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Dharma

A blog is a curious thing.  It’s meant for the world to see but it seems to be a form of personal growth for the writer in the end.   I can only write when inspired and the process cannot be forced, it must flow.  Of course, the focus of my life for a time has been the science and spirituality of Yoga so it naturally fuels my writing and is the well spring of my inspiration.

A few weeks ago, I began to read the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Vedic text that is required reading for Yoga teachers.  This is my second attempt at delving into this deepest study of the forms of Yoga and Eastern spirituality.   It’s way over my head but part of the Yogic path is to study with a ‘Beginner’s mind’ and take the lessons you are prepared to comprehend as they arrive.  I find myself studying the same concepts over and over and only when I am ‘ready’, do they suddenly make sense.

The ‘Gita’ is the story of the battle for your soul.  The ‘battle’ of living to your highest potential- your greatest self.  Full of allegory and symbolism, the story is both an esoteric examination of self-realization as well as a simple tale of a ‘hero’ caught between his family ties and his life path.  Then, life happened and the words began to jump off the page into my heart.   My grandson became critically ill.   In my mind, the world began to move in slow motion and it was like the heartbeat of my life slowed.  Life…showing me who is boss…kicking me in the ‘jimmy’ (as a co-worker likes to say)…reminding me that I am not enlightened…I am what they call a ‘householder’.  Householders are Yogi’s that continue to live a ‘regular’ life.  We don’t live in an ashram and practice meditation and yoga from sunrise to sunset.  We have responsibilities and ‘attachments’ to others.  We serve.  We earn.  I am a worker, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend..and I occupy the role most cherished to me – I am a Grandmother.

The story of Arjuna (the ‘hero’) comes down to how he will interpret the scriptures and his place in the universe.  Will he act? Will he choose inaction?  Will he fight his loved ones?  Will he defend what is righteous?

Will he follow his Dharma (life path)?

In Yoga, we have a series of postures, we call Warriors (Virabhadrasasana).  We say they are ‘peaceful’ warriors and when you are in these poses, it can evoke many emotions but often, they bring a sense of grounded strength.  Life can feel like a battle at times.  We fight for survival and we fight for love.  We fight to be heard.  We fight to find our voice.   We even fight for the ‘best’ place in line at the grocery store or the best parking spot.  During this scary time, I found myself in Warrior …moving into the pose without thought.  When I was still, I could visualize myself in the pose or the flow of poses I teach so often.

A small lesson from the Bhagavad Gita became clear to me.  I must follow my life path and embrace my Dharma.  I must leave the old life behind and be The Peaceful Warrior.  This doesn’t stop the world from turning in the never ending cycle of births and deaths..love and losses…dark and light…movement and stillness.  As long as the breath of life flows in me, I will embody The Peaceful Warrior, my place in the universe.

I’ll close with a  poem for my grandson, Samuel: 

One Little Boy

One little boy brings a smile to the face of the world

His laughter is the honey of voices carried on bee’s wings

His bright eyes are the clear flowing milk of the sun

We see in his smile, the lotus flower that gently unfolds a thousand petals…a thousand rays of light.. revealing the brilliance of love within us all.

Melting the coldest of hearts and igniting the flame of unity in each soul with his Buddha spirit,

He’s one little boy

And that’s all the world needs to find its soul again.

 

Namaste

 

 

The Ripple Effect

It’s hard not to feel powerless when we are constantly pummeled with depressing and disturbing news about what is happening in our world.  I don’t know if I am getting older…or if the world truly is going to shit.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time considering the dynamics of our news cycle and recent events.  My only insight is that when incredibly horrifying things happen (mass shootings, a President who frightens the hell out of people, food and water poisoned by greedy corporations, once-a-century storms and weather events that certainly SEEM to happen more often than once every 100 years), we human beings begin to shut down and feel powerless.  Our eyes wide and shining with the reflective glow of our phones and TVs, we blankly stare at our screens as we scroll through the images and hollow words and calls for prayer or donations.  Is this ALL we can do in trying times? Can one individual make a difference?

Until recently, I did not believe one ordinary person could change much about a world that has existed longer than most can comprehend.  This ‘existential’ belief system (while it is partly grounded in truth) did not serve me well.  However, I did continue to seek other ways to look at the world and myself eventually finding the path of Yoga, the practice and science of Self-Realization.  I began to study and learn concepts that I previously shunned.  I experienced a better and happier way to live.  This way of BEing changed me profoundly.  Soon, friends and family members began to see the changes in me that I believed I could only feel.

Of course, my new found path meant that I wanted everyone I know to follow me.  Back pain? Yoga!  Poor digestion? Try some Yoga!  Depression, stress, insomnia, anxiety? Yoga could help!  Some have followed me onto the mat and some…well, let’s just say not everyone is eager to pull on Yoga pants for an hour and a half of deep-breathing and stretching themselves into unfamiliar poses.   At times, I was disappointed when folks didn’t show up for my classes.  On the flipside, my friends and family were ok with me spontaneously striking a Yoga pose or talking about spirituality and the meaning of life over a couple of beers.

With fresh awareness, I began to really hear the feedback I was receiving from people who ‘knew me when’ (before Yoga) and have watched my ‘transformation’.  When they told me how I look healthy and happy, they were smiling.  I stopped taking these statements as compliments (which make me squirm) and instead quietly observed the effect I was having on important people in my life.  A new kind of peace seemed to follow me into every interaction with the world.   It’s like a ripple on a body of water quietly creating a subtle wave- a shift in the ‘environment’ of the water.  I remind myself that “Any action performed artfully is Yoga” (Kripalu).  Yoga is being here now…fully present whether you are washing dishes, taking a walk, sitting in a meeting or sharing a couple of beers with friends.

No, I won’t change the ‘world’ with my Yoga practice or teaching of poses.  However, I can pursue my best life and create a ripple of positive energy in the waters around me.

Namaste!

Renee

Seeker of Wisdom and Happiness

Practicing Compassion (when you really want to punch someone in the face)

I admit it- I am a bad Yogi at times.  There are many days where I get up early, practice my yoga and my breathing techniques.  I sit in stillness and ask for help in my daily quest to just be more compassionate.  I know that I must first practice compassion with myself and I vow to do so.

At first, all is well.  I am patient with other drivers and let them go first…even when they cut me off.  I back off if they are weaving all over the road because they are on their phone.  I read my emails and just smile when Mr. Smith feels the need to DESCRIBE HIS PROBLEMS IN ALL CAPS AND A PLETHORA OF EXCLAMATION POINTS and invokes the YOU PEOPLE refrain we all so enjoy reading first thing in the morning.

Something shifts with the first phone call of the day (if you haven’t put it all together yet, my day job consists of 90% listening to complaining on the phone, 5% reading email complaints and 5% mindless administrative tasks that have no relevance to serving our customers at all).  I realize the person calling is not going to listen to me or my sage advice as I have been doing this for almost 12 years.  I hang up and hurl a well-crafted yet scathing verbal assessment of the caller’s failings as a human being.  I am quite infamous in the office for these outbursts.

Part of the path of Yoga is to practice Ahimsa or ‘non-violence’.  It’s often the first step we take on the Eight-Limbed Path and it can be something that we study and practice for YEARS.  Ahimsa is not limited to actual physical violence but includes THOUGHTS.  After all…our thoughts are the birth of our deeds and actions.  Whoa.  Whenever I am ‘working’ on myself in this way, I start on the mat when I am physically doing my Yoga practice (Asanas or postures).  I set an intention to practice non-violence- no forcing myself into postures, no berating myself if I fall out of a pose.  As I move through my sequence with this focused awareness, I can change my reactions.  I can be kinder and gentler…I have given myself permission to ‘take it easy’.

Sometimes it works…and sometimes, well, I still get pissed that I cannot hold a Standing Half Moon. So, what’s different? Has anything changed as a result of all my studies if this happens?  I think so. Awareness is EVERYTHING!  This awareness means that I ‘catch myself’ and can stop the process from ruining my whole day or causing injury to body or hurting someone’s feelings.  I can step back and say…’Okay, yep, I just lost my cool but it won’t run away with me this time’.   I won’t let the anger fester and I won’t take it out on the next person I encounter.   I remember, this is temporary and I can let it go.

Before Yoga, I wasn’t aware that I could actually make my life better just by being more aware of my reactions.  Life isn’t happening to me….I am creating my life one moment at a time.  If this brings a bit more peace into my life (and those around me as a result), that’s good enough for me.

Namaste

Renee Howerton

Aspiring Yogini and Guru to Myself

 

 

 

 

Apples and The Nature of Our Thoughts

If you had told me five years ago that I would be embarking on a ‘spiritual’ journey at this time of my life, I would have choked on my beer and tripped over my pool cue.  To say I was cynical would be an understatement.  I truly didn’t believe you needed spirituality to be a good person.  I still believe this. I think we are all ‘wired’ for knowing right from wrong.  However, I now ponder and study the very questions about the Self, the Universe and the nature of happiness that I once disdained.

There’s one caveat to this path- it must be experienced.  It is not merely ‘knowledge’ from a book or a lecture.  It WILL NOT make ANY sense if it is not a direct and sincere experience.  I didn’t ‘see’ this before I began the practice of Yoga and the study of its ancient wisdom.  Personal experience, increasing awareness and self-observation have been my greatest teachers.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, 1.2 (this celebrated Yogic text is organized into four ‘Padas’ or chapters), states: Yogash citta vrtti nirodha, yoga is the cessation of the modifications, or fluctuations, of the mind.  What are these ‘fluctuations’ and why would we want to stop them?

If you give it some thought (pun intended), our minds are busy and at times, chaotic.  Through practice of Yoga and meditation, we seek to still the mind because it is so calming and relaxing when our thoughts aren’t racing.  Here’s one way to consider this:

Begin with one simple image or thought- something like ‘red apple’.  Then, close your eyes and ‘watch’ as the mind takes this simple thought and literally runs away with it.  Here’s the flow of my thoughts starting from ‘red apple’.

Red apples.  I like candy apples. I haven’t had one in awhile but that would be good. I doubt I could make it myself. Probably have to wait until Halloween to get one. Last Halloween, I didn’t do much – no parties and certainly no candy apples.  I do need to go to the grocery store for some cat food. Mickey (my cat) is really constipated right now and I really need to do something about it. He looks fat but he’s actually full of poop.

We experience thousands of thoughts each day.  Most are random but some are worries about events that haven’t happened yet and cause us suffering.  Quieting the mind (even if it’s only temporary) can give us some space in the current moment to explore deeper meanings or patterns in our life.  I have experienced ‘light bulb’ moments during meditation that a busy mind would not have allowed me to grasp.

As I continue on my path, I find proof that Yoga is more than just a bunch of poses.  It’s a philosophy of living life and finding your way to contentment.  Years ago, as I railed against Religion and the damage done in the name of it in an effort to convince someone that ‘God’ doesn’t exist, a good friend told me – “Don’t take away another’s hope. It may be all they have”.  She was right.

Namaste!

Renee

(Yoga Teacher, Seeker and Aspiring Yogini)

Should we try to banish our Ego?

Let me begin by saying- my Ego did not want me to post the picture above. My alignment is off and this photo is not like those you will see in magazines or Pinterest.  This was the first time I was able to see myself in the Wheel pose and my first reaction was….DELETE…DELETE…DELETE.

As I continue to study Yoga through reading The Sutras and modern interpretations of ancient wisdom, I attempt to apply those teachings to my daily life.  It’s an uncomfortable process at times.  I am confronted with my vanity and my sense of entitlement to a ‘perfect’ day that goes ‘my way’.  I am confronted with my jealousies and my Ego.  Is it necessary to banish the Ego in order to realize your authentic self?  Why bother?

In Buddhism, the Ego is considered to be a myth or falsehood because we are all One with the Divine.  From the purely Yogic perspective, Patanjani’s Sutra 1.4 states: ‘Vritti Sarupyam Itaratra’, a reminder that our thoughts can create a distorted sense of self.  When we make our thoughts our reality, we are stepping onto a very slippery slope.  In the Western world, our mind and thoughts are not questioned.  What we think becomes our reality -many times without question.  When our perception is clouded by distorted thoughts (usually negative thoughts that become part of our belief system about ourselves), this can cause us to be very unhappy robbing us of the joys of life.

The study and physical practice of Yoga helps us to challenge these thoughts (which become beliefs and eventually actions) and begin to see the world and ourselves in a more realistic light.  This can bring us to moments where we have to confront past traumas or mistakes we have made and begin the healing process of forgiveness.  It may begin on the mat where we stop comparing ourselves others and accept our current abilities and challenges.  Our practice naturally flows from our ‘life’ on the mat to our life in the world.

Where does the Ego come into play?  Personally, I believe we need our egos to ground us and give us our identity so we can just do what we need to do to survive- work, eat, sleep- all with our own preferences and prejudices.  We run into trouble when we do not question our thoughts and resulting emotions and reactions.  Our Ego is quick to judge everything in order to protect us from harm.  This can cause us to react negatively to almost anything from criticism to a perception that another person has more than we do.  We become stressed and anxious or perhaps, even angry creating tension in our muscles and even an elevated heartbeat or blood pressure.  Our emotions affect us profoundly and this is why reining in the Ego can be so good for our mental health as well as our physical health.

Our Yoga practice can teach us humility and through the breath and the asanas (physical poses) that bring us fully into our body.  In this ‘place’ of stillness, we are grounded and calm.  The thoughts don’t matter so much.  We sort out what we need and let the rest go.

Yes, I posted this picture for all to see…and no, it isn’t perfect.  I’m ok with that.

Namaste!

Renee

 

 

Welcome to YogaCentric

At 52, I feel quite young, vibrant, healthy and happy.  However, I haven’t always felt this way.  There were many years in my 30’s and 40’s that were decidedly unhappy times for me.  Bogged down by work and family pressures, I lived in an almost constant state of stress and anxiety.  There was no time to examine the direction of my life or even ponder what the hell I wanted to do with myself.  Sure, I had ‘professional’ goals and daily ‘to do’ lists but I did not have a clue what I wanted to be when I finally decided to ‘grow up’..for real.

Enter Yoga.  Yes, the simple practice of Yoga and learning to stop and BREATHE has changed my life.  Like many, I became so entranced with the practice, I became a Yoga Teacher.  After teaching part-time for about a year, I realized that Yoga would not a good living make and that teaching Yoga for ‘money’ would not be good for my body or my soul.  Yoga is a very personal life philosophy and I never want to lose that by turning it into a full-time ‘job’.

So, I begin here…with YogaCentric where I hope to connect with other Yoga Teachers, Ayurvedic practioners, Massage Therapists and any one else interested in helping others become healthier and happier through the ancient wisdom from the East.

Join me as I take the first steps on my journey…freedom from the grasp of the Corporate world and into the light of my own destiny.

Namaste!

Nay