REFLECTIONS ON YOGA

What is yoga? How do you think about yoga? What is the role yoga has in your life?

I recently asked students to contemplate these questions, and I was so astounded by their replies. I tried to capture their wisdom in small phrases, and it ended up looking like this:

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It is so important for us to all reflect on the impact our yoga has on our lives, to begin to connect the dots on how our daily practice, and our studies, slowly begins to manifest in our lives.

Yes, there was mention of a positive physical effect: mobility and strength, which is so crucial for us to live healthy and productive lives.

But by far the vast majority of responses reflected an understanding of the deep effects of yoga, how it transforms us, how it creates an ability to pause, to connect, have dialogue, to remember. How we are more kind, less judgmental, able to love more deeply. How it keeps us present, centered, in equilibrium, and mindful. We begin to have a greater awareness of when we’re “off.” It is a set of guiding principles, a way of learning, a measuring stick, that allows us to adjust to what is, and continue to evolve, and experience the full pulsation of what life offers.

As you can tell, this reflects an understanding that yoga is a whole lot more than postures on a sticky mat. It is a way of being that comes out of a deep connection with our Self.

I invite you to look within yourself to consider how your yoga manifests in your life.

And then, consider this:

What helps or encourages yoga, all these qualities? And what hinders or blocks?

And then, further consider: what are my next steps on the path?

My students reminded me that community was one of the greatest ways they felt encouragement on their path: the sense that there were other like-minded individuals walking with them. If you resonate with any of this, perhaps leave a note to share something about your path of yoga, so we can encourage each other in this way.

Taking Care of Myself and My Self

Lately I have had a lot on my plate. My to-do list each day is way too long, and at the end of the day, I sometimes see myself feeling frantic and starting to rush, and also getting rather grouchy. I’m sure some of you can relate.

I know better. We all know better! Yet somehow we allow ourselves to get sucked into the drama of our lives, our checklists, and need to get things accomplished. I know this pattern well: I can do it all. I can tough it out, do one thing after another without a break, for days on end. Fit it all in, check things off my list. Then I find myself grumpy and sad, and feeling a little sick.

I know better. I have to slow down a little and take care of myself. And I have to take care of my Self.

Yet, unfortunately, like many of us, I start to cut corners. I grab fast food and forgo physical activity. I skip or cut corners on my practices. I don’t give myself or my Self the love, respect, and support I need. Keeping my body, heart, and spirit, healthy and connected is fundamental to being my most productive self.

If I take the time to take care of myself by getting enough sleep, good food, and exercise, I’m laying the groundwork to do my best. I know this.

But what was less obvious to me, and is becoming much clearer lately, is how essential it is to take care of my Self. That is where my daily practice of meditation comes in. When I meditate, it feels like I clear a channel to my Self: a deeper, fuller, wiser part of me. And that place feeds me in a way not unlike food and exercise.

The access I cultivate in my meditation practice supports all of my other activities so they become less effortful. I cultivate a channel to this Self during my meditation, which serves me during my everyday activities. It is not only a source of wisdom, but of energy, and of perspective as well.

The wisdom helps me in my studies, in my teaching, writing, in so much of my work, including my own personal inner psychological work of clearing out my old unproductive patterns.

Access to a deeper source energy allows my days to be less effortful. I feel like I don’t have to push so hard because it isn’t only “me” doing it, I can channel an unlimited ocean of energy to support me.

And yes, being the human being I am, working within the boundaries of our culture, I have many challenging experiences. And I absolutely can not do it all. But my daily steeping in the quiet of my meditation practice helps me keep a greater perspective. I remember why I am doing what I am doing. And I am less reactive and more able to stay calm.

I know I have a long way to go with all of this, which is why, each morning when I get up, I head to my meditation cushion. I understand how much I need to take care of my Self.

So recently, as I make my to-do list, I include one item that takes care of myself, and one to take care of my Self. I know if I continue to add these things into my life, all of the other things on my list will get done in a much more efficient and easeful manner.

I invite you to try this out. Whenever and however you consider what you need to accomplish in the next period of time, consider as well one thing to better support yourself, and another thing to support the connection to your deeper Self.

If you’re willing to share what these two things are, please do so in the comments below.

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Yoga is….

….. _________ . You fill in the blank.

I was internally prompted to write on this, and I found myself reviewing my trajectory of over 30 years of practice. I began with yoga asana, as many of us do, and discovered a wonderful grounding and embodiment of a sort I desperately needed. And I sensed there was a lot more.

So I explored philosophy for many years, first finding it impenetrable, yet I approached it as a practice, and begin to get some inklings of its profundity. It pointed me directly and repeatedly to meditation, and I was lucky to finally find a great teacher, Paul Muller-Ortega.

My meditation practice is the pinnacle of my journey, opening up my heart and life in ways I could not have imagined.

So what, of all these years of practice, is yoga? For me, if I had to encapsulate right now what yoga, it is these 5 things (moving from the outside in, then back out!).

  1. a physical practice that keeps me embodied, grounded and healthy. My asana practice keeps my body nourished as I age.
  2. An intellectual study of philosophy, of understanding a worldview I find compelling, and understanding the theory of the practice
  3. MEDITATION. A daily practice of sitting to connect to my heart, the heart of everything.
  4. Connection. Understanding and experiencing how everything is connected.
  5. Acting/living on the basis of that connection.

So my working definition of yoga is: the practices that support, and the process of experiencing, the fundamental connective pulsation of the heart, and living from that connection.

Now, your turn. Yoga is …. ______________ .

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GET MUDDY

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May in Boulder was one of the wettest on record, and consequently, the trails we love so much were a mess, because of the mud itself, but also because hikers are reluctant to get muddy. Yet at the start of many trails are clearly marked signs, “GET MUDDY”. But instead of doing so, some hikers go around the muck, and start creating now trails which then becomes even a greater mess.

This unwillingness to get muddy reflects a human tendency that is important for us, as yoga practitioners, to consider. We must look at this unwillingness to get muddy and ask ourselves: what are we avoiding? What is there in the mud that is so bad, so frightening? And might our wading into the muck be exactly what we need to keep steady on our path, rather than divert our course?

One misunderstanding of yoga is that it is all about light, enlightenment, bliss, beauty, and so on. And yes, that is definitely part of the experience. However, any authentic spiritual path will acknowledge that there are difficult times, times where navigating the path is challenging, and we may be tempted to avoid or circumvent the circumstances, or even give up. Yet between where we are on the path, and the journey we need to traverse to move toward the light, are the muddy parts. The parts that are clouded, cloaked, and in the way.

Yoga philosophy gives many different descriptions of this mud, these obstacles on our path, the cloaking of our innermost self. And it further acknowledges that these are in fact the source of our suffering, so encountering them can be painful. Yet just because of some temporary challenges, the muck you have to wade through, do you give up and turn around?

In fact, one component of our practices is precisely the stirring up of the muck, all our unconscious obstacles that block us from deepening our awareness. Do we want to keep sidestepping these issues? Notice how in the physical world that just creates a bigger mess of mud. Likewise in our lives it is much more effective to move forward instead of sideways.

So may we each go ahead and move through it, traverse the challenging muck, and see what is waiting on the other side. The worst that happens is we get our feet wet or our shoes dirty, which to me is a sign of a path well-travelled, our willingness to explore what is being offered in this life, what is possible. To see where the path leads.

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My hikes all over the world have often taken me into the mud, and arriving on the other side I’ve experienced some of the most treasured moments of my lifetime. But I had to be willing to get muddy, to get down and dirty. to experience the goo and gunk that was standing in the way. Slipping and sliding, even falling down and getting muddy, then getting up to continue.

The journey is worth it.

Likewise our journey in our yoga practice is worth it. It is worth it to choose to continue to practice even when it seems dark, muddy, challenging and unpleasant. We have to be willing to move trough the muddy places, or we will never experience the delights that lay beyond.

ATHA

Cindy Lusk- ATHA

Atha yoganusasanam
NOW WE COMMENCE THE STUDY OF YOGA.

This is the aphorism with which Patanjali begins his teachings in the definitive text of Classical Yoga, the Yoga Sutras.  On one level it simply announces that the subject of the text is yoga.

Traditionally, the first word of a text carries great significance, and here the first word is “atha,” which means now.

With the word “now,” there’s a sense of all times, of the past, the present, and the future.  Now we’re going to learn about yoga. Historically the teachings had not been coherently codified, and Patanjali did just that.  But for us as a student of yoga, there can also be a sense that  now is our time.  Now is the time to delve into this text.  Our past studies have led us to this moment to begin a serious contemplation of these teachings.

From a broader perspective, there’s a sense of the “present moment,” of “be here now.”  I find these ideas a bit overused, and I cringe at using them, because I don’t find them very useful. What does it mean to be here now, and how does one actually come into the present moment?  Well, that’s what the whole text of the Yoga Sutras is about: yoga. Our practice of yoga teaches us how to become present.

And as yoga practitioners, this aphorism reminds us: now, at any and every time, is time for yoga.  And I’m not talking about getting on your mat and cranking out some asana, or even getting to the meditation cushion, though for most people practice is the prerequisite. When we regularly do the practices that connect us to what Patanjali calls the seer, a deeper core presence that is the essence of who we are, we are able to meet each moment  with that presence.

Through our practice of yoga, we learn to connect with the ground of our being, a place of wisdom inside ourselves that then guides us in the present moment. With this process we inevitably begin to confront all of our habitual patterns from our past, which we tend to allow to pull us out of the present moment.  Our practice helps us clear out, identify, and shift these patterns. And THEN, as we go about our lives as we all must, we are better able to be in the present moment.

In each moment, with the help of the connection we have established to our deeper awareness through our practice, we become able to see more clearly what is actually present, and what is an old pattern, or our own clouded perception.  This is our yoga happening in the present moment.  And it allows us, when things are particularly challenging, to take it as an opportunity for yoga. Now we do our yoga, in the most challenging moments. Having established the connection, we draw on the deepest source to work with whatever is unfolding in this present moment, to guide us through that moment and into the future.

If you would like to learn more about Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, check out my self-paced course here

Mother’s Day

Like many holidays, Mother’s Day brings up mixed feelings. Many of us dislike or resent so many holidays that have become commercialized obligations. Yet there is something delightful about celebrating good ol’ mom.

And it can be challenging for many people.  Many of us have lost our moms, or never knew our moms, or had moms who were not the best of moms.  They’re human, after all.

And for women that are not moms, and will never be moms in the conventional sense, it can be a hard reminder.

As for myself, I loved my mom, and dad, dearly. I cherish the love I received from them. And I learned positive things from them both, and, as well, I learned a few negative things.  I learned from both of them some ways I did not want to be.  Yes, after all, they are human.

For Mother’s Day I choose the celebrate the love I shared with my mom, celebrate the fact that she birthed me, and gave me this precious life.  So for me, Mother’s Day is a celebration of the mother energy, the creative life force that we see so active in spring, and that innate mothering instinct that so many creatures share.  I celebrate caring, and I celebrate birthing and nurturing in its many forms.

I celebrate the feminine. Which is something this world needs a lot more of.

Cindy Lusk- Mother’s Day

That could be the end of the essay, but I must say that personally this holiday reminds me of how much I miss my mom. So much. I miss that person that was a steady light in my life, someone I knew I could depend on. That’s what is hard for me on Mother’s Day, that feeling of being alone.

So I celebrate community and connection, for moms are our earliest connection to the heartbeat of life, the pulse that runs through us all, the pulse of life and love that connects us all.

I celebrate yoga because yoga means connecting and joining, turning inwardly to my pulsing heart, and outwardly to embrace life as it is: childless, motherless me. And yet a life full of possibility.

I embrace the sadness, I embrace the joy.

I celebrate the embrace of all of those who have supported and nurtured me, my relatives, teachers and loved ones who have stood steady with me over the years with hugs and words of encouragement.

I celebrate you, for all you have nurtured in yourself and others.

May we all celebrate that nurturing sustaining life force energy from which we manifest.  And may we spread that energy through our love and nurturing of all beings.

Happy Mother’s Day.

WHAT’S COMING UP IN YOUR GARDEN?

Cindy Lusk- WHAT’S COMING UP IN YOUR GARDEN?

We just returned from a very sweet relaxing time in Mexico, to discover spring has sprung here in Boulder.  On my first morning back, I had to take a moment to run out into my backyard and see if the tulips I had planted last summer came up.  I hadn’t much hope for them, it was a freebie from a neighbor that I planted at the wrong time, and not in the greatest soil. I kinda just threw them into the dirt to see what would happen.  And there they were, at least some of them, pushing up toward the light.

Looking around, I see a lot of other stuff peeking out.  The grape hyacinths are up, along with some dandelions (which I’ve decided to let go for a while for the sake of the bees).

What’s coming up in your garden?

As we’ve come to the spring equinox, it is a great time to pause to consider: what is manifesting in my life right now due to what I previously cultivated? What would I like to plant now to nurture into manifestation as I move further into the year?

As I look at my garden, I see very clearly some of the choices I made last fall.  I see the plants I carefully and consciously put to bed, pruned, or planted. And I see the things I ignored, yet to be dealt with.  I see the weeds I kept thinking “I’ll deal with that later,” now firmly established, and will require extra effort to deal with.

And of course this is all a metaphor for the choices we make each moment of our life.  If you are conscious and willing, you can often see in the present blossoming circumstance, the seeds you planted in the past.

It is sweet to recognize what you have worked so hard to manifest, be it some aspect of your health, a relationship, or a piece of work. As well we can acknowledge the very simple things we’ve created like a good meal or clean house.

And on the other hand, we must also pause to acknowledge the not-so-pleasant things we may have generated or tolerated, be it dysfunctional relations, clutter in our home, ill-health, or weeds in our garden. Or, some trajectory in our life that is not working.

Each moment we have the choice to plant the seeds of our future. Life keeps rolling on whether we do so consciously, or not.  And we reap what we sow.

This is not to say that we have control over every event that happens to us, certainly not. Part of living our yoga is determining what we cannot control, and choosing how to work with that as best we can.

Yet ultimately, there are many situations where we could more consciously choose to create a more optimal outcome.  Our yoga practice is intended to help us with this process, through the repeated connection to the center of our self. The onset of spring is a perfect time for pause, connecting to our wisest self, and contemplating what we wish to sow in the next phase of our life.

YOGA IS SKILL IN ACTION

Cindy Lusk- YOGA IS SKILL IN ACTION

My favorite line from the Bhagavad Gita is “yoga is skill in action.” I love it foremost because it acknowledges that there is no avoiding action.  Elsewhere in the Gita, the teacher Krishna points out that you can’t NOT act. The warrior Arjuna perhaps would prefer to withdraw to a cave and avoid the battle he faces, but if you think about it, even that is an act.  It is making a choice. This non-avoidance, and the necessity of action is elaborated in the text as the path of Karma Yoga.

And, as advised, we want to act skillfully.  This is the tricky part, as we know.  It is quite often very hard to know not only what to do, but how to do it skillfully. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna offers us a way to knowing: Jnana Yoga, the Path of Knowledge.

This path has two components.  First is an intellectual knowledge, like what you might receive from reading this essay or any other kind of textual knowledge.  In many domains of our activity it is extremely important to create an intellectual knowledge through study.

But the second component of knowledge is also very important: Knowing your Self. This is knowledge of who you are inside, beyond all the surface definitions of your life.  It is a knowledge of that source place deep within you.

Krishna gives several means to creating that connection to source, one very clearly laid out is meditation.  Through the Yoga of Meditation, one begins to traverse from the every day surface awareness through the depths of your being to connect with the place described in various ways: the Divine, your source, essence, or heart.

And as is also described in the Gita, uncovering your source-essence-heart connects you with a place of unlimited love and devotion. Love and devotion, and a knowledge of the interconnectedness of all things.  And a devotion to that fundamental ground being of heart-love.

And that knowledge, love, and devotion creates and supports the desire to serve.  A desire to act in service to the Divine, to love through action.

Which brings us back around to Karma Yoga as we more commonly think of it: selfless service.  Another way to think of it is service from the Self.  Serving from the heart of Knowing. And this is how we come to fully manifest skill in action.

Through our practice of yoga, particularly meditation, we come to Know and connect with the heart and the deepest wisdom within ourselves. As we establish that connection on a daily basis with our practice, we create a pathway, an access, so that in any given situation we can summon our wisest self to guide us to our most skillful actions.

In this way we act from our hearts, in service of the Heart of Being.  This is the yoga of skill in action.

2015: The Year of CONNECTion

Cindy Lusk- 2015: The Year of CONNECTion

In these dark days around the winter solstice, I’ve been diving and digging deep, assessing the past year and considering the next year.  What emerged from these ponderings is a guiding word for me for the coming year: CONNECT.

As it continued to assert itself, and I let it settle, I had to laugh. Because, of course, CONNECT is another way to say yoga. 
And because of that I resisted it, considering spicier words like spacious, clarity, travel, and dharma. Yet CONNECT kept calling to me, so I’m gonna stick with it, because there are specific ways and means I want to CONNECT.

As always, HIGHEST FIRST:  CONNECTing with my Self. First through practice. Each and every day, connect to that highest place in myself.  Cultivate an established CONNECTion that grants me ready access.  Create a conduit within myself that allows me to channel that which will be of greatest service.

Then, take time to CONNECT and access that channel in any given situation.  Pause to CONNECT to the highest, wisest, most loving place I can muster. And act from the CONNECTed place. With each action, I want to remember the CONNECTion I have with all beings. I want to look closely at how I participate in creating separation, and make choices that acknowledge the CONNECTedness of all beings.

This year as well, I want to dive even deeper into the teachings.
 I want to create a more personal CONNECTion with them through deeper contemplation and application in my life.

And, I want to help others CONNECT to the teachings.  To do this I need to CONNECT with people who need to hear what I have to offer. This one is a little mysterious to me, so I’m just throwing this out to the universe as an intention and see what comes back.

As part of that I want to CONNECT people in community. I want to continue to gather like-minded individuals together for practice, study, and well, CONNECTion. I want to do this in a bigger way on-line this year, and I am hoping to find ways to open people up to making a deeper and sincere CONNECTion with each other around the teachings.

As well, I want to CONNECT with writing. It is a love of mine, and I’ve been a bit shy and fearful about putting stuff out there, but I want to make it happen. I could use some encouragement here.

And I want to reCONNECT with old friends, and CONNECT with new ones. I’ve been feeling a little personally isolated of late. I need to be held a little more.

As we move through the year, I hope you will help me CONNECT, with some reminders, reflection, and love.

CHOOSE YOUR WORD:

If you would like to come up with a word to guide your year, try out these contemplations.  You will likely want to do these steps over a period of a few days to let your ideas percolate and settle.

1. Contemplate what you want to have happen in the next year. What would your ideal day look like? What will you do? How will you feel? Consider qualities you want to develop and what your heart really needs. Describe in your journal.

2. Look at what emerged in your writing and make a list of the words that most evoke the sense of what you want to cultivate in 2015.

3. Consider this list and which words resonate with you most. Narrow it down to the most potent 3-5 words. Perhaps journal on each of these to see which yields the most or feels the best.  If you have trouble coming up with a final word, randomly choose one and see if you register any disappointment, and if so, choose another one and see how it feels, until you finally settle on the one that feels right.

THANKSGIVING GRATITUDE

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, in part because it falls on a Thursday and therefore feels like a nice luxurious four day break as we move toward the depths of the darkest part of the year. Like so many of our holidays, Thanksgiving means different things to different people: a time to be with family and give thanks for the bounty in our lives, gorge ourselves on food, watch football, enjoy naps and reading, or shop ‘til you drop.  I invite you to take a moment to consider what Thanksgiving can mean for you.

 

Cindy Lusk- THANKSGIVING GRATITUDE

 

I love Thanksgiving because for me it is a holiday of gratitude. As with any holiday, you can make it what you want, and I choose to make it about gratitude.  So I set this as my samkalpa, my intention, to focus on everything I’ve been given, the preciousness of life, of my loved ones, of my path.

It is an opportunity to pause and remember all that we have been given in this lifetime.  As we go about our day-to-day business, our awareness is often pulled to what is wrong, often by necessity.  Like if the electricity goes off, or a pipe breaks, or the floods come, we have to deal with it, both practically and emotionally.  But often our focus is inordinately on what is wrong, what we see as problematic, old pains and suffering.  And we forget to remember what is right, what is good, what I HAVE instead of what I don’t have.

One of the things that Thanksgiving and the December holidays can bring to us, is the opportunity to be with our birth family. This can be pleasant or not so pleasant, but it is an opportunity, especially if it IS challenging. This is where we can discern how our yoga practice is actually working. It gives us an opportunity to watch how the cycle of our thoughts and emotions arise from our old patterns, and depending on our response to those impulses, we reiterate the patterns, or we have the choice to begin to break free.

So for example, you find yourself in a situation with your family or old friends in which buttons begin to get pushed, some old patterns of behavior want to arise, perhaps someone starts treating you like you were 12 years old still, or people expect you to behave some way you always have, or someone else’s behavior pattern reminds you of some old painful and unresolved dynamic. So what do you do?  Do you choose to reactivate and reinforce that particular pattern?  Are you getting sucked into some old story like getting engrossed in an old movie you’ve outgrown but can’t seem to extract yourself from?

Or do you take a pause, breathe and access a deeper self that you’ve been connecting to via your practices, remembering who you really are inside, and who you want to be.  Can you remember to identify with this deeper self, your center, your essence, your heart? Remember to pause and remember your intention. Remember what Thanksgiving is really about, give thanks and gratitude to the teachings that have helped you remember to take that pause, and even thanks as well to the person that is allowing you to practice what you’ve been learning and demonstrate how far you’ve come along the path of yoga.

For many of us on the path of yoga, the holidays can be challenging with our relatives simply because our lifestyle is so different, and at times I had a certain self-righteousness around that.  I would be so aghast at the food on the menu, at what I considered the ill health of my relatives on so many levels, that I forgot to appreciate: there’s grandma, there’s grandpa, and there’s mom…and how much they all loved me, had supported me in so many way. And now all of those people are gone.  I missed many opportunities to be thankful for what was present and RIGHT because I was so focused on what I thought was WRONG. Luckily in later years when they were still alive I did learn to appreciate them, and express my gratitude, but there were many lost years of just being sulky.

Which brings me to another way holidays can affect us: as we’ve lost people who are dear to us, the holidays can be a sad and therefore hard time of the year. As I express this, I get a little choked up and sad about how I have no grandparents, no parents , or no kids or no grandkids with which to celebrate.

Here again is where remembering is so important.  And it is not a matter of stuffing feelings, the feelings are real, they’re there, and they’re OK.  I give them some space, allow myself to feel some of the sadness, and then I remember: life is precious, life is short, and I DO have a lot to be grateful for. I treasure the memories and what I do have in my life now.

Gratitude can be a year round practice that can really shift your life, even if it is simply considering each day what has gone right instead of focusing on what goes wrong. When you’re feeling challenged, when you’re feeling down, when your heart is feeling concealed, pause and reflect: What do you have to be grateful for?

Even in the darkest days, so much is going right for us. Sitting here in my office I notice: I am breathing, I have warm clothes, my computer is working, I have a sweet cat. These I can see just looking around me for 5 seconds.

I am also grateful for the challenges in my life, the challenging situations and people, for they teach me how to be a better person. They remind me to move beyond the surface to access my greater self, and to remember that same place is underneath the surface of everyone.

I am so grateful for having found yoga, for the great teachings of yoga, for all my teachers, everything they have taught me that flows through me now. I am grateful for all the great beings who have walked the path before me.

I am so grateful to each of you, for taking the time to read this, for showing up, for considering deeply these teachings, for walking the path of yoga, working to create a deeper connection with yourselves and thereby making the world a more loving place.

I would love to hear from you about Thanksgiving and the practice of gratitude.

What meaning does the Thanksgiving holiday have for you?

Do you have a particular intention for this holiday you can explicitly articulate?

What are you most grateful for in your life?