News from the Centre (January 2015)

Happy 2015, everyone! The darkest day has passed and the light is beginning to return. I hope you’ve all enjoyed the various winter holidays (Solstice, Chanukah, Christmas and any others you may celebrate).

One of the traditions at the Centre is our annual winter potluck and gift exchange (aka non-attachment) game. There were 38 people in the circle this year, including 5 children who took an active part in the gift game, with Benjamin being our self-appointed number checker (making sure that the person choosing a gift was next in line).

The pond in winter

The pond in winter

Christmas week was quiet on the land, with most folks going off to visit with their families. Winter is the best time for resident karma yogis to take time off – and it’s also a good time to get projects done because we know it won’t be long before it’s busy here again.

The altar

The altar

Although it’s cold outside (maybe not compared to where you live!), it’s toasty warm in the satsang room, and sastang fills up every week. Each Sunday we raise our voices in praise and celebration. If you’re in the neighbourhood, please join us.

Mark at satsang

Mark at satsang

David, Mark and Christine

David, Mark and Christine in the kitchen

There’s lots of richness in this month’s newsletter. Pratibha continues to share her wisdom in “Ayurveda, Yoga and You: Antidotes to Stress and Anxiety”. This is something we can all use! Pratibha is immersed in both Yoga and Ayurveda, and is a brilliant – and fun – teacher.

The Journey Home” (part of the “Our Centre Community” series) this month features Johanna Peters, who first came here as a karma yogi several years ago, and stayed connected. If you’ve come to the Annual Community Yoga Retreat in the past couple of years, in particular if you’ve come with your children, you will know Johanna as the coordinator of the kids’ program. Perhaps you’ve seen her on Latte Da Stage with her ukelele and a bunch of kids.

We’re introducing a new feature this month: yoga book reviews. Kenzie Patttillo introduces us to two books: “Stretch – the Unlikely Making of a Yoga Dude” by Neal Pollack, and “Warrior Pose – How Yoga (Literally) Saved My Life” by Brad Willis (aka Bhava Ram), stories of present-day seekers. Kenzie is another yogi who came here initially as a karma yogi many years ago before taking YTT, and who is an excellent teacher and writer.

At the beginning of a new year, we often reflect of our lives, and sometimes make new year’s resolutions – which we may or may not follow through on. “Not Taking Things Personally” is an invitation to do some deeper self-reflection, to understand what’s working, what’s not working, and why – and what we can do about it.

Please note that information about the Yoga Service and Study Immersion program, along with application forms, is posted on the Centre’s website. The program runs from May 31 – September 1, 2015. Applications have already begun to come in. Yoga Teacher Training program information and applications are also posted, and registrations have been coming in for some time. The website is a great source of information about everything that goes on here. The Centre’s Facebook page is also full of interesting news, updates and inspiration.

May this new year bring you peace.

Nonviolence in the mind
and unconditional love in the heart
bring eternal peace.

Love,
Sharada

Not taking things personally

babaji-1999As we begin another year, it’s helpful to do some self reflection. What’s going well in your life? Where are you struggling? That’s the first question; the second one can be more challenging. In the part of your life that’s difficult, why are you struggling?

It’s all too easy to blame others for our problems. We’re generally very skilled at that; somebody does or says something we don’t like, and we think that’s why we’re unhappy. Some are more used to blaming themselves: “That was a such a dumb thing to do; I should know better.” The problem with both those approaches is that they don’t work. They keep us stuck in the same old struggles.

We go through life wearing a special pair of “me” lenses through which all our experiences are filtered. Because we’re wearing them, we believe that our experience is true. However, that’s not so. Other people have their own “me” lenses and see things from their perspectives. Anybody wearing “me” glasses is not seeing the truth. It is possible to take these glasses off, but it takes work. First of all, we have to consider that we are probably wearing them.

We live in the imagination of others. When we see a person, we don’t see the reality of that person – we see only our projected desires, which is our imagination. In this way, as long as we have not realized the truth, we all live in the imagination of each other.

We come into this world with built-in tendencies – samskaras – over which we have no control: our genetic pool, our families, the people we meet, the schools we go to, etc. People treat us either with kindness and gentleness or with impatience and irritation, and we may think we’re the cause of their feelings; they may even say so: You make me so angry……. or happy…….(or frustrated or proud or….). Although we may believe it, it’s not true.

In response to some action, someone might feel angry, but the cause of the anger was not what the person did. Anger arose because it’s that person’s habitual or built-in response to stress, often from some past suffering. The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote: “If you knew the secret history of those you would like to punish, you would find a sorrow and suffering enough to disarm your hostility.”

We live in our own dream world, and other people are actors in our dream; they live in their own dream worlds in which we are actors. We don’t really see each other; we see a reflection of ourselves. None of it is personal; taking things personally makes life difficult for us.

A kind of experience accepted by the mind is called pleasure, and when that experience is rejected by the mind it changes to pain. Pleasure and pain are self-created illusions.

Pleasure and pain are nothing but the mind’s acceptance and rejection of experience.

To get out of the ping-pong game of pleasure/pain, we need to develop awareness.

By becoming aware of how desires control our actions, samskaras become thinner and thinner until they are transparent.

Only when we’re able to step out of our self-created dramas – by removing our “me” glasses – can we see the truth. Awareness develops by practice. When we find ourselves caught in one of our traps, we can ask: Is this true? Is this happening to me (that is, is it personal?) or is it just happening? Life happens; the only choice we have is how we respond to it. Each time we step out of a trap and look honestly at our own response, we strengthen the practice of truthfulness and compassion.

Peace in the mind, love and compassion in the heart bring the scattered world into one reality.

Taking things personally makes life difficult for us. Let’s take off our “me” glasses and live in peace, with ourselves and with others.

May we all awaken to the wonder and beauty of our lives.

contributed by Sharada
all quotes in italics are from writings by Baba Hari Dass

Ayurveda, Yoga and You – Antidotes to Stress and Anxiety

chamomile-tea-flickrcc-chiots-run

A cup of chamomile tea can help to relieve stress

We’ve all heard that stress has a wearing effect on the nerves, the emotions, and even on the strength of our immune response. Relationship challenges, job insecurity, climate change, or simply waiting in line at the airport can trigger a stress response, sending debilitating hormones racing through our system. From a medical perspective, stress can trigger anything from allergies and asthma to headaches and indigestion.

Over time, the effect of too much stress can contribute to high cholesterol, ulcers, diabetes, obesity, and heart problems. From an Ayurvedic perspective, stress also disrupts the inner balance of the doshas – vata, pitta, kapha – the three forces that govern our health on a subtle level. Here are a few stress-reducing tips based on yogic and Ayurvedic principles that each of us can include in our daily life.

Abhyanga
Self-massage with sesame oil is a time-tested way of bringing the force of vata into balance. Before you shower in the morning, warm 2-3 tablespoons of sesame oil and rub liberally into the body. Then do your usual morning routine: jal neti, oil pulling, teeth brushing, tongue-scrapping routine as you wait 10-15 minutes for the oil to be absorbed into the skin. Follow this with a nice warm shower that helps to drive the oil deeper into the tissues. The soothing effects of abhyanga will be felt all day long.

Meditation
Meditation gives the mind a rest. Sit in a comfortable meditation posture with your head, neck, and spine aligned. Observe the natural flow of your breath. Then practice meditation as desired, either focusing the mind one-pointedly, or simply observing the flow of thoughts, while holding our attention in the present. Meditation helps us to connect with our true nature as peace or pure consciousness, a place where stress has no place.

Yoga Postures to Relieve Stress
Shoulderstand (sarvangasana), plow pose (halasana), half spinal twist (ardha matsyendrasana), locust pose (shalabhasana), and lion pose (simhasana) are all helpful to access and release any deep chronic stress patterns that may have slipped into our life.

Ayurvedic Herbals
Ayurveda offers a variety of herbal teas in its stress-busting team. Chamomile, of course, but also tulsi (also known as holy basil) and angelica all encourage a relaxed state of mind. Or mix equal amounts of brahmi, bhringaraj, jatamansi, and shanka pushpi. Steep 1/2 teaspoon of this mixture in 2 cups of hot water for 10 minutes. Drink 2 or 3 times throughout the day.

What is contentment?
When all mental demons subside,
then the mind sits in such a peaceful state as if it owns the whole world.
Contentment doesn’t come in a packet from outside;
it develops by accepting life and by working towards our self-development.
-Baba Hari Dass

Manage Your Mind
Be mindful when you become aware of stress slipping in. Notice if the stress you’re feeling is over something you can change, and something you can’t. If you can do something about it, then do it! If there’s nothing you can do, then accept it and move on. When stuck behind a truck waiting to make a left turn, as the traffic is rushing along on your right, there’s nothing much to do take a deep breath and relax! Dr. Lad suggests, “By staying in the present moment, you will fall in love with your life. Then anything that touches you—even stress, anger, anxiety—becomes meditation.”
Book II, verse 33 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras advises: “The mind becomes serene by the cultivation of feelings of love for the happy, compassion for the suffering, delight for the virtuous and indifference for the non-virtuous.” When we cultivate serenity, compassion, delight and indifference, there’s no room in the mind for anxiety and stress!

Emotional Release
Crying is a great stress reliever, especially if you have stored up sadness and grief. As the tears flow, let any unresolved emotions simply roll down your cheeks and out of your life. Laughter is good medicine, too. Even if you are angry or depressed, just begin chanting: ha ha hee hee ho ho. Soon, real laughter will come…and with it, a joyful release of tension all through the body. The practice of ujjayi breathing can also help release our long-held emotions.

Ginger-Baking-Soda Bath
A soothing hot bath is a relaxing way to end a stressful day. Adding one-third cup ginger and one-third cup baking soda, along with a dollop of sesame oil, has additional vata reducing effects. Ginger enhances circulation, while the baking soda helps to alkalinize the system; both help to balance the effects of external stressors. Put on some relaxing kirtan music while you soak. And prepare for a sound sleep.

Restorative Yoga
Practice shavasana (lying on the lap of mother earth pose) for 10-15 minutes each day. Visualize the muscles softening, melting into the floor. Let the breath be full and deep, breathing stress out with every exhalation. Activating the parasympathetic nervous system with the full yogic breath brings us to the resting/digesting state, releasing all the stressors inside and out. When you notice the mind wandering, bring it gently back to the breath. One student said recently that shavasana is like pressing the reset button on a computer; it brings us back to ourselves.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Desiderata

Pratibha Queen Pratibha Queen is a yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner, who attends Salt Spring Center of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. Feel free to email with any questions that arise as you engage in health practices to support your yoga practice: pratibha.que[at]gmail[dot]com.

Photo of chamomile flowers by Chiot’s Run via Flickr Creative Commons license

Our Centre Community: Johanna Peters

The Journey Home

I have a sense, if I look far enough back in my experience, of being a child — of existing before all the seeking began, before all the stories of ‘me and my life’ took hold, and the freedom and wonder inherent in that open not-knowing. It seems to me, that the rest of my life and all the actions I’ve taken, have been an attempt to return to that innocent freedom, and in a big way my discovery of the Salt Spring Centre and its community has supported me on the journey home.

Growing up in Calgary, despite the cold winters, I had a rich array of activities to keep me engaged and connected, including going to the mountains most weekends to take advantage of the snow and learn how to fly down icy slopes on two long, narrow slats.

At Panorama Mountain Village, contemplating the view.

At Panorama Mountain Village, contemplating the view.

I had a lot of wonderful, enriching and sometimes challenging experiences growing up. I learned about music, acting, horse-back riding, writing. I learned about drinking too much, kissing boys and awkward high school parties. I learned a lot about social norms, human behaviour, who I should and shouldn’t be to fit in. But even amidst this rich array of experience and learning, it still felt like there was something missing. Something that was essential to me, that I couldn’t find in all these experiences, as diverse and exciting as they were.

This sense of seeking more and questioning my purpose was particularly strong as I neared the end of high school and felt the upcoming unknown that was life beyond high school. Longing to embark on a journey of self-discovery, but unsure how that might look, I followed the more traditional path, applying to different universities and eventually deciding to move to the west coast and study at the University of Victoria.

Uncovering the wild beauty of BC’s forests.

Uncovering the wild beauty of BC’s forests.

The grace present in that choice, which I was completely unaware of at the time, is so clear to me now.

Life on the west coast opened up my experience in a brand new way. I fell in love with the trees and the ocean, and started to find myself more and more in the peace and beauty of the natural world. My friendships began to take on a more authentic feel and I started meeting people who were asking the same questions I was asking: Who am I? What is the point of all of this? What are we doing here?

Even my studies reflected these questions as I studied eastern religions and learned about teachers like the Buddha, Gandhi, Krishnamurti and even contemporary teachers like Eckhart Tolle. I learned many years later that the professor who referenced all these thinkers lives on Salt Spring island, and I’ve since run into him many times on the Skeena Queen ferry. Go figure.

As I neared the end of a rich and varied university experience, I was faced with another transition point, and this time it was so clear to me that more schooling wasn’t going to help me find the answer to those essential questions that kept following me around. I didn’t know where the answers were going to come from, but I was open to the discovery.

In 2010, grace and a series of serendipitous events led me to the Salt Spring Centre and the karma yoga program.

Arriving at the centre for the first time in the summer of 2010 felt like coming home.

A view of the centre from Blackburn Road.

A view of the centre from Blackburn Road.

Finally, I was in a place where my own search for truth was reflected in the people, land and experiences around me. It seems to me, that past a certain point, our life is really about unbecoming. Like ice melting, the layers of conditioning peel off to reveal the open radiance of that conscious awareness that we are so much connected to as children. That state of being fully awake. As Babaji says, “Dream is real as long as you are asleep. Life is real as long as you are not awakened.”

Taking a lunch break on the mound with Aneeta and Shyam, summer 2010.

Taking a lunch break on the mound with Aneeta and Shyam, summer 2010.

Though I currently find myself living and working in Vancouver, I continue to remain connected to the centre and its community, returning to the land often. My connection to the centre has, and continues to transform my life in profound and surprising ways, as the uncovering that took place there begins to trickle into other areas of my life — work, family, friendships.

I think the greatest miracle of all is in the discovery that the joy and peace that I found to be fundamental to my being while at the centre, can be unveiled as the very basis of our existence in any moment, any experience, any place. It is, if we look close enough, the very fabric of life itself. This discovery has been the centre’s and Babaji’s greatest gift to my life. And I am grateful that it is there to remind me what matters whenever I forget.

Double downward dog with my little cousin. My love of working with kids and sharing yoga with little ones begins...

Double downward dog with my little cousin. My love of working with kids and sharing yoga with little ones begins…

At ‘work’. Making magic potions with some of the kids at the daycare where I work.

At ‘work’. Making magic potions with some of the kids at the daycare where I work.

August 2013 and 2014 I had the privilege of co-ordinating the Kids Program at the Annual Community Yoga Retreat. Here Genevieve guides us in a family yoga class.

August 2013 and 2014 I had the privilege of co-ordinating the Kids Program at the Annual Community Yoga Retreat. Here Genevieve guides us in a family yoga class.

In 2013 I complete a Rainbow Kids Family and Kids Yoga training.

In 2013 I complete a Rainbow Kids Family and Kids Yoga training.

Exploring the beautiful grounds at the Mt. Madonna Centre where I meet Babaji for the first time.

Exploring the beautiful grounds at the Mt. Madonna Centre where I meet Babaji for the first time.

A blessed life. Celebrating a birthday with some of my dear centre family.

A blessed life. Celebrating a birthday with some of my dear centre family.

August 2014, with my parents in Germany where my brother got married.

August 2014, with my parents in Germany where my brother got married.

Enjoying the sweetness of summer.

Enjoying the sweetness of summer.

Book Review: Stretch by Neal Pollack & Warrior Pose by Brad Willis

‘Stretch – The Unlikely Making of a Yoga Dude’ by Neal Pollack
‘Warrior Pose’ – How Yoga (Literally) Saved My Life’ by Brad Willis AKA Bhava Ram

In the last sixteen years, I’ve read almost all the books in the yoga section of each of my local libraries, and I’ve finally had to begin looking further afield for my yoga-related reading fix. This is what I’ve learned: not all yoga books are in the yoga section!

As an aspiring yogi, I’ve often been encouraged to read the lives of saints, and I have! But now I am coming to see the value of reading about the lives of present day seekers, whose experiences often parallel those of my myself, my students and my peers, on this path of yoga. Here I review two books I found in the memoir section of my local library.

Stretch-book-cover
Neal Pollack’s ‘Stretch’ is undoubtedly much lighter fare than Brad Willis’ ‘Warrior Pose’, and treads on much more familiar ground for most western yogis in the 21st century. In his twenties, Pollack experienced great literary success which built up his ego, identity and career around a certain cynicism and self-deprecation that left him reeling when his career nearly imploded because of his own self destructive and egocentric behaviour. The pain of losing one identity and finding a new one – in parenthood and middle age – sent him to yoga.

He started, like many, in a fluorescent-lit gym, on a borrowed mat, in a crowded and bewildering class, but even then knew he’d found something precious: his best self, a self he’d not known since high school, and a self he wanted to be again:

“…(T)he whole concept of finding my best self went against everything for which I stood. It even sounded stupid…Nevertheless I had to put that cynicism aside, at least partially, because I found myself wanting to go deeper into the yoga…In the walk of life, I’d stepped into a big pile of yoga doo, and nothing could get it off my sole. Or my soul”.

Pollock takes the reader on a journey into yoga that is occasionally cringe-worthy, often laugh-out-loud funny, and heartwarming throughout. He is an earnest seeker, and yoga continually meets him where he is at. As he pursues his best self, he is again and again thwarted by his, shall we say, less than best self. As he makes his way through the Ashtanga primary series, he shares with the reader his insights into yoga philosophy, as it relates to his everyday life. He explores the Yoga Sutras, especially the idea of avidya (ignorance of our true nature, leading to suffering) as it relates to sex and bramacharya: “In other words: Have sex, sure, but stop seeing it as a game or a goal. Go about your sexual business ethically, causing as little harm to others as possible.”

His path becomes more interesting when he takes part in a 24 hour Yogathon for charity, which leads to his becoming a writer for Yoga Journal. He covers the Yoga Olympics (“the idea of a yoga competition seems as absurd as the idea of competitive prayer.”), a Yoga Journal Conference, Wanderlust Festival, and interviews many master teachers in their home studios. The description of the tantrum he throws at a Jivamukti studio in New York City nearly brought me to tears of laughter. He bumbles through it all with self-deprecating humility and humour, but also fresh eyes and a desire to glean deeper truths from an often times circus-like atmosphere that, on the surface, seems anathema to the true goals of yoga.

Like many of us, his practice crystalizes when he finds a teacher he truly resonates with and takes pains to study with. There are some beautiful pages of discourse between him and his teacher about the first Yoga Sutra, ‘Yogas citta-vrtti nirodhah’,
which culminates with how best to react when one steps in dog poo, both literally and figuratively. In ‘Stretch’, Neal Pollack carries his practice into all aspects of his life, and in doing so, shares with us his growing insight, knowledge and transformation.

WarriorPose-book-cover

‘Warrior Pose’ is a much more intense journey from darkness to light. Brad Willis was a prominent foreign war correspondent who risked life and limb to report on the treachery and sufferings on the front lines of foreign combat, in hopes that sharing the truth would bring about change and help people. At age 35, he broke his back and left it untreated because he didn’t want to risk his career trajectory. He suffered years of chronic pain, alcohol and substance abuse, until, at age 50, he found himself permanently disabled, with stage four throat cancer and months to live. His family staged an intervention, and, once drug-free, he found himself in an experimental outpatient program called the Pain Centre, which offered holistic therapeutics to manage chronic pain.

The first two thirds of the book chronicle his journeys abroad and his descent into darkness. They are well written, honest, and compelling. Throughout these parts of his story I couldn’t help but notice the seeds of spiritual growth that were planted along the way: witnessing the indomitable spirit and miraculous recovery of people facing profound trauma, loss and injury; the gift of a golden Buddha in a secret shrine in Vietnam; the advice from Father Joe to “find your soul”; and the timely pleading of his son to just “get up Daddy”. These seeds all begin to grow in the fertile soil of yoga practice, and, inevitably, bear fruit.

The final third of the book follows Willis through physical therapy, JinShin Jitzu, and bio feedback, the latter of which has a profound effect on him. “I begin to realize something that never occurred to me before: It’s not just my physical body I have to heal, it’s my thoughts and emotions as well”. Eventually he is allowed to add yoga to his schedule. His mobility is severely limited, so his practice is primarily restorative, but he commits to it fully. He practices whatever he can after hours – reading yoga books, practicing pranayama, meditation, chanting mantras and singing bhajans. He feels he has found a systematic approach to healing body, mind and spirit, and he repeats to himself daily the affirmations “Stand in yoga” and “get up Daddy” to cement his conviction.

When the Pain Centre closes unexpectedly, he returns home and builds a ‘cave’ in which to practice twelve hours a day. He eventually finds a local teacher and studio to support his asana practice. He attends a retreat (unnamed but obviously Mount Madonna Centre) to learn the purification techniques of shatkarma, and returns home to begin many months of rigorous self-purification, in a final bid to cure his cancer within the time he’s been given to live.

Four months into his yoga practice, Brad Willis’ broken back is healed, and his cancer is in remission. He shares profound insight discovered through deep suffering and firm, unwavering commitment to healing himself. Two passages that best describe this follow:

“…my first step into yoga wasn’t at the Pain center …It wasn’t the epiphany when I entered the yoga room…It was nearly four months earlier, on the morning I found my family downstairs and the intervention began. That is when I began to face myself, realized I had lost control of my life, chose to let go of all resistance, heard my inner voice telling me the truth about what I had become…I had no idea this was yoga. But it was.”

“Yoga has taught me that a fundamental principle in life is that energy follows intention. When we create a strong intention and really believe in it, the world magically seeks to support us. People who think positively and have faith in something are vastly more likely to manifest it than those who feel doubtful and negative. It still takes great devotion and hard work, but it always starts with the mind”.

Neal Pollack’s memoir is equal parts hilarious and irreverent, but still informative and life affirming. He traverses the contemporary western yoga landscape and takes us along for the ride. Brad Willis offers a dramatic journey from darkness to light, and documents the transformative potential yoga holds. Both authors expose the true heart of yoga – still beating after all this time.

Kenzie Patillo

Kenzie Pattillo completed her 200 hour YTT at Salt Spring Centre of Yoga in 2002. She is a householder yogi/mama living in North Vancouver, B.C. and presently teaches yin, hatha and flow yoga in her community. En route to completing her 500 hour YTT designation she has recently begun practicing one on one restorative therapeutics.