PAUSE: Abhyasa, Sutras, and Sacred Texts
written by Charlotte Mabry
Patanjali’s YS 2.47 “Prayatna saithilyananta samapattibhyam”
Prayatna: Continued tension producing elements, natural tendency for restlessness
Saithilya: Relaxation, by lessening
Ananta: Infinite, eternal, purusa, brahman
Samapatti: Meditation, thought transformation
Byham: from both
“By lessening the natural tendency of restlessness and by meditating on the infinite, posture is mastered”.
Chant: Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya
“Om is the name of the Indweller in me that is ever in unity with all of creation. Kindly reveal your truth to me”.
Abhyasa, Restorative Yoga
Whether there is joy in my personal life, or events that cause some form of suffering, my refuge is found in my yoga practice. What is surfacing in our world? On one hand, there is the current mysterious and sometimes fatal disease of the human heart and lung. On the other hand, people are responding to the world of broken hearts of numerous social injustices across our globe. With great passion, dedication, and commitment action is taking place to right this injustice. Still, anxiety and feelings concerning the future are uncertain. Overall, there is Dis-Ease: people living without ease. How does one approach processing all of this from the perspective of yoga and its practices?
My teacher, Judith Hanson Lasater states that conflict cannot happen without duality. While many are uncomfortable with conflict in ‘normal’ times, in 2020 one might feel bombarded with division. Conflict can also be a sign of growth, an exploration, and a chance to communicate with radical honesty both within oneself and with others.
For me, conflict is a call to practice abhyasa, confronting my deepest self with radical honesty. Internal work. In silence, I search for direction from the sutras and sacred texts. Where am I internally? Am I in peaceful balance? Where am I in my personal relationships? How do the greater sociological questions affect my day to day relating to others? How can I make a difference?
Yoga. Union. My body, mind, and spirit are nurtured by what yoga teaches, the One Light of Consciousness, residing within the center of my being. This pandemic has called you and me, and our world as we know it, to pause! Stop. Question. How do I live life, really live life fully, during this world-wide pause? For me, the answer is committed abhyasa with love and devotion. It is an endless practice of continual transformation from the inside out.
Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya. The Indweller in me in unity with all creation, reveal the truth.
Eddie Stern, an Ashtanga Master teacher, states that “through abhyasa, direction is provided from where we are now, to a deeper understanding of ourselves and how we relate to the world. This is indeed yoga.” I am digging down deeper than ever to find where am I in all of this. Will you as a fellow yogi join me in radical honesty? Where are you, personally in all of this? Where is my center? Where is your center? When I do not have answers to these questions, I turn to abhyasa: the pause that brings me deeper into my practices.
During 2020, I have experienced low-grade anxiety mixed with fear, and a confused state. Will I catch the virus? What is the news saying, what has happened now, is there more violence?
One Tuesday evening in early March, I finished teaching a restorative yoga class. Yogis were putting away props, saying goodbyes, and certain we would see each other next week. A detour! Literally within seven days things rapidly changed. I would not return to the studio to teach. The vibration that the yogis created on Tuesday’s restorative yoga class was interrupted. We celebrated open hearts, abhyasa, one unifying breath and commitment of sharing a sacred space. I was sad, disappointed with the pause in teaching yoga.
Through this pause, I remembered what some of my early instructors taught me. Now is the time to realize in life that you will never have all of the answers. It is the questions that keep your life alive. One of the most important aspects of teaching yoga is holding space. Keeping that space clear and clean for the yogis to step into their own journey of healing and dealing with whatever life is handing them. Can I define and live my path as a yoga teacher as the yoga moves through me? The questions within are what keeps me alive, changing, and growing in life. Meditating with what is, I accept.
Judith Hanson Lasater, Ph.D., PT, C-IAYT, Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times, says that “pausing, and relaxation, is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself.” Stop, linger in the wonder of you. Judith encourages us to spend at least five minutes a day with the Sacred. If you have not yet tried it, I invite you to discover restorative yoga.
Judith Hanson Lasater is known as the “mother of restorative yoga” and one of my personal teachers. She says restorative yoga poses are poses of being rather than doing. Find your comfort zone and tune in to where the body holds tension. The three most common places to spot tension is the lower back, abdomen, neck and jaw muscles. When your head and face are relaxed the body will follow. “Iyengar maintains that if the head and face are relaxed, and the eyes are covered, this will add to the depth of relaxation.”
The body lets go, becomes heavy, and is supported by props, such as bolsters, blocks, straps, and blankets. Restorative yoga opens the body, changes the emotional mood while physiologically invigorating one to its natural balanced sattvic state. This month, I invite you to further explore, and attend restorative yoga classes; allowing the intelligence of your body to take over, calming your mind. Practicing restorative yoga facilitates an inner balance, allowing the mind-body connection to operate at its highest potential. In the still, quiet, warm space, that you hold; restorative yoga asana brings contentment. An eye pillow placed over your eyes, to darken the outside distractions allows you connect to your all-knowing center. You listen. You heal. Take the pause.
Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life, author, Judith Hanson Lasater discusses that in restorative yoga you have the tendency to become painfully aware of how unrelenting your thoughts are. You can relax your body, but the mind can still charge around from past to present, to future and back again in a turbulent flow of ideas and judgements. Can relaxation create so much agitation within this still body? Yes. By letting go of physical tension, you are clear with what the mental tension is. In watching the storms of the waves in the mind, you can learn to dis-identify from the thoughts. Lasater says that this is the key to “living your yoga”. You can watch your thoughts. You are not at their mercy, nor have to believe them. Be present with your breath.
Practices in restorative yoga and meditation can stir up what is pushed down so much in life. What we push down settles in the emotional body. Feelings and thoughts of our human “beingness” of not being able to forgive, finding our rising ego of the internal mantra “I was wronged,” once acknowledged, can be released from the body during a restorative yoga practice. What is the relationship between restorative yoga and your emotions? The mind is “faster” than the body. The body knows. Pausing, practicing restorative yoga allows balanced pranic flow in the mind-body. You are One. Be still. Listen. Let the intelligence of your body take over.
Esther de Waal, A Seven Day Journey with Thomas Merton, summarizes many of Merton’s writings in a seven-day personal retreat format. Thomas Merton says “I am here; the starting point where I will get answers, or better I become aware of my questions. This pause provides a place of solitude. We have time to listen, as my relationship with Divine Presence requires constant renewal. In solitude, I can expand in breadth and depth to survive in life. The pause in solitude is a return to center.” Merton goes on to say that the pause is not found so much by looking outside the boundaries of your dwelling, as by staying within. Pausing or the need to stop isn’t something that you hope for in the future, but a deepening in the present. You find it now.
Forgiveness and Acceptance
Another tension which can arise in the pause is resentment. Maria Shriver, I’ve Been Thinking: Reflections, Prayers, and Meditations for a Meaningful Life, tells us that if we are struggling with forgiveness be gentle with yourself as forgiveness is a process and takes time. Shriver defines forgiveness as letting go of resentment, giving up feeling harmed and damaged. I think that is amazing, because we know in our broken hearts “I’ve been wronged, harmed and damaged.” We hold on to, trying to get the other to understand, “what you did me.” In a nut shell that is what we want to let go of; give up. This does not mean that the harm or damage did not happen. You decide to not to keep revisiting the hurtful behavior toward you over and over again; you forgive. You are free of the resentment of the person who caused you harm.
She addresses the power of the pause:
“Pause. Change from criticism and fault finding to understanding and compassion. Pause. Change it from name calling to acceptance and appreciation. Pause. Change from dishonesty to openness and explanation. Pause. Change from screaming to speaking. Pause. Before you pass along something you heard and don’t know if it is absolutely true. Pause. Before you disparage someone’s looks, sexual identity, or intellectual ability.”
Shriver says that she did not invent this “stop everything and pause idea.” Henry David Thoreau went off to Walden Pond. Anne Morrow Lindbergh went to the sea. Buddha, Gandhi, Teresa of Calcutta stopped and withdrew from the activity of their lives to journey within themselves. Acknowledge your goodness. Look at what can be improved and work on it.
Sutras and Sacred Texts
Rammurti Mishra, Yoga Sutras: The Textbook of Yoga Psychology, defines tension or restlessness as the result of anxiety. Humanity lives with some level of anxiety; as it is a part of life. The level of tension is equal to the level of anxiety and restlessness in our mind-body. This tension is described as having two classes.
1) Physical. If physical tension is not treated properly, it transforms into physical bodily symptoms, diseases of organs and systems.
2) Mental. Anxiety produces tension in the mind-body. The physiological disorders produce mental, emotional and physical diseases, depression.
The two tensions are not different, each is easily influenced and transformed and by the other. When out of balance one becomes disconnected from the self/Self. When mind-body is in the state of calm, one reflects the Supreme, One Light of Consciousness.
Patanjali YS 2.47, Sri Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali tells us to lessen the restlessness that we possess in our mind. Meditate on the Infinite and the posture is mastered. The “posture” I interpret as the asana pose, or it can mean “how I hold myself in life”. What is your stand in life? We can find our stand in the quiet pause of the sacred space that we hold for ourselves while practicing restorative asana and or meditating.
Dr. Bill Mahoney, Exquisite Love: Reflections on the spiritual life based on Narada’s Bhakti Sutra, discusses numerous devotional practices in the yogic life.
Narada Bhakti Sutra 76 Bhaktisastrani manananiyani tadbodhakarmani karaniyani
Teachings on Bhakti should be reflected on; practices that awaken it should be undertaken.
During pause, reflection, awakening becomes possible from within. Awakening to your inner wisdom has the ability to dissolve ignorance; like the strike of a match dispels surrounding darkness. Opening the heart, allows for devotion, purpose, and awakening to Oneness in Love, Divinity residing within your very own heart.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna comes to Krishna and says “I am overwhelmed, what shall I do?” Krishna replies, “Be a yogi. Find the beauty.” This practice never ends of deciding to be a yogi and find beauty. The Sanskrit word for text is sastra. Reflection on sacred sastra, Mahoney provides guidance into ways that can deepen, refine, and strengthen a response of Love witnessing the ever-present Divine.
According to Indian thought, yogis can enter into awareness of Divinity through sastra krpa, that is to say, by grace given through the words of sacred texts. What are you doing during this universal pause? Do you trust that grace, goodness, and Love prevail? Are you being a yogi and finding the beauty? If you answered “O well ahh, sometimes,” it is OK. We are human, imperfect, holy beings.
Mahoney says study and reflection are active, not passive. We study the sastra with action, inwardly renewing ourselves, but outwardly living it. We can then effectively make positive changes in how we treat and speak to ourselves and others. The Dali Lama says this more eloquently, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
Ram Das, Be Love Now, The Path of the Heart, “Your work is to practice contentment and surrender.” Practicing peace is a yoga practice too. So simple, so clear, not easy to do when bad times or painful things come up, let yourself be with them as fierce grace. Surrender to the deeper will, not my will buy Thy Will. Inshallah. Inshallah is the phrase commonly used by Muslims and Christian Arabs. Inshallah refers to events that one wants to happen in the future of goodness and hope, and peace. Inshallah.
Tian Dayton, Daily Affirmations for Forgiving and Moving On: Powerful Inspiration for Personal Change, When someone is hurting you, chances are you are also hurting them. When you walk away conscious of your own hurt you become bound in your hurt. Tied up. When you can’t see the other side, you are jailed in your mind of what happened to you. Maturity sees both sides. If I can’t be fair and clear about my part and theirs, I carry the weight of the whole mess!
I conclude with the video from the one of my favorite authors, poets and philosophers, Mark Nepo. During this pandemic I have found myself listening to his podcasts, YouTube posts and reading his book, The Endless Practice: Becoming Who You Were Born to Be He says it all, so much more eloquently than I ever could. Enjoy Nepo’s soulful beauty and wisdom! He is a yogi!
Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya!
Seeing the Self Within: Om Namo Narayanaya
Spiritual Insight: Sat Chid Ekam Brahma
Spiritual Advancement: Ek Ong Kar Sat Nam Siri Wahe Guru
A Few More Books
A Gift from The Sea, Anne Morrow Lindberg
Healing Mantras: Using Sound Affirmations for Personal Power, Creativity and Healing, Thomas Ashley-Farrand
The Bhagavad Gita, Eknath Easwaran
Love Poems from God, Daniel Ladinsky
Beginning Mindfulness: A 10 Week Course, Andrew Weiss
The Psychobiotic Revolution, Cryan, Ph.D and Dinan, Ph. D, M.D
“Know Thyself”. Plato
“Man must touch the spiritual at some point” BKS Iyengar
“The body is my altar, and the postures are the prayers” BKS Iyengar
“If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred” Walt Whitman
“Practice is absolutely necessary” Swami Vivekananda
“Too many people, too many demands, too much to do; competent, busy, hurrying people—-it just isn’t living at all.” Anne Morrow Lindbergh
“The other side of anger, if we experience its emptiness and go through it, is compassion” Charlotte Joko Beck
“Silence is another form of sound” Jane Hollister Wheelwright
“Your heart often knows things before your mind does” Polly Adler
“To the quiet mind all things are possible.” Meister Eckhart
(All of the above quotes can be found in Relax and Renew: Yoga for Stressful Times; Judith Hanson Lasater, Ph. D, PT)
“My heart is restless, until I rest in you, O Lord” Augustine of Hippo
“I go to the sea, to find the singleness of eye, and the purity of my intention” Anne Morrow Lindberg
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Mahatma Gandhi
Restorative Yoga Poses
Consider blending in a few restorative yoga poses in your class sequence. A restorative pose creates a natural pause, for the sound of chimes or singing bowl, a space for dharma, or just pure silence.
Salamba Setu Bandhasana, Bridge Pose
Variation 1 : Simple 1-3 blanket backbend
The benefits of restorative backbends will open up the front body, lungs, heart, chest, all organs. Brain waves are slowed, calm. Aids lower back from sitting all day. Variations of this pose is to take 1-3 folded blankets, stack them on top of each other. Place this square of blankets on top of your mat. Lie on the blankets to support the bottom tips of the shoulder blades, the “inferior angle of the scapulae” should be placed along the firm edge of the blanket to open the chest. Bend the knees, place the soles of the feet on the floor. Let the blankets, props do the work. The heart opens and awareness shifts stay 2-5minutes.
Variation 2: Block Placed Under the Sacrum:
Bend the knees, lift the hips and place block at the center of the sacrum, lower body on to the block. Keep knees bent, rest and instruct yogis to follow the breath. Stay 2-5 minutes.
Salamba Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, Supported Shoulder Stand
With the block under the sacrum, incorporate an inversion by taking the legs from knees bent to extending the legs up over the hip sockets, with flexed feet. Guide the yogi into what sensations they are feeling inwardly in the body? Benefits, brings energy down from an active mind. Assists in symmetry and flexibility of the hips. Stay 1 minute.
Viparita Karani, Legs Up the Wall
Bring yogis to the wall. Use 2 folded blankets. One blanket to place underneath the skull and the other to place underneath the hips. Instruct yogis to bring legs up the wall. The legs do to not have to be flush up against the wall. Legs can be on a slight angle which flattens out and opens the lower abdomen. This pose stimulates the abdominal organs, relieving anxiety, mild depression, quieting the brain and soothing the mind. This pose can be offered as an alternative to Shavasana or placed in the sequence right before Shavasana. Stay 3-5 minutes.
Shavasana, Corpse Pose
Shavasana is a very powerful pose. The pose of full integration of body, mind, and spirit. You are a being of Oneness, pausing with the power of the Divine within. All duality is dropped! You enter deep relaxation, blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration are lowered and parasympathetic nervous system becomes dominate. Excellent for lowering anxiety and fear.
If you only have one prop to teach with, make it a blanket! Support the head first, blanket underneath the skull. Simple Shavasana. Breathe! Stay a minimum of 5-minutes. If class time permits, give a 10-15-minute gift of Shavasana. The yogis love it.
Variation 1: Basic Relaxation Shavasana
Support the head with a blanket, place a round bolster underneath the knees, arms out to side slightly flexed. Placed rolled blanket underneath the back of the heels, so that feet are supported and floating. Eye pillow over the eyes.
Variation 2: Wrapped Relaxation “Burrito” Pose
Open the blanket completely. While standing up wrap each side of the blanket underneath the armpits. Wrap tightly around the body. Come to the mat and lie down, with head supported on a blanket. Place eye pillow over eyes. This tight wrapping of the body is excellent for relieving anxiety.
Variation 3: Stonehenge Relaxation Pose
Place 2 blocks on the middle height, at the end of the mat; place a bolster on top of the blocks. Lie down with the head supported by a folded blanket, place the back of the knees on the edge of the bolster, letting ankles and feet hang off the bolster. Make sure that the heels are slightly lower than the knees. Place an eye pillow over the eyes. This variation of Shavasana offers all the benefits of Shavasana, plus reduces muscle fatigue from excessive standing, while draining excess fluid from the legs. Delicious.
Krista Tippet OnBeing.org
The Pause Newsletter—The on Being Project
PAUSE Anti-racism is about humility: A message to the newly awakened. https://medium.com/@meeramohangraham/anti-racism-is-about-humility-a-message-to-the-newly-awakened-772f63806fd1
Mark Nepo, Author, Poet, and Philosopher
Numerous podcasts and videos www.marknepo.com
Chakra tuning with singing bowls https://youtu.be/-ar9vsmFhJU
Leading a Meaningful Life: A Conversation with Krista Tippet at Stanford https://youtu.be/6nwQK-y1OaY
Mark Nepo’s Growing in Place 3-5min video “Staying Close to What is Sacred” https://youtu.be/ORZgUVzR4zc
Mark Nepo’s Growing in Place 3-5min video “Ordinary Tasks as Daily Practice” https://youtu.be/ROZwtn_j-yM
Search any and all of Mark’s Nepo’s videos “Growing in Place” He began this series during Quarantine Covid 19
John Lennon, Give Peace a Chance YouTube https://youtu.be/QZJPu7qy0kc
Sting, Inshallah: YouTube video with lyrics YouTube https://youtu.be/NRGKCcf4XUk
Chakra Meditation Balancing: Asian Music Academy
Restorative Yoga Music: Asian Music Academy
Meditation: Oasis of Silence, Buddhism Academy
Imagine: Andy Pask: David Arch
Any 432 Hz Music: Stephen Halpern, Golden Lotus
*** Swan River Yoga believes “All rivers lead to the Ocean”. Swan River Yoga takes its name, after the Swan. In Sanskrit, the word for Swan is Hamsa, the bird of passage. Indian philosophical literature teaches that the Swan, represents the Universal Soul or Supreme Spirit. Please visit the website, www.swanriveryoga.com to see the many offerings addressing the needs of all rivers, diverse, special souls entering the studio. The swan teachers are of many shapes and sizes, ages, colors, genders. All are welcome. Tat Sat. Om Shanti.