Yoga Therapy International News

Fanning the Fires of Faith

Sat, 02/22/2014 - 21:54 -- admin

PatanjaliThe fourth route to Yoga through śraddhā (faith, trust, enthusiasm, interest, motivation), can be fanned though never taught. The more intense the śraddhā, the faster we arrive at our heart’s deepest desires, so fanning the fires of faith should be a priority for teachers, encouraging their students’ transformation.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtra-s (YS) I-21

Tīvra (very high)-samvegānam(speed) āsanna(be there – arrive)

The more śraddhā we have, the faster we will arrive at our goal of samadhi (enlightenment).

Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtra-s (YS) I-22

mdu (low) madhya (medium) adhimātra(high)-tvāt tatō (that)’pi(further) viśea(differentiates)

Śraddhā can be further differentiated by these three levels: low, medium, and high.

Faith is Taboo

The word “faith” immediate triggers ideas of being controlled and manipulated by a belief system that is not based in logic or science. In the West, we left the Dark Ages, the “Age of Faith”, in the 11th century with the early medieval universities, and later with the rebirth of art, culture, and humanism during the Renaissance. This culminated with the Age of Enlightenment/Reason, which questioned the authority of church over state and religion over science. Even though during the postmodern era, philosophers started to question our addiction to science and discursive logic, with its clearly defined subject-object relationships, most of us still revert to a modernist Enlightenment viewpoint that claims reason, logic, and science reign supreme over superstition, faith, and ignorance of the facts. If faith is equated with intellectual laziness and naïveté, why would we want to fan these fires of faith?

The Universe is Friendly

Contemporary metamodernist philosophers such as Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker in Notes on Metamodernism are trying to bridge the gap between reason and faith as well as absolutes and relativism with an informed naïveté. They offer a bridge between the modernist faith in science and the post-modernist mistrust of it. They present a way to believe that life has meaning and purpose without falling back into superstitious belief systems. Chaos is tempered by knowing that there is an intelligence that pervades the whole.

This cultural shift can be seen in rhetoric from politics to sporting events. Barack Obama’s 2008 speech to Democratic Assembly asserted “Yes, we can change.” The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics’ motto for Team Canada was “I believe”. Both point to an optimism that was made mechanistic by the modernists and naïve by the post-modernists. Metamodernism bridges that schism of world views, restoring our faith in a life that often feels uncertain.

Trusting that the Universe is friendly, that our Life has a certain logical flow, and that we are on Earth to learn, can all help us live happier lives that feel safe to embody. In order to move forward in our lives with any goal, we need a good dose of faith. We would not even wake up in the morning if we didn’t have faith that the Sun would come up and shine on us again. To some extent, we need to believe that most things will continue to flow as they did yesterday. We need to believe that things are semi-permanent to survive the constant flux of life events. Depressive realism is a labeled as a psychological abnormality for a reason. We have to have faith and hope to survive our lives, which are constantly challenging us with unforeseen changes.

The Mind is Not as Smart as the Heart

As my monk friend Matthew used to say to me in India, “The mind is just not sharp enough to penetrate reality.” According to the Yoga tradition, practicing being present is the only way to bypass our addiction to thinking that the mind will free us from our suffering. We need to find ways to create space for our Hearts to be heard away from the daily grind of obligations and tasks. With that practice, we will start trusting (śraddhā) the wisdom of our Hearts, our intuition, and our deepest sense of Self. This faith will bring us much more comfort than a harsh intellectualism that refuses to believe in the impossible or the unseen worlds of the mystic.

Believing in your Self and your Life

When we have learnt to trust our Hearts over our heads, we have developed a level of wisdom that cannot be taught but can certainly be encouraged by our teachers and friends. As that trust deepens, the innocence (from Latin “to not harm”) of our presence expands. We start to radiate an authenticity that others can feel. We feel less fear about outcomes and more certainty that Life will provide us with exactly what we need at any given moment. As my Yoga Sūtra-s teacher, DV Sridhar once said to me over 10 years ago, “Live as if everything in your life is perfect and see what happens!” Now that is Faith!

Yoga Sutra Questions What do you believe in? Is your level of faith high, medium or low? Is it enough to motivate you to transform your life into the one your Heart is asking for? If not, how can you fan its fires to inspire such change?

Maggie Reagh, MA in Teaching, E-RYT 500, Certified Yoga Therapist (CYT) conducts private and public Yoga Therapy classes as well as her own 1000-hour Yoga Therapist Diploma program, recently accredited by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT). She regularly teaches Therapeutic Yoga programs at Capilano University where, in addition, she teaches and coordinates the English for Academic Purposes Department. She started her own yogic studies in the Krishnamacharya lineage in 1995 in Vancouver before going to Mysore, India in 2000 with BNS Iyengar. She went on to study with the Desikachars in Chennai, India and the Kraftsows on Maui. She studied for 5 years with Lindsay Whalen, an Iyengar-based Yoga Therapist in Vancouver. She continues her studies in Yoga Therapy, Philosophy, Chanting, and Ayurveda with DV and Radha Sridhar, Viji Vasu, and Dr. Ganesh in Chennai, India.

Trusting The Heart

Sat, 02/15/2014 - 16:57 -- admin

PatanjaliAs we continue to explore the five routes to experiencing Yoga, we open up the fourth pathway to a focussed, stable mind (citta vṛtti nirodhaḥ - see YS I-2) through the door of Trust.

The Five Pathways to Yoga

  1. Abhyāsa– By practicing – (Yoga Sūtra-s) YS I, 12-16
  2. Vairāgya – By detaching - YS I, 12-16
  3. Bhavapratyayo – By birth (naturally born in a state of Yoga) – YS I, 19
  4. Śraddhā – By trusting our Heart - YS I, 20-22
  5. Īśvara pranidhānā - By surrendering to the Highest - YS I, 23

Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtra-s (YS) I-20 śraddhā (trust, faith, enthusiasm, interest, inspiration) virya (energy) smṛti (memory) samādhi (enlightenment) prajña (intuitive knowledge) pūrvaka (before mentioned) itareṣam (other than)

By trusting in our true heart’s desire, we find the energy to move forward, remembering to keep on course towards that enlightened state of intuitive knowing called Yoga.

Trusting our Hearts without Attaching to Outcomes Other than those who are naturally in a state of Yoga by birth, the rest of us must get there through our own efforts (pathways 1-2). Trust (śraddhā) is the motivation behind those efforts to stay on course. It helps us to practice being present and detach from anything distracting us. We must trust (śraddha) in our deepest heart’s desire without attaching to any outcomes because one never knows in life. All we can do is be true to this inner calling without worrying about what it means or how it will manifest. This trust (śraddha) will provide us with the energy (virya) to move forward and will keep reminding (smṛti) us of what our heart is truly calling for even if the desired outcome appears to be impossible.

Taming the Wild Horse Mind In this Chinese New Year of the Horse, the wild horse mind can take us towards many possibilities that seem equally compelling. We need to keep on course to guide that horse towards our deepest heart’s desire. As we saw last fall, it often takes letting go (vairāgyam) of old patterns to let in (abhyāsa) new ones. It often feels safer to hold on to what we know than to step out into something new with no certain outcomes. What fuels us to make those changes?

Enthusiasm – The Fuel of Transformation Where there is interest (śraddhā), there is energy (virya). This enthusiasm (from the Greek “being filled with Spirit”) helps us to remember (smṛti) where we are going and why. When that energy is lacking, ask yourself why. Maybe you are off course. Maybe there is another path which will bring you greater Joy (ānanda), inspiring you to live your life on purpose.

Is it Love or Lust? The Play of the Three Guna-s: Tamas, Rajas, and Sattva Sometimes we feel filled with apathy. We feel uninspired to get out of bed and face the tasks of our day. This is called tamas (heaviness, darkness, laziness). Other times we feel inspired to make a change, but those passions (rajas) are short lived. We fall in lust with a person or an idea, but it doesn’t last. By contrast, when we feel śraddha, we may be filled with a Love that doesn’t die. Something deep within us compels us to act. Our Hearts are running the show, and our heads are along for the ride. Nothing can stop us from reaching our heart’s true desire.

This śraddha (faith, trust) is a sattvic (pure, balanced) quality of mind that naturally arises when we are centred in the Heart and grounded in the body. The first goal of Yoga is to develop this sattvic state of being, freeing us from both debilitating lethargy (tamas) and unsustainable passion (rajas) to rather enjoy a balanced, grounded, pure state of being (sattva). In this mind-body state, we find our deepest Heart’s desire. It fills us with the trust and innocence of sattvic (pure) child, who dares do exactly what she wants with great enthusiasm(śraddha) and energy (viryam), continuously remembering (smrti) to play in the truth of her being (samādhi prajña).

Yoga Sutra Questions What is your Heart calling you to do right now? Do you have the energy to do it? If not, is your Heart just not into it? Are you lacking a particular direction for a fundamental reason? Is it time to change course?

Natural Yogis - Angelic Beings of Light

Sat, 02/08/2014 - 18:11 -- admin

Last fall, we started exploring the first two ways of the experiencing Yoga in our body-minds before uncovering the open Heart (Yoga Sūtra-s I, 18).

PatanjaliThe Five Routes to Experiencing Yoga:
Abhyāsa– By practicing – (Yoga Sūtra-s) YS I, 12-16
Vairāgya – By detaching - YS I, 12-16
Bhavapratyayo – By birth (naturally born in a state of Yoga) – YS I, 19
Śraddhā – By trusting in your goal - YS I, 20-22
Īśvara pranidhānā - By surrendering to the Highest - YS I, 23
This month, we will discover the last three routes to this mystery called Yoga: by birth, by trust, and by surrender. Today, we will delve into the angelic realm of experiencing Yoga by birth and consider the up and down sides of being naturally gifted in any domain.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtra-s (YS) I-19 Bhava(to be)-pratyayo(with an empty mind) videha(angelic)-prakṛti(nature/bodies)-layānām(reincarnation)

There are also angelic beings who reincarnate with empty minds.

Natural Yogis – No Effort Required
Have you ever met someone who seems to radiant Light and kindness with an effortless ease? Does it seem like they are calm and relaxed most of the time even though they do no spiritual practices nor have a history of such practices? If so, they might be a natural yogi, born with an empty mind and open Heart!

Patanjali says there are such deva-s (angelic beings of Light) who don’t have to go through the process of transformation (YS I, 17-18) that the rest of us do. They don’t have to practice Patanjali’s 8-limbed approach (YS II, 29) to Yoga at all. They don’t have to do anything to empty their minds and enter into a state of samadhi (YS I, 18). They are naturally in that state of enlightenment by birth.

These are likely the Buddhist bodhisattva-s (pure=sattvic + minds=buddhi-s) of the Yoga tradition, who achieved enlightenment (samadhi) in a previous life, but have chosen to reincarnate to serve the world’s suffering.

The Upside of Being a Natural Yogi
This sūtra reminds me of a colleague at my University who never does spiritual practices and in fact, says she is an atheist, but is one of the most evolved souls I have ever met. We all so appreciate her because of her calm, loving demeanor with seeming effortlessness and stability. With such stability, you can always count on her to be there for you when the chips are down – a rock in a sometimes stormy world.
When I compare myself to her, I know that it has taken me 20 years of practice to achieve such stability and even now, I still get thrown off course at times by the karmic dumps of life! How can it be? How can she always be so calm and seemingly unfettered by challenging life events? Maybe she was just born that way!

The Downside of Being Naturally Gifted
Then, I am reminded that in order to become a great Yoga teacher, one needs to pass through the fires of transformation personally, not theoretically. Those special individuals who are natural born yogi-s are not always the best Yoga teachers because they haven’t had to make the same efforts as the rest of us have to achieve stability of body, breath, and mind.

In the same way, those who are naturally gifted and good at their jobs often get easily bored. They are always switching careers because they are not being challenged enough. They also get impatient easily because they can’t suffer fools gladly.

The Gift of Experience
The naturally gifted in any area, in fact, are not usually the best teachers. For instance, the best hockey coaches are sometimes those who were only mediocre players in the NHL. A fabulous music teacher might never have made a living as a performing artist at the top of her field.

There is a gift to having learnt through the school of hard knocks and challenging life experiences. We who have learnt the hard way often have much compassion for others who are still in the throes of suffering. We can offer solace based on personal experience to those who are still in the process of transformation. We can become great teachers of how to move from darkness to Light because we ourselves have been in our students’ or friends’ shoes not so long ago.

Yoga Sutra Questions
What do you do for a living? Does it involve something you are naturally gifted in or something that presents some challenges for you to overcome? Does it offer you room to evolve and grow as a person? If not, have you considered changing to a career that does?

Empty Mind – Open Heart

Sat, 11/30/2013 - 15:45 -- admin

An Empty Mind – The Final Transformation In October and November, we explored Yoga Sutra-s (YS) I, 12-16: how to arrive and stay at a place of being centred, focussed, grounded (nirodhah), the precursor to experiencing that state called Yoga.

For the last 2 weeks, we have been exploring the step by step process of transformation (YS I, 17), leading to Self-Mastery (samprajnāta).

This week, in YS I,18, Patanjali tells us that there is something beyond this process of transformation - an empty mind.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtra-s (YS) I-18

Virāma(full stop)-pratyaya(contents of mind) abhyāsa(practice)-pūrvaḥ(previous) samskāra(deep-seated patterns of behaviour)-śeṣaḥ(left behind) anyaḥ(beyond that)

Beyond that previous practice (YS I,17), you will eventually experience an empty mind though you will still retain the essential samskāra-s(behaviours) needed for survival.

Beyond Practice – Form to Formless In YS I, 17, we learned about the steps leading to Self-Mastery (Samprajnāta). In today’s sutra, we move beyond that Mastery to Asamprajnāta. These are two stages of Samādhi (Enlightenment, Self-Realization): Samprajnāta and Asamprajnāta

In the first stage of Enlightenment (Samprajnāta YS I, 17), we are still practicing something. We are focusing our minds on a particular Yoga practice (abhyāsa) be it basic (vitarka YS I, 17), or refined (vicāra YS I, 17). We are still focusing on a form to bring us to the formless.

In the second stage of Enlightenment (Asamprajnāta YS I, 18), we move beyond practicing something. We start to experience an intuitive, spontaneous knowing that is not dependent on the mind but beyond the mind. This is the most refined level of practice (abhyāsa), where all practices cease to become necessary. We rest in that joyful state of knowing that is not based on the mind and its contents.

Beyond the Mind – Intuition In this state of beyond the mind, we start to experience intuition, which is not dependent on logic - the knowing of this, that, these, and those. In this state, we no longer need to concentrate the five cognitive processes of the mind (vrtti-s, YS I,2) to become grounded and centred (nirodhah YS I,2). We spontaneously and effortlessly experience the non-dual (Advaitan) state of Sat Cit Ānanda – Changeless Truth, Pure Awareness, and Endless Joy!

How Intuition Speaks Our intuition speaks to us in many different ways. It comes through special dreams, spontaneous insights, or experiences of synergy, beyond our control. For me, my deepest experience of this, was through a dream. I dreamt that I was at the source of the Ganges in Rishikesh, India. I was flowing down the river at a rapid rate, being flung here and there, with my arms stretched out overhead. At times, a vehicle (a Yoga practice, an idea, a situation, a person?) would come to support me temporarily only to dissolve, one after another. I held onto surf boards and boats of all shapes and sizes until I finally found myself in a paper sailboat, which quickly dissolved out of my reach. After that, I finally surrendered to the Flow of Life, the Ganges. With arms stretched out overhead, I gave up, and continued down with River (Life), without a vehicle, without a practice, and absolutely Free!

Yoga Sūtra Questions What are you holding onto in your life that is holding you back from Freedom? What is your intuition showing you through your dreams, insights, or experiences?

Sūtra Sunday will be on holidays for the rest of December. Happy Holidays filled with spontaneous experiences of Joy!

Joyful Learning Leads to Mastery

Sun, 11/24/2013 - 13:21 -- admin

The Result of Practice & Detachment = Transformation

PatanjaliFollowing from our exploration of YS I, 12-16 in October and November, this week we continue delving into the process of transformation that comes as a result of a committed Yoga practice and cutting away the negative obstacles to that experience of Yoga.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtra-s (YS) I-17

Vitarka (basic) vicāra (refined) ānanda (joy) asmitā (strongly linked)-rūpa (what you want to learn) anugamāt (one follows another/step by step) samprajnātaḥ (deep Self-knowledge/wisdom/mastery)

Motivated by the Joy of learning, we will gradually progress from basic to refined levels of understanding until we attain Self-mastery.

Motivated by Joy, We Learn, We Transform

In order to learn anything, we need to love what we are doing. We need to find that Joy to feed the process of transformation. As a teacher, this is a powerful message. My students will be motivated to practice, to learn, to grow, to transform, if I skillfully provide joyful opportunities for learning. The more joyful the experiences, the more motivated we are to go through the process of transformation. More joy equals more learning!

As a student, this means to keep seeking the joyful nugget that keeps us going, especially when the going gets tough. Transformation is often challenging. There doesn’t seem to be much Joy there at times. But then, you discover the jewel, the gold that was hiding in that challenging experience. Reminding ourselves of those jewels along the way can keep us moving towards mastery.


Deep understanding of anything is a gradual process. What seemed difficult yesterday seems easy today, but then, after we surpass the plateau, something happens. We again see another level of complexity that brings us back to a beginner’s mind.

I often say that you know a student is advanced when they are seeking refinement of the basic knowledge that they have already mastered. As a beginner, we are open to learning. We want to learn it all. At some point, we become an intermediate student, when we think that we know it all, and that there is no more to learn. Then, something happens. We realize that there is still more to learn, that we need to examine the basics again and to explore more deeply. At that point, we become advanced students, who are not learning as much new material, but learning what we already know at deeper levels. We are now moving towards mastery.

Yoga Sūtra Questions What are you learning about yourself right now? Can you find the Joy in this experience to keep learning, to keep transforming?

Transforming Step by Step

Sun, 11/17/2013 - 10:47 -- admin

PatanjaliCommitted Practice In August, I introduced Yoga Sūtra-s (YS) I,1, where we learnt the importance of committing to our practice of Yoga as both a teacher and a student.

How to Get to that State Called Yoga – Centre the Mind In September, we looked at Yoga Sūtra-s (YS) I,2, which tells us how to achieved nirodhaḥ (a centred, grounded mind-body) so that we can experience that state called Yoga beyond the mind-body. In that state, we are comfortably resting in our true natures as awakened Souls or Seers (Draṣţa, YS 1,3).

How to Stay There – Practice and Detach In October, we explored YS I, 12, abhyāsa (letting in new practices) and vairāgyam (letting go of old habits) that are standing in our way of being tannirodhaḥ (strongly centred and grounded). This month, we have learnt how to stay in that grounded state.

The Result of Practice/Detachment - Transformation For the next three weeks, we will be exploring what the transformative process of Yoga looks like over time (YS I, 17-18).

Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtra-s (YS) I-17 Vitarka (basic) vicāra (refined) ānanda (joy) asmitā (strongly linked)-rūpa (what you want to learn) anugamāt (one follows another/step by step) samprajnātaḥ (deep Self-knowledge/wisdom/mastery)

Motivated by the Joy of learning, we will gradually progress from basic to refined levels of understanding until we attain Self-mastery.

Transformation Takes Time As an educator, this YS summarizes the transformative process of mastering anything. We have already committed ourselves to learning something new (our practice – abhyāsa) and have let go of any distractions that have been getting in the way (vairāgyam). As a result of our committed practice, we have started to transform. We have started to understand our-Selves. But even this takes time. We do not achieve mastery overnight. It happens step by step.

Many years ago, my teacher DV Sridhar, pulled me aside and said, “I know you want Enlightenment now. I know you want to be Free of your suffering today. But you have to go through the process of transformation. You can’t expect to get there today. It will take time!”

The other day, I said to my incredible Naturopathic Doctor, Dr. Eric Posen, “Do you think once I get through this layer of healing, that I will be done my major work? You do you think I have gotten down to the root of all my deepest pain?” He wisely replied, “Yes, you are healing deeply, but do you think we are ever really done? You will keep on experiencing suffering and pain. That is part of the life experience. But hopefully, you will get stronger step by step, and more able to face the challenges that Life is giving you with more Grace.”

Over the years, I have gained more patience with myself as I learn my many life lessons. I often say, “I don’t have time for perfectionism anymore.” I have learnt to be less hard on myself with more patience as I learn how to be more authentically who I really am in the world and in my life. I can’t expect to get to mastery over my mind and body overnight. To achieve that Freedom of Spirit I seek, I will have to go through the process, the fires of transformation, step by step.

Yoga Sūtra Question What are you learning about yourself right now? Can you find the patience to go through the process step by step?


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