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Yoga as peeling the layers of an onion

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Linda Brown

My journey with yoga started 14 years ago and over half of this time has been with Ketna Shah as my teacher. My practice began as a physical practice and it has developed (with Ketna’s guidance) into both a physical and spiritual practice.

My path to the Divine Spirit has been through the awareness of breath which is emphasized in Ketna’s classes. The practice is profound in its simplicity. Once you connect your breath with your movements, “Breath Yoga” becomes a moving meditation. This has changed my life as Ketna’s influence and encouragement has led me to the next step in my yoga journey. This is called Kriya Yoga.

Yoga has enhanced my life as I have become more aware of the Divine Spirit through conscious breathing which has helped illuminate my path to God.

A yoga teacher once told me that the practice of yoga is like peeling the layers of an onion. The more you peel away, the more you realize you don’t know. The journey of yoga is infinite. God blessed me when Ketna Shah entered my life.

Linda Brown is a student of Ketna Shah and has been practicing yoga for 14 years.

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Taking a bus home

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I would like to share an experience with you all, to do with drinking and driving.

As you know some of us have had brushes with the authorities on our way home in recent months.

Well I for one have done something about it.

The other night I was out for a dinner and a few drinks and watched the State of Origin with some friends and having far too much vino, and knowing full well I was wasted, I did something I’ve never done before.

I took a bus home.

I arrived home safely and without incident, which was a real surprise, as I have never driven a bus before.

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Is everything just maya?

Ancient philosophers have talked about the “illusion” of reality. There is even a word called “Maya” that has been coined to refer to this. Now this concept seems to get more support from the field of quantum physics. What does all this mean for us and our lives? This short video presentation provides some insights.

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The Brahmodaya Competition

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Imagine an albatross sitting on top of a huge iceberg. The albatross sits at the highest point of the iceberg and sees nothing but snow and ice in all direction. It then proclaims in a loud voice, “I see beyond what anybody else can and I attest that the universe is nothing but ice!”

Are we being like the albatross when we proclaim that the universe is nothing but space-time? We put our telescopes on top of high mountains and peer in all directions and see nothing but space-time and so some of us feel that there is nothing more to the universe. The difficulty for us is that our minds are primarily rooted in space-time. This means all our tools and our languages are oriented in that direction. We are trapped in our limitations and like the frog in the well some of us seem to think that the patch of sky above is all that is to universe. It now seems that scientists and philosophers are waking up to the possibility that the space-time universe is just the tip of the iceberg of the totality of reality. So the question is if we are submerged in a reality that is predominantly not space-time why do we struggle to accept this?

The problem is that when we go beyond space-time our language, our mathematics, and our ability to think, all break down. This is because all the ideas, concepts, and structures in our head are related to space-time. We use these to formalize our thoughts. When we verbalize our thoughts in spoken and written word we use language. And when we do it more rigorously we use mathematics that science uses. However all this simply breaks down, because at the root of the entire framework is our conception of space-time. When we go beyond space-time we simply do not have the tools to even think or express anything.

St. Thomas was a prolific writer. After a mystical experience near the end of his life, he put his pen down in the middle of a treatise: “Reginald, I can write no more,” he said to his friend. “All that I have hitherto written seems to me nothing but straw!”

Throughout history those who have glimpsed beyond the ordinary have clammed up. One of the earliest mystics who has left a written record was Lao Tzu. He said, “The Dao you can talk about is not the eternal Dao.”

One of the techniques to fathom the unfathomable was to shock the mind into silence. This was done by using paradoxes. If you could present a paradox that created a knot that logic and language could not break, the hope was that this would silence that part of the mind that worked with space-time constructs and logic. The idea was that if this were silenced consciousness would then be able to grasp the unfathomable that lay beyond space-time.

In ancient times, around 500 BC, the Indians organized something they called the “Brahmodaya competition” to accomplish this. The aim of the competition was to come up with a verbal formula that would help understand the Brahman. The Brahman, like the Tao, was supposed to be the innermost essence of everything and was too subtle to conceptualize or talk about. To prepare for the competition participants would go to the jungle and stay in isolation. They would fast, meditate, do yoga, and do different breathing exercises, all this in an attempt to induce an altered state of consciousness. This was important because it was assumed that the grasp of the Brahman was not possible in the ordinary conscious state. Having so prepared they would return for a verbal duel. Karen Armstrong describes how the duel worked:

“The challenger issued his own elliptical and paradoxical description of the Brahman, one that embodied all his learning and insight. Then his opponents had to respond, building on the challenger’s formula and taking the description a step further. But the winner was the one who reduced everybody to silence — and in that silence the Brahman was present.”

In blog posts, books, television, and streaming media, we have an endless chatter of thoughts swirling around. The paradox is that as we multiply our thoughts we get increasingly disconnected from our essence. All we are doing is beating the same space-time drum to death. What we really need is to unplug from all this and find the silence that will undo the knots that tie us down. In this case less is more. Each one of us has to find a way to organize a modern version of the “Brahmodaya Competition” inside ourselves and find a level of silence that takes us to our true Self.

Related: The Peace That Passes All Understanding

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From India to Chicago

India to Chicago

As I entered the classroom of a special school in Bangalore, India, and found children with autism on carpets arranged in a circle following the directions of the yoga teacher, I knew my idea would work. Last December, I sat at my desk at Bogan High School on the South side of Chicago trying to figure out a way to help my students with autism calm their anxieties, improve their focus, and incorporate fitness into their daily lives. Including yoga as part of our daily routine in my self-contained special education classroom popped into my mind. I knew how much I have benefitted from yoga and believed it could improve the lives of my students as well.

After doing some research, I learned that yoga is an integral part of many Indian schools, and, furthermore, several schools included yoga for their students with autism. I thought that visiting these schools, talking with the teachers there, and seeing firsthand how to incorporate yoga into a school day would empower me to pursue similar efforts in Chicago. But first I had to get to India.

I discovered Fund for Teachers through the Chicago Foundation for Education, whose mission is to “[enrich] the personal and professional growth of teachers by recognizing and supporting them as they identify and pursue opportunities around the globe that will have the greatest impact on their practice, the academic lives of their students and on their school communities.” After proposing my idea and waiting several months, I was granted a $5,000 fellowship.

I landed in Delhi, India, on July 10. For the first two weeks I oriented myself by traveling to different spiritual centers: I went to Amritsar, where Sikhs make pilgrimages to the Golden Temple; Dharamsala, the home of the Dalai Lama and a large Tibetan community; and Rishikesh, Allahbad, Haridwar, and Varanassi, which are holy Hindu cities along the Ganges River. In Rishikesh, the birthplace of yoga, I stayed at an ashram and took two yoga classes to prepare for the next three weeks of my fellowship.

At ASHA, the Academy for Severe Handicaps and Autism in Bangalore in the state of Karnataka, I first witnessed a 40-minute yoga class taught to students with autism. The students I saw reminded me so much of my own. Some were quite independent and were able to follow right along with the instructor; others needed individual help from the teaching assistants with the postures and breathing exercises. Some of the students were verbal, others nonverbal. Still other students made repetitive motions, such as rocking their bodies and flapping their hands, and a few could stay still. Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that it affects everybody in different ways to different degrees, and these students, halfway across the world, mirrored the range of abilities of the students in my own class. Continue reading

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