioners are most commonly introduced to the use of drishti in balance poses. We find that by staring at a still point on the floor or on a wall, we can better focus on steadying our posture. Later in the practice, we find drishti points in nearly every pose: at our thumb in Half Moon Pose, for instance; at the navel in Downward Dog; down the nose in Camel; or at the third-eye center in Lotus. The drishtis do not have to be fixed but can shift and alter as the practice evolves. Still, they are always there to offer a point upon which all thought can converge. Eventually, we become charioteers who masterfully reign in our scattered thoughts and stay the course toward full consciousness.

Another method by which we can master the mind is via the senses. You can practice being in your body by sitting or lying still and simply noting the sensory input that arises: a dampness or coolness on your skin; a low buzz in your ear that disappears as you remain still; a certain acidity in your digestive tract; a sweet taste on your tongue; flashes of red and black as you sit with eyes closed. Sure, it takes mental processing to register sensory input, but the trick here is to take note without chasing the associations and judgments that arise. Notice when you start thinking in a way that brings you out of the moment, like: “This smell reminds me of that time when…” (past consciousness); “This acid reflux must be from when I ate such and such…” (past consciousness); “I hate sitting still…” (ego consciousness); “I have this and that to do which are far more important…” (future consciousness; judgment). Bring yourself back to the now as often as you need to. Our synapses won’t ever stop firing, but we can exercise the control we do have by silencing the white noise.

Ultimately, the yoga practice, extending beyond the mat, becomes a meditative immersion. At first, we experience brief, enticing glimpses of consciousness unsullied. With practice and dedication, our experience of embodiment without the jostle and tug of a mental narrative begins to happen more and more frequently. As we continue the climb toward illumination, the sense of struggle dissipates. We find that the mind is a companion and not a rambunctious distraction. The present begins to absorb us. The moment is just as it should be. We are consciousness embodied, and that is the essence of yoga.

Peace!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Free New Year’s Day class, Jan. 1, 2:00-3:30pm

Free New Year’s Day Class

new years yoga, the yoga house, free yoga, yoga class

Join Jacqui Nash for this annual event, a class to ring in the new year. This year, we’re dedicating 2015 to Maitri Bhavana, or cultivating compassion and friendliness, in an effort to view all creatures and all people with openness and unlimited compassion (not always an easy task!).

Space is limited, so arrive a little early to roll out your mat.

“matiri karuna muditopeksanam sukha dukha punyapunya visayanam bhavanatas citta prasadanam.”

By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 1.33

 

 

Yoga Fundamentals: A Workshop for Beginners–Sat., 1/17, 2:00-4:00pm

Yoga Fundamentals:

A Workshop for Beginners

Saturday, January 17th, 2:00-4:00pm

$30 day-of/$25 by Jan. 16th

YOGA House in Kingston, NYWe’ve all heard of the widely known physical and mental benefits of a consistent yoga practice. We know that when we hear the word “yoga” we think of flexibility, stress relief and mindfulness. But for some, making that step to experience those well-known benefits is not as easy as walking out the door and getting to a class. Often people feel intimidated and unsure of joining a group class for their first experience. Many questions arise: What type of yoga should I try? What’s with all the breathing? If I’m not flexible, can I do yoga? Maybe you’ve already been to a class but felt too uncomfortable and unsure of yourself to return.

This 2-hour interactive workshop is designed to quell those hesitations and answer any and all questions that you might have about starting a yoga practice. We will cover the following topics:

  • A brief history of yoga
  • An introduction to pranayama (breath control) and meditation
  • An explanation of different styles
  • An introduction to common yoga terms
  • A look at some yoga postures and their anatomical alignment

The entire workshop is designed to encourage dialogue, questions and discussion for any and all topics. If you have a question, we are sure that many other people do, so ask away for us all, teachers and students, to learn about the hesitations that arise. We want to provide you with the foundation of basic yoga principles in order for you to feel comfortable when you enter a yoga class for the first time. Join The Yoga House co-founder and  instructor, Jacqui Nash, for this open forum for any yoga-skeptics.

We have all necessary equipment (props, mats, straps, even water), so bring just yourself. Because we will be doing some postures, please wear comfortable, loose clothing.

(Please note, it is NOT necessary to take this workshop to come to a Beginner’s Class, which we offer of Monday and Friday nights.)


Yoga Fundamentals Workshop



New Classes Added — Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays

  • Leigha now teaches the Mon/Wed House Flow classes, from 9:00-10:30am.
  • Amy Reed will begin teaching an Early Flow class on Wednesdays from 7:00-8:00am, beginning 12/10.
  • Jacqui has added a House Flow on Monday evenings, from 7:00-8:00pm.
  • We have a new class on Saturday mornings called Flying Flow, a challenging Vinyasa class that will incorporate inversions, arm balances, and yoga philosophy-based intention setting. Taught by Leigha, 7:30-9:00am.

 

December Focus of the Month — Natarajasana

King Dancer, Natarajasana PoseLast week we received a little taste of winter—a snowstorm that knocked us off balance as we prepared for Thanksgiving. As we move into the final month of the year, we give Nataraj, Lord of the Dance, the spotlight and unpack the rich imagery of his story, which offers us a reminder to relish rather than lament winter’s destructive power.

In Hindu mythology Nataraj is a four-armed, wild-haired dancer who balances atop a dwarf demon while he performs a dance said to destroy humankind’s ignorance. Whereas we mere mortals fear nature’s cycles – of birth, death, and rebirth – Nataraj, an incarnation of Shiva, happily rides these rhythms, benevolently assisting in the destruction of the universe so that new life can emerge. In Nataraj’s eyes, winter is no time to mourn or to hibernate, it’s a time to celebrate as we prepare for the rebirth of springtime. May we all be dancers this season!

 

Nataraj, King Dancer, Focus of the MonthFearlessness and Liberation

The image of Nataraj is an iconic one. The svelte and muscular dancer holds a drum in one hand and fire in another, all while holding hand mudras (seals) that represent fearlessness and liberation. He is encircled in a ring of fire and wears a serpent around his waist. He stands atop the demon Apasmara and maintains, always, a peaceful countenance.

By keeping a firm foot on Apasmara the dwarf demon, Nataraj protects humankind from at least two layers of ignorance. Take what you want from the mythology, of course, but the two forms of ignorance are:

  • The illusion that we are separate from divinity.
  • The illusion that the trials of daily life are all that matter.

 

Nataraj_Apasmara

Apasmara the demon is held underfoot by Nataraj to protect humankind from ignorance.

Apasmara would have us get caught up in the trivial ups and downs of our daily interactions. He would like us to believe that we are our worry, or we are our regrets, our anxiety, our hopelessness, our sadness, or our excitability, and he loves when these fear-based emotions take us over because they cloud our sense of self and obscure our relationship to deepest consciousness.

Winter is a natural time to sink into contraction and hibernation, but instead of allowing its fallowness to dampen our spirits, the image of Nataraj encourages us to remember that it’s an essential part of the birth-death-rebirth process, one measure among many in the song of life.

The Lord of the Dance reminds us not to get swept up in our own mundane dramas and instead choose liberation from fear-binding thoughts. Only by destroying fear can we be truly free. And how will we know when we are free? That’s easy. We will be dancing.

 

The Pose: Natarajasana

Natarajasana, King DancerKing Dancer pose is a one-footed balance and back bend all at once. In it, the practitioner grabs one foot or ankle and reaches the other arm forward. There are as many variations of the pose as there are yogis, but it is always a balance, and it is always a heart opener. It also opens the shoulders, stretches the hip flexors, and tones the back body.

To explore the pose’s significance, you might try it balanced upon a block which can symbolize the demon underfoot who if freed would see to it that we remain shackled to our own little turbulences. Stand on the block to symbolically break free of the patterns that keep you bound to fear.

 

NatarajasanaThe pose itself can strike fear, as many balance poses do (especially when we try them on a block). If it seems elusive, try it at a wall to cancel out any sense of instability. When you do eventually feel stable in the pose, draw your heart forward, tilt it up, and notice the pose’s power to liberate your spirit.

Feel lifted and light, peaceful and celebratory. Let nature’s rhythms course through you without resistance. Keep the beat with your breath and give yourself over to the moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Holiday Sock Drive — Receive $5 Off of Your Class Card Purchase this Nov & Dec when you donate socks and other necessities

Celebrate seva, the art of giving, this season by participating in our

Holiday Sock Drive

Holiday Sock Drive to Benefit the Children's Program of the Family Inn

Receive $5 off your class card purchase when you bring in one of the following items

for The Family Inn of Family of Woodstock.

  • Conair round brushes
  • Wide toothed combs
  • Socks & underwear (new, please. For infant, toddler, children, and teens)
  • Baby equipment (strollers, crib sheets, bouncy chairs, baby swing, etc.)
  • Baby bottles (specific request for tommee tippee bottles)
  • Humidifiers
  • Baby crib sheets
  • Twin sheets & pillows
  • Robes & slippers (for toddlers & kids)