Yoga Playlist

Yoga Sutras: 8-Limbed Path (A guide to reducing the crazy in your mind)

While sweating your way through an intense yoga asana class is a great way to cleanse and tone the body and reduce the stress of day-to-day life, the practice of yoga goes much deeper than just the physical. The philosophy behind yoga practice comes from an ancient text called the Yoga Sutras, which dates back to approximately 200BCE. Although the text is over 2000 years old, the major themes of the book are still quite relevant today to anyone trying to live a conscious spiritual life. To the true yogi, ‘yoga practice’ is not just what we do in class when we roll out our mats to stretch. The real yoga practice is the way that we think, speak, move, and act through every moment of each day. In the same way that we learn to move and place our bodies deliberately through asana practice, we can learn to act in the world in a way that is deliberate and in alignment with our own highest truth. Every conversation or disagreement, every interaction, every task, every waking moment in fact becomes another opportunity to hone our skill of mindful, compassionate action.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali identifies what he calls ‘citta vritti’ or ‘the turnings of the mind’ as the main cause of human suffering. From his perspective, what causes unhappiness isn’t so much the stuff that is going on in our lives as it is the way that we process it, worry about it, and replay it over and over again in our minds. It is these neurotic turnings of the mind that disconnect us from the truth of who we are and the beauty of our existence. The goal of yoga practice then is to still the mind so as to reduce suffering such that we can abide in the limitless freedom that is our true nature. Patanjali lays out an 8-limbed path by which one may arrive at this state of mental stillness. In the coming months, I will be expanding on this philosophy and offering a brief overview of each of the limbs of yoga to feed your growing understanding. I hope you find it helpful and meaningful.

Watch your thoughts, they become words; Watch your words, they become actions; Watch your actions, they become habits; Watch your habits, they become character; Watch your character, it becomes your destiny. (Anonymous)

Dis-connect to Re-connect

Having just returned home from leading a beautiful yoga retreat in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, I am feeling deeply inspired and very much at peace.  I think that what I love most about leading yoga retreats is that I am able to be present to watch as layers of accumulated stress peel off of people, day by day.

Something very simple but very profound happens while on retreat.  For just a few days, people set their cell phones aside, choose not to “check in” on Facebook, and take a break from reading emails.  The result?   People eat meals together, look each other in the eyes, and have real conversations in which they listen to each other attentively and truly feel heard.   People walk down the beach without a destination in mind, simply to admire the beauty around them.  They notice the sounds of the night’s creatures and the feeling of breeze on their skin, and they take time to experience the magnificence of a sunset and to savor the sweetness of a freshly picked fruit.

These things are so simple but also so easily forgotten when we are constantly “connected” to our devices and social media.  It seems that to genuinely re-connect with ourselves, each other, and our world requires that we sometimes take periods to “dis-connect,” or retreat in some way.  Think of your yoga mat as your retreat center and let each time you arrive on it be a mini-retreat of sorts.  If you take this time to be quiet and still with yourself, you will find a vast well-spring of love and peacefulness that resides within you.  When you leave your mat, the real practice begins.  Can you carry those qualities with you as you move through the rest of your day and week?  Make it be a daily practice to look people in the eyes, to take time to listen to them with care and attention, and to appreciate the beauty that is all around you. This is truly yoga.

"In this life we cannot always do great things. But we can do small things with great love." ~ Mother Teresa

Even this...

Every moment of every day, life happens. We are constantly faced with situations: some that we perceive as pleasant, others that we perceive as painful, and many that we feel neutral towards. In each moment, we are given the opportunity to either open up to life as it is, or to contract away from it in fear or anger or disappointment. Whichever path we choose, life goes on, and the situation at hand is what it is. We can choose to accept and be at peace, or we can choose to reject and suffer. Either way, life does not stop to accommodate our feelings.

A great deal of our suffering arises from a misguided belief that we are in control of everything. We continue to operate on this conviction even though, time and again, things do not turn out as planned. As a result, we are left feeling upset, vulnerable, and disillusioned. Yogic philosophy teaches us that everything is part of our path, even the things that we didn’t plan or expect or want. As many a wise person have noted, we cannot control what life will present us with, but we can control our attitude towards it and the manner in which we react. Yoga is life training. It is a practice through which we learn to notice what is: sometimes pleasant, sometimes painful, sometimes boring. Through practice, we can learn to open ourselves to whatever is there, at this moment, completely. This is the practice of radical acceptance, or vairagya. When situations that we perceive as negative arise, we can still learn to be at peace within ourselves. 

There is a vipassana meditation technique that teaches us how to allow everything in with complete acceptance. As we sit in stillness during meditation and watch each fear, each concern, each drama rise up within us, we are advised to continue silently reminding ourselves, “Even this; even this.” In essence, we are recognizing that even this is part of the path. If we hope ever to be fully at peace, we must learn to accept all things, even this. 

Selected passage from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras:

vitarkabādhane pratipaksabhāvanam, II.33

Unwholesome thoughts can be countered by cultivating the opposite.

This passage very simply states the practice of creating inner peace and releasing inner turmoil by transforming our focal point from something that is painful towards something that is positive. This is not avoiding what is present, but rather choosing to focus on what is positive in this moment rather than what is negative.

SAMPLE Playlist

Awakening - Michael Mandrell & Benjy Wertheimer

 Priya (Beloved) - Michael Mandrell & Benjy Wertheimer

 Satya (Truthfulness) - Michael Mandrell & Benjy Wertheimer

 Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) - Michael Mandrell & Benjy Wertheimer

 Gaia Nector - Masood Ali Khan

 Tides - Garth Stevenson

 A Love Song - Garth Stevenson

 Flux - Garth Stevenson

 Chandrika (Moonlight)Michael Mandrell & Benjy Wertheimer

 Baba HanumanHeather & Benjy Wertheimer