Spiritual and physical practice

yatra yatra mano yāti bāhye vābhyantare ‘pi vā |

tatra tatra śivāvāsthā vyāpakatvāt kva yāsyati || 116 ||

Wherever the mind goes, externally or even internally, it [discovers] nothing but the state of Śiva. Since [that state] is all-pervasive, where else could the mind go?

(verse 116 from the VBT, the Vijñāna Bhairava Tantra, which is a Shaiva Tantra, of the Kaula Trika tradition of Kashmir Shaivism)

What, you might ask, is the relationship to asana practices? Nothing and everything. When going back to the early times when all these beautiful scriptures were written, they mainly refer to yoga postures as sitting in padmasana for meditation. Or the term yoga just meant meditation. These days we incorporate yoga postures in our spiritual journey as embodiment practice, making direct connections to certain teachings and eventually place them in the body, express or feel them.

Ok, enough, this is not me! I’m following the teachings of Abhinavagupta, the Kaula Trika tradition of Shaiva Tantra, while also looking to the right and left, as there’s so much to learn, understand and consider! Bloody interesting and honestly, not just that, but it’s life changing. I started to understand a bit more of what this whole thing we call life is, what it is that I call “I”. I’m slightly overwhelmed with the amount of teachings and readings in front of me and same time very excited and curious.

My asana practice is still Ashtanga yoga, and even though I sometimes like to just flow or do some Yin yoga, Ashtanga is where my heart is. This too is – next to it being a challenging physical practice – a spiritual path. It’s a very focussed practice, no distractions, no music, no chi chi.

Two different things, that match so beautifully together. I feel there’s no need to have any additional constructs on how we can implement the spiritual teachings into the physical practice – it’s all there already! There are many practices in Tantra, mainly meditations, so moving the body helps a lot. How you move, well, do whatever feels right! I stick with Ashtanga 🙂

Meditation and the mind

Have you ever wondered how to stop thoughts in meditation?

The simple answer is, you don’t. You can’t stop them, so let them come and just don’t give them any attention and eventually they will pass.

It made a big difference for me once I understood what the mind actually is. The mind is a function of the body, of the brain and through thoughts, it creates our self image. 

All aspects of the mind are verbs, not nouns. The mind is not your enemy, as it’s not even an entity! It’s a believed thought that the mind is a problem. All conflict is due to believed thoughts, while thoughts are mental constructs, that we tend to identify with.

In meditation we aim to connect with our true self and not with one of our body functions. So let the mind do its job, but don’t jump in and let it take over.

If there’s too much going on in your mind, ask yourself, who is talking to whom? It’s the mind talking to the mind. It’s not YOU talking! It’s one of many functions in the body, and it loves to talk non-stop. With itself. While we are listening, believing, and identifying ourselves with these thoughts. Get the roles right. The mind is important, thoughts are, but you are not your mind and you can step away from all these talks and focus on YOU.

If you find your mind disturbing, it might be the mind finding itself disturbing! Consciousness is undisturbed and unmoved, mind is just part of the contents of consciousness.

Meditation is a state of simple basic awareness, dropping into moments of quiet presence. Just be. Accept what is, without reacting or judging. Only the conditioned mind judges.

Spiritual practice

Do you have a spiritual practice? What even does that mean?

I have to admit, this is a term I always tried to avoid. When I was young, we associated spirituality either with religious people or those we thought are kind of “kuku”. Many years later I found myself on this path… It’s such a complex topic! It can have different meanings, relations and practices for everyone and for sure it’s not a box to put someone in.

I found these statements about what spiritual practice is and I can really relate:

Spiritual practice is any conscious personal action or experience, motivated by the intention of understanding and integrating the whole of you physically and spiritually, body, mind, heart, and soul.

Spiritual practice is also the individual effort to internalize and experience that which seems beyond and separate as not only connected but also as an integral authentic expression of self.

We are all spiritual beings, the question is, are we aware of it? And do we use it? Well, you can just live your life, trying to make the most out of what is given and that’s it, what else can you do?

One other option is to understand who we are and what our purpose, our dharma is. Learning about the energies within and around and work with them.

I felt called to the latter. Eventually I was forced into it, when I had a bad accident, long time ago. I was pretty clear, there’s something in my mind that has to change. I didn’t know what and how, but looking back, this was the moment it all started.

My path so far wasn’t using the highway, but rather going in curves through the mountains. I learned many different things, and the beauty was, that always one led to the other. Often I wasn’t even clear why I learned something, but I never had any doubts that whatever showed up was right. Or important for me.

Right now I’m head over toes about Tantra, Saiva Tantra. I’m reading books, attended an academic studies course and I’m in the midst of a 3 months immersion. I feel like everything I ever learned all of a sudden integrates, immersed in me. I’m kind of un-peeling myself. Same time getting new tools, new doors to open, new practices – new experiences. I feel more connected to myself, my energy levels on a never known high, which is so beautiful to notice. Yes, I’m still on my way, awareness, awareness, awareness…. but the frequency changed.

It’s when duality starts to become oneness, the energies collaborate. The moment when we can be loose and natural, expressing awareness, authentically in its absoluteness, then we start flowing with the river, merging into the ocean. 

Ashtanga Police

Commitment has a downside. When practicing Ashtanga Yoga we commit to practice 6 days a week. And yes, there are days, when I can’t manage to get up that early. Days when I feel weak. Days other plans cross badly. 

However working at home allowed me all of a sudden to practice in the morning, bringing more flexibility into my life. What a relief! And still, there are weak spots. The moment I notice I won’t practice at all, or time only allows for half the series, or I even practice and test a class I will teach later that day instead of doing my practice…. I feel bad. 

I can hear the Ashtanga Police knocking on my door. Guilty.  

Isn’t this – yes, bullshit. Let’s get it clear: 

Listening to my body has become my priority. When not feeling good, I go slow and I listen, I feel. Eventually practice less, or do Yin Yoga. I might even just sit and meditate, followed by some pranayama. 

When I didn’t sleep the night, staying one hour longer in bed might be more important. Being prepared for my classes a must and this too can be my practice once in a while. Everything is practice.

There is no Ashtanga Police 😉 They won’t come and knock on my door to put the guilty stamp on me. It’s this voice in me talking. Time to make a deal with this voice and send the so called Ashtanga Police to the land where the pepper grows. And once and for all, stop judging myself.

Guess what? This too is Yoga. This too is commitment.

Photo by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash

Asana or tapas?

A posture is achieved when effort stops and the mind is merging meditatively into infinity.

In morden yoga practices, we call the postures asanas. However, following Patanjali’s yoga sutras, the term asana only refers to a seated posture, literally asana meaning „seat“. This could be Padmasana (Lotus pose), or any other seated pose, with the aim to sit firm and still for a longer period of time. Obviously this is not Bharadvajasana, as in the picture!


Interestingly in the early times of yoga, any standing and dynamic postures have rather been named tapas. Studying the yoga philosophy we might find the term tapas translated as devotional austerity, but literally it means „heat“.

So, how comes that we are calling the postures asanas? Shouldn’t tapas be the better matching term for what our physical practice is today? Well, our asana practice today has at least a similar ambition – through steadiness and ease, reaching a state of moving meditation.

Ashtanga

Good morning practice! 

I played with the 2nd, the intermediate series recently – fuuuuun! While some of the super fancy transitions and advanced inversions are still out of reach for me right now, I was quite surprised that many postures are fully accessible for me and I’am quite close to others. 

Someone said once, if you always do the same, you can’t expect different results. Well, I don’t agree when it comes to the yoga practice. In the Ashtanga method we do exactly that, we practice the same sequence, the same postures every day. And with this slide more and more into a moving meditation. But not just that, with practice, the body opens, we go deeper and deeper into the poses. Once in a while I try a posture that I couldn’t access before and notice that all of a sudden I can. Without even working on this specific pose. The body changed.

And I’m transitioning more and more into the next series. A new chapter to start, exciting!

Rest

You need to slow down before you can speed up.

Who is busier? Who has more important things to do? Are you in a competition of who can get more out of the work day? Obsessed with your to do list? Is this where you find your value? Do you feel comfortable being driven by chaos and fear?

Do you feel something is wrong with you when welcoming the idea of rest?

It may not feel safe to rest for different reasons, but what if you just give yourself permission to? What if you would trust your desire to calm down? To just breathe?

I sometimes feel like living in two worlds. One being the yoga world – no, I’m not only talking about the asana practice, but about all the practices, such as meditation, yoga nidra, mindfulness, breathing techniques etc. The other world being the business work, the daily challenges, high speed and useless competitions. 

Never underestimate the practice of rest and calm. Many years ago, I had a breathtaking experience during a yoga nidra session – I left my body. Relaxing was never easy for me as a named control freak, so you can imagine my surprise. I was fully conscious, feeling, seeing, yes even thinking something like, gosh what’s happening here? It was such an incredible experience and when I told my teacher about it, he just smiled at me, saying, so you experienced your subtle body! Congrats!

It was as if all the theory, all the teachings proved to be true. I’ve got a glimpse. This was just the beginning. I understood, that conscious rest and sense withdrawal isn’t just being lazy and hanging around, but can be an intense experience of another dimension. It doesn’t has to go to the extreme each time, but it is about nourishing the body, recharging, connecting. Meeting your true self. 

So let’s merge both worlds in a sense of implementing the calmness into the crazy.

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Hesitation

Hesitation comes when there’s something we want to do, but doubt we can do it by just being ourselves.

Ups. Read that again:

Hesitation comes when there’s something we want to do, but doubt we can do it by just being ourselves.

Trust that being yourself is all you need! Love who you are! Life is tailor made for you, life happens FOR you. Take a break if you need one, but never stop. Keep on walking your path, trust your intuition. Put yourself into the driver seat, change what needs to be changed, it’s your life, your journey, your decision.

It’s exactly the same when it comes to your practice. Just feel it and do it. It might be slow here and there, that’s totally fine, just don’t stop. If you can’t practice, e.g. due to an injury or sickness, remind yourself what yoga is. No, it’s not just about performing asanas. Keep on going, keep on practicing, you are on the right path!

Feel it darling

Where are your feelings coming from? Check in to yourself and figure that out. Where do they sit in your body? Are they truly yours? Or are you adapting to the mood of the person you’re talking to? To the news you’re reading? To what you think you should feel? Do you know the situation when facing an angry person and how this affect you? Even if the anger isn’t pointed to you? It is ok to be compassionate, but not to take these feelings over. They are not yours. At your core, stay with what you feel, what’s yours. It might not seem to be appropriate in certain circumstances, anyhow own them and stay true to yourself. 

We are driven by our thoughts and believes, which express themselves through what or how we feel. Your feelings are dependent on your thoughts and vice versa. Meaning, allowing yourself to smile and feel happy (even if you don’t feel like at that moment) will also change your thoughts. A powerful interaction!

Put a drop of your favourite uplifting oil into the palms of your hands, rub them and hold them in front of your nose, so you can inhale the support they give. They do their work in your body, you will feel it immediately. I love Bergamot to lift me up, Sandalwood to ground me, Cardamon to make me feel cosy and home, Tumeric to make me „fly“ and the new Adaptiv, which allows me to deal much better with my daily duties and not get overwhelmed.

Own your feelings, change them if you want to, but always stay true to yourself.