Taozi Tree Yoga

The seeds we water are the seeds that grow.


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STRUCTURED IMPROV! – Faraaz Tanveer PART 1

“Adventures Abroad” at Taozi Tree Yoga is proud to present…

STRUCTURED IMPROV! – Faraaz Tanveer

PART 1

Holi!

Holi!

Structured Improv!

…That’s my ‘life theme’ these days. To use structures (of thought, practices, groups) that facilitate a deeper insight and experience. And then to improvise within those structures to make them one’s own.  Active and Receptive.  Force and Form.  And out of this dance of seemingly opposing complementarities emerges a movement that is truly unique, in the moment and creative.

An example  of how I apply it  in my yoga practice &  teaching  is to  work with standard  sequences and postures like Ashtanga Vinyasa and Hatha asanas and then to slowly give  space for  the body to improvise and express itself. Any yogic practice is a conversation – listening and talking. And the yogic postures are like beautiful words with deep meaning and energetic connotations that facilitate a deeper conversation. So we ‘talk’ using the asanas and recite beautiful ‘poems’ of the sequences but many times forget the listening aspect. To listen IN while the body is doing a posture/ kriya/ chant and to be receptive and open to what it has to say. Once a feedback loop is established and the activity feeds the receptivity feeds the activity and so on…. That’s when the creative rhythm takes over and makes every  session juicy and deep.

Acro Yoga

Acro Yoga

asana

Ask yourself this question: Do you want to be a tourist or an explorer? Do  you  have a fixed set of ‘sights’ that you  want to visit or are you more enthused by journey itself, moving and flowing and finding your way as you go along, allowing the journey to shape  your map? If you are a ‘yogic  tourist’ life can often be stressful and chances are that many times you  will  find  yourself in places where you feel  stuck; using maps that  are  static and not your own, always running  towards the next destination.

 On the other hand if your main focus is on being a skillful traveler and engaging in a creative conversation with your inner self; your body and your mind, chances are that you will enjoy the journey much more.  And then the practice will take you to places you couldn’t have imagined or aimed for before. The goal is not the achievement of pre set markers but the progressive deepening of awareness.

In Dubai

While thinking about writing this piece I was wondering what structure I could employ to improv.  in? I finally settled for the seven elements/ chakras in our body.  Here I mainly focus on beliefs or conventions that in my opinion should be questioned and reevaluated. I’ve improvised with sentence construction and grammar at a few places, to convey the meaning more clearly. Hope you derive some form of value from the discussion…

EARTH/ Mooladhara: the Body-

…It is in vogue in spiritual/ yogic circles to urge one to go ‘beyond the body’.

“You are not the body.”, “This  body will die eventually.”,“All this is impermanent and will  have to be left behind.”, “Senses lead to delusion. “, “Go beyond the  senses.” … and so  on.

I find that such statements are not helpful at all! Mostly they just tend to cause confusion, disconnect and act as fodder for useless mental gymnastics. What is your experience RIGHT NOW? Are you the body? Do you connect with the world through the senses? No matter what someone says and advises, staying true to one’s own experiences is always the key.

My experience is that I AM the body and I live fully in my senses. This human body is an amazing gift, so rich and juicy and intricate and perceptive. In Vedic mythology it is said that the even the all powerful Celestial beings from the ‘higher planes’ need to take a human birth if they want enlightenment. Body is the door. Body is the key. Body is the temple. Tantric philosophy talks of the microcosm of the body reflecting the macrocosm of the universe. All gods and goddesses (archetypes of energy and intelligence) are mapped on this very body. This body is the ultimate place of worship.  So before talking about going ‘beyond’ the body, let’s first get IN it  fully!

One way of going into deeper states of awareness in the body is to always ‘play on the edge’. In asana practice, always look for the ‘edge’ (of both strength and flexibility) and then play around it.  The edge will vary from day to day and will move over time. As long as you are playing on the edge in the moment, while maintaining full awareness of breath and body sensations, you are deriving full benefits from the practice. In my opinion, this should be the criterion for judging a practice session. Not the external  aesthetics of ‘achieving’ a pose or the ‘feeling’ one gets during and after the session but the ability  to find and stay on the edge and the quality of  awareness throughout the session.

This is not to discount the impetus for achievement and new learning. It is a reminder not to sacrifice depth for breadth.

fun in class

WATER/ Swadisthana:  Emotions-

…are the fuels that run our engines … that move and flow and push and pull and throw and stick and press and propel and project and absorb. Generally we have a tendency  to favour ‘positive’ emotions and avoid ‘negative’ ones.  I also find that sometimes the language and ‘tone’ in the yoga community seems to subtly favour brighter emotions over the darker ones. In my experience all seemingly ‘opposite’ emotions are two extremes of the same continuum. We can feel happiness only to the extent that we have come to terms with our own sadness.   Pleasure is deep when pain is real.

It is not the emotions themselves but our thoughts about these emotions that keep us stuck. If you allow yourself to be open to all emotions and have a willingness to feel deeply, you will be surprised how the ‘real thing’ is very different from the warning on the label!

We come to the mat with our emotions and it will be foolish to  deny them in the quest for a picture perfect, ideal  session. If we acknowledge and let the emotions seep in and fuel our practice, it is surprising how much energy is freed up in the process. Instead of fighting with them, acknowledge them and go on with the practice. Don’t let the thoughts ‘about’ them distract your attention or change the basic structure of the practice but let the feelings themselves  run free and allow them to bring some element of  improvisation into the  practice. It maybe the speed, transitions and ‘mood’ of  a flow, the choice and duration of  holding asanas or doing breath work or the choice, volume and tone of a  chant. If you let emotions overpower you and let them  dictate  your practice (interfering with the technique, depth of attention or making you skip steps) it  is  a problem. Equally problematic is when you completely deny their existence and aim at a ‘consistent’ practice that does not  reflect  your present state of being.

FIRE/ Manipura:  Ego-

…the favorite whipping boy of all  spiritual talk. Fixing, removing, suppressing, ‘dealing with’, sublimating….. all the nasty  things  that  we want  to do to this poor friend! In my experience a healthy, fully formed Ego is the first step towards real growth and wisdom.

It is not possible to lose something if you don’t HAVE it!  In Indian tradition it is said that when the Ego is  Ripe,  it  falls off on its own accord, like a  ripe fruit.  So the emphasis  should be on working towards a healthy  Ego , fully self  aware  and  working  consciously  towards  its  self  interest. In the process you  may realize that the  highest good  for  you  is in actions that also bring about  the highest  good  for  others.  That’s when our sense of personal self  acts as a  doorway  for  a more intuitive sense of the universal.

Another way in which a healthy attitude towards the Ego can find expression is having a sense of personal style. A point of view that is true and unique for  your  personality. I often find that yoga practitioners get  lost in the sea of quotations and ‘wisdom teachings’, always aware of the ‘correct, spiritual answer’  to all questions. Then the spiritual journey is just a task that needs to be completed, a burden. This also applies to more tangible  practices. An unquestioned adherence to any style or recommendation is never helpful. Questioning, being creative and having a point of view are  all essential  perquisites for  making a teaching one’s own.

certification 1

I am often  surprised by how often yoga practitioners talk about , “ How should  I feel right  now?”, “ Where should I feel this?” , “How am I  supposed to deal with this?” and so on. Some pointers with regards to safety are understandable, but too much doubt with little self awareness does not leave any room for exploration or new insights.   In some tantric traditions it  is  said  that, “ The only sin is lack of awareness.” I agree.   If the main focus  is on deepening self awareness, all peripheral questions get answered by and by.

Why do you do yoga? I do it because I feel it is beautiful. It is poetic and puts me in a state of flow. Healing, growth,  wisdom etc.  are  all outcomes of being able  to  access that beautiful  place. That’s my point  of  view and that’s what I share in my style  of facilitation. What is yours?

Stay tuned for Part 2!

by  the  Ganga

***This has been a special guest post by Faraaz Tanveer. He was one of my yoga teachers at Rishikesh Yog Peeth, in Rishikesh, India, in November-December 2012. He is truly an amazing teacher, so full of wisdom. Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness in this post, we can’t wait for Part 2!

faraaz 2

***Check us out on Facebook- Taozi Tree Yoga– for more on our travels and shared yogic words of wisdom***

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Sex. Money. Gandhi.

hanuman

“How did Hanuman become powerful? It is with this weapon of Brahmacharya that he acquired unsurpassable strength and velour.”

Sri Swami Sivananda

Brahmacharya=Don’t have sex.

This is a common misconception. Gaining the strength and vigor to the likes of the monkey god Hanuman is all about restraining our physical (human) urges. Sex is a large part of this, but not the only part. Here starts our discussion on Patanjali’s 4th social restraint BRAHMACHARYA.

It is not all about sex…money, beer, cigarettes, television, the sofa bed, lolly pops, fast cars… high heels. All things that we may lust over. Brahmacharya can be practiced around anything we may be overly attached to in the physical realm. These things all take away our potential energy to achieve the INCREDIBLE.  I personally believe that the things we struggle with most as individuals are the areas that have the greatest capacity to create change. For example, an alcoholic that gives up the drink will see a tremendous change in their life. An over eater who learns to eat right and live healthily will become a different person. You may be thinking, “But I don’t have any of those problems.” Well… think again. Make the road narrower. Just because you may not have any obvious problems doesn’t mean you don’t have unhealthy attachments to the material world. You know what your thing is. Maybe it’s your kindle, Facebook, or your crockpot. I don’t know… but you do. Anything that takes away your capacity to reaching your MAXIMUM potential. I am guilty of falling victim to plenty of material things. Trust me. My point is that Brahmacharya is not only about sex. It is about anything in the physical realm that takes up too much of our energy, ultimately taking away our ability to transcend—

worldly things

The following comes from http://www.yoga108.org

Brahmacharya has two main meanings. In the broad sense it means control of the senses or indriyas. More specifically it refers to celibacy or chastity. Like all traditional spiritual traditions, yoga advocates restraining from indulging in sensual gratification. One of the many reasons is that practicing the higher limbs of ashtanga yoga – dharana, dhyana, samadhi – requires a tremendous amount of energy or prana. This energy is built up through the practices of yoga such as asanas, pranayama and japa but is dissipated during sensual enjoyment. Of all the sensual activities, sex is the one that will be the most depleting to the psychic and nervous system. Most people don’t like to hear this but, like the other yamas, everyone should practice brahmacharya to the best of their ability. It is a fact that the more people gratify their senses, the less energy they have and the less ability they have to meditate on the absolute.
 
The more broad definition of brahmacharya also includes conduct that leads to the realisation of the Self, or Brahman, study of the Vedas and scriptures, and contemplation on Brahman.

Practice of Brahmacharya gives good health, inner strength, peace of mind and long life. It invigorates the mind and nerves. It helps to conserve physical and mental energy. It augments memory, will force and brain power. It bestows tremendous strength, vigour and vitality. Strength and fortitude are obtained… He who is established in Brahmacharya will have lustrous eyes, a sweet voice and a beautiful complexion.

Swami Sivananda

Brachmacharya is considered one of the cornerstones of a serious yoga practice. The conservation of energy that comes from practicing celibacy is converted into Ojas and Tejas (spiritual energy). Eventually yogic powers can also manifest by the perfect practice of brahmacharya. There are many famous yogis and spiritual leaders who were established in this yama. Some of them are Sankara, Jesus, Gandhi, Hanuman, Lakshmana, and Bhishma from the Mahabharata. From their practice of brahmacharya they had incredible amounts of energy, will-power and thought-power to do great works for the world.

Gandhi_smiling_R

Many people mistakenly believe that practicing brahmacharya means suppression of the natural sexual instincts. Suppression is not what is wanted, because anything that is suppressed will eventually be released with redoubled force when an opportunity arises, the will becomes weak or when sadhana slackens.

*** Let me intervene here for a moment if I may. While discussing this subject at Tattvaa Yoga Shala in Rishikesh India and also at Rishikesh Yog Peeth we discovered a disconcerting pattern. Why is it there seems to be so many problems among certain groups of powerful people (priests, rabbis, even yogi brahmins?) It is possible that it is because they are held to the  standard of suppressing their sexuality, the energy becomes distorted and malformed eventually coming out in horrific ways. For some practicing sexual brahmacharya is too spiritually advanced, and for some it isn’t….***

The proper way to practice brahmacharya is to sublimate these natural urges into Ojas by a strong yoga practice that includes meditation, asanas, pranayama, japa, kirtan, satsang, and reading of scriptures or yogic texts. Contrary to some popular ideas and incorrect psychological beliefs, celibacy improves health and all aspects of life when practiced in the proper context.

*PLAY, sing, PRACTICE, LOVE, meditate, READ…*

This is a good begining.

 

Brahmacharya for Householders (Normal People)

Swami Sivananda recommends that for householders moderation should be practiced. He recommends self-control in order to have one or two children who are healthy and strong. He advocates living a more selfless life of charity, goodness and kindness, including worship of God. Marriage should lead the husband and wife upwards in the spiritual path towards a life of spiritual partnership. When this is accomplished, much spiritual progress can be gained.

It is beyond all doubt that a life of Brahmacharya is glorious and marvellous. At the same time, a life of moderation in the household life is equally good and helpful for spiritual growth. Both have their own advantages. You must have great strength to tread the path either way.

Swami Sivananda

lucky

for more on this subject see also:

http://taozitreeyoga.com/2012/12/09/tantric-sex-on-a-saturday-night


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“Does my butt look big?” A yogi responds.

big butt

TRUTHFULNESS. According to Patanjali (the author of the Yoga Sutras) truthfulness, or satya,  is the second most important attribute to maintain in society. It is well known that telling the truth is common sense. However, the line gets foggy when the truth could potentially hurt someone, going against Patanjali’s first and most important attribute, ahimsa/non-harming.  These attributes, otherwise known as yamas, are in order for a reason and it is always most important to uphold any yama coming before the other. Thus… non-harming is always the priority over truth. So, do we always need to tell the truth? Yes. UNLESS  it is going to hurt someone.

This leads us to the age-old scenario of the uncomfortable question…  “Does my butt look big?”  (substitute any of the following questions here…“Do I look fat?” Do you like/did you notice… my hair cut?” “How do you feel about my parents?” “Is she/he prettier then me?” (DONT EVER ASK THIS) “Is this delicious?” add infinitum…)

funny-wife-trap-do-i-look-fat

Donna Farhi* says:

The yamas are broken down into five “wise characteristics.” Rather than a list of dos and don’ts, “they tell us that our fundamental nature is compassionate, generous, honest and peaceful.” 

Satya – Commitment to Truthfulness 
Satya means “to speak the truth,” yet it is not always desirable to speak the truth on all occasions, for it could harm someone unnecessarily. We have to consider what we say, how we say it, and in what way it could affect others. If speaking the truth has negative consequences for another, then it is better to say nothing. Satya should never come into conflict with our efforts to behave with ahimsa. This precept is based on the understanding that honest communication and action form the bedrock of any healthy relationship, community, or government, and that deliberate deception, exaggerations, and mistruths harm others. 

Hmmmm…..    Really? While studying in India with Rishikesh Yog Peeth, my class was flabbergasted when we heard this come seriously from Bhaskar’s (our philosophy teacher’s) mouth. He said, “Don’t tell the truth if it is going to hurt someone… ever.” We all looked around quizzically… puzzled by our gurus meaning.

“Soooo, you want us…to lie?”  This obviously seemed like a huge no-no in yogic tradition.

No. You don’t lie. You say this….”My eyes cannot speak, my ears cannot see, my lips cannot hear.”                  Got it? One more time. The correct answer to the question “Do I look fat in this dress?” Is either…. “NO. You do NOT look fat. You look BEAUTIFUL!” Unless of course, she doesn’t.

If it is after the holidays and she has put on a few pounds and you DON’T think she looks beautiful, you should not tell her this… because that would hurt her feelings (duh).  SO what you say is….

satya

“My eyes cannot speak, my ears cannot see, my lips cannot hear.”

If this brings on a surge of questions, simply reply the same awkward sentence again and perhaps again until she backs off. THIS approach is the most yogic. 😉

After fully believing most of my life that honesty is the best approach, no matter what… I find this hard to believe. I’d like to say that as a women, I want to hear the truth. On the other hand I want the truth to be that my man thinks I look beautiful. How do you want to be treated? With the truth no matter what? With a little white lie? Or would silence or the response “My eyes cannot speak, my ears cannot see, my lips cannot hear “ suffice?

see-no-evil-speak-no-evil-hear-no-evil-1

*Donna Farhi. Yoga Mind, Body, Spirit.  pg 7, 9


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Don’t Eat Me. I love you.

Please don't eat me...

Please don’t eat me…

Karey my adorable roommate Freshman year at CU Boulder hasn’t eaten meat since she was eight. She discovered at the dinner table one night that hamburgers were made of cows. “Ewwwww”… I can picture her saying and simply making the decision then and there that it didn’t feel right for her. I admired this very much. This reason for being a vegetarian (naturally being disgusted that meat comes from animals that we kill) always seemed way more appealing to me than the seemingly absurd reasons coming from veggie fanatics. Somehow they would make me feel guilty for my entire up bringing and culture and EVERYTHING for simply eating my moms home cooked meatballs. No one likes feeling guilty or morally inferior for being themselves. Non the less, there may have been some truth to what was being said.

Honestly, I have never been a huge meat eater. I have always preferred my macaroni and cheese to hamburger helper leading most of my friends to naturally assume I am in fact a vegetarian. This has never been the case.  However, as I continue down my path the topic seems to cross my mind more and more.

Kissed by a cow in Rishikesh.

Kissed by a cow in Rishikesh.

After spending 13 weeks nearly meat free in India, it seems a tragedy to pick up a corn dog now (not that I ever would). Somewhere along the line a shift occurred inside of me, drawing me away from my normally omnivore self. It may have been all the placid happy cows wandering safely around Rishikesh, or it may have been my discovery that eating all vegetarian is awesome. Am I never going to eat meat again? I’m not so sure. I still won’t claim to be a vegetarian because the pressure of giving it up forever (I like a good petite steak after all) is too much. The truth is that the good old days of the large open farm-land with the happy animals wandering around eating fresh grass and farm house slop are over. Unless my friend Eric decides to leave Beijing and set up his farm in Pennsylavania, I doubt I’ll enjoy bacon again any time in the near future. For today, I will handle my non-meat eating self like I handle most everything else in my life, one day at a time. For today, no meat for me thank you.

My advice to those of you who have thought about making a shift away from meat in your diet, but haven’t taken any action, is to perhaps re-evaluate. Are you one of those people who know that aspects of the meat industry are utterly horrific but would rather not know the details (you would prefer to stay in ignorance)? Then maybe it is time to start making small changes. I am by no means saying stop-eating meat all together, but there are small steps we can take to gently shift gears, perhaps beginning the drive toward a healthier, more aware, lifestyle.

Just adding in more veggies into your diet is an acceptable start I think! Try making vegetarian hamburgers one night instead of eating beef… its not that big of a deal is it?

IMG_8317

Black Bean Burgers

Black Bean Burgers

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/homemade-black-bean-veggie-burgers/

So what lessons have I learned along the way about the controversial issue of eating meat?

Most common reasons to NOT eat meat: (I’ll be covering these issues in more detail in the next few posts…)

1)   Animal Cruelty: This is the classic reason advocated by most western vegetarian fanatics. We treat the animals like *%^#.  Animals have rights too! This falls nicely under Ahimsa or non-violence.

2)   The Environment: Environmentalists the world over insist that by going vegetarian the deteriorating global environmental situation could be improved.

3)   Our minds/Spirituality: Many yogic texts argue that eating meat actually has an effect on the functioning of our minds.

4)   Our HEALTH: The most solid, logical, and selfish reason to go vegetarian. Vegetarian food is as healthy (if not more so) than eating meet.

Most common reasons to eat meat:

1)   Bacon. It’s delicious. I don’t want to appear flippant, but honestly, most people I talk to about the issue argue that meat is just too good to give up.

2)   Protein/ Nutrition. How would one survive without meat!? There is a huge misconception that without meat a human would not get adequit protein to sustain itself.

3)  Ignorance.

Action Step for today: Ponder your own thoughts and feelings around eating meat. How has the way you were raised impacted you? What have you heard from vegetarian fanatics that has stuck with you? What has turned you off? Why are you or are you not a vegetarian? Or more importantly… why do you think it is so important to eat meat? 

 lisa_the_vegetarian