Yoga and Immortality

DSC_0457A few weeks ago, I was visiting my ninety-five year old Grandfather in the tribal village, Khaknar, in Central India.  One day, I went to a school that he had built to do a session of yoga with the children.  There are three hundred kids who attend the school, from ages 7 to 16.

While doing yoga with about forty of them, I had the fortune to see their bright, beaming faces and I could see that each of their faces carries the spirit of my Grandfather.  This brought relief and joy to my heart.

No matter how many more years my Grandfather lives, I realize that the spirit indeed is deathless, as the yogis have always said.  It is our choice how much we give in this life to shine even after the body passes.

Today is the birthday of my Grandmother, Usha, who passed in 2003.  While my Grandfather was deeply involved in his work, bringing educational radio and t.v. to India, traveling to South Africa as a teacher of the Vedas, working for the United Nations in the Middle East, my Grandmother brought up their four daughters on her own in New Delhi.

Like many women, she is an unsung hero and to me the greatest of all yogis.  Growing up spending time with her, the peace that she carried amidst all types of adversity has had a lasting impression on me.  I remember her going in for major surgery and smiling, totally relaxed, a deep sense of surrender and trust, allowing life to happen as it does.  She was always like that, no matter the situation.

My Grandmother inspired me to start the Usha Yoga Foundation in 2005.  Through this foundation, we have brought yoga to survivors of human trafficking in India, women who are healing from trauma in Rwanda, Korean-American women who have survived violence in Chicago, students who are overcoming anxiety and depression in England, amongst many others.  My Grandmother’s spirit lives on in each of these people as well as her daughters, grand-children and the many people she touched while living.

We are immortal.  The spirit is deathless. We are the ones with one thousand arms, like the images of heroes in many world mythologies.  The arms of the people my Grandparents touch are no separate from their arms.  We each are capable no matter what our circumstance.   How will your spirit live on?

Namaste,

Reema

To read more about the Usha Yoga Foundation, click on the foundation’s link on http://www.reemayoga.com

The picture above is my Mom, Grandfather and me after a gentle evening yoga session in Khaknar, India.

An Opportunity for Anger, Judgement and Fear

About ten days ago my landlords told me that they will not renew my lease.  It ends on June 3rd.  As soon as I move out they said they will raise the rent by several hundreds of dollars.  Sensing my shock, they said that I am welcome to reapply to stay in the house.  I reapplied and they chose someone else.

My mind quickly turned to judgement and labels.  They are so greedy.  They know I have a three year old daughter and they are basically kicking us out, etc, etc…Negativity and darkness easily came through my heart and mind.  I started looking for other rentals and quickly realized how hard it is to find a place with such short notice.  Portland is a popular city.  Fear, anxiety, stress paid their visits to me.  Finally, I did what I always do at the toughest times.  I called one of my teachers.

I could barely tell him the story because as soon as I heard his voice, tears came and they would not stop.  Somehow between the sobs, I told him what was happening.  Without a pause, he said, “Reema, your landlords are helping you.  You will find an even better place for you and Mila to live.”

My teachers always amaze me.  Wow, I thought, his mind is so strong.  Negativity doesn’t stand a chance in his being.  This is what I call a strong yogi!

Anger is such a powerful emotion that the antidote for anger in the yoga tradition is the “Unshakeable Wisdom of the Realm of All Things.”  One of the main aspects of this wisdom is a continuous awareness that all beings are angels, helping you, teaching you.  Even if they are being difficult, annoying, harsh, there is a reason and the reason is always the soul’s evolution.

Life can take such challenging turns that our ability to hold this wisdom that all beings, including ourselves, are angels, must be unshakeable to have the power to battle anger.

While on the phone with my teacher, my mind relaxed, my heart softened.  I could breathe again with a little more smoothness and calm.

He continued on the phone, “Instead of placing your energy on your landlords, start to create the vision of your new home.  Write it down.  Exactly what you want.  Get as detailed as possible.  Use your energy to find your new place.”

That night I came home and after Mila slept, I wrote it down.  I drew the home, the neighborhood and surroundings.  I felt so good and free and aligned.

If I let my mind spiral into darkness, the only person I would hurt is myself.  My landlords do not care what I think or say.  Anger only hurts the one who is experiencing it.

I love Yoga because the teachings are not at all about suppressing emotions.  We are meant to experience fully and completely the truth of each moment regardless if the emotion or sensation is pleasant or unpleasant, loving or harsh.  What these teachings do is offer a way out.  For me, it felt good to turn my energy to my new home instead of diving further into negativity.  I did look into the law to understand whether what they were doing is legal or not.  I had spent time talking to other landlords to understand if I was facing injustice.  I came to a place of satisfaction with my research and was ready to move on.

“Every obstacle you face as you find your new home, see it as a purification,” my teacher continued.  “Be receptive to the intuition that comes with each purification.  Furthermore, dedicate all your good actions in the coming days to making the vision of your next home a reality.”

Teachers have a power.  When I spoke to him on the phone – seated 3,000 miles away from him – I was a different person by the end of the conversation.  It was like a miracle. For the first time in days, my body relaxed. I could breathe without feeling heavy rocks in my heart.  I felt hopeful, grateful and radiantly alive.

Teachers have a power when we give them a power.  Our own humility is the base of our teachers power.  I could have hidden in shame the anger I was feeling towards my landlords.  I could have isolated myself in my room letting my mind spiral deeper into dark places.  It was just one moment of humility that saved me and inspired me to make a phone call.

Though I thanked him profusely, I wonder if my teacher realizes how profoundly he helped me.  I wonder if we all realize how profoundly we can help one another.

We are all teachers and healers, if we let ourselves be…

Namaste,

Reema

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Home practice, Mother’s Day 2015

Make It Sacred

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 8.13.30 AM“How do you make a moment sacred?” I was asked recently.  I have wondered this many times myself. Do I need to light candles, dress a certain way, decorate my home and yoga spaces with certain touches, etc. The list goes on…how often have I been on the brink of “spiritual materialism;” using material objects to prove one’s spirituality?

A couple of months ago I attended a powerful poetry reading with Coleman Barks and Michael Meade. Meade was reciting some lines of Hafiz, one of which was “Everything is sacred.” I have heard such words many times but for some reason in that moment, the words struck me. I realized the simple, raw truth and a wave of relief swept through me. Yes, everything is sacred already.

The candles, clothing, and decor – can be nice, but they don’t really matter. Everything already is sacred. We are alive. It is a miracle. Every moment, every person – whether the situation is pleasant or unpleasant – is a precious gift.

It is a well-known fact in the spiritual and scientific communities, that the labels in our minds affect the way we experience the world. Quantum physicists say the world is like a cloud of potentiality. Your experience of the world is directly affected by what is in your mind. Tibetan Buddhists echo this with teachings on Shunyata or emptiness. The world is empty of any fixed way of being; people, places, objects are empty of any fixed quality or characteristic. The way we experience every object, place, or person, including ourselves, directly depends on the labels and impressions in our minds. The Indian Yogis have the term “Neti-Neti;” not this-not that. A person or object is not this or that. Your experience is based on your mind.

In the Tibetan Buddhist teachings of Mahamudra, the Buddhists suggest that we label every moment as a gift and every being as an angel. Experience life with that mind! It is a wonderful practice.

The Hindu Tantrikas encourage us to go beyond labels all together.  Let the self be in the void, the emptiness, the cloud of potentiality. Instead of the mind spilling into that space trying to label something “sacred” or “superficial,” just be in the space, the mind empty of labels and let the moment be. Let yourself be. Let the people you are with be. Let universe spill into the void and make the moment beyond you and the other. Create a line of communication between the center of your heart and the universe and let a connection, a dance, a moment simply happen.  As the mind is free of labels, it inevitably becomes free of expectation.

If we are tied to a label or an image of how something needs to look, how can we experience what is actually happening? The miracle and dynamism of every moment can so easily be missed.

Yoga and meditation can help us break free of limiting thoughts that a situation -a job, a relationship, a lifestyle – has to look a particular way. Where do those ideas come from anyway? They are most likely someone else’s.

I find when I allow my mind to be present and open, the moment goes beyond self and other and whatever the magic is that gave us life, that brings us together and that takes us apart, can be included in the moment. The magic is always there, but there is room for my mind to notice, appreciate, and be inspired to stay present.

May we become flexible in our minds as well as our bodies. May we allow ourselves and our children to enjoy a continuous experience of freedom in the mind – free of labels and expectations – allowing each other to experience life with all of its possibilities.

“What your mind dwells on, you become,” says Swami Muktananda. If you are having a tough day, I suggest practicing a meditation where you label yourself as capable, strong, and pure. If you are having a day where you feel steady and strong in yourself, I suggest a meditation practice where you let consciousness rest in the void. Leave the mind out and let universe spill in.

Namaste,
Reema