Bindu, Discontentment and Craving for more


Bindu– The source of creation, is beyond the realm of all conventional experience. The storehouse of all previous life karmas, memories and desires. It is the ultimate source out of which all things manifest and into which all things return.

 

We always want more. Being human means being forever unsatisfied.

The Yogi take on that comes to this: the energetic layer of our body contains a little seed or a drop, somewhere close to or within the crown of the head. This seed is called in Sanskrit, Bindu. Bindu is the cause of the creation of meaning; it is what makes us remember our source of existence, our connection to some supreme divinity we not necessarily can grasp. It is a little falling drop of the universe which is contained within us and craves to comeback and connect with the rest of the universe beyond us. We don’t need to understand it in order to crave this process of reunion.

Bindu always reminds us where we come from and makes us want to come back there. Our mind, however, fails to interpret this craving. Thus we are continuously have the desire to move forward and accomplish something without being certain what exactly is this thing we want. This craving is what keeps us unsatisfied. We want a new car, a new wife, a better house, a prettier pigeon pose… But the tragedy is that no matter what we have, it is never enough; as we accomplish one goal we straight away start craving another. Our mind fails to comprehend that what we really want is already within us, we just need to let the union happen, to connect back to the universe around us. Reaching this kind of satisfaction is a life long journey to spiritual awakening, and it starts with the acceptance of our inevitable discontentment.  

This discontentment can also be explained as the god within us that wants to unite with the god beyond, or maybe our natural human arrogance. Contemplating upon the latter of those explanations, I conclude that a little bit of arrogance is crucial for us to survive. It is paradoxically the source of our Yogic humility and trust in the universe. A trust that comes from the belief that we are very close to or even contain some kind of divinity or a god, and thus we are part of something greater. It gives us a reason and a since of meaning.

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Bindu is ironically located so close to the skull, almost reaching to break free away from the physical body and out to the filled with abundance sky; it is so close to its destination. In a similar way, a newborn baby lies head down in his mother’s womb, aiming to break through the cervix. His Bindu leads him on the way to unite with the universe that is out there. Most of us succeed in this very first challenge of life, only to discover it to be the beginning of a much longer journey. A teacher once told me that a breeched baby, lies in the womb with his head up because he aspires to reach closer to his mother, or perhaps he is not yet ready to come out to the world and start his journey.

Therefore from infancy we learn that to get what we want, we must dive for it head first, leading the way with our hidden point of desire. When we are ready to conquer fear, we dive to the ocean head first; when we are ready for love we rush in it “head first” rejecting all hesitations.

In our practice, we want to go head down to a forward fold (such as Pashimotanasana) and reach our legs. We mistake our Bindu’s craving for spiritual awakening with the desire to reach palms to toes or head to knees. Even when I encourage my students to lead their movement from the heart or the chest, they struggle as their mind craves satisfaction. I remind them that this is a “forward” fold and not a “down” fold, that it will never be satisfying because no journey forward ever is.

We should surrender to the fact that we will be forever discontented. We should stop searching for satisfaction but rather focus on experiencing the journey that is given to us, to the fullest. Discontentment is also part of it, it reminds us that we are moving forward and not down.

Namaste!


Source used: Kundalini Tantra by Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Bihar School of Yoga, India, 1984.

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Shavasana, Serenity and Trust

Shavasana- Corpse pose. Full relaxation. A posture most commonly practiced at the end of a Yoga asana sequence. 

B.K.S Iyengar ꟷone of the most influential Yoga teachers in the worldꟷ prescribed in his famous book, Light on Yoga to leave 15-20 minutes for shavasana at the end of each practice. In this posture, as Iyengar writes, the practitioner should imitate a corpse. He should maintain stillness of both body and mind. The practitioner must remain in complete consciousness in order to learn how to consciously let go.

This posture is one of the hardest in our practice. Therefore it is not surprising that contemporary practitioners are drawn away from Iyengar’s instructions to it. Light on Yoga was first published in 1966 and it is considered to be one of the best written sources in the field; it summarises a lot of principles that were not published as explicitly before and many that didn’t take the written form at all for centuries.

Thus it seems right to assume that practitioners used to practice long shavasana at a certain age and time. So what is happening now?

I would love to share with you two very different experiences I had while teaching this pose:

1. Once I was teaching a class and have finished all of my planed sequence about twelve minutes before the end. Consequently, the students got the treat of a longer shavasana. I probably missed something or just changed my mind in the middle about what posture to take next, like always. Anyway, the time planning did not turn out perfectly. The class was taught in a gym environment where I am expected to give a maximum of 5 minutes shavasana at the end. We were on minute number 3 and I was already sure that all of my students are a sleep or just waiting for it to be over. I woke them up and ended the class few minutes early.  

2. Another time I guided a 3-5 minutes shavasana, at another gym, to the tunes of Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonnet’, my favourite shavasana music. A student I haven’t seen before came over after the class and thanked me. She said that she experienced unique sensations during the shavasana; she described a vision of blue and purple colours and a floating sensation. She said it was a shame that we couldn’t have a longer shavasana, as the class is only 60 minutes long.


Through my ten-years-experience in Yoga, I have never practiced or guided shavasana for longer than 10 minutes. In more traditional studios an average shavasana lasts 5-10 minutes. After arriving in Melbourne I had to adjust to most local studios’ requirements of a maximum 5 minutes length relaxation. In some studios I was asked to guide a 3 minutes relaxation and then leave the room after the class to the use of students who wish to stay longer in shavasana. I frequently see students use the time of shavaasana to practice other postures, to get dressed or gather their things; sometimes students will thank me and leave the room during shavasana.

At the same time I must say that the requests for ‘hard’ or ‘advanced’ or ‘challenging’ postures only rise. Students enjoy me demonstrating a very tricky arm balances. They love to sweat and try new things. Binds, inversions and balance postures are gaining more and more popularity in my classes. It seems to me that contemporary practitioners are embracing the physical challenges of the Yoga practice. I even sometimes feel like I need to keep advancing my own physical practice in order to keep up with my students expectations. I should thank my students for the significant progress in my asana practice the past few years; I indeed am grateful for that. Asana is a major part of our practice and I always encourage my students to keep challenging themselves to find those postures that they still can’t do, rather than staying attached to the postures they have mastered. I preach it to my students but I actually feel that I have learned it from them more than from any other source.

I think that my role as a teacher is mainly to assist in guiding the student in the path he chooses himself. Many of us choose this challenging path of conquering the Yoga asana. We are a competitive, success driven society, we are up for all that is challenging and hard. So why aren’t we as driven to challenge ourselves and conquer shavasana? It is obviously harder for us all, this day and age, to let go and relax than to hold a dancer’s pose. Maybe we are actually avoiding the harder task of lying down with closed eyes and convince ourselves we are challenged more by standing on one leg.  

I sincerely think that the fault for abandoning traditional shavasana is mainly on us, Yoga teachers. We are not very good at selling this pose! And it is probably because it is so hard for us to conquer to. It is hard to practice and it is hard to teach.

As teachers, if we want our students to enjoy shavasana, we need to market it in the same way we market other more ‘sexy’ asanas. In my classes I started to approach shavasana as a challenging posture. It is not enough to say that shavasana is the time to ‘heal’ and ‘recover’ and ‘relax’. These are not ‘sexy’ activities and they don’t imply any benefit to our contemporary student’s mind. I rather started to present shavasana as the hardest posture in our practice, as the time to challenge our mind and not the body. It is a posture that has a goal, it is done for the body and not by the body. It is the time for the body to absorb all the benefits of the practice and to gain self-learning; it is a process in which the mind must not interfere. Shavasana is not a time to ‘rest’ it is a time to ‘practice’ stillness, presence, non-attachment to the ego.   

Shavasana is all about surrendering and letting go. As a teacher I guide the students to let go of all thoughts and sensations, and commit to not making this posture all about themselves, what would be serving only the ego. At the same time it is me who has to step back and surrender to the pose. I need not to interfere and let the pose do its own service to my students. I need to stop talking and guiding and making it all about me. I need to let go of my students and give them their space. In the case I described earlier (number 2) I have created a space for my student’s spiritual experience. Her experience could have lasted longer perhaps, however, it is only because I let her go she had the space for this experience at all. I stopped talking and guiding and gave her time to tune inwards where she found space for her own spiritual practice. This is why I believe that it is a good technique to leave the room during the shavasana or maybe enter shavasana with the students, setting a timer for myself. 

Shavasana is also a lot about trust. Trusting the posture, trusting the teacher, trusting the space. We enter shavasana ꟷa state of nothingnessꟷ and we trust that we will come back from it and not disappear. Otherwise we can stay only on the threshold of the pose. As a teacher, I must trust my students when guiding them through the pose. I shouldn’t assume that they don’t have a full experience of relaxation. I don’t know what goes through their minds and I should trust them that they practice the pose in the best way possible for them, on that particular day on the mat. I sincerely think that it is me who made shavasana boring that time I described, in experience number 1. I did not trust my students enough. Maybe somewhere I still feel like I am doing something wrong if I stop talking; a moment of silence still might feel like forever. Maybe I am also falling into this popular judgment that if a class or a posture is not hard or active it is not good enough, not interesting enough. Or this common, ego-driven misconception that if a class is harder, it is better. I don’t know if that is something that we ever grow out of. My students are definitely those who inspire me to keep up and improving in this layer of my practice as well.

There is so much of a Yogi mental practice I discovered as a teacher, so much processes to observe on myself while teaching. I encourage my students to observe themselves while practicing, and I join them in this process. The realisation that I can still feel like I am a practitioner, a student, even while I am teaching a class, fills me with joy and gratitude.

Namaste!

Ahimsa VS the Vegetarian Choice

Ahimsa- The first ethical discipline of Yoga. One out of ten disciplines called Yamas and Niyamas. Ahimsa can be translated as: non-violence, harmlessness, non-interference.

 

When I accomplished my first Yoga teacher training, I was determined to live a vegetarian lifestyle. My teacher was a strict vegan, so were most of my peers. Our teacher training sessions included a joined lunch made of the trainee’s offerings. Slowly everyone started to bring only vegan or even raw food treats to lunch. I learned a few tricks from those gatherings and thus I started to cook vegetarian at home and was determined to commit to this diet. I had not necessarily occupied myself with the matter of animal cruelty at the contemporary meat industry, rather it was the natural path I felt I should take as a Yoga teacher. I was taught Ahimsa: do not interfere in other creature’s path; I was taught the health benefits of the vegetarian diet; and I was given quite a few good recipes.

My family’s reaction to my new ideas was not favourable.  My mom kept cooking lunches that included main meat dish and a side of pasta or rice without a sauce. As I rejected the meat, I was left only with the side dishes and consequently I was hungry each time I stayed at my family house. My mom argued that she can’t go through the hustle of cooking an extra dish just for me; she didn’t know how to cook vegetarian; meat was what everyone always ate. In my family it was considered right to always clean your entire plate as you eat and not complain about it. Therefore, I felt that I was always judged as selfish and impolite for my choice.

Once I raised the question with my fellow teacher trainees.

                ‘What if you are invited to another person’s house and all that is been served is meat. Wouldn’t it be impolite to refuse the meal?’ I asked and confided them with my struggle.

                My teacher laughed heartily and said that I think so perhaps because I was brought up in a Russian family. One of my friends even stated, ‘if your hosts know you are vegetarian and still serve you meat, one might question THEIR manners instead.’

Somewhere during those two years of training, between my mom’s kitchen and my teacher’s lectures, I became what I call: a ‘bad vegetarian’. I indeed ate mainly healthy vegetarian food, except sometimes some fish, which I was beating myself for. I used to claim that I am ‘not fussy’ and when I was served meat I ate everything around it. I preferred to pick at my food instead of putting my hosts in a position where they have nothing to serve me with. Sometime during this period, I heard my favourite Yoga teacher declaring that she still eats meat; it gave me some validation at the time, but it wasn’t enough.

Three or four years since, I am now living in a continent far away from my family house. I am rarely hosted as I don’t have that many contacts hereabouts, so I have the privilege to choose what I eat most of the time. I cook vegetarian because it is cheaper, easier and it is gradually became my favourite food. As a Yoga teacher I understand and respect Ahimsa: not interference, all creatures have their own journey to follow in this world; one should not hinder the path of another for his own good.

Few days ago I was traveling in a mountains area and stopped for the night at a very small country town. My navigation skills were never my advantage, thus I got a bit lost and ended up driving at night through the bush. I arrived at my motel only after ten pm that night and the elderly hostess unlocked the door for me. With sleepy eyes she said she was so tired because she only opened the motel recently and there was so much work that she has to get up every day at half past four. She gave me the keys and added, ‘your room is upstairs, I’m sorry I won’t come up there with you. I waited for you to arrive safely until now and I wish to go to sleep.’ I bided her good night and agreed with her on an hour in which I’ll come down for breakfast the next day. She didn’t asked me if I am vegetarian or vegan or gluten free or don’t like some kinds of spices; she was a bit simpler than that.

I was expecting breakfast to be a buffet from which I would be able to pick the goods that suit my diet. However, a brief moment after I entered the dining room another lady came out of the kitchen with a piled up cooked breakfast dish. She was at least in her sixties, she placed the plate in front of me and said, ‘please, enjoy your meal’. The plate consisted of toasted bread with piled up bacon, eggs, mushrooms and sausage on top of it; it was all over each other in a one big mix. After a quick reflection at my situation I ate the bacon. The next day I ate the sausage as well and cleaned up my plate. 

One of the best teachers I had the luck to be exposed to lately said that because he leads a traveller’s lifestyle, he can’t always choose what he eats. It is a similar example, however, he is quite privileged in his lifestyle. Many people are really CAN’T choose what they eat; some perhaps don’t experience the privilege of having food at all. At this New-Age of ours where embracing vegan diet is so available for us, we must remember the fact that it is only because we have that choice that we take it. In some snowy northern villages, people still survive only on hunting animals, for others eating meat is part of a traditional ritual which is deeply meaningful to them. I guess that at this motel’s homely little dining room I suddenly thought, ‘who am I to refuse the food this old lady made for me?’ I suddenly felt that rejecting her kindness would be a severer case of breaking Ahimsa than eating two pieces of meat.

In my own home, my own sanctuary, I can choose any diet that is in the latest fashion. We must not forget that food is such a precious matter for many of us, it is part of our path. What we eat, and how we eat, and how we make it, and if we eat at all. Especially if it so for you, you should respect other people’s sanctuaries. I understand now the value of cleaning up my plate. A tradition that is not only taught in my Russian family, but was embraced for centuries by so many cultures. It is also comes from Ahimsa: non-interference in other creature’s path in life. It is about not rejecting someone else’s offering, an offering that perhaps came with good intention or an intention that is unknown to us. It is someone else’s journey you cross pass when you arrive at his table as a guest and you should respect his journey.  What purpose one serves when one refuses the turkey some grandmother made for a Christmas dinner? What I would have achieved if I refused the food my hostess hustled for? Except vexing a soul that reached to offer kindness, I don’t see any. Food is the essence of life, each has his own taste, but we should not claim it as a value. Being a kind person is a value, so is embracing the kindness of others.

With food, like with all matters of importance, one should be flexible and sensitive. One is not what one eats. Being vegetarian doesn’t make me a better person or a better teacher. The intention behind our choices is what matters. What we eat should be a choice made by the same criteria as any other. Does my choice serves others? Or the universe? Does it makes me happy or not? Does it makes anyone else happy or not? If the answer you find within is positive, just keep it simple and eat the bacon.