17 October 2011

Forms of yoga - Karma

The definition of Karma yoga often stops at seva (selfless action). I found a deeper explanation in the Bihar School's Yoga Magazine:

"Karma Yoga is a system which develops immunity to the reactive and negative components of an action. This awareness of action leads to a greater ability to manage mental associations in the form of desires, ambitions, ego and other personality complexes. The aim of Karma Yoga is to gain freedom from the bondage of karma which restricts and inhibits dynamic, creative and constructive expression in life... Karma Yoga is a sadhana and not a practice..."

Awareness of my actions and an attempt to understand the meaning behind them make me a better human being. I strive to do this on a daily basis, often multiple times each day. And I still screw up. I can be fearful, jealous, resentful, faithless - the list goes on. Sadhana is a term that can be found in many spiritual disciplines. It is a way of being in the world with the goal often being the sadhana itself (thankfully).  Meher Baba, whose writings have been important to me, stated that:

 "In the spiritual field, it is not possible to maintain an unbridgeable gulf between sadhana and the end sought through it. This gives rise to the fundamental paradox that, in the spiritual field, the practising of a sadhana in itself amounts to a partial participation in the goal... It aims at bringing about a radical change in the quality of life so that it permanently becomes an expression of the Truth in the eternal NOW..."

I like stories and I like boats. So here's a story about a boat.

Many years ago, my former husband built a small, lovely little sailboat on Virginia's Eastern Shore. Every boat he ever built was a highly functional work of art. Once he built a boat from a refrigerator box and it won a race! He was extremely good at budgeting. Anyway, this small wooden boat was passed on to someone who was desirous of it; he let it languish. More years passed until another friend with good intentions put it on a trailer, drove it across the Chesapeake Bay, and gave it a home in Richmond - where it languished once more. Time marched on, and yet another friend, also a boatbuilder, expressed his interest in a wooden boat project. He was very ill and we thought this little boat could perhaps provide a means of healing while at the same time being healed herself. So, she was once more driven across the bay and came to rest back where she started, this time on the banks of Onancock Creek. Unfortunately, Fred never got around to repairing her before he went on what his wife, Maria, described as his final voyage.

Maria, now widowed, was looking at this lost, lonely little boat idly sitting in her yard. (I realize that boats are probably not capable of loneliness, but it looked lonely. John Steinbeck was known to anthropomorphise boats, so I'm in good company here.) Suggestions were made on how best to dispose of this vessel. I couldn't use it, none of the other players were involved anymore, so it continued to sit until a new character appeared on the scene in the form of young boy. And it was springtime. And he wanted, perhaps needed, a boat.

Plans were made for him to have her along with complete access to all tools, paint, screws, glue, clamps, sandpaper and whatever else he needed from Fred's workshop if he promised to fix the boat a get her sailing. This is the result:
Miss Maria in all her newfound glory!
So, karma and sadhana can be witnessed in all facets of our lives ... with all the personalities, dramas, attachments, losses and geography involved, this boat could have gone the way of many small wooden boats and become a planter! Instead, I believe her soul is singing as she experiences her rebirth while smelling marsh mud, listening to kingfishers, and sharing her spirit with one very happy boy.
Free at last


10 October 2011

Forms of Yoga - Jnana

Some of you know that I work at an addictions rehab which is located on 400 acres in rural Hanover County. Today I had the door to my yoga space open for fresh air when a car pulled up and an elderly gentleman got out and said he was looking for a cemetery located on the property. I knew there were some headstones on a knoll behind one of the nearby cornfields, so I offered to walk with him to find it. His name was George; he was doing some genealogical research.

I introduced myself and told him a bit about what I do. He had just come from a Pilates class at the Ashland YMCA and was very interested in yoga. Apparently, he'd also taken some yoga classes at the Y and his comment to me went something like this, What is yoga, really? It seems to me that it's impossible to define because it includes everything - they say that even laughing is yoga. Well, if I laugh too hard my muscles ache so I don't think I'll be doing any of that. He also shared the fact that at 3 p.m. today he would be 80 years old!

We found the graveyard and I helped him by reading some of the names and dates on the headstones as he wrote them on a yellow pad. He was in great shape and told me that a year or so ago he could barely put on his socks! He was thinking he'd have to get one of those "gripper things" and that's why he started doing Pilates. After he left, I started to think - what is yoga and how do we define it for people who are mostly seeing the distilled, modern, Westernized version? I decided to start here.

Swami Vivekananda came to the U.S. in 1893. The story of his visit was recently detailed in The New York Times. Vivekananda is often credited with bringing yoga to the west. He wrote several books, one of which, Jnana Yoga, is available in PDF form. Somewhere there is a recording of John Friend talking about Vivekananda's visit - I believe the recording is called the History of American Yoga. It's worth a listen if you can find it.

In an article from Yoga Magazine (from the Bihar School of Yoga),

Jnana Yoga can be described as the process of converting intellectual knowledge into practical wisdom. It is a discovery of human dharma in relation to nature and the universe. Jnana Yoga is described by tradition as a means to obtain the highest meditative state and inner knowledge.


Jnana literally means knowledge, but in the context of yoga it means the process of meditative awareness which leads to illuminative wisdom. It is not a method by which we try to find rational answers to eternal questions, rather it is a part of meditation leading to self-enquiry and self-realisation. Some of the components of Jnana Yoga are:

not believing but realising
self-awareness leading to self-analysis
experiencing knowledge
realizing the personal nature
developing intuitive wisdom
experiencing inner unity

The science of yoga is vast and there is a wealth of knowledge. As I continue to read and study, I'll be posting on other forms of yoga - some very familiar and some less so. One of the gifts I've received from my years of study is the ability to be relaxed enough to connect with people. That's where I learn the most.

Happy Birthday, George!
This is one cornfield when it was newly planted. It didn't look like this today.