Persist, Devote, Keep at it: Bhakti Bird

On a sunny day in April 2015 I was sitting in a Pranayama (life-force control) class my first time at The Ananda School of Yoga & Meditation. I had been meditating and deepening my practice for two weeks and had another two to go. I was working towards my 200-hour Yoga Certification. In this moment my attention was on my breath. As I inhaled I observed my belly expand and as I exhaled I kept my attention on my belly relaxing back into my body. My mind was quiet, my body was still. Tap, Tap, Tap, my focused-mind softened. Tap, Tap, Tap. I was becoming distracted. Tap, Tap, Tap. I couldn’t take it anymore. I opened my eyes and looked to where the noise was coming from. I noticed a couple of other students do the same. What we saw was a robin sitting on the outside window sill. Tap, Tap, Tap. He was tapping his little beak against the window pane and pulling us away from our breathing techniques. Tap, Tap, Tap. Before long everyone and the teacher were looking toward the window. The teacher walked to the window and tapped back trying to shoo the bird away. It left only for a moment and returned just as the teacher walked back to the front of the class. Tap, Tap, Tap. “It seems you will all be challenged today; devote to your practice no matter the outside circumstance,” our teacher said. For days this sweet bird returned again and again during our class time. The second day I made a joke about how Bhakti (Sanskrit for Devotion) Bird was there to help us all gain mental strength over distraction.

Garudasana 2015
Garudasana (Eagle Pose) at Crystal Hermitage Gardens in Ananda Village 2015. “At the center of life’s storms I stand serene.”

I still think of Bhakti Bird whenever I am faced with distraction or resistance. That first day that I was distracted by this small creature and its small sound, I had allowed that sound to cause resistance (lack of focus) during my meditation. The responsibility does not lie on the bird. I am the only one responsible for my mind, my thoughts, and where they go. The second day, the day our feathery friend received its name, I discovered that by switching my perspective I could own my responsibility. That sound wasn’t happening to my meditation. It was happening for my meditation. Anytime I heard the Tap, Tap, Tap I was reminded to stay devoted to the present, to my practice. I swear that bird was a Yogi reincarnated and an intuitive one at that! Every time my mind wandered good ol’ Bhakti Bird would get me back to the task at hand.

Part IV of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, is Persistence. Take a moment to remember a time when you persisted on something. Perhaps it was in high school striving for a certain grade or athletic standing. Maybe a time at work when you were focused on getting that promotion or raise. Perhaps in meditation, returning to the practice again and again. This past week I persisted to clean up our yard by raking the leaves. A minor comparison, but it took me 8 hours. I don’t think it had been raked in years! (We rent.)

Once you’ve thought about that moment of persistence hold onto the feeling. You were focused on a goal and you worked at it until you either accomplished it, lost interest, or did not succeed. Notice I do not say failed here, because there is no failure in devoting yourself to something. Dedicate yourself to the creative process not the creative product. I would argue that your creativity is in everything you do, but if you disagree then look at it as dedicating yourself to the process not the product.

When we persist at anything we will always find resistance. Think back to that same memory of persistence. What circumstances or people did you have to overcome? Those moments of resistance are where you were able to practice persistence. For my example of raking the leaves the wind was my biggest foe, but don’t worry I overcame and completed my task!

paschimotanasana
Paschimotanasana- Posterior Stretching Pose “I am safe. I am sound. All good things come to me; they give me peace!” https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/seated-forward-bend

Let’s take resistance more literal. Have a seat on the floor and put your legs out in front of you. Inhale and draw the hands out and around and up over head. As you exhale slowly bring the hands to the top of the legs and begin to bend forward. Stop at the first point of resistance. Now breathe into it and experience the physical sensation of resistance. Inhale and visualize space in the area that is resisting, and exhale try to relax that area and move deeper into the stretch. Persist for 1-3 minutes, moving deeper through relaxation not through force.

We can apply this persistence/ resistance to current events. This, for many, is a stressful time. Stress is resistance. Think back to that distracting Bhakti Bird. I changed my perspective and it made all the difference. If you are finding yourself in a dark place and feeling overwhelmed by stress try changing your perspective. A TedTalk changed my entire outlook on stress. Check it out here. Joy practices are another great way to get you out of a funk and in a better headspace. Joy practices are anything that makes you feel joyful and peaceful. Examples include: nature walks, physical exercise, dancing, laughing, gardening, cooking, cleaning, fishing, etc. Try to do one a day! If you’d like a fun nature exercise suitable for children, adults, solo, or for the family check out Journey to the Heart of Nature, click here.

Persistence is a relatable topic in our everyday lives, in our creative lives, and in our spiritual lives (remember this is a yoga blog 😉 So whatever your facing today, in this moment, remember the wise words of Ms. Gilbert:

..devotional discipline is the best approach. Do what you love to do, and do it with both seriousness and lightness. At least then you will know that you have tried and that– whatever the outcome– you have traveled a noble path.

Perseverance
Affirmation for Perseverance; AKA persistence

As I mentioned before, Bhakti is Sanskrit for Devotion. I think devotion and persistence are one in the same. I have found, in these trying times, that keeping myself focused on something, anything, helps me feel sane. I have devoted myself to this blog, to raking the leaves, to my daily yoga and meditation practice. I have persisted to keep my space, our home, tidy as this helps me to have a tidy mind. I have devoted myself to exploring my spiritual practice through lots of nature adventures, new yoga practices, and reading yoga related books and materials. I strive everyday to see my God reflected in everything that I do and every creature that I see. This has been the deepest practice of all. If I can love my Higher Power through my loved ones then I am not only connecting to the deepest part of them but I am also connecting to the deepest part of my own reality. Above all I have been trying to devote myself to the light within. That light is in every living thing and finding it outside of myself only adds to my spiritual experience. Am I trying to reach enlightenment? Perhaps in some lifetime. For now, I am more focused on my current well-being and the well-being of the people around me.

Devotion is not mere sentiment; it is heartfelt commitment to something or someone.

-Ananda Sangha Worldwide

No matter what your devotion or persistence is directed towards; opening your heart center or chest can help you to open to your practice of devotion. Try this Heart Opening Yoga Routine with Melody, one of my teachers from The Ananda School of Yoga & Meditation.

Another way to encourage the center of feeling is through chanting. Check out four chants here. I especially enjoy “When I Awake” sung in the recording by Swami Kriyananda, founder of the Ananda Village and my yoga school.

alter
Having an alter helps me to have a space dedicated to my meditation and prayer practice. I like using candles, inspiring photos, chimes, and things I find on my nature adventures.

One final way to cultivate loving energy for a positive mindset and concentration is through prayer. You do not need to be religious for prayer and there is no wrong way to do it. There is power in affirming out loud or to yourself the things you are grateful for, the things you are seeking guidance with, and for visualizing the health and well-being of yourself and others. Personally, when I pray for others I visualize them surrounded by a warm-glowing light. I see them happy, healthy, and laughing. I feel that this strengthens the vibration that is sent out and the vibration I feel inside.

Many of us have been overcoming our fear of the unknown. Below is a prayer from Whispers from Eternity by Paramhansa Yogananda:

Demand to be able to Conquer Fear

Infinite Spirit, teach me to comprehend the utter uselessness of being afraid. Help me to keep in mind that even death, since come it must, at least comes only once and need not be suffered a thousand times, beforehand, through fear! When death does come it will be by Nature’s mercy. When it comes, I will welcome it in my soul, for I will understand that it is time for me to move on, lowering the curtain on this life’s drama, but traveling, perhaps, to something new and equally interesting. Let me not be a “psychological antique,” fearing change.

Teach me not to paralyze my nerves daily with the dread of some future, imaginary accident. Such dread may only invite the accident to happen!

Bless me, that I not let fear anesthetize my mind and shut off my unlimited power, as Thy child, to overcome all tests and trials. Help me to realize that, whether I am awake or asleep, alert or dreaming, Thine all-protecting presence encircles me always.

Help me to see that neither mighty fortress nor the wealth of Croesus could protect me from disease, earthquakes, and all kinds of accidents, that Thou alone art my protector, and that, though I walk where bullets fly or where swarms of bacteria abound, I am ever safe, enhaloed in Thy all-sheltering light.

Aum, Peace, Amen

Stay home, stay safe, and if you must venture out do so wisely. Persist in a positive state of mind. Focus your attention on uplifting tasks and responsibilities. Do a daily practice of Joy and meditation. We will get through this together.

Tap, Tap, Tap. Bhakti Bird is calling.

With Devoted Light,

Em<3

What to Expect in an Ananda Yoga & Meditation Class

I was trained in a small village in the very rural foothills of Northern California at a magical place called The Ananda School of Yoga & Meditation. I return back about once every year to further my knowledge for not only the classes I teach but for myself.

I started out VERY strict with myself. I followed the “Ananda way” for the first 3 years after attending my school the first time. Over the last couple of years I have started to recognize that an extreme of anything is often detrimental to the initial intention. My intention with learning and teaching yoga was to understand myself better and to understand the world around me in its truest form. I am at a place where I no longer strictly focus on the way I thought yoga had to be done, but instead I focus on my experience of each aspect of my practice and what my body and mind are asking me to do. What I mean by this is that if I feel like connecting two poses together (not the traditional “Ananda way”) as a flow, or if I feel like reconstructing the sequence other than how it was originally taught to me, that all of this is ok. The focus is not how I complete my practice. The focus is that I quiet my mind from these worldly distractions and practice being in my own stillness, my own  space.

My practice is still evolving and I am proud of whatever form it takes. I am grateful to have the ability to share this experience with others and I’d like to go deeper into the traditional ways of Ananda Yoga. This sequence below is the way I was taught to formulate my personal practice sessions and classes that I taught. I appreciate its power immensely.

  1. The Energization Exercises: This is a series of 39 exercises used to physically warm-up the body and energetically to experience the body as energy.
  2. Asanas: Asana refers to the physical yoga postures commonly known from most westernized yoga classes. These postures usually include one of each of the following: a balancing pose, a forward fold (flexion of the spine), a backward bend (extension of the spine, a twist reflecting on each side, and a lateral movement of the spine reflecting on each side (side-to-side). I was taught that the most energetically beneficial way of sequencing is to start with a balancing pose, move through a forward fold, twist, and lateral movement to open the spine, and a backward bend to energize the spine and to draw energy towards the brain. Drawing energy towards the brain is said to benefit one in meditation as it takes much focus and energy. In Ananda Yoga, each posture has its own affirmation that is to be repeated by the practitioner. Traditionally, there is a short period of time between postures where one practices a “mini-meditation”. This is a time to focus on one’s experience of the previous pose on both body and mind.
  3. Deep Relaxation: This is also known as Savasana or corpse pose. I have heard many times that this is a favorite. In Savasana we practice stillness while resting the body in its anatomical position lying supinated, or on our backs. This is a time to rest the body, but not the mind. In Savasana try to keep your gaze gently lifted, this will help to keep you awake. For beginners and intermediate levels it is beneficial to have a guide during Savasana. Your teacher may use poetry, visualizations, readings or additional methods for you to keep your attention on. Try to keep your energy in the body, moving upwards towards the brain. Utilize your breath. One of my teachers at yoga school told me to be cautious when entering into Savasana as many people release their hard-earned energy out of the body as they lay down. This is probably due to the body position and its relation to how we sleep. Habits die hard.
  4. Meditation: Traditionally in Ananda Yoga meditation contains 2 preliminary techniques, a practice of releasing the breath, a mantra and finally time to enjoy our cultivated stillness. This is done with the Hong Sau technique. Hong, meaning “I am” and Sau, meaning, “Spirit”. This mantra is used to help one connect with our true essence.

So there you have it. The traditional way of practicing Ananda Yoga. I utilize this in my personal practice frequently. I am grateful that I am no longer so hard on myself about always practicing and teaching in this format. It is beneficial to both me and my students that there is a level of freedom and creativity in the practice of Yoga.

-Namaste Soul-Friends