Exploring Wisdom: Sri Sri on the Eight Limbs of Yoga
In 2015, Art of Living founder and guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar spoke with Philip Goldberg on the importance of the eight limbs of yoga. As relevant as ever, Sri Sri’s wisdom encourages us to consider all aspects of a Yoga practice as a path to greater fulfillment, health, and happiness.
Q: What would you like people to know about Yoga?
Sri Sri: Yoga is like a vast ocean. You can just go for a breeze, or you can go with an oil rig and drill for oil … Yoga offers many things to different people at many different levels–whatever they aspire for: union with the cosmic consciousness, or physical health, mental clarity, emotional stability, spiritual ecstasy — all this is part of yoga.
Q: Does it concern you that people think of Yoga only as asana [the familiar physical postures]?
Sri Sri: Not really, because at that moment that’s what they understand. But once they start doing asana they start seeing there is something beyond that. If interest for meditation gets kindled, then they are on the right track. But if it stops at exercise … it’s not bad, but they will not reach the goal.
Q: When people think of the classic eight limbs of Yoga…
Sri Sri: I knew you would ask about that. Unfortunately, people think the eight limbs are eight steps, one after another. You know, when a baby is born it’s not that one limb develops after another. All the limbs develop simultaneously. The eight limbs of Yoga are so interconnected, if you pull one all the others will come along with it.
Q: Some people think you have to master the yamas and niyamas before you can do the others. [The yamas and niyamas — five behaviors to avoid and five to engage — constitute the first two limbs.]
Sri Sri: The limbs are not sequential, they are all together. The practice of the others contributes to the ability to observe the yamas and niyamas. When we teach meditation in prisons, we see that the moment they have a taste of meditation, their whole thought process and behavior pattern changes. They start on the path of non-violence. They become very truthful, and the tendencies to cheat disappear. So the yamas and niyamas start happening in people’s life just when they begin meditation.
Q: How do your Art of Living programs fit into the eight limbs of classical Yoga?
Sri Sri: Yoga would be incomplete if even one limb is absent from it. All the eight limbs coexist. Our program is the same way. We do some asana, and some pranayama-breathing exercises-and meditation that leads to samadhi [the 8th limb; not a practice but a state of consciousness transcending thought].
This interview first appeared on Huffington Post, and is presented in excerpt.
Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!
The Practice: Why Become a Yoga Teacher?
Considering becoming a yoga teacher?
A desire to become a yoga teacher, in itself, is a blessing. By becoming a yoga teacher, you learn to take proper care of yourself and teach others to take proper care of themselves. It’s a great way to rapidly progress on a spiritual path. You get a better understanding of yourself. Teaching yoga, in its true spirit, is a great service to humanity. It’s also a way to earn some income and support yourself.
Where do you go for yoga teacher training?
There are thousands of yoga training programs available worldwide. The Yoga Scriptures say to “Learn yoga under a master”.
You must ask yourself a few questions: Why do you want to become a yoga teacher? What is it about yoga that interests you the most? Are you interested in just teaching, or also in your own spiritual growth?
If your interest lies only in the physical aspects of yoga, then with a little research, you could choose almost any school of yoga in the world. However, if, in addition to learning the Asanas properly, you also want to understand and experience the true meaning of yoga, be able to impart that experience to your students, and develop a meaningful discipline of yoga for your personal spiritual growth, then you need to be very precise in your selection. The most important question then becomes this: who is the guiding light in that school of yoga?
Drinking from the source
Your mind and spirit are both unknown and unseen. To understand and experience them, you need the guidance of a spiritual master. Just as a dedicated scientist discovers the hidden secrets of the physical realm of our existence, a devout spiritual seeker uncovers many mysteries hidden in the unseen field of our existence. Such enlightened masters are very rare.
Learning yoga from a school in which the guiding source is a living enlightened master is like drinking water from the river at the origin, where it is pure and fresh. The knowledge and practices that come directly from the master are free from polluted interpretations and distortions.
The Sri Sri School of Yoga
At the Sri Sri School of Yoga, you will learn:
- authentic yoga in its purest form
- sequences of Asanas with variations and modifications that are suitable for all levels of yoga students
- principles of creating your own sequences
- anatomy of Asanas
- Asanas for many different physical conditions
- proper practice of Asanas that benefit the mind, body, and spirit
- deep relaxation techniques
- an exploration of the different layers of your existence
- how to make your mind more flexible and strong so it can pass through the seasons of life with skill and a smile
- proper practice of many different pranayamas, and how they influence the different chakras and different dimensions of your mind
- the science of prana, chakras, and bandhas and their relationship with Asanas
- the Sanskrit names and proper pronunciations of Asanas, pranayamas, and badhas
- Yogic kriyas for cleansing the body and calming the mind
- proper meditation practices
- a clear understanding of the wisdom of yoga contained in the yoga scriptures – Patanjali Yoga Sutras, Bhavad Gita, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and more
- how to use yogic wisdom in daily life and how to take yoga beyond the mat
- a basic understanding of Ayurveda and proper nutrition
- the different paths of yoga and their significance
The list goes on – not only will you learn this, but you will experience it all first-hand too. At the Sri Sri School of Yoga, a team of certified, dedicated, and experienced teachers are there to train you to become a certified, knowledgeable, and confident yoga teacher, and to guide and inspire you to discover the yogi in you.
We look forward to welcoming you!
Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!
Articles We Love: A Very Merry December
No matter how you celebrate, this is the time of year when we have endless opportunities to come together to experience love, friendship, connection, generosity, spiritual growth, and peace. Our favourite articles this month will guide you through the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, and help you keep yourself grounded and focused on the true gifts of the season.
Sally Kempton shares her experiences on learning to accept life’s gifts. During the holiday season, we so often focus on expressing generosity, but rarely do we take the opportunity to practice the art and the yoga of receiving.
“Receiving is a yoga in itself—one that demands a high degree of sensitivity, awareness, and even skillfulness. For one thing, we need to recognize that we’re being given a gift—whether it’s a birthday present, a compliment, a teaching, a helpful piece of feedback, a genuine service, a loving gesture, or a blessing from the invisible realms. Second, we need to cultivate enough stillness and openness to take it in. Third, we need to appreciate it, to value it, or, at the very least, to value the giver’s intention. Fourth, we need to feel that we deserve it—that the gift is neither too much, too little, or too out of line with who we are. In fact, the word “receive” comes from the Latin word recipere, which means “to take back.” This implies that what we receive is already ours in the sense that we do, indeed, deserve it, that it completes something within us, or simply that we’ve attracted it by the nature of our being.”
This quick mindfulness practice will help alleviate the stress and pressure that inevitably piles up around the holidays.
“Instead of aiming for perfection and letting every detail cast us into bouts of worry, we can use the holidays to actively appreciate people around us and our good fortune wherever we find it. Even when things fall apart, there’s often more to see. Often, when you let go of hard-and-fast expectations, you open yourself up to more opportunities for connection and joy.”
There are many wonderful things about technology. It connects us and makes our lives easier and more organized, but it also has the effect of taking us out of the moment. Leah Pellegrini shares her thoughts on the benefits of a low-tech holiday.
“The holidays are intended as a cherished time of coming together: joining in revelry, gathering around sacred rituals, and laughing, lounging, and luxuriating with loved ones. As tempting as it is to tune out Uncle Abe’s long-winded stories, or to take a breather from the chaos of full house, when you use technology for a ‘break’ it prevents making the genuine connections (good, bad or indifferent) that comprise the fabric of family relationships.”
Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!
Exploring Wisdom: Is Stress Serving You?
I like to ask people — is stress really working for you in your life? Some people really believe that if they don’t have stress in their lives, they won’t be motivated.
Though sometimes stress might call us to action, if we have too much stress in our system, we’re not able to have the awareness to effectively navigate the ups and downs of our life. When we have tools and techniques that allow us to deal with emotional and physical stress, we are able to live a more dynamic, enthusiastic life.
Lower Stress with the Happiness Program
It’s been 25 years since I participated in my first Happiness Program. What really struck me was feeling that the pressure cooker within myself could finally let off some steam. I was a young mother with small children, and sometimes our children can be instrumental to growing in our practice. They are the best button-pushers in the world. Parenthood is challenging at times, but after the Happiness Program, I found I had such inner strength to draw upon, just through my breathing.
The most powerful result of this program is inner connection — feeling comfortable and natural in my own skin — feeling at home within. When I felt more at home within, I was able to bring that everywhere with me.
You are Enough
So much of society tells us that we’re not enough. That we won’t be complete unless we’re a certain way, unless we purcha
se certain things. The Happiness Program says “Guess what? You have it all already.” It’s there. It’s just waiting to be uncovered. You have ‘garbage day’, which is what I like to call it, and you clean your soul out, and find more joy, more peace, more connection, and naturally, more happiness.
Art of Living is living our life more artfully, more in tune with ourselves, and when we’re in tune on the inside, we bring that harmony and that connection to everything that we encounter — people, places, and things.
by Denise Richardson
Ayurvedic Recipes: No Bake Apple Pecan Pie
Life is about balance. Juggling hectic work schedules, busy families, and life’s occasional twists and turns can make the holidays especially challenging, and finding the proper balance between everything is essential in creating memorable moments and healthy environments.
To that point, food plays an especially important role throughout the holiday season. It provides the backdrop for conversation and the centerpiece for lasting memories. If you are trying to maintain your Ayurvedic principles while creating those food-centric memories, this simple, no-bake apple pecan pie is gluten-free, sugar-free, and sure to be a delicious, Ayurvedic exclamation point to any holiday gathering.
Although the sometimes harsh holiday weather can make in-season ingredients a bit scarce, both apples and pecans are harvested through December, so these basic Ayurvedic ingredients make this dessert an easy, time-saving recipe for your holidays.
Since it’s a no-bake recipe, however, make certain to choose apples you and your guests already enjoy. The almond butter and honey in the filling can provide a slightly gooier, almost caramel-like texture if you’re looking for something a bit more fun. A bit of cardamom can also be added if you like.
No-Bake Pie Crust
- 2 cups pecans
- 10 Medjool dates, pits removed
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- pinch of salt
- dash of cinnamon
- dash of nutmeg
- 6 apples
- 6 medjool dates, pits removed
- 1 lemon, juiced
- pinch of salt (Himalayan is preferred)
- pinch of cinnamon
- 1/4 cup chia seeds
- 2 tablespoons almond butter (optional)
- 1 tablespoon honey (optional)
- dash of cardamom (optional)
- For the crust, start by roasting the pecans. This isn’t an absolute must, so for those that prefer a raw taste and texture, feel free to skip the roasting. Set the pecans aside, and then use an electric blender to macerate the dates. Slowly add the coconut oil and spices and thoroughly mix. Afterward, add the pecans and lightly pulse the mixture three times, enough to break up the pecans and mix well with the dates but not enough to turn the mixture into a butter.
- Remove the crust mix from the blender and press into a pie dish. Find a plate that can completely cover the pie dish and place it over the crust, with the plate facing upwards so it presses into the crust. If time is of the essence, put the covered crust into the freezer for an hour. Otherwise, place it in your refrigerator to properly set before adding the filling.
- Now for the fun part. To make the filling, start by blending the dates on high-speed until they are well mashed. Then, juice your lemon into the dates, making sure to set aside one tablespoon to sprinkle over the finished pie. Blend the lemon juice, spices and optional almond butter and honey until well blended. Now slice your apples and add to the mixture, blending until it starts to look like a very thick applesauce. Next, add the chia seeds and pulse a few times until the mixture is thoroughly blended. Afterwards, pour the mixture into the pie crust, being sure to spread evenly, then cover the pie and allow it to set in your refrigerator for at least four hours.
Of course, aside from being absolutely delicious, this tasty dessert can also help your body release toxins, support a healthy colon, is anti-inflammatory and is also good for your blood, eyes, and skin, all by using apples as the primary ingredient. So go find your favourite apples, break out that blender, and consider yourself better prepared and balanced for this holiday season.
The Practice: Sri Sri on Truth & Non-violence
Of the many qualities we try to practice, two of the most important are truth and non-violence, and these two qualities are deeply linked. Art of Living Guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar speaks on this in his series of commentaries on the Patanjali Yoga Sutras.
Ahimsa = non-violence; Pratishtayam = established in; Tat = his; Aannidhau = presence; Vairatyagaha = violence will be dropped.
“When a person is esablished in non-violence, then violence is dropped in his or her presence.”
If you are established in non-violence, in your very presence violence will be dropped by other creatures. Someone comes to attack you. As soon as they come near you, because your vibrations are totally nonviolent, they drop down. They stop being violent. The contemporary of Buddha, many of you in the West might not have heard his name. His name is Mahaveera. He is the promoter of Jainism, another religion. He emphasizes more on ahimsa. It is said that whenever he walked, twenty kilometers around him, people would drop all violence. The story goes even to that extent and says even the thorns would not prick anybody. The thorns would become soft and they would lie down.
Ahimsa pratishtayam tat sannidhau vaira tyagaha. When you are established in non-violence in your presence, violence drops down in other creatures.
Why is it that when we speak to some people or meet them, why do people become violent or angry at them? Why? This is because they have some seeds in them, vibrations of violence in them. That violence draws violence. So it is very useful to practice ahimsa. It also gives rise to tolerance.
Suppose you are sitting and someone comes and nags you. In your mind, you are angry and think, “Oh, God. I am going to hit this person, squeeze this person”. These type or thoughts arise in you. You do not hit that person. You cannot do it. You do not do it. But watch those thoughts which make you feel like hitting somebody. Why is that violence arising? What is the source of the violence? As you watch the source of violence you will see that violence disappears, dissolves and peace dawns. Yoga brings that inner peace which in turn establishes non-violence. Practice of non-violence is a two way traffic. Ahimsa brings about the union of the mind, peace of mind and when you are peaceful or calm within, you naturally become non-violent. Then the second principle is truth.
Satya = truth; Pratishtayam = established in; Kriya = action; Phala = fruits; Shrayatvam= will follow.
“When you are established in truth then the fruits of action will follow.”
When you become established in truth, your actions become fruitful. Any action you do will become fruitful. Many people do their actions, but their action does not bring about results. There is no truth consciousness inside. When there is truth consciousness inside, when you are established in the truth, the fruit of the action will follow the action immediately. It is the quality of the consciousness, of straight-forwardness. Even if you are telling a lie, you are bold enough to say, “I am telling a lie right now”. You are speaking the truth. When you are telling a lie, your consciousness is solid. It is not straight and forward. It is all wishy washy. There is no strength behind it. Isn’t it? A person who is committed to truth is committed to the presence of the being. For them success comes easily. Not that he will not encounter failure, but he will win. “Satyameva jayate”. The slogan “we trust in God” is written on American dollars. In India it is written “truth alone triumphs”. Truth will win though it may appear not to be winning.
In House: Sage Brody & Heather Bilotta on Dance and Fear
Sage Brody and Heather Bilotta know that we were born to dance. At their recent Shake Your Soul® retreat, they brought inspiration and freedom to their guests in the form of integrative dance, meditation, and mindfulness. We sat down with Sage and Heather for a fun, fast-paced rapid-fire question and answer session about dance, fear, and the Art of Living Retreat Center.
SB: Dance is feeling what moves you in any way, and that could be a micro movement! It could just be my heart pulsing.
HB: I feel soul the most in my body. So soul for me is the sweat after a good dance, the pulse of my heart, my feet on the ground.
SB: Something that comes from deep inside that you may not even know is there – but then suddenly it is!
AoLRC: Lack of inhibition.
SB: Lack of inhibition is trying what might feel scary, and just seeing where it goes…
HB: And feeling the fear, and doing it anyway! I think for us, so much of our dance practice is about making room for the love of it, the joy of it, the sensuality, the groundedness, the spirit, but also making room for the awkwardness of it.
SB: It doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t have to look good, and it doesn’t have to be a specific kind of expression. It’s something that’s fundamentally yours.
HB: Not caring about looking good is so important in the realm of yoga and dance, because we can have so much pressure for our bodies to look a certain way, to have a perfectly pointed toe or ankle, and we want to take dance away from that and back into the human realm, where it’s about spirit and connection.
SB: And as you move, and certainly in a group, connection is so important – to the ground, to spirit, to heart, and just seeing where that goes – not knowing where it’s going to go, and letting it happen.
AoLRC: Sacred dance.
HB: For me, sacred dance is about honoring tradition and those that came before us. Every spiritual and religious tradition has a dance. Shake your Soul is taking all of that, and putting it in the blender, and taking a combination of feeling our bodies and offering what comes from that, while honoring our ancestors as well.
SB: And we love all of the textures of world music – one song could be Balkan, one could be rap, the next song could be African drumming, and we love to explore how to honor all of these traditions and still express ourselves authentically while doing it.
HB: We welcome nerves!
SB: The person who stands on the side and watches for the whole thing is just as welcome to our class as everyone else. You know, nervousness doesn’t really go away. But we honor that resistance or fear.
HB: Just like a meditation practice.
SB: Fear, nervousness, resistance, excitement – they all have a place, and they create a space to exist within and to come forward with what’s real for you.
HB: For me it really happens on a body level. I tend to feel everything very physically. So for me, it’s really about how I can allow my body to hold the sensation happening as I experience emotion, rather than constricting physically against it.
HB: Humans are designed to hear and respond to music, and our job is to help you remember that.
SB: You get to be you while trying on different ways of being and moving that you may not be familiar with, and feeling into that natural place.
HB: It’s like that quote – “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and do that.”
AoLRC: The Art of Living Retreat Center!
SB: There’s this incredible energy at the Center.
HB: This beautiful space, well-maintained with staff and volunteers who were here to serve heart and soul. Seeing an organization living their practice and really moving from the heart – it really makes our job so much easier, and makes us want to come back again and again and spread the word.
AoLRC: Anything else you’d like to add about dance?
HB: For me, there’s a real naturalness to it. When I hear music, the first thing I want to do is move. Letting myself do that feels like a real gift to myself, and then to others when I teach.
SB: And for me, it’s a way to come out of what can be a really busy mind. So many of us live in our heads, and dance is a real invitation to feel our bodies, and to experience an act from that place rather than the habitual way we are in the world.
In House: Sarah McLean on the Power of Attention
This autumn at the Art of Living Retreat Center, Sarah McLean, best-selling author and meditation expert, brought retreat guests through a journey to understanding the value of attention. Attention, as Sarah puts it, is your superpower: the most important ingredient for living a powerful, purposeful, love-filled life. We recently sat down with Sarah to chat about meditation, identity, and love.
AOLRC: What would you say your main message is?
SM: Meditation is your birthright. You don’t have to know a secret language or take on a new religion. Everybody has the capacity and the capability of meditation.
My favourite benefit of meditation is the ability to turn attention inward, dive into the source of our lives, the source of our consciousness, the source of our expression and attention, and to really get to know who we are outside of our roles, responsibilities, worries, plans, histories, relationships – to just know ourselves as the center point of peace that is wise and clear and love.
AOLRC: So, if we were to take ourselves outside of the context of our roles and responsibilities… who are we? Who do we find there?
SM: That’s such a great question. Who am I? Who is this one looking through my eyes? Who are you? You know, I wish I could give you a short answer, but I think that everyone’s journey is to discover the source of who they are. As a meditator, I’m always talking about attention, and bringing that attention back, whether it’s to your breath, to a mantra, or to a physical sensation.
But what is attention? Where does it arise from? What is the source of attention? For me, these are all similar questions to the one we’re asking – who am I? Who is this one who’s paying attention? It’s not just a though, or a personality, but who is it? What I’ve personally come to realize is that my expanded, open attention is a currency. A currency of love.
When I give you attention, it’s a connection and I’m loving you in this way. When you give me attention, you’re loving me. As long as the attention is very expanded, like the aperture of a camera – it’s much different than the contracted attention that can occur when people are stressed, fearful, or trapped in a self-limiting belief.
So, for me… who am I? The answer is that I am love. And who are you? You’re an expression in the same field of love. Everything is.
AOLRC: And how do you feel Ayurveda sets us up for a good meditation practice?
SM: Well, in order to meditate, it’s ideal to be comfortable. Ayurveda is all about preventing stress from accumulating and masking your true nature. When we don’t see ourselves and the world clearly, we’re not comfortable, physically or otherwise.
Getting enough sleep, digesting your food, and living in tune with nature and its rhythms are all important practices. Ayurveda really is a beautiful entry to nourishing your body and mind to be a well-tuned machine. It enhances your awareness. It’s not only about digesting your food well, but about digesting your life, being present for your experiences, being aware of your surroundings, choosing sensory inputs that are nourishing to you.
AOLRC: What came first for you, Ayurveda or meditation?
SM: Well, I was walking with a question, as many people do. I was 26 and working in real estate, and this question kept coming up – what’s next for me? This isn’t it. So I kept thinking about that question, and like anyone who is on a quest, if you’re present – the science, the wonders, the synchronicity started to appear to me.
I was reading about yoga, meditation, herbs, different ways of living in tune with nature, seasonal therapies, massage. And I picked up a book on Ayurveda. I started to get excited, because I’d been interested in all of these practices separately, and Ayurveda encapsulates all of that.
I met someone on the beach, and he asked me “So, what do you really want to do with your life?” And I told him that I was interested in Ayurveda, and believe it or not, his entire family practiced Ayurveda and meditation. He totally lit up when I said it, and it excited me so much that I went and started to read several books by Deepak Chopra.
In the back of his book Perfect Health, it said that if I wanted more information, that I should call this number. So, of course, I called it, and it was the Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center in Lancaster, Massachusetts. I met a lovely man called Ron Pleasant, and his wife Melody Pleasant – aren’t those beautiful names? Ron asked me – “Would you like to come work here?” And, of course, I said yes.
I packed up my car and drove up to Massachusetts. I worked and lived there, immersing myself in the Ayurvedic lifestyle, meeting with vaidyas from India, learning about herbs and Panchakarma, and spending lots of time in meditation.
I learned that meditation supports everything, because it excavates the deepest stresses, even for people who grew up in a difficult environment. Ayurveda, accompanied with meditation, allows for that return to wholeness. For me they’re inseparable.
AOLRC: A lot of people conceive of meditation as something that happens in the head, not the heart. What, in your experience, is the connection between the heart, the mind, love, and meditation?
SM: For me, love is much more than a sentiment. It just is; love is. Meditation is about meeting your mind , meeting the way you think, meeting that, the one who is thinking, and merging the two. When you look deeply into anything, what you find is love.
Whether we’re looking deeply into a flower or deeply into a soul, deeply into a child’s eyes, or deeply into a forest – we always find this field of love that is expressed as a tree, as a child, as a flower, as you, as me.
When you say the word “I”, and point to yourself, you generally point to your heart. You are not pointing to the head. When you point to your heart, this is where the “I” lives: the same presence that is looking through your eyes.
When your awareness expands, you realize that you are that. That is what the mantra Aham Brahmasmi indicates, I am the universe, I am you, you are me, this is that. Everything and everyone (whether you believe it or not) is an expression of love. For me, “that” lives in my heart. I drop my attention to the heart, instead of the head, and walk heart-first into any situation.
AOLRC: What would you like to share with someone just starting on the path?
SM: We’re all on a journey, and it all starts somewhere. I know when people come to my center in Sedona or meet me at a retreat, that many tell me that they’re in transition. They knew that their old way had ended, but they didn’t know what the new way was.
Quite often, people are on a quest of their own. Whether it’s a quest for health, a quest for joy, a quest for love, or a quest for peace. To acknowledge that and to be present is powerful. Mindfulness helps you be open to the ways in which you’re being pointed.
There’s a lot of mystery around meditation. I don’t teach that. I teach techniques. You don’t have to take on a new religion. All meditation requires is three ingredients – your willingness to do it, your gentle, non-judgmental attention, and a focus for your meditation, whether it be something you see, feel, or hear.
I always encourage people to realize that mediation is a practice, a training of your attention. We’re not meditating so we can have a great meditation; we’re meditating so we can have a great life, so we can live with this awareness of Self. The experience of the real Namaste.
AOLRC: And what is that real Namaste for you?
SM: It’s an awareness of the Divine living through me, as me. Whether you call it God, or love, or Source, or the unified field. I bow down to that. That is much wiser than I am in my limited scope of attention. It’s omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal, infinite. Once I recognize that in myself, I can see the same in you. The same in people I don’t like. The same in every living being. The life force of love.
AOLRC: Is there anything else that you’d like to share?
SM: I’ve never met anyone who can’t meditate. Thoughts are natural in meditation. It’s the nature of your mind to think, be creative, to identify and judge, and label. That’s the nature of the mind. It doesn’t mean you’re failing.
My book, The Power of Attention, is all about that. You learn to sustain your ability to pay attention to one or two things at a time. It could be your breath and the mantra. It could be japa practice. There are many ways to do it, but it’s you and that which you’re paying attention to. Subject, object. What happens over time is that the separation between the two dissipates, and all that’s left is pure awareness. Some call that transcendence. And it gets back to the question, what is it that’s looking through your eyes? Turn your attention back to the source of your attention, and you’ll just find love.
AOLRC: So if I’m practicing meditation, but I feel like I’m not capable of focusing my attention, what advice would you give me?
SM: It’s said that we have 60,000 thoughts a day. That’s a thought every 1 to 2 seconds. That’s just the nature of your mind, to think. Attention is something that seems to be scattered – bells, whistles, phones, ads, politics. It seems like we’re at the mercy of what’s the loudest and shiniest. But when we start to value our attention, we recognize that we only have so much of it. We recognize its power, that it is love, that it does enliven that which we do, especially if it’s our open, non-judgmental attention.
Then we recognize that it’s something we have to train. It’s a skill set. We don’t acknowledge that in our school systems, families, or culture.
Being listened to – how do you feel when you’re being listened to? I had a woman in our retreat say that she felt as though her thoughts were more organized when she was being heard. What does it feel like when you’re being listened to, versus when someone keeps checking their phone, looking above your head, or watching the TV over you? There’s a certain feeling that exists or a certain exchange that happens with attention.
It’s not just between you and another human being, but it’s between you and everything in your life. So start to appreciate your attention, start to pay attention to how you pay attention, and what you pay attention to. Meditation is training for that. Too many thoughts? Come on back again and again and again, and start to get a handle on your own attention, because only you can train yourself.
AOLRC: And how was your experience of the Retreat Center?
SM: I feel very supported here. The food is fantastic! The housing is beautiful for everyone, whether people are here for a single room and a spa experience, or in a dorm room. Everybody in the dorm experience loved it. The meeting room was great. The environment was so peaceful, the sunrises and sunsets, the owls in the middle of the night, the crickets. It’s definitely an immersion into nature and I love it. I think it’s so important to have a community that is committed, not to commerce, but to consciousness.
Exploring Wisdom: How to Cultivate Faith
Exploring Wisdom: Chant and Be Happy with Kirtan
Yoga is on fire in the West, and so it kirtan, or yogic chanting. Kirtan combines music and mantra — words and sounds that vibrate at the highest level of awareness. It is an effortless and joyful way to meditate. You simply let the music and mantra do the work for you.
Kirtan is a different kind of concert-going experience. It’s not so much a performance as it is a journey into the Self — through the practice of listening & singing. While singing along at a kirtan event, you can find your own voice and become one voice with those performing.
For those who find seated meditation difficult, a singing meditation can be just the ticket. Music bypasses the thinking mind, the worried mind, and goes straight to that part of the brain where the emotions reside. The musical meditation of kirtan soothes the nervous system, just like a yoga class. Both are easy and fun. Kirtan calms the mind without struggling to concentrate.
Because kirtan has its roots in India, many of the songs are sung in Sanskrit, the language of ancient India, the language of mantra. Most often, a singer (kirtan wallah) leads the chant call-and-response style. She or he sings out a line and the audience sings it back. At other times songs are sung in unison. Kirtan is a bit like singing around a yogic campfire — creating feelings of oneness and joy.
As you sing with each other in a group, you may experience a deep connection with the musicians, the other group members and even yourself. This oneness and heart connection is one of the highest goals of yoga.
When the music stops, the mind is silent and calm. You are now ready for deeper meditation.
Kirtan: A Universal Language
Devotional singing does not belong to any one spiritual path. It is the universal language of Spirit, the song of the soul.
Christians around the world sing Amazing Grace and Amen (AUM-en) choruses. Buddhists chant OM Mani Padme Hoom (OM to the Jewel in the Lotus.) Here the “jewel” is the gem of loving kindness. It is found in the lotus flower of the heart. Those who follow the path of Shiva, the yogi’s yogi, chant OM Namah Shivaya — I honor the highest part of my-Self, the Supreme.
Many Sanskrit chants, like “Asato Ma Sat-ga-ma-ya” (“Lead Us From the Unreal to the Real”) and Lo-kah Sa-mas-tha Suk-hino Bha-van-tu, (“May All Beings Be Happy and Free”) are energized prayers, suitable for any sincere seeker.
Kirtan began in India centuries ago as a spiritual practice. It served as the layman’s way to connect with the Divine. The simple idea behind kirtan was to sing praise to the divine in its many forms.
Although it’s difficult to trace the history of an oral tradition like kirtan, some scholars believe it began as a popular spiritual practice during the bhakti (devotion) movement that began around the year 700 A.D. Devotional singing then spread like wildfire between the 12th and 17th centuries.
“Much of the kirtan explosion in America is inspired by what happened during that later time, and many of the songs we sing are inspired by music composed in that era,” says Russill Paul, author of The Yoga of Sound. “They used kirtan as a way to get in touch with God’s presence and showed everyday people that they could have the same levels of Self-realization and the same depths of mystical experience as a priest performing a sacred ritual or a yogi in deep meditation.”
Today many American kirtans tend to look and feel more like energized pop concerts than spiritual gatherings. Chants have evolved to include undercurrents of soul, rap, hip-hop, electronica, rock ‘n’ roll, and country. The distinctly American influence on traditional kirtan seems to be attracting crowds of people who wouldn’t typically find themselves hooked on yoga’s sacred chants.
In the last ten years, kirtan has become a phenomenon around the world. The new kirtan revolution has been led by Deva Premal, Krishna Das, Donna De Lory, Jai Uttal and many others. Some, like Bhagavan Das and Larissa Stow, sing with a fervor reminiscent of American gospel music.
I attended a kirtan concert in Montreal featuring Deva Premal and Miten and Manose at the Olympia Theater. Imagine 2000 people chanting the Gayatri, starting with OM Bhur Bhuvaha Swaha: OM to the Earth plane, the heavenly plane and beyond! Incredible.
In The Shambhala Guide to Yoga, scholar Georg Feuerstein wrote, “The path of bhakti (devotional) yoga is constant remembrance of the Divine. It is the way of the heart, intended to channel and purify emotions through singing, dancing, meditation, and other activities that can help us merge with the Beloved.”
Benefits of Chanting
Chanting is not only the most fun way to meditate (think kirtan karaoke), but, like laughter yoga, it is also good for your health.
Doctors at Cleveland University reported that the rhythmic tones involved in chanting release a cascade of naturally healing chemicals. Imagine feeling good naturally without a pill. They called it the NLE, or Neurolinguistic Effect. Yogis call it a type of samadhi, though ususally a lesser samadhi, brought on by yogic chanting and breathing. The end result is a profound sense of peacefulness.
Chanting can be quite therapeutic — complementary medicine — for those who suffer from anxiety, depression and insomnia. French physician Dr. Alfred Tomatis wrote that chanting helps us to control our emotions and eliminate negative thoughts.
Unlike Western psychiatry, chanting goes beyond the body-mind to the realm of Spirit. It results in feelings of oneness and connection.
There is a saint in India named Swami Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, a modern day swami who heads up the Siddha Yoga Centers around the world. She had this to say about the unique benefits of chanting:
At a certain point, ordinary words can no longer take us where we want to go. Through chanting, we use music and sacred mantras to enter into a dialogue with the divine.
Chanting is a natural way to tune into the frequency of love.The vibrations emanating from Sanskrit chants have a tangible effect on our own inner being. The sweetness of chanting stills the mind, dissolves worries, and opens the heart. Chanting gives us direct access to the spiritual world, balances our subtle energy system (chakras) and allows for deeper meditation.
Kirtan, or devotional singing, is where yoga and spirituality come together. Krishna Das said that during satsang (company of truth), people gather together “to remember, to turn within and find their own inner path to the One. When we gather together to sing like this we are helping each other find our own paths.”
Start chanting today. Feel more connected with yourself, your Self and with each other.
Free Kirtan/Satsang Every Night
Kirtan/Satsang is available at AOLRC in Boone seven days a week in Gita Hall, just below the dining hall on Heavenly Mountain. Come chant and be happy!
Time: 7:30 – 8:15pm.
Kirtan is free of charge. All are warmly invited.
More info? Click here.
“Satsang is the shelter from the changing time and its harsh influence on life.”
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
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