Tending the Sacred Fire

Picture of Kino MacGregor

Kino MacGregor

The inner light of yoga is like a scared fire. It is the true heart and spirit of the practice. While potent and powerful the magic of the practice is also vulnerable and tenuous. The sacredness of the practice can die easily if we do not tend to it every day. Amidst the cynic’s voice and the inevitable burn-out that comes with steady devotion the true yoga practitioner must find the indefatigable courage to re-kindle the spiritual fire every day.

The sacred fire that illuminates the path of yoga is at once the fire of purification, the karmic fire, and spiritual bliss. In essence the light that shines forth from the practice is nothing less than the revelation of the soul. Yoga assumes that there is divinity in each and every sentient being and it’s sometimes lonely practice aims to give you a pathway to taste the nectar of that divinity within.

In my own physical practice of Ashtanga Yoga strength was pure magic for me. I can still remember the sensation of my shoulder collapsing when I took my first trip to a simple plank position. Even worse was the sensation of falling out of headstand every day with a loud crashing sound for eight straight months. The experience was so devastating that I doubted my ability to ever build strength in my body at all. Until the day when I began to experience the connection between the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual body I had no way to build a path towards the results that I wanted. One day the magic of the physical movement suddenly revealed a hidden inner realm of mental, emotional, and spiritual strength. In essence my physical weakness was a kind of manifestation of the worldview that I held deeply within. I believed myself to be weak and so I was. I believed in my limitations, my feeling of “less than”, and my doubt. Plagued by insecurity not only could I not lift my body weight off the ground but I could also not stand up for what I believed in. I had to learn true spiritual strength, self confidence at the deepest level, and connection with my own inner divinity before the physical movement that I wanted within my practice would unfold. The first step was that I had to cultivate a belief in the possibility that I, with all my weakness, would someday be strong. I was so weak that I had accomplished teachers give up on. One even told me that I would have to wait many lifetimes before I could perform some the arm balances that I do nearly every day now. Yet, I had to believe in my own dream and work towards it every day, even when I was the only one who left who had faith.

In some ways belief comes from an innocent place within where we are willing to suspend the solidity of doubt and take a chance on the unknown. True teachers understand that belief is a gift that leads to unwavering faith when cared for over time. A lineage of teachers who have each tended to the sacred fire of yoga with integrity and devotion pass on this gift to students who will ultimately be the next teachers themselves. It is crucial to the survival of yoga as a spiritual practice that we understand just how valuable the gift we receive really is. Without the careful cultivation of spiritual practice through years of faithful service there is no foundation to share yoga from. Each time you practice you open your heart to receive the gift of yoga’s sacred inner fire. What you do with it after you feel the flame ignite within your heart is your choice. It is up to each yoga practitioner today to determine whether the magical heart of the practice will survive to reach future generations.

Yoga is more than an exercise to help alleviate lower back pain. It is a comprehensive tool for spiritual evolution that seeks to give every practitioner a direct experience of the divinity within themselves. Faith in a greater spiritual force is a necessary component along the spiritual path. There is a magical essence to the practice that defies the bounds of logical thought. Yoga sometimes demands that you abandon reason and side with intuition. The power and presence of a master teacher, or perhaps even a Guru, sometimes instills the kind of non-logical experience that can shift whole paradigms. However these paradigm shifts do not rely on naiveté or blind adoration, all that is needed is the small seed of faith and diligent practice. If you muster this for a long enough time you will eventually come to an heart opening experience that breaks through the boundaries of logical thought and open the door that leads to the experience of your own true self. The magical journey through hidden doorways within your own body leads you to an inner realm. An open mind, a courageous heart, and a healed body are all steps along the path of self-discovery. Without these tools the movements of physical yoga practice lose their sacred fire. With these tools the movements of physical yoga burn through negative behavioral patterns, release hidden pathways of energy, and illuminate the lives of everyone around you.

Kino MacGregor is one of only 14 people in the United States to receive Certification to teach Ashtanga Yoga from its founder, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India and is the youngest woman to hold this title. In 2006, she and her husband Tim Feldmann founded Miami Life Center where they now teach daily classes, workshops and intensives together. Kino is a life coach and Ph.D. candidate in holistic health. She has a Masterʼs Degree from New York University. She has been featured in Yoga Journal, Yoga Mind Body Spirit, Yoga Joyful Living, Travel & Leisure Magazine, Ocean Drive Magazine, Boca Raton Magazine, Florida Travel & Life Magazine, Six Degrees Magazine as well as appearing on Miami Beachʼs Plum TV and the CBS Today Show. More details here.

Do you have a story how you found yoga? Or the impact of yoga on your life? We would love to hear about it! Please send it to: info [at] mylifeyoga [dot] com

You may also like: A Taste Of Mysore Magic

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Svetaketu’s challenge

Svetaketu's Challenge
Many thousand years ago a young lad named Svetaketu came home after completing an elite education. He was now a learned man with many sought after skills. He had a bright future and was understandably proud. But when he spoke with his father he realized a bitter truth. It dawned on him that though his elite education had taught him a lot it had missed teaching him a crucial insight: The nature of his own identity.

The essential problem of identity can be boiled down to the fact that the word “I” sometimes refers to our ego and at other times it refers to our deeper Self. The fact that the word “I” points to two distinct entities is a source of endless confusion that leads to much trouble.

Svetaketu’s story records the first time when humans gained awareness of this duality. The problems arising from the confusion with dual identity are so severe that our ancestors have taken the trouble to document and preserve the story for thousands of years. (Svetaketu’s story is now also a youtube video that you can watch here.)

Unfortunately, even as was thousands of years ago so it is today. Our education does little to educate us on the essential difference between our two identities. We may be dimly aware of the possibility that we may have a deeper Self, but it is not something we are trained to work towards or understand. The entire focus of our education is about things external to us. All this focus on the external, without understanding who we are inside, creates a dangerous situation. We gain knowledge and power but we really do not know on whose behalf we are using it. It is like being in a ship where the captain has been imprisoned in the cellar and an impersonator is in charge. Nobody knows that the ship has been left to the guiles of an imposter. All our efforts to make the ship more secure from the outside seem futile as we remain unaware that the real captain is not in charge.

Many thousand years ago, humans decided to preserve Svetaketu’s story. They did it as a warning and a challenge for succeeding generations. We have yet to pay heed and we continue to ignore this only at our cost. Our education and training is still focused on the external and by doing so we remain trapped in our ego-identity. Living a life subservient to the whims of the ego is difficult and unnecessarily painful. The reason most of us do it is that we do not know better. But the light shining forth from Svetaketu’s story and the stories of countless other saints is like a beacon that we must use to wake up from the on-going nightmare with our egos.

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Yoga for prisoners?

James Fox conducting yoga for prisoners

James Fox

We want to take the bad guys and lock them up. Out of sight and out of mind! But does this really solve the problem? Prisons are factories of violence. Are we sending people there at great cost to tax-payers only to turn them into hardened criminals? One man, James Fox, is out to change this and he has an unusual tool in his tool box: Yoga!

Sara Neufeld an Anusara yoga teacher with background in journalism recently interviewed him. Here is the interview reposted with permission:

Sara Neufeld: How did you get involved teaching in prisons?
James Fox: I’d been practicing yoga for 24 years, and when I became certified to teach in 2001, I knew that I didn’t want to teach in yoga studios… In one of the teacher trainings I did with Erich Schiffmann, he said something that really impacted me, something to the effect of, ‘Don’t be so concerned about teaching someone else’s teachings. Find what it is that you have to offer.’ … There was a monk who was in that training who had been teaching homeless people, and I was very impacted by that… There was a residential treatment facility for boys in the town I lived in. I thought, ‘Well, there’s the perfect opportunity.’ … I went to this residential facility called Full Circle and presented that I would like to teach yoga to the boys. At first they said, ‘It would be impossible. We can’t keep their attention for more than five minutes.’ That went on for five years until Full Circle lost its state funding and had to close…. (Meanwhile) the Insight Prison Project, a nonprofit organization, was setting up a multidisciplinary program at San Quentin and asked if I would set up a program.

SN: What was a typical class like for you when you started?
JF: When I first started going and I’d walk in with my yoga mat under my arm, the guys on the yard would whistle at me…. Yoga was brand new to them. It was looked at as some kind of pursuit for sissies. I was like a Martian showing up in their world. I remember one guard saying to me, ‘Man, I’ll give you six months.’ … After about a year, more and more guys started showing up… Now I’m teaching three classes and about to start a fourth: two for guys with life sentences and two for (those with) determinant sentences, beginner and experienced, (filled to capacity at) 16-18 students each.

SN: How do you draw inmates to your classes? Continue reading

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Democracy + Capitalism + Yoga = Happy Future

Picture of good stewardship of earth by humans

A recently released video titled “Who am I?” elicited the response: “I know who I am, so fine thank-you!” Yes of-course, most of us need no assistance in identifying ourselves with our ego-identity. So the question is: Why look further? What is wrong with identifying myself with my ego?

The problem associated with the ego is at two levels. One is at the level of the individual and the other is at the level of society. At the level of the individual, if we stop at the ego and go no further then our lives our deeply unfulfilling. Life is robbed of a deeper spirituality and drained of meaning and purpose. Inflating our ego and being a servant of our ego can only carry us so far. Once we make progress down the road dictated by the ego we find that we are quickly at a dead-end and there is a yearning for something deeper. The ego leads us down the path of being on an isolated island of our identity. We end up alone, loveless, disconnected, divided, bitter, and angry. Is this where we really want to be?

At the level of society we find that it is very difficult to build a sustainable society only on the basis of counterbalanced egos. Modern democratic societies are the pinnacle of human achievement in that they use a framework of laws so that the rights and privileges of one ego are balanced by the rights and privileges of another ego. But what are the responsibilities of the individual egos? Can we have a society where individuals have only rights but no obligations? If the answer to this question is negative then the question arises: how are we to compel individual egos to do something that is not in their direct self-interest?

In addition we have discovered that it is possible to build a society that is able to take care of our material needs by building a framework that uses the energy of competing egos driven by greed. This is the basis of a capitalist society. There is nothing wrong with this in itself as we find that capitalist framework is the most efficient way in fulfilling basic human needs. Without basic needs being fulfilled we are not even fully human and there is no question of talking about anything deeper. However having trained egos to behave in a greedy and consumptive manner, how do we now tell the ego to stop?

We now find that if we allow societies to stop evolving and get stuck at the level of the ego then this will imperil the very survival of humans as a species. This is because there is no end to the wants and needs of the ego. And with increasingly powerful technologies at the beck and call of the ego, we can quickly deplete and destroy the planet. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Earth has enough for our needs, but not for our wants.”

This is why the story of Svetaketu is important. It gives us the basis for going beyond the ego. Once this happens the “Golden Rule” emerges. This provides us with the framework for love and deeper spirituality in our lives. But how do we go from theory into practice? It is one thing to know about the Golden Rule and quite another to practice it in our daily life. This is where yoga comes into play. Yoga allows us to find ourselves beyond our ego-identity. It provides a spiritual upsurge within us that allows us to go beyond our selfish desires and needs. The practice of Golden Rule now becomes easy and uplifting while formerly it seemed artificial and imposed. We now see that the answer lies not in jettisoning democracy or capitalism or even reforming them The answer lies in adding another layer: The layer of yoga on top. If we were to add a layer of yoga on top of our democratic and capitalistic framework we could revitalize our society and move it towards a gentler, kinder, and sustainable future. Democracy + Capitalism + Yoga = Sustainable and Happy future!

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What was Krishanamacharya’s style of yoga?

Picture of Krishnamacharya

With the worldwide spread of yoga there has been some understandable jostling amongst the different gurus and teachers with respect to lineages and yoga styles. This jostling inevitably leads to the question: What was Krishnamacharya’s style of yoga?

While the jostling is understandable this is not welcome for two reasons. One is that the very basis of yoga is to encourage movement away from the ego. Ancient sages and saints were reluctant to even identify themselves as authors of the texts that they wrote for this reason.

The other reason that this jostling for space within the yoga community is not welcome is that yoga has ways to go. Why fight amongst ourselves when there is so much to be done? An earlier post pointed out that upwards 98% of the world population is not doing yoga. With these kinds of numbers what sense it makes to fight over claims on the 2% of people that do practice yoga? That is like fighting over a small pool of water while the entire ocean lies unclaimed before you.

The question of Krishnamacharya’s style comes up because he is now viewed as the father of the modern yoga movement. Iyengar, Ashtanga, Viniyoga, Sai, and many other different yoga styles have been inspired by the teaching of Krishnamacharya. There are indeed many claimants to Krishnamacharya’s legacy. The question of Krishnamacharya’s style hence comes up when different yoga schools claim to be the closest to Krishnamacharya’s original teaching and style.

The purpose of this post is not to create controversy by taking a stand on what Krishnamacharya’s style was. The intention is in fact the opposite. The idea of this post is to show that the question of his style may be irrelevant. The reason this is so is that Krishnamacharya taught in no fixed style himself. He adopted his style based on his student’s need. To Pattabhi Jois who was young and strong he taught a vigorous form of yoga with challenging postures. To Indra Devi, who was sick when she arrived, he taught an extremely gentle form of yoga.

Srivatsa Ramaswami also attests to this. Krishnamacharya used to come to his home to teach a group class to his family. This was probably one of the rare group classes that he taught. He usually taught one-on-one and most of the yoga he showed his students was in the context of a yoga therapy rather than a yoga class. So what Srivatsa Ramaswami has to say about this class is fascinating: Continue reading

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