ϒOGADEVOTION

by authors Cindy Senarighi and Heidi Green

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Dharana - Seeing the Holy

October 12, 2017

Tags: Heidi, dharana, meditation, Eight Fold Path

" ... in your light we see light"
Psalm 36


Teenagers at my church go on a week-long pilgrimage to a Holy site as part of their discernment process before confirmation. As a youth leader, I learned many practical things about pilgrimage: how to organize it, where to go, how to prepare physically for the long days of walking, etc. But I discovered the most important part of pilgrimage from our wise Faith Formation director (imagine a female Dumbledore in a long india-print skirt, shoulder-length grey hair, and an infectious laugh). After the evening meal, when the group re-gathered after another day of walking, she encouraged conversation to center on this question:

Where did you see the Holy today?

Dharana, the sixth of Patanjali's yoga limbs, is often translated as concentrated focus. It is similar to pilgrimage as it is practiced through specific exercises that direct our attention away from distractions to that which is presently before us. I was introduced to this limb by being encouraged to “watch” my breath. In this practice one observes the sound and sensation of the inhalation, the brief pause between inhalation and exhalation, and follows the exhalation to the pause before inhalation. This breath-watching exercise invites yoga students to focus their attention on the breath and observe bodily sensation. In doing so, the student is gently prompted to become the objective witness or seer, free of judgment--taking in the body's information without the distraction of mental commentary or wanderings.

The importance of focused attention in our yoga practice cannot be overstated: our mindful presence is drawn from the focused attention we bring to the practice. This witness to our own bodies, mind, and breath, connects us to information that help keep us safe and balanced in our asanas, and affirm our being. In the medical world, studies confirm how a regular practice of non judgmental focused attention through yoga and meditation, provides rest and relief to our monkey minds, improves memory, increases productivity by strengthening the brain to be better able to concentrate on the task at hand, and is a skill that can be successfully cultivated for chronic pain management. (more…)

Pratyahara - Remembering Sabbath

July 14, 2017

Tags: Heidi, pratyahara, Eight Fold Path

Namaste! We are back and blogging again after our summer break. Today's post is the fifth in a series started last spring on the Eight Limbs of Yoga as viewed through Yogadevotion's faith-based lens.

He said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while." Mark 6:31

In our efforts to be good, do we forget to be whole? Barbara Brown Taylor poses this question in her book Leaving Church, as she recounts the busy-ness that permeated her life as an Episcopal parish priest. But its a question that applies to all of us, not just overworked clergy. How many of us, in our effort to live a good life, pack our calendars full of activity, and end up feeling drained rather than fulfilled?

Pratyahara, the fifth yoga limb, is a set of tools that help us restore balance in our busy lives. It's the practice of dampening external distractions, including those of our own making, to increase our awareness of God's healing Presence. Pratyahara is often likened to a turtle withdrawing limbs inside of its shell, or of traveling metaphorically to the desert, as Jesus did, to pray and be restored. Pratyahara is arguably one of the most important yoga limbs to practice today in our overstimulated, over-scheduled, 24X7 smart phone dominated culture. (more…)

Pranayama: Connecting to the Spirit

May 10, 2017

Tags: Heidi, pranayama, ruach, spiritus, pneuma, Holy Spirit, Langhana, Brahmana, Eight Fold Path

Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ John 20:21-22

This blog post is the fourth in our series about the eight limbs of yoga, the yoga technology of spiritual growth, outlined in Patanjali’s yoga sutras. The fourth limb of the path is pranayama, breath work.

The yoga word for life force or Spirit is prana, and breath is the vehicle used in yoga practice to encourage the free flow of prana. It is somewhat similar to the eastern idea of qi or chi. The idea of unblocking qi underlies the practice of Tai chi, Qigong, Reiki, Healing Touch, Acupuncture, etc. As in this eastern therapeutic concept of qi, in yoga, the free movement of life force/prana/Spirit is thought to encourage vitality in the body and foster its ability to heal. What distinguishes prana from the energetic concept of qi is the yoga idea that life force, prana, rides on the breath. We can see in this yoga idea of prana our Judeo/Christian concepts of the breath of God and the healing power of the Holy Spirit. Consider the synonymous meaning of the following words as both breath and Spirit: ruach (Hebrew), pneuma (Greek), and spiritus (Latin). (more…)

Asana: Embodied Prayer

May 8, 2017

Tags: Heidi, Eight Fold Path, Patanjali, Asana, Thomas Ryan

“Let the posture of our body incline our hearts to prayer.” Thomas Ryan CSP

This is the third in our series about the eight limbs of yoga. The third limb of yoga is asana or right posture. Hatha yoga is the practice of asana. Hatha means balance. Ha is often translated as sun, while tha may be translated as moon. Together ha-tha or sun-moon suggests the balance of energy that is promoted through the physical movement of asana. Traditionally, hatha yoga is taught as movement that prepares the body for prolonged seated meditation.

There are many hatha yoga styles but most of the hatha yoga practiced in the West today originates from a single teacher-- the yogi Krishnamacharya (1888-1989). Krishnamacharya’s students include: BKS Iyengar, TKV Desikachar, and Pattabhi Jois. Each of these students interpreted Krishnamacharya’s teachings about asana in a slightly different fashion, although they all adhere to yoga practice as described in Patanjali's yoga sutras. (See our blog post Yoga's Eight Limbs: A Spiritual Pathway for more information about the sutras.)

Iyengar Yoga focuses on spinal alignment in yoga shapes, and students tend to use props to achieve that alignment. Ashtanga Yoga, as taught by Pattabhi Jois, focuses on the linked poses or vinyasa of the Sun Salutation series. It tends to be a vigorous practice and many “power” yoga styles trace their lineage back to Jois. Viniyoga, is a therapeutic style of yoga that is taught by the students of TKV Desikachar (Krishnamacharya’s son). Viniyoga uses breath-centered, gentle asana to encourage the flow of prana throughout the body to promote healing. (more…)

The Yamas and Niyamas – Yoga’s Ethical Foundation

April 27, 2017

Tags: Heidi, Yamas, Niyamas, Deborah Adele, Eight Fold Path

“The kingdom of heaven…you don’t die into it; you awaken into it.” Cynthia Bourgeault

The foundation of yoga practice, the first two limb's in Patanjali's eight fold path describing the spiritual technology of yoga, is a set of ethics and ethical practices called the yamas and niyamas. This ethical foundation is what distinguishes yoga as a spiritual practice, something more that just exercise. Often referred to as “jewels” the yamas and niyamas guide not only the physical practice of asana, but also have application for our lives off the yoga mat. There are many similarities between the yamas and niyamas and the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes of our Judeo/Christian faith. But rather than try to equate them, we invite you to explore how your faith beliefs inform and deepen your understanding of this yoga philosophy and visa versa. We have found affirmation and insights into our faith, when we study the yamas and niyamas.

The yamas describe right action or principles. Perhaps the most important yama is that of ahimsa, non violence. Ahimsa encourages us to practice non violence on our yoga mats by listening to our bodies and modifying yoga shapes so as to do no harm. Off the mat, ahimas encourages us to practice the Golden Rule--to do unto others as we would have others do unto us: to practice non violence in our relationships and towards the earth. The next two yama “jewels” are satya or truth, and asteya or nonstealing. Keeping our asana practice grounded in the truth of our own bodily limitations and not comparing ourselves with others, are ways that we practice satya and asteya on the mat. These jewels encourage us to delve deeply into our faith teachings and share what we find. In our relationships, satya and asteya encourage us to communicate truthfully, from our own experience and perspective. (more…)

Yoga's Eight Limbs: A Spiritual Pathway

April 23, 2017

Tags: Heidi, Eight Fold Path, Ashtanga, Patanjali, Limbs

Abide in me...as I in you. John 15

We have been writing off and on this year about yoga’s ethical foundation, the yamas and niyamas, and how they inform our Christian faith. But we thought we had better back up and put them in context. The yamas and niyamas are part of yoga’s eight fold path, or “limbs” of spiritual growth. Over the next few weeks we’ll be writing about each of the limbs and showing how, in total, they form a transformative spiritual path for all, regardless of whether you are churched, unchurched, or a none.

The yoga sage Patanjali, in the 2nd century of the common era, wrote a series of short aphorisms about the practice of yoga, referred to as the yoga sutras. The practice of yoga as a spiritual practice had originated thousands of years earlier, some say as early as 5,000 BCE. Patanjali’s sutras capsulized the wisdom from the ancient yoga practices, but did so in a particularly non-religion specific way, although the sutras clearly anticipate connection with the divine. There was vast religious diversity on the Indian subcontinent when Patanjali wrote the sutras. Clearly he saw yoga as a spiritual discipline benefiting all who practiced it, regardless of individual religious beliefs. (more…)

Components of a Faith-Based Yoga Practice

April 18, 2017

Tags: Heidi, Faith-based yoga, Patanjali, Yoga sutras

I had lunch recently with a busy working mom who had very kind words to say about the book. Specifically, she praised an aspect of the weekly devotions that I hadn’t considered: their brevity. She confided that she and her friends don’t have time to go to an hour-long yoga class, but long for and need the calm and affirmation of faith that she found in the devotions. In response to my friend's needs, here is an outline (below) describing the basic components of a faith-based yoga practice that is easily scaled for practices ranging from as little as ten minutes to an hour or longer. The practice components are derived from the eight limbs of yoga as described in the classic yoga sutras of Patanjali. This one is for you Katie!

Components of a Faith-based Yoga Practice

Be Present
Practice Presence. Give yourself permission to be fully present during your practice. Set a timer if needed. Even if you can only practice for ten minutes, imagine putting your cares and “to do’s” away for a time, perhaps inside of an imaginary cupboard. Assure yourself that you may return to them when you are done practicing.

Breathe
Practice Breath. Encourage your mind to focus by following several cycles of breath. Watch yourself inhale and exhale as you slow, deepen, and lengthen your breath. During practice, whenever your mind starts to wander, gently bring it back to the present by returning your attention to your breath. (more…)

Sacred Silence

April 11, 2017

Tags: Cindy, Easter, Samadhi, Sacred Silence

In my family, we like to create traditions. One tradition my grandchildren especially like is, after seeing a movie or play each person gets uninterrupted time to say what they thought of the production. The only rules are, no judgment on the comments and no interrupting. We played this tradition out after a particularly powerful Passion Play that was so dramatic in its presentation, one felt they were really part of the story. When the time came for me to share my thoughts on the play I was awe-struck, stuck in a kind of sacred silence. I had entered the story as a 21st century believer and it caused me to pause in silence to consider what the story meant.

The Gospel accounts of the Passion of Jesus vary. The one that is considered the most problematic for folks is the Gospel of Mark. Mark’s Gospel ends abruptly with the disciples being told to go and tell the Good News that Jesus lives, but instead they leave in fear and silence, telling no one. I understand this response, I mean, who could believe such an unbelievable story let alone tell others, without seeming crazy. Yet, they did tell the story after pausing in silence, entering the story in their own way. That same invitation to make the story our own is available every Easter but rather than rushing to repeat someone else’s interpretation of the story we can pause in sacred silence to tell the story in our own way. (more…)

Intention and Heat

March 22, 2017

Tags: Heidi, niyama, tapas, discipline, mindfulness, intention

"When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground." Psalm 104:30

It’s spring time in the Midwest: the crocuses are up and the daffodils are blooming. I’ve got a big bare spot in my backyard that needs to be raked and planted with grass seed. It’s time to start thinking about putting my gardening chores back into my daily routine. Years of gardening have taught me a little about myself: 1) that I’m apt to do too much too early, itching to plant before the frost-free “safe” planting date and 2) that in my enthusiasm to be outdoors digging in the dirt I’ll put in too long of a day, and my back will be complaining by evening. So I’ve learned to curb my spring-fever exuberance, and set up a schedule for myself, working a little bit in the garden each day, pacing myself.

I suppose you could say that my daily gardening routine is, shudder, a discipline. I shudder because the word discipline by itself instantly conjures up punitive images of a naughty child being spanked on the bum, or ranks of young military recruits piping in unison, “Yes, Sir!”, to the command of a drill sergeant. The word self-discipline is almost worse, conjuring up images of rigidity, self-absorption, and obsession. But disciplines—and I’m using the word in its non-punitive sense-- can be very, very helpful. In the dog days of summer, mid-to-late July, when everything is wilting in the heat and high humidity (plants and me, both) the last thing I want to be doing is sweating in the dirt, outside, gardening. That’s when my moderate gardening routine really pays off and I’m able to coach myself, “Just put in a half hour in the garden, the roses really do need to be deadheaded”. (more…)

Quick to Listen - The Ethical Practice of Nonattachment

March 21, 2017

Tags: Heidi, nonattachment, aparigrapha, yama

"My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry."
James 1:13


The yoga ethic of aparigrapha—nonattachment or nonpossessiveness is an idea with which I have had to grapple. At first glance this ethic or yama seems to be about materialism, and I’m all about simplifying my life. But it gets harder for me to apply the ethic to my relationships. I love my family and my friends. Why on earth would I ever try to be unattached from them?

Watching my kids grow into independent adults, moving away from home, has helped me understand this yoga ethic. As many empty-nesters know, this can be a very painful, emotional experience for the parent. There is a profound feeling of loss and grief when the formerly dependent child, who you love so much, is no longer physically present in your home. But at the same time you know, deep down, that this was your job as a parent—to nurture and allow your child to grow into their own person, to follow their own path. As your adult child detaches from you, and you from them, you don’t stop loving the child, but rather, in letting go, you acknowledge that child’s inherent right to learn from life's lessons in their own time, trusting them to become the person they were created to be. (more…)