News from the Centre – February 2017

Hello everyone,

I hope your winter, wherever you are, is going well. Here on Salt Spring Island, we have had some warmish days, a reminder that spring is around the corner, but it’s not quite here yet. As mentioned in last month’s update, projects are getting done while it’s still quiet here, and the program house is looking clean and bright.

As we move through this winter season, we find ourselves without a Centre Manager. After careful deliberation, Piet Suess has decided to step down from his role as Centre Manager to actively pursue his previous career. The Centre Committee is taking on the role of management in the interim.

We would like to express our heartfelt appreciation to Piet for his vision and passion. Our hope is that he will continue to stay in touch and visit us often. May the road always rise to meet you, Piet. If you would like to send your warm wishes to Piet, you can email him at piet [at] saltspringcentre.com.

Coming up at the Centre

The next big event at the Centre is the celebration of Shivaratri on Saturday, February 25 , the annual ritual honouring Shiva, the god of destruction – the destruction of the primal ignorance of our true nature.

It won’t be long afterward that we’ll be into our 2017 program season. The YSSI (Yoga Service and Study Immersion) program, May 31 – Sept. 1, is a wonderful opportunity for those looking to immerse themselves in the life of a spiritual community for three months. The program offers classes (asana and yoga theory), daily sadhana practices, and the opportunity to contribute to program guests and community in one of the Centre’s departments.

Applications for Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) have been coming in. Amidst the many YTT programs that are available, the Salt Spring Centre’s is unique in that it is a residential, lineage based classical Ashtanga Yoga program that is part of an established yoga community on beautiful Salt Spring Island, taught by teachers who have learned from Baba Hari Dass. You can read more about the program here.

Be part of our working community!

We have a busy program season coming up and would like to offer you the opportunity to come and be part of our team to support weekend programs and rentals. We are creating a database of volunteers who would like to come to the Centre for a weekend to be part of our working community. We’d love to hear from you! What we’ll need is your name, contact information, availability and your skill set. Contact yoga@saltspringcentre.com.

Centre School Update

The Salt Spring Centre School, as always, is a busy place. Here are a couple photos of the kindergarten class tapping a maple tree on the land. The maple sugar was delicious!

Offerings from this month’s Newsletter

Looking back through newsletter postings over the years, I discovered many that I’d like to share again. This piece by Bryan Hill – Utkatanasana – Chair Pose – was first published in this newsletter in 2013, and I’m happy to share it with you again. Brian, a massage therapist and yoga instructor, teaches anatomy as part of our YTT program.

A few of us travelled to Mount Madonna Center this winter for the annual New Year’s Retreat. Of the many inspiring programs, one was an afternoon panel presentation on the subject of the Vastness of Yoga, with several presenters speaking about the path of yoga that most inspires them and brings them joy. Jaya Maxon, a long time student of Babaji’s and resident at MMC, shares with us her reflections on The Vastness of Yoga.

A question in many people’s minds these days is about how to respond when life presents paradigm changing situations that we weren’t expecting. How can we respond in healthy ways when Living with Uncertainty and Instability? Here are some reminders and supports for keeping our balance within the midst of the turmoil of life.

Pratibha has also written about change: Reflections on Birth, Growth, Decay and Death. This is not a depressing subject; this is the natural cycle of life. As we move toward Shivaratri, celebrating the destruction of ignorance, it seems appropriate to reflect on endings and new beginnings. At this moment there is still ice on the pond, but soon the crocuses and daffodils will be poking their heads out of the ground. The cycle of life continues.

With prayers for peace,
Love to you all,
Sharada

Living with Uncertainty and Instability

There is an old Chinese curse that says, “May you live in interesting times.” The current period certainly qualifies as an interesting time. Interesting and challenging. What can we do in the face of uncertainty and instability?

We may go through life thinking we’re finally getting things figured out and we know what to expect. Then something happens that calls into question all we’ve taken for granted. It could be something in our personal life or it could be global. In either case it means things are going to change. I don’t know about you, but my background leads me to assume that change means things are going to get worse rather than better. Is that true? Who knows? It’s just a habit of thinking.

There’s an old story about a poor Chinese farmer who has one horse. One night the horse breaks out of the corral and escapes. The next morning the man’s neighbour comes by and says, “How unfortunate! That’s terrible.” The man says, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”

The next day the horse comes back with a whole herd of wild horses. Again the neighbour shows up and says, “That’s wonderful! What a stroke of luck!” The man again says, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”

The following day when the man’s son is sitting on the back of one of the horses, he gets thrown and his leg gets broken. Of course the neighbour comes back again, saying, “That’s terrible! What bad luck!” The man replies, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”

Shortly after that, conscription officers come by to force the young men in the village to join the army. They take all the able-bodied young men, but of course they don’t take the farmer’s son because of his broken leg. The neighbour says, “How wonderful that they couldn’t take your son because of his broken leg!” You probably know by now what the farmer said. “Maybe yes, maybe no.”

I think of this story frequently when I find myself saying a situation is either good or bad.

The situation you’re facing may be in your personal life – for example, the end of a relationship, a job loss, a scary medical diagnosis -or it could be the state of the country or the world. Whatever it is, what keeps us from falling into despair and depression or reacting with anger?

Anger is a defense mechanism against fear. People who have a lot of fear defend themselves by getting angry. There is only one proven method to remove anger and that is not to defend your ego. It is very hard not to defend your ego. These practices can help: developing positive qualities, being honest with yourself, and meditation.

Remembering to question our thoughts can keep us from spiralling downward. Is what we’re telling ourselves true is is it a habit of thinking? Even if things are difficult, does that mean we can’t deal with it, does it mean it’s going to be difficult forever, does it mean disaster?

There are some very simple actions that can shift our energy. Step outside and go for a walk, do some asanas – move, do something. This allows your energy to shift. The current situation is temporary. This too shall pass.

The Dalai Lama says, “No matter what is going on, never give up. Develop the heart. Too much energy in your country is developing the mind instead of the heart. Be compassionate. Work for peace in your heart and in the world. Work for peace, and again I say never give up. No matter what is happening, no matter what is going on around you, never give up.”

When you are distressed, reach out to others. We need each other. Katagiri Roshi, a Zen teacher says, “In the end we are all children, walking through this strange land between birth and death. None of us knows much. The best we can do is stay close and hold hands.”

Don’t think that you are carrying the whole world. Make it easy, make it play, make it a prayer.

This is life. It includes pleasure, pain, good, bad, happiness, depression, etc. There can’t be day without night. So don’t expect that you or anyone will always be happy and that nothing will go wrong. Stand in the world bravely and face good and bad equally. Life is for that. Try to develop positive qualities as much as you can.

All your prayers will be heard, your meditation will bring peace, your selfless service will remove your discontent, and your devotion to God will fill your heart with divine love.

Contributed by Sharada
All text in italics is from writings by Babaji


Sharada-Portrait-2016 Sharada Filkow, a student of classical ashtanga yoga since the early 70s, is one of the founding members of the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga, where she has lived for many years, serving as a karma yogi, teacher and mentor.


[Rose photo: Creative Commons Zero license]

Reflections on Birth, Growth, Decay, Death

“Birth, growth, decay and death.”

Babaji offered us this phrase on his chalkboard so many times over the years. When we’d ask about human life, when we’d ask about death, when we’d ask about liberation – it appeared often in answering so many questions. Human incarnation, he explained, begins with taking birth in a physical body, proceeds through growth (of the physical body, of the mental capacity, as well as the emotional understanding), continues with the decay process, and finally dies. At that point, the ineffable soul leaves the body. The prana (vital life force) separates, leaving behind only the empty shell, the elements of nature.

In reflecting on Babaji’s terse phrase describing the human life span, I pondered the decay part. ‘Doesn’t the decay part come after death?,’ I wondered. The decay part brought to mind an old saying from my childhood. We used to taunt each other with the chant: “the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms play pinochle on your snout!” The image was of the body decaying after it was buried in the earth.

But on further reflection (and as this body began to age), the realization dawned that actually the decay begins before death, as the body proceeds to decompose itself in preparation for the final separation of body and soul. In Ayurveda, the vata dosha governs this last stage of life, as the body parts begin to wear out, or the inherent weakness of a particular organ becomes problematic. It’s almost as if the body has a built-in process of tearing itself down prior to the release of the life force at death.

When we’re young and growing this human form, there’s little realization that we’re living in a mortal body. Yes, we may see the death of a beloved pet or view a grandparent during the dying process, but somehow we don’t relate it to ourselves, and to the possibility that this body we’re growing will sometime cease to exist.  We’re young, we’re strong, we’re healthy! How could it not be ever thus!!

But after a few decades, we can’t help noticing a new “laugh lines” around the eyes, a few grey hairs sprouting on the head, or a little less stamina while playing basketball. But still there is a reluctance to make the connection with ‘signs of aging.’ In our youth-oriented culture, the assumption is that we’ll be young forever and we don’t want to notice the subtle changes that begin while we’re still young.

And yet, the Dalai Lama has often told us that he meditates on his own death “every day” and recommends for us to do the same. For just as Babaji has also reminded us, ‘birth and death are two ends of the same rope.’ Perhaps he was hinting at the value of being aware that we’ve taken up residence in the body-mind complex that is temporary, is basically on loan to us for a lifetime!

And eventually, we notice the truth spoken by Jambavan, King of the Bears in Babaji’s version of the Ramayana, “You never know which part is going to give out next.” We notice a pain in the hips, a forgetfulness in remembering names, a decrease in sexual libido. We hear ourselves asking, “What did you say?” more often, or experiencing gas and bloating after eating. Many people face a diagnosis of cancer, or mini-strokes. Aging can begin most anywhere, and we’re off to give ourselves to the medical system to help restore function and balance in our life.

And so we begin the adventures in aging – when we learn to live with and in the aging, decaying body. The sense of loss can be keen, and yet most of us opt for living with the losses as long as we can. And with a growing sense of acceptance, the journey can be fascinating, as well as humorous, as we watch and wait to see ‘which part is going to give out next.’

During these dark days of winter, as we celebrate Shiva Ratri, reflections on our span of life seem appropriate somehow. And at the same time, we see that the cycle of life continues. Crocus and daffodil shoots appear through the snow or the mulch; pussy willow buds appear; the weather begins to warm slightly and the icy layer on the pond begins to thin. And we are reminded that the cycle of life does indeed go on, all the elements continuing recycling themselves from one body to the next.

May your celebration of these dark days be filled with light as the cycle of life goes on!

~pratibha


Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen is an Ashtanga Yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner who lives in Santa Cruz. She is a member of DSS who attends Salt Spring Centre of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. All quotes above are from the writings of Baba Hari Dass.


[Fern photo: Creative Commons Zero license]

The Vastness of Yoga

When Sarada invited me to be part of this panel and presented the question she wanted us to consider, What aspect of your sadhana brings you the most joy? I told her I had to think about it. Being up front behind a mic is not my happy place.

Once the seed, in the form of the question, was sown however, the inquiry took me on an immediate journey. First, in me the question transformed into What practice am I most naturally drawn to and affects me in the deepest way…and what do I find myself actually doing? The answer rose up multifaceted….three strands, woven like a rope…service, prayer, meditation. What also rose, simultaneously, was a reflection on why…Why do I do these practices?

I feel an immense gratitude for the profound depth and breadth of yoga philosophy and practice that Babaji has taught. Out of it, I realize there is a simple story that has evolved for me…a fundamental, rather two dimensional, framework upon which I base my personal practice.

It goes something like this….
I believe that as human beings we all embody the full spectrum of the pairs of opposites. I name this: on a scale of 10 – 1…10 being the dark and 1 being the light…or, the journey from darkness to light. Draw or visualize a horizontal line: 10, the dark, on left and 1 the light, on right; everything in between varying shades of dark moving to light gray. Examples of qualities of 10 are hatred, cruelty, violence, greed, agitation; and of 1 are love, compassion, peace, generosity, contentment.

I see us all on the scale, mostly some shade of gray, moving in one direction or the another, or at times back and forth, due to our thoughts and actions and the choices we make. From these we create the patterns that strengthen our behaviors. Yoga calls these prints that we make by our thoughts and actions, samskaras, or tendencies. With them we create our individual world and go on to experience this world.

We only have to observe around us, or listen to the news, to find examples of beings embodying the far ends of the spectrum. I’m assuming all of us here in this room are making an effort to move toward the light. Many in the world are also doing this naturally in their lives. Good people who are generous and kind, not necessarily consciously making an effort to be, but just by their innate tendencies.

And so it goes, all of us creating our worlds and playing in them, experiencing the pairs of opposites – happiness/sadness, joy/grief etc. until at some point something jolts us to a new awakening…a feeling that there must be something more to realize in this life. At this point a new journey begins, also a scale from 10 – 1, from darkness to light, however this journey is more transcendental. Visualize a line this time on a vertical trajectory, bisecting the horizontal line. The bottom representing 10 the darkness, in this case, Ignorance, or identification with the Unreal; 1 at the top representing the light, or Liberation, knowledge of the Real.

On this journey we’re consciously making effort to realize our highest potential, our higher consciousness or divine nature; it’s what we commonly call the spiritual path. This path requires sustained effort, which brings us back to practice and what, as I mentioned, is primarily for me Service, Prayer, Meditation.

SERVICE

As an active person I need to work in the world, however this is a way I believe I can engage my body, mind, senses in action that helps reduce selfishness. It includes effort at practicing the great tenants of Karma Yoga (selfless service): To work without identifying as being the doer. To work without attachment to the fruits of action.

Why do this practice? I believe it reduces the sense of separateness, self interest, and selfishness, which gradually purifies the mind and makes it fit for deeper realization.

PRAYER

For me this has evolved as an internal pranam in the form of expressions of gratitude to the divine in multiple ways that has become a daily practice.

Why? For me it is a way to remember and acknowledge an energy that is greater than myself; it humbles and purifies the heart, making it fit for deeper realization.

MEDITATION

According to the Yoga Sutras, through a series of deepening states of meditation or levels of Samadhi, we directly experience Truth…that we are not the body, we are not the senses, we are not the mind, we are not the intellect, we are not even this individual I sense we so identify with.

Why practice? I believe that our enlightenment, and final liberation, is only known by direct experience and that this is only achieved through silencing the mind (Yogash Chitta Vritti Nirodha – Yoga is the cessation of the thoughts waves in the mind).
______________________
Moving along this vertical trajectory takes Persistent Practice (Abhyasa) which leads to Dispassion (Vairagya). This happens in degrees…persistent practice bringing greater dispassion and knowledge until ultimately we gain complete dispassion for the world (Paravairagya), which leads to complete Liberation (Kaivalya), the union, or merging, of our individual self with the universal Self, the endgame of the journey from darkness to light, or we could say, the final getting over ourselves….literally!

Babaji has said about this final union:
The result of Yoga is the non-dual state. The non-dual state is characterized by the absence of individuality; it can be described as eternal peace, pure love, Self-realization, or Liberation.”
______________________

This is how I’ve framed the journey. It’s not a new story, but one I’ve told in words that work for me. As long as we continue to identify as separate beings, each one of us is a unique path, a unique story…and we’ll each have our own rope, or strands of practice, that work for us or bring us joy. As long as we haven’t realized Yoga, union, we’ll find ourselves somewhere on the scales of 10 – 1 and it’s our choice how we use every moment of our lives on this journey.

There’s a quote from Babaji that sums this up: We have to cultivate positive qualities in our day-to-day life. Life is not coming but going. Every single second is flying away from our lives. If we are not trying to attain peace, then we have lost, are losing and will lose the precious seconds, minutes, hours, days, and years of our lives.

To end, there is a prayer that speaks to this journey…

Asato Mā
असतो मा

Om Asato Mā Sad Gamaya Tamaso Mā Jyotir Gamaya
Mṛityor-Mā-Amṛitaṁ Gamaya
Sarveṣhām Svasti-Bhavatu Sarveṣhām Shānti-Bhavatu
Sarveṣhām Pūrṇaṁ-Bhavatu Sarveṣhām Maṇgalaṁ-Bhavatu
Lokā Samastāḥ Sukhino Bhavantu
Om Śhāntiḥ Śhāntiḥ Śhāntih

Om.
From the unreal lead me to the real.
From darkness lead me to light.
From death lead me to immortality.
May all beings dwell in happiness.
May all beings dwell in peace.
May all beings attain oneness.
May all beings attain auspiciousness.
May happiness be unto the whole world.
Om, peace, peace, peace.


Jaya Maxon began her spiritual journey when she met her teacher Baba Hari Dass in 1974. She has devoted her life to the study of yoga and attempts to bring the teachings to life in practical ways on a day to day basis. She has taught the methods of Ashtanga Yoga and Hatha Yoga for 40 years and over most of those years helped coordinate and evolve the Yoga Teacher Training program at Mount Madonna Center. She believes that life always offers the opportunities for the growth we need, and currently finds herself challenged to deepen her practice of patience, compassion, and contentment as she engages in the work of this stage of her life.


[Sky photo: Creative Commons Zero license]

Asana of the Month: Utkatasana (chair or powerful pose)

Utkatasana, chair or powerful pose

Bryan demonstrates utkatasana

Bryan demonstrates utkatasana

I am always drawn to bring utkatasana into my classes – so much so that some of my students once gave me a thank you card with a stick figure in chair and plank pose (my other favorite posture). This posture is great for bringing more energy to a class. Flowing in and out of chair is very stimulating and strengthening. I find it an excellent way to prepare students for more challenging postures, such as eagle and revolved chair, that stem from utkatasana. I tend to introduce it early in the standing sequences of a class and use it like punctuation between flows that involve a single side of the body.

Benefits

Chair pose works the whole body. There is an opening effect through the shoulders. The legs are strengthened from the ankle right to the hip. The abdominals and back are challenged to maintain correct alignment and simultaneously tone the internal organs. This posture also stimulates circulation and digestion.

Coming into the pose

Begin in tadasana, I like to cue my students to maintain the integrity of the core as they found it in mountain, and bring that into chair pose. With an inhalation bring the arms overhead, with an exhalation bend at the knees. While in the pose draw the shoulder blades down the back, root into the ground evenly with both feet, open the chest and breathe.

Modifications

To make utkatasana more accessible, a wider stance may help. The degree of bend in the knees is also going to change the workload; the greater the bend at the knee the greater the effort to maintain the posture. The arm position can be changed to have the hands supporting on the knees or hips. The next intermediate arm position would be to have the arms parallel to the ground, straight out or perhaps bending at the elbows and placing each hand on the opposite elbow.

About the instructor: Bryan Eknath Hill

Bryan-Hill-thumbBryan began practicing yoga in 2000. His practice grew slowly and continues to evolve in balance with life’s seasons and necessities. He completed his teacher training at the Saltspring Centre of Yoga in 2008. He leads a number of public and corporate yoga classes in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. Bryan is a registered massage therapist and has a long history of teaching physical skills to people of all ages. He brings his knowledge of anatomy to the mat in order to help students understand yoga asana. He emphasizes alignment of the body as well as thoughts, words and deeds.


Read more about Bryan as a member of the SSCY Community, and his experience as a student of the Salt Spring Centre’s Yoga Teacher Training program.

Shivaratri 2017

Shivaratri 2017

Saturday February 25 – Sunday February 26,
Lingam ceremony begins Saturday, 8:30 am – 12:00 pm.
Evening celebration begins Saturday, 6:30 pm – Sunday, 7:00 am

ShivaJoin us at the Centre for an all-night vigil of chanting and prayer.

Shivaratri is an opportunity to affirm your deepest sense of presence. Your deepest sense of authenticity. It is an opportunity to step into your heartiest sense of peace, creativity and warmheartedness towards all of creation. Coming together as a group increases the support and focus as we take up various centring and prayerful exercises which have been passed down through the millennia. Staying up all night with such focus and intention is a great way to sluff off any habits which keep us locked in stale and life denying patterns. Shiva is the archetypal epitome of the Yogis, and as such, many simple but powerful yogic practices will be engaged.

The day begins in the morning with the making of 1008 clay lingams, representing sahasrara chakra, the lotus of a thousand petals. The evening celebration will begin at sundown (6:30 pm) with arati, followed by kirtan to Shiva, mantra yoga, stories and asanas. There will be two pujas, one at midnight and one around 5 am, ending with arati. Then the lingams are carried to the pond and offered into the water.

If you are planning to make lingams and offer at one or both pujas, you must begin your fast by Friday February 24 at 8am and continue through the all-night Shivaratri celebration.

For further information, to register for a room, to sign up for lingam making or offering at either the midnight or 5 am puja, please contact Rajani: rajanirock [at ] me [dot] com or 250-537-9537.

There is no charge, but a donation to cover costs would be appreciated.

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6:30 pm Invocation, Arati, Hanuman Chalisa & Kirtan *
11:00 pm pm Forgiveness Prayers & Asanas
11:30 pm Kirtan
12:00 am Mantra Yajna
1:30 am Kirtan
4:00 am Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations)
4:30 am Kirtan
5:00 am Mahashivaratri Puja Yajna
6:30 am Procession to immerse lingams
7:00 am Breakfast

* Children can be with parents quietly until 9:30 pm. After 9:30 pm no children are to be in the house until morning Arati (about 6:00 am)

You are invited to participate in as much of the evening as you wish. There is no requirement to stay the entire evening.

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We hope you will join us! All are welcome.