Everything is spiritual

Floyd Red Crow Westerman said that, “It’s the Hopi belief that everything is spiritual, everything has a spirit, and everything was brought here by the creator. Some people call him God, some people call him Buddha, some people call him Allah, some people call him other names. We call him Tunkaschila… Grandfather.”

The importance of our spiritual essence is found throughout the teachings of yoga. In the 55 lines of what many consider the most important second chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, he describes the path of yoga including the five kleshas, which are variously translated as traps, obstacles or hindrances. In some traditions the three kleshas of ignorance, attachment and aversion are the source of all other kleshas.

Within the concept of spirit, the mother of all kleshas is Avidya. The root, Vida relates to Veda – the ancient Sanskrit books of knowledge (for e.g. Ayurveda,  the knowledge of life and longevity). Vid also relates to seeing. An ‘a’ in front of any Sanskrit word means “not.” So Avidya is literally not seeing clearly or not having correct knowledge, often translated as ignorance.

Annie Carpenter describes Avidya as more than just being intellectually ignorant or not understanding some basic concept. Avidya is a deep spiritual ignorance about not understanding the difference between what is real and what is not, what is lasting or eternal, and what is fleeting that attracts us in the moment.

Life presents moments when we instantly figure out what doesn’t matter (Boom Shiva!), and what really does matter. That awareness makes it easier for us to let go of anything we’re clinging to or reaching for that doesn’t feed our soul.

The BIG takeaway is that inside each of us is spirit. Every life form has spirit that is everlasting, that will never die. Everything else around us changes, decays and will cease to exist as it was before. Rumi said, “Be like a tree and let the dead leaves drop.” Each moment, each breath arrives and is gone. But the one thing that endures, moment by moment, millennia by millennia, is spirit – the essence of who we really are. Yoga is designed to unravel, to peel away the layers of the non-self to reveal the true self.

So Avidya is in this field of misunderstanding, of ignorance, that all obstacles in our lives are born and grow. To have this understanding of what’s real and what is not, what’s lasting and what is not, is to be able to work with all of the obstacles that come into our lives, however simple or gigantic they may seem. Avidya is that moment of understanding that helps us find peace with whatever’s going on.

Avidya has many layers which operate in different ways, threaded through every aspect of our lives— in our survival strategies, our relationships, our cultural prejudices, the things we hunger for and the things we fear or repel. But behind each of Avidya’s manifestations is the failure to recognize that essentially we are spirit, and that we share this with every atom in the universe.

As Floyd Red Crow Westerman observed, “We are here on earth only a few winters, then we go to the spirit world. You should treat all things as spirit, realize that we are one family. It’s never something like the end. It’s like life, there is no end to life.”


The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.

I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry

Yoga is..

How would you answer the question, “What is yoga?” Even those unfamiliar with this practice have a preconception either from pictures or video or hearing ecstatic chanting repeating the names of Hindu deities. Within the 8 limbs of yoga there are universal truths that help us answer the question, “What is yoga?”

Yoga is by definition experiential. Do you remember your first few yoga classes? Re-discovering your body, all feet, knees, left and right, bending and rising, learning names of poses, all while trying to breathe? Yet with time and practice the deeper aspects of yoga begin to reveal themselves. The struggle is replaced with steadiness and ease, the movements more assured, balancing more centered, and breathing more controlled even in the most challenging postures. This third limb, asana, the physical postural practice, offers a pathway to the other teachings that guide us to living with more honesty, compassion and awareness.

Yoga is the exploration of our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual levels (koshas or sheaths), unified through conscious breath (pranayama), concentration (daharana) and courage. In the physical practice we activate the diaphragm (the main muscle of core stability), invigorate blood and lymph movement, and strengthen and align our musculoskeletal system. Among myriad benefits the postures are designed to bring awareness to the space between thoughts, activate our energy channels (chakras), and clear the physical and emotional clutter that stifles growth.

Regular practice deepens this internal awareness.

  • Recognize the breath and let it open your eyes to find forgiveness of self and others.
  • Meditation to hone skills of non-doing and mindfulness.
  • Studying yogic scriptures and the chakra system for education and intention.
  • Inspiration and self-understanding, herbal rejuvenation and basic ayurvedic practices to tonify and balance the supply of prana (air), tejas (fire) and ojas (water).
  • Chanting to focus the mind, stimulate prana, feel calm and centered, and most importantly, to communicate with the divine spirit within ourselves and the universe – and to offer our efforts back through intention.
  • Mantra to train concentration, listening skills and to interrupt mental and emotional habits.
  • Prayer, ritual and sangha (community) for guidance, community/service, compassion, love, self-worth and celebration.

I practice and teach vinyasa yoga (nyasa “to place” and vi “in a special way”) – a series of breath-synchronized movements and postures sequenced to warm up, energize and open our bodies. This practice generates internal heat and stokes agni – the digestive fire that fuels metabolism, digestion and the immune system and detoxifies the body. If our internal fire is strong and the mind is calm, we are better able to adapt to life’s challenges. Yoga asks us to breathe in the courage to look inside, and to breathe out the acceptance to let go. As we open the physical body the truth of who we are and our infinite potential is revealed.

My aim with every class is to offer a joyful, enlivened and empowering sequence of postures that hopefully brings you to a deeper, more expansive and more compassionate place.