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Monday, February 22, 2010

Align with the Design

When we resist what is, we fight against the whole universe.  For what is, right now, in this moment, is the result of the entire universe orchestrating all events and outcomes that lead to this moment.  This moment is as it is because the entire universe has conspired to make it as it is.  Do you really want to resist the entire universe?  Which of us can win that fight?

The alternative to resistance is alignment.  When we are in alignment, we experience the unfettered flow of divine grace in our lives.  With grace comes joy, freedom and happiness.  We live as we are meant to live - in peace and love.

We can use our understanding the five gifts to experience alignment in our lives.  Based on the ancient wisdom of the maya koshas (living layers), the five gifts describe our design, the way the universe intends us to be.  Our task is to understand the five gifts, and align with the design.  When we do, grace, peace and joy come naturally into our lives.

Alignment and the Gift of the Physical Body

Much of what we do in our yoga asana practice is about aligning the structures of physical body.  There is an elegant, beautiful design to the bones, musculature, fascia, as well as the cellular and molecular structures of the body.  When the body is out of alignment, it tells us - we experience physical pain.  Pleasure is the physical expression of joy, which we experience when we align within the gift of the physical body.

Alignment and the Gift of Life


A quick look at the physical body reveals one key truth: we are designed for movement. The gift of life is the source of movement.  Prana, the life energy, flows around, within and through our bodies, animating the physical form.  Life expresses itself within us as motion and emotion. It is the vital energy that stimulates all living processes.

We align with the gift of life through movement.  Our yoga asana practice is key to healthy energy movement.  (There are other practices, too: taiji chuan, qi gong, aikido, and other movement disciplines also are powerful practices.) When we align with the gift of life, we experience flow - unfettered, graceful movement.  We move with the vital energy of the breath (in Sanskrit, the breath is also called prana), the blood flows freely in our arteries, and the living processes of the cells move with ease.  Mis-alignment with life creates negative emotion, blocked energy flow, and strain.

Alignment and the Gift of Thought


Most of us spend most of our time thinking.  So, the most common mis-alignment occurs with the gift of thought. Thought is designed as a tool for awareness.  Alignment with this gift means using the tool well.  Mis-alignment is mis-use.

When we align with the gift of thought, the mind is open and clear.  Thought enters the open mind-space easily, and we are able to choose which thoughts to dwell on, and which to let go.  We experience peace of mind, contentment.  Thought mis-alignment occurs when thoughts do battle with each other in the mind-space, or when we cling to non-useful ideas.  Stress is caused by mis-alignment within the gift of thought.

Alignment and the Gift of Pure Awareness


The Gift of Pure Awareness is awareness beyond thought, beyond the limits of language, beyond what words can fully describe.  When we align with pure awareness, we know that this moment is complete and perfect as it is.  We experience a wholeness, aware simultaneously of all the gifts we've received.  Mis-alignment is experienced as resistance to what is - resistance to this moment.

The gift of pure awareness is also the gateway to experiencing the divine source.  When we realize that each of us, and all that is, comes from the same divine source, we can fully accept what is.  Resistance falls away, and we experience contentment and joy.

Alignment and the Gift of Divine Consciousness

Consciousness is the source of all that is.  When we align with the divine source, all separations fall away, and we experience oneness with everything and with God.  Love and grace flow from the gift of divine consciousness to each of us, and through us into the world.  In the ancient tradition of India, this is called ananda, the experience of pure bliss.

Here's a prayer or mantra I use each day, to align with the design.

Divine spirit of life
make of me an open channel of love and grace
and use me this day to create a sacred experience
for all I encounter.
Let divine grace flow through me 
into the world.


Namaste
Joe

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The book - The Five Gifts

I've just completed a draft of the book The Five Gifts: Experiencing the Divine in Everyday Life.  There's still much work to do to get it published, but I'm wanting to get it into as many hands as possible.

I'd love to hear your comments on this book.  Here's a link where you can download it.
http://www.lifeflowyoga.com/the5gifts.htm

Be well.

Namaste
Joe

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Turn the Camera Around

In the ancient Sanskrit language of India, the word leila means "divine play."  The spirit of this word is that the divine universe is engaging in a playful game.  The divine source, which is un-manifest, becomes manifest through an infinite number of playful creative moments.  The many, manifest creations - like us - grow and learn and become aware of the divine source.  This divine game - creation and awareness - underlies all that happens, all that we experience.

We are invited to play hide-and-seek with God!  Join the fun.

I like this word leila, because it reminds us not to take our spiritual practice too seriously.  The game is meant to be fun, and our life experience is meant to be joyful.  When you join the game (the word join contains the word joy), you experience divine grace.  The ancient Sanskrit word for join is yug, which is also the root of the modern word yoga.  Our yoga practice is a path to join leila, to engage in divine playfulness.  The product of our practice is joy.

Here's a metaphor I like to use in my practice.  I call it "turning the camera around."  Most of the time, our awareness is on the manifest world.  We experience the perceptions of the senses as processed by the physical body.  We act and interact with the world around us as we live our lives.  And we discern, describe and use thought to decide how we want our world to be.  We use the five gifts.  In a meditation practice, we can bring stillness to our experience, and grow in awareness.  We begin to see all that is, within the light of divine consciousness.  We see ourselves, each of us, as a unique, divine creation - a sunbeam that emanates from the source, filling our world with light.  This awareness allows us to experience the world as it truly is, a divine manifestation.

An yet, even this awareness is limited.  We see all, in the light of the divine source, yet we continue to use the light to experience the manifest world.  It is as if we have a camera, and we look one way only - at the manifest world.  The sunbeam illuminates the world, for our lens to see.  But, what would we see if we turn the camera around?

Well, at first we'd be dazzled by the light.  We'd realize that the divine source is not hiding itself very well; rather, our uni-directional view obscures the sun.  We'd get to say to God, "ahah! I found you!"  And then, we get to play the game again, in each moment, forever.  What fun!

Here's a meditation you can use:

Begin by sitting well and let yourself be still.  Become aware of the gift of the physical body.  Notice the structures and form of the body.  Be grateful for this gift.  Spend a few minutes in gratitude, aware of the gift of the physical body.

Become aware of the gift of life.  Even as your body is still, notice the movements - the breath, the heartbeat, the blood circulating in your arteries and veins.  Feel the pulsing life energy within and around your body.  Be grateful for this gift.  Spend a few minutes in gratitude, aware of the gift of life.

Become aware of the gift of thought.  Notice how a thought will emerge in the mind-space, then move on, like clouds moving across the sky.  Don't try to resist or change the thought that appears, and don't allow yourself to become lost in thought.  Simply observe.  Be grateful for this gift.  Spend a few minutes in gratitude, aware of the gift of thought.

Become aware that you are the pure awareness that is aware of the gifts you've been given.  You are the experience of "I am", that which experiences this moment.  You are the sunbeam that illuminates the physical body, the life, and the thought.  Be the light.  Be grateful for this gift of pure awareness.  Spend a few minutes in gratitude, as the gift of pure awareness.

You are the sunbeam that illuminates the gift of the physical body, the gift of life, the gift of thought, the gift of pure awareness.  Now, turn the camera around, and see the sun.  Be aware of the divine source.  Bathe in the light, the grace, the joy and the love of the divine.

Let yourself play.  Leila.  Join the game.

Be well.

Namaste
Joe

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Devotional Yoga Practice

Here's something for all of you yoga practitioners. This is a devotional yoga asana practice, based on the Five Gifts. I do this practice almost every day. It includes four Surya Namaskar (sun salutations) plus additional poses as you go along. The practice also includes several silent mantras, or prayer verses that I have learned from various sources and modified to fit the practice. Of course, you can create your own devotional practice. My hope is simply that this practice will be a joyful one for you.

***************

Since there are many forms of the sun salutation, let me describe the one I use in this practice, then I'll describe the practice. Here's the pose sequence:
Start in Tadasana (mountain pose)
             with hands in Anjali Mudra (palms together)
Inhale to Urdva Hastasana (arms over the head)
Exhale to Uttanasana (forward bend)
Step one leg back to Lunge
From the lunge, add other poses is you wish.  
I'll make some suggestions below.
Switch and do both sides of the lunge
Exhale to step into Adho Mukka Swanasana (downward facing dog pose)
Optional Vinyasana which includes:
Inhale to Palykasana (plank)
Exhale and lower into Chattarunga Dandasana (lowered plank)
Inhale into Bujangasana (cobra) or Urdva Mukha Swanasana (upward dog)
  Exhale and return to Adho Mukha Swanasana (downward facing dog)
Then, hop or step to Uttanasana (forward bend)
Inhale and lift the heart, then exhale and Pranam (bow)
Inhale and rise to Urdva Hastasana (arms over the head)
Exhale and return to Tadasana (mountain pose)
        with hands in Anjali Mudra
*****************

Now for the devotional practice. Please modify as you wish and according to your needs.

Sun Salutation #1: Celebrating the Gift of the Physical Body

In Tadasana, with palms together, become aware of the physical body. Use your awareness to align the body, so you feel open and free to move. Moving through the first part of the practice slowly, be aware of the alignment of the physical structures of the body - bones, muscles, organs, etc. Feel how function flows from the underlying structure.

As you hold the lunge pose, say the following mantra to yourself
This physical body is a gift of divine love,
and I am grateful and honored to receive it.
I commit this day:
to strengthen and nurture this body-gift
to empower these structures with awareness
and to offer this body to divine service.
Switch to the second side lunge, and repeat the mantra.

Step back into the dog pose, saying to yourself
I surrender to the divine source of all that is.

If you do the optional plank-chattarunga-cobra vinyasana, here's a mantra to use as you are moving
divine spirit of life
make of me an open channel of love and grace
and use me this day
to create a sacred experience for all that I encounter.

Finish the sun salutation with this mantra reverberating in your awareness. On the last rising up from the forward bend, simply say
let divine grace flow through me into this world.

Sun Salutation #2: Celebrating the Gift of Life

In the mountain pose, palms together, become aware of the life energy that flows within you and around you. Feel the aliveness of your body. As you move through the first poses, flow with the breath, and enjoy the grace of the movements.

From the lunge pose, rise up into Virabadrasana I (warrior pose #1). Hold the pose and say the following
This life is a gift of divine love
and I am grateful and honored to receive it.
I commit this day
to strengthen and nurture this life gift
to empower these movements and emotions with awareness
and to offer this life to divine service.
Return to the lunge pose and do the second side warrior pose, repeating the mantra.

In the dog pose, say
I surrender to the divine spirit of life.

Finish the sun salutation with the vinyasana and a return to standing, saying the following:
Divine spirit of life
make of me an open channel of love and grace
and use me this day to create a sacred experience
for all I encounter.
Let divine grace flow through me into this world.

Sun Salutation #3: Celebrating the Gift of Thought

Repeat the same form of the sun salutation, except replace the warrior pose with parshvottanasana (the straight-leg stretch). Let your mind be open and be aware of the thoughts that enter the mind-space. Here's the mantra:

Thought is a gift of divine love, and I am grateful and honored to receive it.
I commit this day
to strengthen and nurture this thought-gift
to empower this mind-space with awareness
and to allow all thought that enters my mind to be inspired by a divine source.
I surrender to the divine intention of the universe.
Spirit of life, make of me an open channel of love and grace,
and use me this day to create a sacred experience for all I encounter.
Let divine grace flow through me into this world.

Sun Salutation #4: Celebrating the Gift of Pure Awareness

In this sun salutation, your focus is on awareness beyond thought and the words flow from this awareness. Use Uthitta Parsva Konasana variation (a deep stretch version of the side angle pose) or Ekka Padha Raja Kapotasana (the pigeon pose) in the center of your sun salutation. The mantra is:

Awareness is a gift of divine love, and I am grateful and honored to receive it.
I commit this day
to grow in awareness
to empower each moment, each thought, each action and 
        every experience with awareness
and I offer my entire being to divine service
I surrender to the divine consciousness of the universe - to God
Divine spirit, make of me an open channel of love and grace, and
use me this day to create a sacred experience for all I encounter.
Let divine grace flow through me into this world.

Celebrating the Gift of Divine Consciousness

Do a balance pose - Vrksasana (tree), Virabadrasana III (warrior #3), Natarajasana (dancer's pose), stork pose, or an arm balance or inversion - you choose. Let your pose be an expression of divine grace. Allow yourself to be "the wave that rises up on the ocean." No words, here - simply be your true self, which flows from the divine source.

Continue your practice, adding whatever poses you wish, or end here with svasana, or meditation.

Most important, as you practice, let the joy come into and through your practice. Modify the poses and the mantras to raise your spirit, and let your yoga lift you up with joy and grace.

I'd love to hear from you. Be well.

Namaste
Joe

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Our Experience as Metaphor

Here's a recent insight I had in my meditation practice: everything we say, think, and perceive is actually a metaphor for the truth.

I had been reading Hafiz, the Sufi poet, and I realized that poets use metaphor to help us experience truth. The value of the metaphor is that it helps us break the habits of our thinking. Most importantly, we break the habit of literal interpretation of what we read, think or perceive. The metaphor is clearly not to be interpreted literally. Yet, it points us to a truth that is beyond the comprehension of rational thought.

Of course, everything us beyond the comprehension of rational thought. All that is comes from a divine source, which is beyond our capacity to understand with thought. Even our own awareness is beyond the limits of thought. If all that we experience comes from a source that is beyond our understanding, then anything we see, hear, perceive, think or say comes from incomplete comprehension. Everything we experience is a metaphor for the truth. Problems only arise when we interpret our experience literally.

Recently, I was listening to an audio recording of Dr. Deepak Chopra, whom I consider to be one of the great spiritual teachers of our day. In it, he was describing what science tells us about the physical body. At the atomic level, the physical body is in a constant, dynamic exchange with objects in the environment. According to Dr. Chopra, in two years every atom of your body has been replaced by one from the environment. "The body you have right now," he says, "is not the same body you had two years ago." The corollary to this insight is that everything in the environment is also exchanging atoms with our bodies, and with everything else. What's more, physicists tell us that there is no real separation between physical objects in the environment, and that the solid objects we see are not solid at all, but mostly empty space. Our perceptions of our bodies as physical, unchanging objects, according to Dr. Chopra, is simply not true.

It is not untrue, either. Its just incomplete. Our perception of solid objects in the environment is a useful metaphor for the truth. Useful? Well, seeing objects as solid helps us to avoid bumping into things as we move around. Newtonian physics is known to be an incomplete understanding, yet it still applies to the macro world. So, when we are driving or moving around a room, our perceptions of our bodies and the objects as solid help us to avoid embarrassing or painful incidents. We can use the perceptions, and still accept the limitations of our understanding.

This acceptance is a liberating experience. When we recognize that what we think, say and experience is actually metaphor, we realize that the truth is far more wondrous than anything we can describe. When we accept the limits of our perception, we begin to glimpse the divine presence in ourselves and the world around us.

A couple days ago, I finished shoveling snow from the driveway, and I stood for a few minutes and watched. The air was cold and crisp, the trees were covered with snow, and there was a profound calmness to the world around me. I let go of trying to describe what I was seeing, and allowed the moment to simply be. I began to sense - in a sense beyond the senses - a dynamic flow of grace expressed within the stillness of the moment. Even now, I feel handicapped to describe the experience, for what I know about that moment is beyond words. I was experiencing the beauty and love of the divine source.

It is possible to experience divine love and grace in every moment, but only if we accept the limits of our own perceptions. By accepting our perceptions as metaphor for the truth, we open ourselves to an ever-expanding experience of the infinite.

Namaste
Joe

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Opening post

My intent with this blog is to share insights and meditations -what I've learned in my own spiritual practice, as well as in my yoga teaching, with the ideas in "The Five Gifts". The Five Gifts is a book I've been working on over the past year or so, and I hope to have published soon. While working on it, I've had insights that have been useful, even though some of these understandings won't be included in the book.

My hope is that what I share helps you be more spiritual in your journey on this earth. If so, fine. If not, that's ok too. Let me know what you think.

Best wishes to you.

Namaste
Joe Hahn, RYT