Jnana Shakti: The Power of Knowledge

Last weekend I was standing with a couple of friends discussing the way that the finer points of alignment in a yoga pose intersect with yoga philosophy when one of them sighed. “We’re such yoga geeks” She said. “Sometimes I wish I was a beginner again.” We all nodded our heads in agreement remembering the innocent pleasure of discovering yoga. As a teacher, I can taste the giddy excitement of discovery when I teach beginners. The benefits and insights that arise from practicing yoga come quickly and copiously when you first begin to practice regularly. It seems that every practice brings new understanding and it lights up everyone in the room. Once people become more experienced they also become jaded. It is much harder to please a room full of experienced yogis than a room full of beginners. We want to taste the excitement of revelation, and we expect our teachers to deliver it to us again and again. Jnana shakti is the power of knowledge. When we discover a new passion, the first thing we do is to educate ourselves. We learn everything we can, and then try to tell everyone we know what we’ve learned. It is jnana shakti that convinces so many passionate yogis to take a teacher training, whether we wind up actually teaching or not. Thrilled with the benefits of our yoga practice, we intuitively know that sharing our knowledge will give us more access to it. According to the Samkya system of Indian philosophy (which greatly influenced yoga philosophy) there are 3 ways of knowing. Authority (someone you trust told you so), inference...

Icca Shakti: the power of desire

Everywhere we turn, advertisements are working to convince us that a product will finally satisfy our desire… until the next one. In a world where empty promises are as plentiful as drops in the ocean, many of us have become disenchanted with quick fixes and seek more meaning for our lives. As we delve into seeking for this meaning, many teachers caution us to beware our desires. This caution makes sense when we see the illness of the world caused by greed and thoughtlessness. But trying to ignore, suppress, or quell desire is not the answer either. Leaving aside the question of if it is even possible to transcend desire, it also serves a valuable purpose. Without desire, there is no action. What makes us get out of bed in the morning? What gives us the discipline to meditate or practice yoga? Desire calls our attention and spurs us to action. Desire is what brings us to life. Even the most shallow desires (a fast car, fame, sweet foods) point to deeper desires (freedom, recognition of our light, the feeling of being fully alive). Instead of moving mindlessly towards our shallow desires, if we practice inquiry and discover what deeper desire is behind it, we will be pulled towards our true nature. We can then begin to fill the emptiness that spurred desire with what our heart truly longs for: a connection with the divine, with our true nature. This is how my teachers describe the beginning of life: In the beginning there was one energy. This one energy was everything. Supremely powerful and completely free, there was nothing...

A Tale of Two Yous

Photograph by KatB Photography Have you ever been nervous for a job interview or a date and had someone tell you to “just be yourself”? What on earth does that mean anyway? If you’re anything like me, the command to be yourself is likely to make you even more self-conscious than ever. We have so many different identities and often take on different roles in different situations. Think about what you are like around your friends vs your family. The roles we take on in a given situation can be useful, but they can also start to change us in unhealthy ways. During my brief stint as a web project manager for a large multi-national corporation, I was called into the bosses office one day and given a talking to. Among several other offenses my two bosses told me that I was “very negative”. Wow. That threw me for a loop. When I first started the job, I noticed how much everyone around me complained. I decided that I would be a bright shining beacon of positivity in our gloomy basement office. Yet, little by little my determination to be the example of light eroded as I unconsciously began complaining in order to fit in with the corporate culture. Apparently, I went a little too far. As hard as it was to hear, I was grateful that my bosses pointed out my stinky attitude. The change from Positive Patty to Negative Nelly had occurred so slowly that I wasn’t aware of it. From that point on, I made it an absolutely unbendable rule that I would not say anything...

Are we all connected or are we all alone?

Photo by Louise Docker I’m writing from the yoga mecca that is Los Angeles where I’ve come to recharge myself.  At first when I was planning this trip, I thought about trying to schedule some workshops or classes to teach, but I am relieved that I decided not to work at all.  Instead, I am making my own mini-retreat by cooking healthy food with my friends, meditating twice a day, and attending as many yoga classes as possible.  Although I am always looking for new ideas to take back to my own classes, I am also savoring the chance to just be a student again.  I try to walk into each class with humility, open to the gift I might receive from each teacher.  Often (quite often) I notice my ego flaring up for one reason or another.  The teacher knows everyone’s name but mine and therefore compliments everyone but me.  I hit handstand in the middle of the room and wonder if anyone noticed.  I breathe a lot and laugh at myself.  I am able to see my ego more clearly against this unfamiliar backdrop. In a recent conversation with a friend, she was worried about how she was being perceived by her community based on comments they had made.  In that moment, it was easy for me to see that taking their comments personally was a waste of her energy.  We rarely know what someone’s intentions are when they say something that hurts us.  Yet, when I am the one who is hurt, that feeling overtakes logic and compassion.  We are often instructed to trust our feelings, but what about when...
Grace

Grace

I bought my daughter her first pair of roller skates today. She is absolutely entranced with roller skating. I sit on the round carpet covered bench with too-loud music playing as I watch her make her way around the rink. She sticks to the center tonight. Saturday nights are kind of wild at the roller rink. Very sexy, very young girls careen wildly in pairs and groups of four, many of them in matching outfits. I can’t tell how old they are, they could be anywhere from 11 to 15. All I can tell is that they are very young, very sexy, and very graceful. I’m sure that my daughter will be one of them before I can blink. Last time we went was on a Thursday night. They’re a much mellower crowd. In fact, that night was so mellow that the rink was closing early. They let my daughter in for the last 20 minutes without a charge. She determinedly made her way around the rink again and again. She’s very present in her body and picks up physical skills easily, but is still awkward and uncertain on skates. There was a couple figure skating – laughing, twirling, dipping, playing. Watching them, skating looked like the most exhilarating activity in the world. We talked to them after the lights came up and the music stopped. As skates were removed and street shoes gathered we found out that they had both skated professionally at one point in their lives and had met at the roller rink. I asked them what bit of advice they would give to an enthusiastic...

Taking off the Armour

Lately, I’ve been enjoying listening to Brian Johnson’s Philosopher’s Notes. In them, he condenses wisdom literature both old and new into their essential messages. He sent me to authentichappiness.com to take a test to discover my current top strengths. This is no vanity fair quiz; it’s 240 questions designed by professionals to unearth your greatest strengths. To my surprise, none of my top 5 were things I felt like came naturally to me. Many of them were virtues I had cultivated purposefully under the influence of yoga! As a child, I was angry, defensive, and unhappy. I felt like it was me against the rest of the world. I had the sense that in order to be loved and accepted, I needed to be perfect. So I built a wall against the world. A shell to hide how imperfect I really was. I responded in anger when I was hurt. In sarcasm, when I felt dumb. Never, never show weakness. In college, I majored in theatre. Originally, I had the intention of focusing on acting, but I soon learned that unlike in community theatre, here they expected us to be vulnerable on stage. No way. I remember a specific assignment my Freshman year… to write monologue that shows a part of ourselves that we normally keep hidden. Mine was about how there was no way in hell that I was going to reveal myself on stage like that. I didn’t get a very good grade on that assignment. And I began to gravitate towards directing and stage management. There, I could pretend to be perfect. I could be safe....