You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Shakti’ tag.

The Bay - AmazingThere’s an opportunity to do an open group practice with me tomorrow, Sunday, August 23rd from 10:00am to 11:30am at The Yorkville Club which is in Hazelton Lanes, 87 Avenue Road, a block and a bit north of Bloor Street on the east side.  Anyone can come; you don’t need to be a member.  Drop-in fee is $16.00.   We’ll be in the ‘Nataraj’ room.

I worked with a woman in her sixties yesterday who had tried a few Yoga classes in the past and had come to the conclusion that she “couldn’t do Yoga” because of her physical restrictions.  Well, we both got a wonderful surprise!  Yoga is linking your mind to the movement of your breath and how it moves your body.  When she did this, she felt her own aliveness and that aliveness, being acknowledged, began to pour through her with a fluid strength that was magnificent.  She was Yoga! 

My time with her reminded me that it is my job to find the appropriate way to give each person the principles of Yoga practice.  The way for each of us is as individual as we are.  Everyone on this earth can do Yoga because it is simply a way to be what we are.

Photo:  James Bay at low tide; Northwaters Bay Trip 2007.

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Keeping my daughter company last night as she packed for a canoe trip, I began reading aloud from a book that was on her camp’s reading list, The Tao of Leadership.  This is what I read.

Tao means how:  how things happen, how things work.  Tao is the single principle underlying all creation… All creation unfolds according to Tao.  There is no other way.  Tao cannot be defined, but Tao can be known.  The method is meditation, or being aware of what is happening.  By being aware of what is happening, I begin to sense how it is happening.  I begin to sense Tao… The method of meditation works because principle and process are inseparable.  All process reveals the underlying principle.  This means that I can know Tao.  I can know God.  By knowing Tao, I know how things happen.¹

I stopped and shouted, “This is Yoga!” Substitute Shakti for Tao; they are different words for the same thing.  Shakti is the single principle underlying all creation.  By being aware of what is happening when you give birth, you will know Her.

Practicing Yoga before you give birth will make it easier to feel what is happening during the intensity of the birthing process.  A practice isn’t essential but it is very helpful.  I think “being aware of what is happening” is a great way to describe meditation.   Any preciousness associated with the concept is dropped.  When you are aware of what is happening, you are meditating.  It is that simple. 

I also love how Lao Tzu says, “There is no other way.”  He isn’t worried we’ll misinterpret his clarity.  The painting of  Tzu that accompanies this post is a co- creation of Huang Xiang and William Rock.  Xiang is “one of the greatest poets of the 20thC and a master calligrapher.” He was imprisoned for twelve years in China for his advocacy of human rights and now lives in NYC using his art as a bridge between the East and West.  Rock is an Irish American artist who has studied with Tibetan and Chinese monks over the last fifteen years.  Together, Rock and Xiang are a voice for freedom, the only way.

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¹ John Heider, The Tao of Leadership, Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching Adapted for a New Age (Atlanta: Humanics Limited, 1985) p.1

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After drawing the neural-hormonal flow that moves through a woman giving birth, I said to a pregnant couple that at the heart of the matter, what gets a baby born is love. The mother replied that that was a very romantic concept. No, it’s not! Pure love is a state of being, not an emotion or a thought process.

 It’s taken me years to put this understanding into words; it is the essence of both Birth and Yoga. I’ll repeat: pure love is not an emotion or a thought process but a state of being. Science understands that it is the release of oxytocin and endorphins into a woman’s sytem that enables her to give birth. Our bodies are flooded with these “hormones of love” whenever we are in a situation of intimate connection: sex, giving birth, breastfeeding, even sharing food with others brings us into a physical state where our minds are present, our bodies are at peace and the boundaries between ourselves and the rest of the world dissolve.  This is Nature’s way of ensuring our survival. When I gave birth to my daughter, no wave of emotion washed over me. Her birth had taken me to a place below emotions, into the very ground of Life. I didn’t have to try and be motherly.  She and I embodied love. It simply was.

Where there are hormones of love, there is Shakti, the Life force. Of course Life is always present but it becomes much more obvious in intimacy.  So much spiritual discussion is framed in emotive and moral paradigms that restrict Life rather than free it.  The assumption is that love is an elusive thing that must be worked at.  As if we must create love rather than simply enjoy the fact that we are created by it. Disintegration, fragmentation, or downright evil emerges out of disassociation from Life and conversely, having the strength to receive Life makes love effortless.  This isn’t romance.  It’s reality!

This was Mark Whitwell’s response to a question about the use of bandha during asana, about the channeling of energy that comes as the musculature of the whole body participates in the movement and suspension of the breath. His answer takes us to the crux of Yoga, a practice that comes from Life and takes us back to Life. If what you’re doing doesn’t, it’s not Yoga.

Before I met Mark, there was a gap between what I experienced in my life and what Yoga practice gave me. I tried different strategies to bridge the two, particularly when I taught pregnant women. Something was missing. I see other teachers still grappling with this feeling of incompletion. It’s common to hear that the physical practices of Yoga are not enough to fully support us. Richard Freeman says in his foreward to Michael Stone’s book , The Inner Tradition of Yoga, that “awakening to the simple truth of impermanence, of universal death, is all that has been missing [from contemporary practice].”¹ I beg to differ. What is missing is Life.

mark01Mark gave me the practical specifics of a Yoga technology that allows me to receive my experience. The gap between my life and my Yoga has dissolved. The profundity of spiritual practice is encountered in the simplicity and complete tangibility of breathing and moving. Nadine Fawell, an Australian Yoga teacher,  has written a post that beautifully, concisely describes this experience of Yoga. She got it when she met Mark at the recent Syndney Yoga Conference. 

U.G. Krishnamurti was a friend of Mark’s who, despite being recognized by the Shankaracharya as a living Buddha, rejected the idea of enlightenment. Watching videos of him speaking or reading his words, I am comforted by his fearlessness. U.G. said, “The mystique of enlightenment is based upon the idea of transforming yourself. I maintain that there is nothing to transform… somehow the truth has to dawn on you that there is nothing to understand…Stop thinking and start living.”  An appropriate Yoga practice gives you the means to do so.

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¹ Michael Stone, The Inner Tradition of Yoga (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2008) p.x

In the early hours of yesterday morning I got home from a birth, peeled off my clothes as soon as I shut the front door, listened for the sound of my sleeping daughter’s breath (almost eighteen years after I had heard her first exhale and then the unexpected quiet of her peacefulness), shut her bedroom door, showered away the blood and amniotic fluid of a new life, ate a bowl of rice with peanut sauce, drank a cup of chamomile tea and slid into the clean sheets of my bed. I had done my Yoga.

Today my mind is still in the open and alert place it goes to in the wake of a birth. Carrying groceries home, the shadows of bare branches stripe the sidewalk. A small, black bird with slashes of red and white on its wings stands in my path and sings. Its presence is as bold and wonderous as that of the little boy who entered the world yesterday and spontaneously latched himself to his mother’s breast. The sun shines down on me. I am content. This is the gift of this work.

To really be with someone is to be with life. To be with a birthing woman, undistracted, to breathe every breath with her, to merge my sound with hers, to have my hands on her skin and my mind in her mind, is to link to the unqualified force and intelligence of life that pours through her with extraordinary power. It pours through me too. It belongs to both of us and neither of us. Yoga calls this power Shakti. She is the source and the movement of life. She is Reality. She is the woman giving birth. She is me.

Patanjali wrote that Yoga is a merging with the chosen direction or experience (1.2). “A person of extraordinary clarity” is someone who has stopped searching, someone “who is free from the desire to know the perceiver.” [S]he has felt h[er] own nature. (4.25)¹ There is no better way to feel what you are than by giving birth!  No rules apply. Life itself provides the structure. To surrender to life, Isvarapranidhana, is to let life move you. Your body moves in the way it needs to. Your breath moves in the way it needs to. Sound and silence come and go. This is the Natural State, sahaj samadhi. This is freedom, vairagya. Mark says Krishnamacharya defined vairagya as “freedom relative to all experience”. It doesn’t mean to remove yourself from experience. To be free with experience, merge with experience.

I spent nine hours at the hospital with my client and her family. In our intimacy love and peace unfolded and a new life was born. “The sun shines. All is evident…”(4.31)² 

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¹Mark Whitwell, Yoga of Heart (New York: Lantern Books, 2004) p.140

²T.K.V. Desikachar, The Heart of Yoga (Rochester:Inner Traditions International, 1999) p.213

img_2755How were you born? Do you know the story of your birth? Has the tale been woven repeatedly or do you live in its stark absence? In imagining our beginning, we touch both the mystery of our existence and the obvious reality that we are an integral part of life. We didn’t enter the world alone but in total fusion with another. No one exists who didn’t emerge from the warm, fluid centre of a woman.

It is a simple truth and a profoundly intimate one. I want to give voice to this intimacy and to the wisdom that nurtures it because our ability to love and be in right relationship with the world depends on it. Science supports this understanding. Research gathered by the visionary French obstetrician Michel Odent  links psychological and physical disease with our time in our mother’s womb, how we were born and how we were cared for in the first year of life.  Clear links have been made between rates of violence towards oneself and others and the circumstances of an individual’s primal period.  A mother is her child’s universe. For the first time in history, the majority of women are giving birth without releasing ‘hormones of love’. Odent asks what our future holds if the capacity to love continues to be restricted? We are part of the whole and that whole is in crisis.

To speak of birth is to speak of fear. In its grip, the Feminine voice is silenced. Quietly, one in every three birthing women in Toronto is cut open to her core. Every year, in this same silence, 24,000 women in Afghanistan die after giving birth. There the Feminine has been pushed so far underground, fear is so thick, ignorance so deep that in many places there is no one able to assist at births. Both the deadly absence of medical skills and their aggressive use point to a world devoid of wisdom.

Birth is a part of a woman’s sexual life. I believe this is why we try to control it. To give birth freely is to feel life moving through us. Birth requires our receptivity and strength, our passion and wisdom. In the process of connecting to these, we meet our restrictions and our lack of knowledge about ourselves. I read of a recent Australian study in which one out of three (that statistic again) women had never, or rarely, experienced orgasm. How easily do these women give birth and suckle their children? The full release of oxytocin, the  ‘hormone of love’ , is necessary for all events in the continuum of a woman’s sexual experience: orgasm, birth and breastfeeding. 

Birth sheds light on Yoga. The light comes from life, the flow of the Feminine force, rather than two thousand years of doctrine. The principles of Yoga are found in life and bring us back to life. Mark Whitwell’s clarity about Yoga supports my experience. Birth is Yoga, when the waving and pulsing of Shakti through a woman’s body is an utterly tangible experience for her and her child. Shakti is not a metaphor or a philosophical concept but reality.

Participating in reality is the purpose of Yoga practice. It is in everyone’s reach, of course, because we are what we seek. We are real. We are the manifestation of Life in all its mystery and power, in all our mystery and power. In the repression of the Feminine, the understanding of how to live and love has only been whispered. Listen to these tales! They are written out loud.

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