Tag Archives: sutras

How Making Things Easier Has Made Life Harder

  “Stira Sukham Asanam”.  The pose is steady and comfortable. These few words from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali have been a large influencing factor in how yoga asana is experienced.  As a student and as a teacher we seek to find the balance of effort and ease in a pose, the balance of strength and softness.  Asana specifically means the seat, or seated postures, so the asanas as a whole can be thought of as a way to prepare for sitting in meditation.  I liked the way one teacher explained asana as to, “sit in the seat of the self”.

Being able to sit comfortably for meditation requires a certain steadiness in the body and openness in the hips.  When the body can sit in this way the spine naturally aligns and the ability to breathe deeply is enhanced.  The head gets to rest comfortably over the neck and spine.  The mind can feel clear and alive.

But for all of our efforts in the west to make sitting in chairs comfortable, we have totally lost the plot.  We haven’t made sitting comfortable, we have weakened the very muscles needed to support the body in order to sit.  We have stiffened the muscles and joints.  And thanks to computers (which I happen to be sitting in front of as I type), our heads are  craning forward and the neck is uncomfortable, the shoulders sloping, the chest collapsing.  ouch!

The "easy chair"

The easier we make sitting, the harder it actually becomes.

I think this phenomenon translates into many areas.  I recently read a great book called, “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall.  He investigates the ultra runners who can run 100 mile races over trails and mountains.  His interest began with a simple question, “why does my foot hurt?”  he was experiencing, like so many people, countless injuries from running.  His intrigue led him to find tribes of people who run with hardly any injuries, and hardly any shoes.

His argument, which is highly compelling, is that running injuries began with the invention of the running shoe in the 70’s (thank you, Nike).  The over cushioned heel allows for a heel strike as you run, a completely new concept for running. Before that, the natural way to run would be a mid to forefoot strike.

Nike Shox Turmoil

If the name doesn’t just say it all.  This is the  over cushioned super heel of the Nike running shoe. It quite possibly spurned a whole generation of running injuries by teaching us all to heel strike. Not only that but these shoes weaken the muscles and the structures of the foot so that over time your foot has lost the ability to do what it was designed to do.  Run.

Stira Sukham Asanam.

The pose is firm and comfortable.  Not just comfortable.  A feeling of ease comes from strength and foundation.  It doesn’t really work the other way around.

When we experience discomfort we strengthen and grow.  That is how the body works.  We have to challenge the muscles, tissues, and bones to some extent to build their strength.  The mind has to be challenged to stay sharp as we age.

This was going around facebook earlier in the week and it really rings true:

I will leave you with a video for fun.  Cell phones: The prime example of making life “easier” gone wrong. Communication at your fingertips…blessing or curse?


Being Content with Burning Desire: Santosha and Tapas in Life

Photo courtesy Rene Carrillo

Lately I have been coming back to my study of yoga to fuel my yoga teaching with something more than asana and ujjayi (to this day I still can’t spell this word).  I am incorporating more varied types of pranayama to see their varied effects.  I am also interjecting the thoughts of the Yamas and Niyamas into class to see how they mingle through the flow. I admit that it does sound like I am doing a bit of an experiment.  But really, I think large concepts, or even simple ones,  are best to be offered for contemplation rather than preached.

This week, I have been ruminating on santosha and tapas.  These are two practices to be observed according to Patanjali’s eight-fold path.  Check out a cool depiction of it here by Alison Hinks.  Santosha, simply put, is contentment.  It is the non-striving, non-pushing, non-pulling, “it is what it is”- ness.  It is living with what you have, finding the simple things pleasurable, loving the one your with mentality.  Not always easy, but I can see the freedom in it.

Tapas, on the other hand, translates to “heat”.  It is the fire that burns inside each one of us.  It is the higher purpose, the spiritual desire, the deep zeal and zest we have for life, for yoga, for making the world and ourselves better.  It is the feeling of alive-ness.

Santosha…tapas.  Tapas…santosha.

I think for my entire adult life I have been swinging from one branch of this tree to another.  In western culture we are raised to desire and acquire.  And whether through nature or nurture, I have deep longings  and things that make me come alive, just like most of us.  I also find it ever so liberating to take the given situation and be content with it.  Not just accept it but genuinely find some simple joy in it.  To be content means your are in the present moment, neither looking forward nor back, and that is in fact the only moment in which anything actually happens. It is the here and now.

Perhaps it is impossible to achieve our desires without being contentedly lost in the present moment. The best athletes and artists are in “the zone” during peak performance.  And we all stand in amazement.  Their zone, their flow, is the present moment.  It is really being in it, so much so that time falls away, breath becomes deep and smooth, and the heart beats to a new rhythm.  Malcolm Gladwell talks about this phenomenon in his book, “Blink”.

The thing that makes you come alive will be the vehicle for contentment, not because it leads you to your destination but because it allows you to be lost in the present moment, and one experiences content in the present.  Conversely, being content, being present, will allow you to passionately create, work, live, and breathe.  And in this way I think these two ideas, santosha and tapas, are a positive feedback loop.

As for yoga…Iyengar has a lovely quote, “yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured, and endure what cannot be cured.” Yoga stokes the fire, and it also teaches us to sit, to find the comfortable seat in any situation.

Monday Meditation

“‘When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”

– Patanjali

Photo Courtesy Rene Carrillo

8 Limbs of Yoga Made Easy

This lovely flowchart, made by Alison Hinks, demonstrates the 8 limb path of yoga.  Patanjali laid these steps out in the yoga sutras and thousands of years later we get a handy flowchart.  I think most people work well with visuals.

Asana is clearly the limb we most dwell in, and sometimes with a healthy marriage of pranayama.  I have always found the first two limbs fascinating: the restraints and observances, yamas and niyamas.  They bring up thoughts of discipline, habits, and behaviour.  Soucha, cleanliness, seems to justify my need to declutter. Ahimsa, non violence, I find beautiful and challenging.

As one moves up this tree, each limb seems to be a gateway for the next.  The times I have found pratyahara and dharana to be at my fingertips, have been when my yoga practice is regular and consistent.  In fact, I think the only way to understand yoga is to immerse yourself in it.  Practice often.  I say that as my very own practice is currently inconsistent.  Perhaps a lack of Tapas?  Return to ‘go’.

Pattabhi Jois says, “yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory”.

Time to get back to it.  There are limbs to explore…


When my mind is cluttered and I cannot focus, I look for something to throw out.
A few years back I became a de-clutterer.  De-cluttering the space around me and de-cluttering my body leads to the prize, which is a clean brain.  And what is a clean brain, but one that works efficiently and with acuity.  The idea behind clutter is that everything you have should be useful and should have its own place.  Useful things must be cared for, looked after, kept clean, and put away for next use. A less perfunctory way of explaining it, as I read in the book that first influenced this behavior of mine, Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui, is that one should only keep things that are sacred, thereby making life sacred.  De-cluttering is a method of eliminating the proverbial chaff from the wheat.
Throwing things out makes way for the new.  If something is meaningful, useful, and sacred, then it stays in our life and we care for it.  But the rest is our past, quite literally, and it keeps us locked there, unable to live in the present moment, ready for new ideas, new experiences, and new abundance.  To make life sacred is the true nature of abundance, to feel more gratitude with less stuff.
If you look at the life of hoarders, who by nature are unhappy, you can trace their lives back to a specific moment, event, and year, when their lives essentially stopped and the hoarding began.  As long as they hoard, they will be kept in that moment where time stopped.  There can be no future in this scenario because there is no ability to enter the present moment.
Cleanliness is next to Godliness?
Saucha, the first niyama, or observance, mentioned in Patanjali’s yoga sutras, translates to purity.  Literally this means to clean the body.  We wash off the day after work, we wash off the sweat after exercise and we feel cleaner than we did before, we feel fresh, all the way into our organs and our blood.  New energy is the result of de-cluttering.
The relationship I have with “things” in my life has changed since taking on de-cluttering years back.  I now think long and hard before I purchase something.  I want to know that it will last, that it will work efficiently, that its texture pleases me, and so on.  I have thrown away so many things in my life that I used very little, but spent money on, that now I part with my money far less on material objects.  As Robert Kiyosaki says in Rich Dad Poor Dad, “people turn their cash into trash”.
A life uncluttered is something I strive for, but it did not come naturally.  It is a practice, like many of the best things in life.  It can be exhausting in the beginning, but soon becomes a daily habit.  I encourage you to go out today and find a box, a pile, or a junk drawer, and push the envelope of what you are compelled to throw away or donate to charity.  Enjoy the satisfaction of a life uncluttered.  And see what else gets the opportunity to enter.  Perhaps it will be an experience, or a person, that you otherwise would not have had room for.
Creating Sacred Space With Feng Shui: Learn the Art of Space Clearing and Bring New Energy into Your Life The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali: A New Edition, Translation, and Commentary Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money-That the Poor and the Middle Class Do Not!