Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Dharana


I can hardly believe we are up to the sixth limb. For over a year now I've been blogging on the limbs and now we have finally reached the final three, known collectively as samyama. These limbs are the most subtle and internal so I wondered during the year if I'd have something to say about them. I do. Today let's talk about Dharana. 
Dharana may be translated as holding, holding steady, concentration or a single focus. It's about bringing the mind to one point of attention. Why is this so hard? These days articles are written almost daily about social media, video games, our over stimulated lifestyles, and our inability to concentrate, but what really is going on?
The issue with concentration is not the concentration itself. When we are engaged, all our senses pull toward the object of engagement and we concentrate. The problem is in choosing the object. Concentration by definition means choosing a single object to focus on, to the disregard of everything else. Before we can practice deepening concentration, we must choose a place to put our focus. 
Why are we so scared of making a choice? One fear is that we will choose incorrectly. We should understand that avoiding making a choice is much worse than choosing poorly. Firstly, in many instances we can't choose wrong. There is no actual wrong choice, just different choices that all work out in time.  But let's say we do choose incorrectly. A wrong choice is at least feedback. The moment we sense it is wrong, all we have to do is re-route. We have more information about what other options may not work and can settle more closely on a right choice. Lots of successful people have spoken at length about the power of a mistake and the growth it brings.

Deeper than our fear of making a wrong choice is the fear we have of eliminating options.

We know the whole essence of focusing is attaching ourselves to one thing and leaving all other options behind, so we refuse to choose at all, and instead never fully experience anything. What we don't realize is that by understanding one thing absolutely completely, we can know all things. Until then, we are just floating around taking no control of our lives. This approach will bring no fulfullment. Our fleeting moments of concentration will be random and even more troubling, will be navigated by the wills of others. 
Take comfort in understanding that even in just this one life, we have many lives. Did you know I got my BFA in theatre? I've been an actress, writer, director, waitress, insurance agent, and a million and one other things. I've had at least three to four fully distinct lives and I plan to have many more. 
There is always an opportunity to reinvent, but please make a choice. All the good that comes in life comes after we stop trying and testing and finally make a decision. Some people claim they want to be well informed before they make a commitement to one path. While this has validity, we must recognize when the investigation has become an excuse for indecisiveness. We will never know every variable. In the end we must choose.

What you choose to focus on will grow and thrive more than you can imagine, the second you make it yours, so stop waiting, put your self on one-pointed focus today.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Silencing the Cravings: An intro to Pratyahara



You’re listening to an engaging story, desperately trying to weave a thread through a needle, perhaps deep in a daydream.  Whatever it was, we’ve all had the experience of being so in the moment that we fail to hear a siren outside, feel the dog licking our leg, or smell the smoke coming from the kitchen. This is Pratyahara.
It's rare enough that these moments come on their own but to silence the senses at will requires a serious mastery. First we must be able to control our prana. Consciously drawing the senses away from distraction and inward toward the self is the work we do everyday in Ashtanga Yoga and one of the many reasons I decided to practice and teach this specific lineage. Pratyahara is why though you love a fancy music playlist in class, you may not actually be practicing yoga if you are listening to it. It is why though you may have so much fun looking in the mirror and adjusting your alignment, there is argument that this is also not yoga. Patanjai’s definition of yoga states clearly that we are required to turn our senses inward to become yogis. 
In the Ashtanga yoga method this pulling of the senses inward is done by employing a three-pointed focus. First we bring our attention toward the sound of our breath. Next we focus our eyes on one spot and consciously keep them from wandering around. Finally, we feel with every cell, the shape of our body in the pose. This trains our senses to steer inward and keeps us completely present in the moment.
The senses and mind are linked. If we can get mastery of the senses, we can master the mind. Though perfection in Pratyahara happens only after flawlessness is achieved in the limbs which come before it, there is no reason we can't begin to practice training our senses now. Non reaction to stimuli is an incredibly powerful practice which brings great benefits into our lives. You pass a great sweater in a window of a store. Suddenly you are having this whole silent conversation in your mind about how you could really use a sweater. It's off season. You haven't gotten yourself something in awhile. At the end of this mind talk you have given yourself permission to purchase and you think you have done well by "thinking it through". Truth is you have been scammed by the one who knows you best- your own mind! You never had any intention of purchasing a sweater only your senses dragged you into it! You were perfectly content till they got involved. When you start to observe this process and let the mind know you are into it, the senses will have much less power over you. Keep training your mind to dismiss the cravings. They will stop coming, and you will be free. This is the power of the practice of Pratyahara and the beauty of authentic yoga.
Cravings are the children of habits. Starve off your craving while your mind gets strong. Here are three steps to becoming craving free:
1. Avoid the trigger: If you return home each day at 5pm and immeditely open the kitchen cabinets scavenging for a treat, you've been programing your mind to think it's hungry by the time you walk up to your front door. Take a walk at 5 instead to form a new habit.
2. Give yourself a reward: The 5pm snacks felt to your child self like a deserved reward for a day complete. Substitute with a new reward that gives your heart that full feeling. This could be as simple as sitting in the sun, or a nice long chat with a friend. As long as you feel it and recognize it for the reward it is, it will work.
3. Praise heavily: Make sure to consciously acknowledge yourself each time you make a new choice with positive self talk. "I'm doing a great job making fantastic choices." Say it out loud for maximum benefit!