Maui Yoga Blog

Bramacharya – The 4th Yama

Bramacharya translated means ‘directing our energy to the Divine, to the Sacred’. For many dedicated Yogis, that is interpreted as a call to celibacy, so that all sexual energies may be directed toward awakening and spiritual evolution.  A broader understanding of Bramacharya can also be a wise use of all of our energies; making choices that support our highest good and the health of our spirit, mind and body. 

Our energy is powerful and influential, and as we learn to take responsibility for it and master it through the practices of yoga, we can direct it toward our good and the good of others. When we use our energy and our body in unconscious or careless ways, we often suffer the consequences and can hurt others in some way. Yoga practice empowers us to be present and attentive, awake in this moment in a way that supports our freedom to make wise choices. When we are, we can make appropriate choices to direct our words, actions and thoughts to serve what is highest in us, and in doing so be a positive example and influence on others. 

morning chants devotional kirtan Devi Ma
Morning chants and devotional songs

Our energy is a gift and our sexuality is sacred, and when we express it with others in the spirit of sacredness the best in us shines. All of our choices about how we treat our own body, the bodies of others, and the body of the Earth, in fact, really do matter. When we choose to elevate our energies to love and respect in spirit, mind and body, we uplift our hearts and the hearts of others. Remembering the sacred in all you do, say and think….that is Bramacharya.  

Asteya, the third Yama

Asteya means non-stealing. We know it to mean not to take what isn’t ours. If there is ever a questions of this, we have to stop and consider the action we’re about to take. But the subtle applications of asteya show up in all areas of our life, on and off the mat. The less obvious aspects of non-stealing are challenging, and often we have to learn how to see these patterns in order to change them.  Usually, stealing in any form emerges from fear.  Whether it’s a fear of not having enough or the fear of not being enough, the roots of fear need to be found before we understand and live asteya.

One of the many outward expressions of fear is jealousy.  When we’re jealous, we feel resentful of others who have what we think we want.  Envy is wishing we could possess the qualities, experiences, or items that another has.  Jealousy and envy often lead us to take what isn’t freely ours.  It is mentioned in some of the old texts that you will make major advances if you stay true to your practice but jealousy and envy will deter you from moving forward. Another consequence of a craving for what another has can be injury to ourself. For example, challenging poses require the proper foundations of work to accomplish. If we try to push ourselves to make them happen without taking the proper steps we can cause harm to our own bodies.

In our day-to-day lives, non-stealing means that we do not take from others on small or big levels and to respect the planet itself by giving back.  When we pass on the teachings of our lineage, we should honor and acknowledge our teachers.  If we use an idea of a co-worker’s, we need to give them credit.  When we take of the fruits of the earth at every meal, a moment of recognition and gratitude is in order.   The Yoga Sutra of Pantanjali teaches us that “to one established in asteya, all wealth comes.” Most of us have abundance in our lives and don’t recognize it – perhaps in material possessions, but additionally in health, love, beauty, clean air and water, fresh food to eat. 

Asteya is learning to appreciate the natural abundance all around us.

Warrior 2 Virabhadrasana II yoga teacher trainingf
New teachers Brittany Young and Stephanie Ujiiye in Warrior 2  (Sanskrit: वीरभद्रासन, Vīrabhadrāsana). Practice the yamas on and off the mat!

Generosity is the heart of asteya. When we feel grateful and fulfilled with what we have and who we are, we find that we have a lot to offer others. Gratitude allows aloha and love to flow from us naturally. Becoming generous and thoughtful beings is at the core of the practice of non-stealing. When we practice asteya, we cultivate a trust and a peaceful mind… and there is no greater wealth than a peaceful mind

Dancers Pose

Exploring the deeper meanings of the names, themes, and principles we find in yoga is part of the fun of being on the yoga path.  Regarding the Sankrit names for poses you might have asked “Why is that pose named that or who is it named after?”  You’ll find that besides being named after body parts and their actions or directions, animals, birds, qualities, nature, and other objects, some of the asanas are named after gods and sages.  One such pose is Natarajasana, or Lord of the Dance Pose, commonly called Dancers Pose with a variation called King Dancer Pose.

Natarajasana Maui Yoga Shala
Susie Miller in Dancers Pose

Who is Nataraja?  None other than Shiva himself as the cosmic dancer.  The name comes from the Sanskrit words नट nata meaning “dancer”, राज raja meaning “king”, and आसन asana meaning “posture” or “seat”.   A famous depiction of Shiva as the cosmic dancer can be seen in bronze statues now found around the globe.   He is a figure dancing in a circle of fire representing a cosmos of mass, time, and space, whose endless cycle of annihilation and regeneration moves in tune to the beat of Shiva’s drum and the rhythm of his steps.

As we become increasingly aware of our movements and breath in the practice we began to cultivate an ease which helps us fully express and embody the awesome qualities of the pose.  The grace that is experienced in that pose begins to translate into our lives.  We achieve strength, openness, and an elegance of form and action built upon the strength and powerful energy required to balance on one leg while in a deep backbend.  In this pose we we are fully engaged yet at peace – a principle to cultivate in any asana.   With practice and dedication  Natarajasana offers the opportunity to transmute the divine into a physical embodiment of beauty.

King Dancer Pose Maui Yoga Shala
King Dancer Pose

Mudra and mantra:  add these to your practice!

Mudra: Abhaya Mudrā  is the hand gesture of fearlessness.  It represents protection, peace, benevolence and the dispelling of fear.  The right hand is held upright, and the palm is facing outwards, similar to taking an oath or vow. One of Nataraja’s four hands is in this mudra.  It assures us to be not afraid, to be courageous on the path as we are bestowed with the blessings of peace and protection. 

Mantra: Om Namah Shivaya is one of the most beloved Hindu mantras and widely used amongst yogis and at spiritual programs.  It is a salutation to Shiva, one of the three primary deities of Hinduism, and literally translates to “I bow to Shiva.”    A powerful healing mantra which automatically brings us to awareness of the present moment, it is chanted in order to help realize the soul and possesses the qualities of prayer, meditation, divine love, grace, truth and blissfulness.  It can also be used as a greeting for the recognition of the higher Self in the other and yourself.

The Second Yama – Satya

The Yamas are practices that build our character, and progressively eliminate distractions and ‘static’ from our mind and heart. Satya naturally flows from the first Yama, Ahimsa. Satya means truth and sincerity and springs from our decision to do no harm, to cultivate peace and live in aloha. Furthermore, satya is being in alignment with the universal truth.

shoulder openers in yoga teacher training hawaii
Chelsea Bobowicz instructing a morning teacher training practice

The practice of telling the truth has many levels… speaking of what we do not know, seeing only our side of things and weaving a fantasies of how we think things should be are all subtle ways we compromise or avoid the truth. Satya starts with being honest with our self, being willing to tell our self the truth and be open to seeing the truth. This is no small endeavor ! To admit that we do not know, to admit to truth that is difficult to accept are challenging practices!  It takes compassion, humility and fierce commitment to the our personal growth. Many times we are less than honest because we fear losing something, so it does take courage to tell the truth, and patience to learn to communicate skillfully. And it is so worth it!

Speaking the truth is not always appropriate as it may harm someone unnecessarily – there is a time and place for all truth to be revealed. Living authentically isn’t always easy, but when we accept and tell the truth our hearts can rest in simplicity and we can move forward with clarity. Self-knowledge starts with sincerity, and that tender place of truth is the foundation of our beloved yoga practice.

Applying the wisdom of the Yamas: Ahimsa starts here

The meaning of the Sanskrit word ahimsa is non-harming or non-violence. One association with ahimsa is the decision to not eat animal products, but no matter what your dietary choices, ahimsa refers to a quality of care for self and others. Our practice of ahimsa is about our intentions, thoughts and words as well as our actions. Choosing to cultivate the habit of unconditional loving kindness toward ourself is the beginning of compassion and the foundation of practicing non-harming. 

Yoga Teacher Training

Making the intention to live ahimsa in your life is an important step in your yoga practice, and requires the willingness to look honestly at the way we think. So often we criticize and push ourselves,  expect too much or not enough or settle for suffering that arises from unloving choices in thought and action. Violence toward our own body/mind can be subtle, and in order to see and change those patterns, we must look closely and decide to be kinder to ourselves. Noticing our patterns of thought, and bringing mindfulness to our reactions and habits is how we start. 

Ahimsa starts with getting to know yourself better, looking at your life with the eyes of love and kindness.  Ask yourself what it is your truly need, and move toward peace by choosing love in all your moments. Take the time today to start the practice of ever-deeper compassion with yourself today….and it will overflow to all your interactions and choices.  Here in Hawaii, we call that ‘Living Aloha’ ! Namaste’ !

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras on Asana – Pt. 1

patanjali maui yoga sutras asana revolved crescent
Maui Yoga Shala Teacher Training

Many yogis on the path have heard about Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra’s. Is it a book that lists yoga poses we do on the mat or out in nature? While there are many such modern yoga texts with pictures and descriptions of yoga poses, or āsanas, we begin to see that the Yoga Sutras is more about our relationship to reality via the mind on it’s path to realizing the soul. The few sutras on yoga poses addresses the mind-body-spirit connection.

Chapter 2 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra’s is called Sadhana Pada, or the practice to achieve yoga.    Sādhana (Sanskrit साधन), is practice, “a means of accomplishing something”. In this chapter, or pada, the philosophy of ashtanga yoga (the 8 limbs of yoga) is presented to us. Number 3 of the 8 limbs is called āsana – the pose or the posture that we commonly practice on the mat. In this chapter we are given three definitive sutras to explore and practice regarding asana.  Starting with pada 2, sutra 46:

2:46 Sthira Sukham Asanam

The posture is steady and ease-filled

Chanting this mantra together in a class tunes us into the vibrational frequency of the sutra – the teaching is directly transmitted to our heart.  Now a yoga class can venture into varying degrees of intensity. And some of our yoga poses don’t seem steady or ease-filled! Our challenge is often to relax once we’ve put forth major effort with breath control playing a complementary role. Here comes sthira – stillness, steadiness, stable.  Along with sukham – ease, comfort, in a good space.

While the seated meditative posture is essential to have these qualities, what about all the other postures?  In each pose, with varying degrees of challenge according to each individual, a continual self-effort will lead one out of places of discomfort and limitation, to a sense of profound ease and expansiveness – a good space.  When the mind becomes perfectly still in the pose, sthira and sukham is the effect of the present moment.  Think of the controlled motion and muscular action of moving into warrior III pose, and then the light & grace that establishes you in the center of that asana. The effort, and possibly previous strain, leads to a sense of balance and ease, a realized connection of spirit that makes the body feel light and free.  Now let’s take that sense of ease and steadiness into whatever activity we’re doing!

warrior 3 virabhadrasana 3
Rosana Baena demonstrates Warrior III ( Virabhadrasana, Sanskrit वीरभद्रासन )

In the next post in this series we’ll look at at Pada 2, Sutra 47, where effort meets infinity – Part 2.

The Abundant Life

Abundance is one of those words that is used often but means different things to different people. We in the land of aloha see abundance as a way of life, a grateful perspective on life rather than a goal. An abundant approach to living is seeing with the eyes of gratitude, wonder and a sense of possibility…a willingness to trust in Life and what we have to work with now. Seeing with the eyes of compassion, trust and Love is an act of abundance and generosity, and creates an energy that attracts all kinds of good things. An abundant perspective is one willing to look beyond what seems to be lacking to what is being given and what can be learned in every situation.

When we trust in enough-ness and plenty, when we look around to see that all that we need is here, we are more willing to share and open to receive, and let ourselves love and be loved. Here in this moment, we can let go of all those past conditioned views that set us up for struggle and tell us that we lack what is needed. Our hearts are abundant, this universe is plentiful and magical…it is our choice to open to that and receive what this day has for us, and learn to give from that place of abundant Love and Aloha.  How blessed we are!

Yoga – Union

The word ‘Yoga‘ is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘Yuj’, meaning ‘to join’ or ‘to yoke’ or ‘to unite’. We can go on to say that yoga means unifying what seems to be opposite – body and mind, inner and outer, head and heart. When we synchronize breath and movement in our regular practice, we build our capacity to be present and we literally change our brain in the direction of wellbeing and compassion.  In other words, yoga moves us toward wholeness, intelligence and healing at all levels of our being.

Our practice helps us realize our human potential by linking our mind and our heart, helping us be the best we can be and more wholly and truly ourselves.  Yoga cultivates what is good and true in us, and can give us the strength and balance to share that with others. Our practice encourages us to blossom…. just like a flower in the sun, shining the gifts of its unique beauty to the world. 

At the Maui Yoga Shala we are blessed to be transmitting the wisdom teachings of yoga in our teacher trainings.  It is so fulfilling to know that as our students become teachers themselves, they will go out into the world to inspire, support and encourage others on this path of  union, and in their own unique way, shine the light of love and aloha to all they encounter.