Eight Limbs of Yoga: Ashtanga in The Honey Jar

Do you want to know what meditation is?  If you practice yoga, did you know that yoga postures and meditation are inextricably linked? Meditation is the highest form of yoga.  There are common misconceptions around the terms meditation and mindfulness, and dare I say liberation.  This is the definition of meditation from the point of the Yoga Sutras, a classic yogic text.  Ashtanga, which refers to the 8 limbs of yoga (ashta – eight, anga – limbs), is the foundational text for anyone who wants to bring more of the benefits of their yoga practice into daily life.

#1 Yamas – Why are you buying the honey in the first place? Who are you going to feed it to? Will it in some way bring joy or harmony to others? Yamas are the social ethics of yoga. Feed others only what you would want to eat yourself.

#2 Niyamas – Take the time to read the label before you buy the honey; for your own good.  Buy locally to support your unique geography. The main ingredient in the Niyamas is your own true nature flavored with self-discipline (tapas – the flame of purification). Observe the inner self and be aware of what you put in your body, mind and spirit.  You are what you eat.

#3 Asana – In order to get that thick, golden honey out of the jar, you may need to stir it around a bit first.  But not so much that the jar breaks. Asana refers to the physical practice of yoga, (what is often mistaken as yoga itself.) Just as the honey dipper moves the viscous liquid with both determination and vigilance, yoga postures are done with alertness and ease. Even if the shape of the glass jar does not change, there is movement on the inside. You are creating stability and freedom in the body that will allow it to sit comfortably in meditation .

#4 Pranayama – Have you noticed how air fills the empty spaces in the honey jar? It is like prana in the body.  The jar represents our body of “matter” as we stabilize it in posture. The prana, or life force energy that fills the body in the form of the breath floods and mobilizes those spaces.  Pranayama (prana -life force, ayama – to extend or draw out) is using awareness and technique to regulate the physical and energetic breath. You are balancing the flow of prana in the body.

#5 Pratyahara – The honey slowly begins to trickle down.  You can hear it, see it, smell it, touch it and maybe even imagine the taste.  This is pratyhara, the beginning stage of meditation, which is often confused with meditation itself.  Our mind is active, and something stimulates the senses; we turn them inward to cultivate the experience.  Think of techniques such as guided imagery, yoga nidra, use of mantra or chanting, and pranayama techniques; or zen-like activities like running or surfing can feel meditative.  But we are still doing.

#6 Dharana and #7 Dhyana – The honey comes out at first in spontaneous drips (dharana) and eventually in an even flow (dhyana).  Both of these limbs are states of being as opposed to doing. The difference between the two is quantity vs. quality.  Dharana gives you small tastes of the bliss of meditation as the mind comes and goes.  In a state of Dhyana, your world is nothing but an even flow of honey and you have let go completely into the sukha (sweetness or joy of life).

#8 Samadhi – The full stream of honey is coming out continuously.  We are no longer aware of this though.  We are the honey (liberation to our Divine being-ness and oneness).

Just as eating local honey brings amazing health benefits to your body, meditation drips sweetness into all aspects of our lives.  It is liquid gold for the mind and spirit. You don’t have to be a bee keeper to make 2019 the year to open the honey jar!

Peace and Light,

Megan

Gardening the Soul

Have you considered going on a spiritual quest?  The short, cold days and holidays season provide a particularly inviting opportunity and energy to explore spirituality. But the problem is we cannot take a spiritual journey because we are spiritual beings having a human experience. What we can do in the dark of winter is garden our soul.

On our human journey, accomplishment and success are measured by our intellectual pursuits that are sustained by what we learn and do in the external world. Make no mistake; how we interact with our outer environment is critical.  But as spiritual beings, we have the innate ability to perceive our outer environment through intuition instead of intellect.  Intuition is sometimes a soft voice inside ourselves, but more often it is a feeling in the body – the heart racing or butterflies in your stomach for example.  These voices and sensations are misread or missed entirely because of the constant stimulation in our outer world. Even though intuition is our essential nature, it needs to be cultivated like a garden through meditation or another practice of inner knowing.  When we purposely get quiet and still, intuition becomes the all powerful weather app for Spirit. Except, it actually predicts correctly because it relies on our internal senses.

In spiritual practices, there is an image that is widely used of the body being the temple of the soul.  I prefer to think of the body as a greenhouse.  Everything we take in with our five senses is a seed that is planted in our greenhouse.  Our words (to ourselves and others) are containers of energetic vibration that we put the seeds in. The enlightened spiritual Self is the gardner who decides what to water and where to make the best use of our Light energy. Spirit gardens from a higher sense of knowing than intellect, even though it may defy reason and logic.  It is the mind that often makes the mistake of providing the wrong seeds. The seeds of the mind can either take us toward or away from our recognition as Spirit. The good news is that even when we unconsciously plant rows of weeds, and no matter how much they take over, the spiritual gardener can step in and pull them to make space for new plantings. 

When you know your stress is at an unhealthy level and things are so overgrown in your greenhouse that they are blocking out the Light, 2 things can happen: 

Option One – the glass on your greenhouse will break; the body will experience anything from a cold to slight physical discomfort to disease. 

Option Two – you can remodel, split the heathy plants, reuse what you want and reseed. Sometimes that includes making changes in relationships, jobs, or moving.  If external changes can’t be made (at least right away), there is the opportunity for climate control within the greenhouse; establish and honor boundaries.  Spirit as the gardner has the right to say “no” to anything that is detrimental to our Being-ness. If visitors to your greenhouse are annoyed by your boundaries, it is because they are the ones who benefit from you not having any.  In recognizing that we are spiritual beings, we can offer unconditional love to others from the heart, but not like what they do or let them seed our mind.  It’s the heart, not the mind or body, that is in tune with our infinite nature. In remembering this we transcend the stories and trauma on the human journey.

When I live from my soul as Spirit, I am empowered to honor the notices the gardener posted in my greenhouse:

Refuse to just cope with things or settle.  Unfortunately, our human system is hardwired for that – coping or settling.  The proof is in our tendency toward addiction and all the drugs created to mask pain, depress emotion, function with disease etc. When I remember I’m a spiritual being, I want more. Joy is the natural state of Spirit, but it doesn’t fall into your lap on the human journey. I’m disciplined and motivated to find happiness. 

Refuse to be a victim. No matter what difficulties I experience, it is only the mind that can take me away from spiritual wholeness; and only if I let it.  Pain is real – physical and emotional – but the mind can make me a victim of that pain or lead me to my true nature as Spirit, where every difficulty, flaw, and failure is an opportunity for growth and transformation.

Refuse to have expectations.  As humans, we need to have desires and goals to guide us.  But Spirit asks that we include a clause that when we ask for something, we understand that we only get it if it is in alignment with the highest good of all.  In yoga, this is referred to as ishavara pranidhana – surrendering to a force greater than ourselves. Failure does not need to cause pain and suffering; it is a flaw of the mind and ego. Spirit does every action for the sake of itself and not for reward.

Refuse to feel alone.  I am never alone when I am in the presence of my higher power.  It also helps to be grateful for and keep contact with my friends in the garden club. 

Peace and Light,

Megan

 

In the Irish tradition, honeysuckle was believed to have power against evil spirits. In other places it’s believed that grown around the doors it will bring good luck. Its clinging nature in the language of flowers symbolizes, ‘we are united in love’.

Honeysuckle or Fairy Trumpets

Meditation Into the Chakras

Why an Audio Meditation on the Chakras

When someone begins to experience their subtle body or energy body, whether it is through an assisted healing modality like acupuncture or reiki, or in a yoga class, skepticism turns to curiosity. I am often asked for recommendations on books about the chakras.  Despite my collection of worthy books by knowledgable writers about chakras, nadis, kundalini, marma points, tantra, etc, personal and professional experience have taught me that meditation is the most creative, authentic way to introduce oneself to, explore, and expand the seven energy centers. Reading books on the chakras without experiential play time is like reading a cook book and never getting the satisfaction of eating any of the recipes. The intellectual knowledge a book provides on the subtle body only finds its power when it is in harmonious relationship with our intuitive perception. I believe intuition is organically accessible through sound healing and meditation.

Mind Body

Unlike when many of the ancient spiritual traditions were developed, we now have a scientific explanation on how the brain works.There is excellent research being done on the benefits of meditation all over the globe (and at our very own Center for Heathy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, Madison). Written words are fodder for the left brain, which intends to intellectualize and rationalize the information that comes through our five senses. Just as the five senses are gates of perception for the mind, the chakras feed the body information about the the world around us by metabolizing energy. To heal all levels of our being, we need to enter the expanded state of consciousness of the right brain. Where the brain goes, energy flows.

“ I maintain that cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest incitement to scientific research” – Albert Einstein

Energy Body

Called Chi, Qi, astral light, Prana, the field, or depicted as a halo as it often was in ancient paintings, all religious and spiritual traditions recognize our bodies as light energy. Spiritual awareness is a transformational process that takes place in this realm. Even in conventional medicine, we see the use of sound and light for both evaluation and treatment of the physical body. When we block experiences from our mind (often unconsciously), we also block the electromagnetic energy flow of the experience. To use a term I don’t particularly care for, energy gets “stuck” in our bodies, causing pain, physical and emotional discomfort and disease. Our bodies naturally attempt to remove these blockages; an example of this is the flow of tears, yet we are taught from a young age not to cry. Sound healing and meditation are safe acceptable ways to release physical and emotional trauma and agitation from the body. They can also help to balance an overreactive energy system.

Disbelievers

In my field, I compassionately excuse cynics. They do not have the ability to believe in something they have not experienced for themselves. Undoubtably, it is not because they can’t. We all have higher states of consciousness available to us. It is our mental conditioning, the gluttony of information flooding our sympathetic nervous systems, and the way in which modern society holds intellect above intuition that prevents us from reaching our energetic potential. Expanding our state of awareness is a matter of accepting our unlimited potential and being still with as few external distractions as possible.

Motivators

This project is for all of my students who have journeyed into their subtle body, perhaps unintentionally in a yoga class or sound healing; you are my instigators. With every awakened encounter you experience, my inner child jumps for joy! We are ALL always healing from something; only the significance and awareness varies. Remember to set your books and phones down and put technique and tradition in the back seat. Study your heart. Love is the universal healer.Thank you to all my teachers in the fields of Yoga, Ayurveda, and the Healing Touch Program for making me see that there is more than one way into the subtle body – and there is no right way. In gratitude to my gifted musical counterpart, Michael, for exploring planet earth with me from the inside out.

Utilize

I value the Western medicine model, but the bio-mechanical paradigm is about curing. Healing occurs separate from curing. It can take place within any level of our being – physical, psychological and spiritual. Start by utilizing this meditation for your own healing. Keep it simple – we are energy and awareness. Enter the subtle body. When you are ready to be your own greatest healer, bring your energy to the level of the heart. Share that with others through a gentle touch or hugs. And never stop wondering, growing and believing we are infinite.

With Love and Light,

Megan

Blessings from the Celtic Solstice

This altar sends out gratitude for the earth that held and fed my ancestors.

It is an invitation to the wind to enter my window as I sleep and fill my lungs with the ancient memories of their resilience.

It calls to the water to nudge me tonight to flow through this lifetime as the generations of my fathers’ did; with the same acceptance the shore offers every unique ripple. Let the current carry my love and integrate the passion of this land with it’s immigrant shores. I am it’s child. My bones remember.

Goddesses of my clan, make yourself known, the way the new moon hides itself in humility and teases the earth with deep darkness. Splendid island, your latitude leaves little time for the earth to cast its shadow tonight. In this eternal light, release the inherited sorrow of my mothers.

If you walked here before me in the oppressive dark of the shortest days and I carry your blood, I celebrate you today in the longest sun. Much of what you had I want. Simplicity. Clarity. Vibrancy. Please honor my request to grow in appreciation of your elemental rituals and respect the omnipresent teacher, nature.

Tomorrow the days get shorter, but your message is clear. I will wake with the generosity of ancestral spirit pulsing through me; grounded in the strength of megalithic stone circles; enchanted in Sacred Presence. Midsummer’s Day, let my lineage lead the way…I am shining.

Beannacht,

Megan

Breaking Through the Self

I celebrate Earth Day coming from the inside out.  Like the hatchling, I break out first.  You may see it as a crack or a hole.

My specialized egg tooth is meditation; well equipped on the inside. Breathing the air deeply I ready myself to break free; the air that is within the egg.  Like the egg tooth itself, all dissolves.

Then I have to peck to break out. This takes consistent effort. Rajas – passion, energy and motion. Not just when my butt is on the cushion or the mat is rolled out; daily with self-love and discipline; striving toward my goal. The yolk that sustains me is tapas – the fire of desire.

Working in circles, using its wings for propulsion and feet to kick, the chick takes rest in between pipping. Permission to spend more time on the inside to strengthen when what is outside is hard. I cannot break out until I land.

Some chicks are preoccupied with the pecking itself…always trying to do, learn, expectations, accumulations, letting busy be a distraction.  Mistaking grace for boredom. Release and allow.

My tendency is to let the shell become armor for the Self. I will not let it harden ever again. Rest and peck the way nature intended. Too much substance breeds self-doubt. Tamas – complete darkness holding and limiting me.  Engage in outer activity. Break that shell.

Be open to the forces coming from the outside. Who breaks into me? Teachers? Loved ones? Difficult neighbors? View them all with a non-rejecting mind. They are here to help me find freedom. Agitations and affirmations coax me out equally. They peck in as I peck out.

My pecking out.  Their pecking in. They lead to the same place – life history, experiences, stories, all that is in my shell. In me, but not me.  I will break out.

Mother Earth supports transformation in spring. This chick will decide for herself when she is ready. My only goal is to break out. The final push, with no urgency to fly.

Love and Light,
Megan

The Heather Tree

There is a pine tree on the golf course across the road where I live. I remember the day it was planted over 35 years ago. I was 9 years old with a new golden retriever puppy and given the grown up responsibly of walking her. I would take her to that tree and let her off the leash to swim in the river while I rested my body on the wobbly trunk. Eventually, the branches made a good perch. This is how life flew though my childhood summers…walking to that tree with my dog and a smile in my heart.

Now I am older with 3 dogs and the wacky Wisconsin seasons test the hearty winter lover in me. Some days the walk is a chore. However, a small miracle occurs at that pine tree.  It is too large to climb, but instinctively, my hand reaches out to touch the trunk; a warm flow of energy goes up my arm to my heart, and I smile unintentionally.

You see, that tree is me.

The once flexible branches, are no longer able to bend on a whim with the wind. Where the outside was once smooth and soft, weathered lines appear on the thickening bark. Yet in the harshest of winters, the roots have been nurtured, growing deep and strong. As the tree grew bigger, it took on more responsibility; providing a warm shelter, restful shade, and happiness for the creatures who come in contact with it. If we could see the rings, we would know the inside has not died or changed; it still radiates with pure childlike love.

In memory of my first 4 legged love, Heather.

Peace, Megan

In Praise of Spider Webs

Mind is the spider;

spinning, spinning, madly spinning.

Recreating the past; restless and poisonous.

A tapestry of turmoil.

Thoughts all connected with one unsubstantiated thread.

I lost my place in the center.

Terrified of heights,

I grip the edge, fearful of falling back down.

So desperate for a satisfying meal,

unable to get beyond the gasping fly.

Too self-absorbed to see the beauty of the whole web.

Be patient. Be still.

Web is an intricately woven Mandala; unique and purposeful.

A single silky strand crosses my forehead,

knocking me conscious.

Hitting me like Newton’s apple as I walk to awaken.

Spinning stops; I reconnect to Self and Source.

Using all eight legs to walk the path of the Eight Limbs,

I crawl back into now.

Namaste, Megan

Insider Journey -New Years Resolution

A day of resolution starts with purification. Awareness to connect to what is healthy and disconnect from what is not. How much of the path is already laid out and what can be manipulated with the mind? Desire leads to that which is changeable. Recognize unnecessary suffering. Draw old patterns out into the air and ignite them with intention. Empowerment to become.

Perception dims to where I see my reflection in others; Not in achievement but the struggles. Fear in Muladhara. Attachment in Svadisthana. Ego in Manipura. Separation and this season build upon the old framework. The false identities of Prakriti; that which is seen – constantly changing. Deep trenches of samskara trip me again.

This morning is a return to the dark where I barely sense that the pilot light is still on. Then it is about the willingness to commit. Again and again. Influence the direction of change starting with Self. There is no prescriptive pill to swallow with water. No bill. It requires determination in personal practice.

Internalize the vibration first in meditation. Heart passionately dances with each level of its being in Purusha; the seer – consciousness unchanging. Ask for an all access pass to the immovable reality; the source of all Light. This is the safe space where the energy used to resolve imbalance can now build the positive force within.

If the soul knows its purpose, who are the people planted that help to bring me to my higher self? My first partnership is with you. I want more of what you have, but this takes full surrender. Be still in seclusion with the resonance of love. The F word is faith.

Today, the journey backtracks to thoughts that form written words. Tomorrow it is a relationship with expansion.

“Love opens up the day, guides us on our way, illuminates the path we are to walk…” – Jai-Jagadeesh

Namaste New Year 2016,

Megan

Application To Be A Yogi

Dear Student,

Thank You for applying for the position of yogi/yogini.  This position is not to be underestimated or taken lightly, but a sense of humor is encouraged.  During your initial yoga internship, you may commit to only one or two class per week. Before you can make a decision to accept a full-time position, you have to show up for yourself.  Eventually, becoming a yogi will require more time in the form of every day mindfulness with family, friends and total strangers.  You may be training for this position while doing things that bring you joy as well as with people who deplete you.

Perhaps you think you are applying for a seasonal position and a 3-6 month commitment is sufficient.  This is accurate if you plan to return to your current position.  However, you cannot place a time restriction on transformation.

Please detach yourself from any outcome. Things happen that we cannot plan for. Do not quit.  Always code your program with the belief that you are capable and deserving.

You are encouraged take your work home with you; a home practice is highly recommended and could include a few postures, meditation, or taking time throughout the day to observe your breath. This will promote self-study, increase productivity and promote happiness. You might even sleep better and like yourself more.

You will need to gain strength, flexibility and balance. These are mental traits. At times, you will be asked to slow down and under-do. You will also be taken outside your comfort zone, dig deep within yourself and stay present for whatever arises.  This is a prescription to reduce your own suffering, be more compassionate toward others, and uplift you from a state of ordinariness.

This position requires you to accept that you are a multi-dimensional being. Yoga is meant to release karmic bonds of human suffering using the Panchamaya Kosha model; there is a unique physical body (Anamaya Kosha), a breath body (Pranamaya Kosha), a mind/senses/emotions layer (Manomaya Kosha), a deeper intellect representing the relationship between self and the universe (Vijnanamaya Kosha) and the even deeper layer of pure, unbound bliss (Anandamaya Kosha). We can get stuck in any of these layers. What on the surface appear to be physical postures will bring about changes to your whole being. Working with any one of the Koshas can ‘unstick’ all layers.

To say this position is in the field of health care is accurate, but understand that you are starting with all the healing tools you need already within you. And while long-term health is important, please find who you are in spiritual terms.

Don’t worry about a dress code.  You will be observing yourself from the inside.  What you may come to see is that you are a spiritual being dressed in a human form.  And the human form can be uncomfortable.  Over time, you will begin to see possibilities in yourself. You will want to change, or so it appears.  But what is really happening is not a change as much as it is a shedding of anything that didn’t fit you to begin with.

There may be tears.  Thank them for carrying the agitated energy out of the body. You are not the first one to wet an eye pillow in savasana.

And know that if you chose not to show up for class, your teacher and co-worker yogi’s miss you and may even worry about you. By coming to class, we extend our own life energy to others.

This position is permanent and you are everyone. The main qualifications are self-love and discipline. Are you ready?

Light and Love,

Megan

Weeding The Inner Garden

Perhaps it was the soaked soil after several days of straight down rainfall that motivated me, but it was the first time in 2 summers that I got into the garden to weed. I used to do some pulling and transplanting in spring then leave things like watering and expansion to Mother Nature. The motto was “only the strong survive”.  In spite of all the years of thoughtful tending, and in a relatively short time, the 16-year-old garden has morphed into a forbidden jungle.  What were clearly marked flagstone pathways have perennials of all sorts growing in the cracks over the stones.  One particularly invasive ground cover strangled out some favorite flowers.  Certain plants that are tall and strong still manage to bloom, but it is officially the “in spite of me” garden.

Squatting in the soft rain with soaked gloves and mosquitos buzzing made me realize how much life is like a garden.  Low maintenance is preferred and something grows even in complete neglect. There are still good seeds in there somewhere, they just get overtaken when we stop working. But there is no such thing as no maintenance. When you can no longer see the path, it is hard to take the next step.

Sometimes we don’t see the work that someone else puts in.  My neighbor has what appears to be several acres of natural, unkept woods. Every spring, he spends hours in the thick of forest floor clearing out garlic mustard and buckthorn. Inner work is like weeding. You need to be alone in a sacred place similar to the garden or woods.  Being in that space encourages transition and growth; yet, you will feel uncomfortable and in the dark at times. And it will seem as if no one else appreciates the amount of effort you put forth.

It is said that yoga therapy is waste removal; substitute ‘weed’ for ‘waste’.  If you pull enough weeds, the light will touch the things that are already planted that you want to develop.  In removing the weeds, you are also clearing space for new seeds to plant themselves…even if it is in the cracks.