Sraddha: Faith 

What is faith? In the story of Jesus’s resurrection, doubting Thomas is the apostle who is a “skeptic.” He refuses to believe that Jesus has reappeared until he actually personally experiences it by seeing and feeling the wounds from the cross.   In the Merriam Webster Dictionary, faith is defined as “strong belief or trust in someone or something.”  But where does this trust come from? Does it come from taking a leap into the unknown? Does it require believing in something that we have never experienced before?  In the story of Thomas, I have always felt the message to be… a judgement that an inability to trust in something one has never experienced before is an obstacle and not an ideal way to be.  

In the Yoga Philosophy and Buddhist Philosophy, faith comes from repeated experience… we learn to trust because we have experienced it before and that builds and so we gain courage to take greater leaps because we know that these things have worked before. The more experience we have, the more we increase our ability to persevere with greater and greater obstacles. In this way, the experience and the faith that comes from it actually gives us energy.

“In B.K.S. Iyengar’s commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, Vyasa likens faith to the benevolent mother who guides the child. Faith comes from the heart and provides the energy for sustained and dedicated practice, which in turn builds a storehouse of memory within our cells. As we deepen those memories (smrti) and the positive imprints (samskara-s) of practice, we strengthen our ability to persevere (virya), become absorbed (samadhi), gain insight (prajna), and experience joy in our practice. We let the current of our practice flow through us without resistance and carry us closer and closer to the Self.” – Patricia Walden


Learning to Swim

My mom is a dog trainer and has many great stories of dogs she has known. Last year she told me a story about a dog who came to her very afraid of water.  She said that it’s people had thrown it into the water, thinking that it’s fear would be resolved if it just got tossed in and then would realize that it was actually fine… but it backfired, and the dogs fear of water only increased.  It’s people had asked it to take a blind leap of faith and instead of it increasing faith, it only brought out doubt, fear, insecurity, and distrust.  

She practiced with the dog, by first just going out for walks down the road after it had rained and looking at the water in the ditch. Then she began to throw food into puddles, and ditches, and very shallow water… the dog began to reach toward the floating pieces and gradually worked up from toenail deep, to ankle deep, to shin deep, to standing in the water and munching.  Piece by piece, they got deeper and deeper in, until one day….. they went swimming. 

This is how we take leaps… it is through repeated experience that we gain the confidence and knowledge that gives us the ability to take greater and greater leaps.  This is faith that comes from experience and gives us the willingness, not will-power, not beating ourselves into things, not blaming, shaming, forcing, disciplining, caffeinating… but willingness… with curiosity that is connected to our heart, and presence, and truth… a willingness to actually reach toward our fears.

Water: Fear and Exhaustion

“Water has to do with where capability really comes from, potency, power, ability, security and confidence.”  -Thea Elijah  
This element is about our relationship to the unknown, fear, willpower, faith and a sense of our purpose in the world.  Some of us have a hard relationship with this element because it asks us to descend, go downward, inward, and get quiet. It is not a time of rising and executing the vision.  When our sense of self-worth is tied to what we are doing, it can bring up a lot of insecurity and self-doubt to stop.. to really stop and look inside. To ask the hard questions that we are afraid of the answers because, to know the answer might mean ending a relationship or a job, or making a huge change.  In the end, I think we would rather know the answer and ask the hard questions than to miss out on what is most important and just devote ourself to exhaustion and depletion by running in the hamster wheel out of fear of what the answers might have been. 

The Chance To Love Everything: Mary Oliver

All summer I made friends 
with the creatures nearby —
they flowed through the fields
and under the tent walls,
or padded through the door, 
grinning through their many teeth,  
looking for seeds,
suet, sugar; muttering and humming, 
opening the breadbox, happiest when
there was milk and music.

But once
in the night I heard a sound 
outside the door, the canvas 
bulged slightly —something
was pressing inward at eye level.
I watched, trembling, sure I had heard
the click of claws, the smack of lips
outside my gauzy house —
I imagined the red eyes, 
the broad tongue, the enormous lap. 
Would it be friendly too?

Fear defeated me. And yet,
not in faith and not in madness 
but with the courage I thought
my dream deserved,
I stepped outside. It was gone.
Then I whirled at the sound of some
shambling tonnage.

Did I see a black haunch slipping
back through the trees? Did I see
the moonlight shining on it?

Did I actually reach out my arms
toward it, toward paradise falling, like
the fading of the dearest, wildest hope —
the dark heart of the story that is all
the reason for its telling? 


Doubt: A Lack of Clarity

What is doubt but, simply, a lack of clarity? “Often in class or public, BKS Iyengar will ask, “Are there any doubts?” This gets a laugh out of Western students, because while we know that they are asking if there are any questions or points in need of clarification, we don’t usually think of these questions as “doubts.” But if we stop and think about it, confusion or lack of clarity about the most basic things in our practice is what gives rise to doubt. If we are unclear, say, about whether the thighs should turn in or out in urdhva dhanurasana (upward facing bow pose), the mind becomes divided. Part of the mind says, “Let me turn the thighs in,” part says, “Let me turn the thighs out,” and we lack the discrimination to know which will help us progress in our practice. Of course, if we have the chance to ask our teachers, we might be able to get some guidance to dispel this doubt, but if not, then we what do we do? Rather than let the confusion paralyze us, we can say, let me practice urdhva dhanurasana both ways, turning the thighs in and then turning the thighs out. I may not know right now which is the better action, but I have faith that if I practice with compassionate attention and awareness, if I reflect sensitively on the sensations that come as a result, if I compare my experience now to my previous experiences this and other asanas, then I can discern which action gives me a sense of inner space, evenness of effort, one-pointedness of mind, and benevolence of consciousness.” – Patricia Walden

Having Loved Enough and Lost Enough:

Having loved enough and lost enough,
I’m no longer searching
just opening,
no longer trying to make sense of pain
but trying to be a soft and sturdy home
in which real things can land.
These are the irritations
that rub into a pearl.
So we can talk for a while
but then we must listen,
the way rocks listen to the sea.
And we can churn at all that goes wrong
but then we must lay all distractions
down and water every living seed.
And yes, on nights like tonight
I too feel alone. But seldom do I
face it squarely enough
to see that it’s a door
into the endless breath
that has no breather,
into the surf that human
shells call God(dess)

– Mark Nepo


Yoga Sequence:
Finding Earth in Water
Finding Center in Fear

How: Use this line from Mark Nepo’s Poem to inspire your actions: “Having loved enough and lost enough, I’m no longer searching, just opening, no longer trying to make sense of pain, but trying to be a soft and sturdy home in which real things can land.”

Be investigative, notice limiting patterns of belief, allow yourself to experiment with every pose… break the rules your teachers have taught you, and find out why these are the rules you follow… notice any time you don’t allow yourself anything.. and investigate why.. get clarity.  Notice your fears and what they are, are they coming from a belief? Ask yourself, is it true? Absolutely true?

Watch emotions and sensations come and go, witness the cycles of everything and move with the wisdom of one who knows pain.. who has walked many times through challenge, hardship, and the cycles of life.  Give yourself the permission of knowing.. of going to the places you fear because you have done it before . Get to know your fears. Find creative ways to give yourself what you need to feel less afraid as you approach fears. Tip toe into the water. 

Sequence:

  1. Sukhasana (Find Center)
  2. Tadasana
  3. Urdhva Hastasana in Tadasana
  4. Trikonasana
  5. Vira II
  6. Utthitah Parsvakonasana
  7. Vira 1
  8. Vira 3
  9. Uttanasana
  10. Parsvottanasana
  11. Prassaritta Padotanasana
  12. Upavistha Konasana
  13. Sukhasana (Find Center)
  14. Virasana
  15. Gomukasana
  16. Sirsasana
  17. Adho Mukha Svanasana
  18. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
  19. Sarvangasana
    1. Halasana
    2. Supta Konasana
    3. Karnipidasana
  20. Urdhva Prassarita Padasana
  21. Janu Sirsasana
  22. Paschimottanasana
  23. Savasana
  24. Sukhasana (Find Center)

“The best way to overcome fear is to face, with equanimity, the situation of which one is afraid. Then one gets the correct perspective, and one is not frightened anymore.” – BKS Iyengar

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