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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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Wife versus Husband’s Diary

Picture of a couple
Wife’s Diary:

Tonight, I thought my husband was acting weird. We had made plans to meet at a nice restaurant for dinner. I was shopping with my friends all day long, so I thought he was upset at the fact that I was a bit late, but he made no comment on it.

Conversation wasn’t flowing, so I suggested that we go somewhere quiet so we could talk. He agreed, but he didn’t say much.

I asked him what was wrong;

He said, ‘Nothing.’ I asked him if it was my fault that he was upset.

He said he wasn’t upset, that it had nothing to do with me, and not to worry about it.

On the way home, I told him that I loved him. He smiled slightly, and kept driving. I can’t explain his behavior I don’t know why he didn’t say, ‘I love you, too.’

When we got home, I felt as if I had lost him completely, as if he wanted nothing to do with me anymore. He just sat there quietly, and watched TV.

He continued to seem distant and absent.

Finally, with silence all around us, I decided to go to bed. About 15 minutes later, he came to bed. But I still felt that he was distracted, and his thoughts were somewhere else.

He fell asleep – I cried. I don’t know what to do. I’m almost sure that his thoughts are with someone else. My life is a disaster.

Husband’s Diary:

Boat wouldn’t start, can’t figure it out.

If you have a good clean joke or a funny anecdote, please send it to us at: info [at] mylifeyoga [dot] com

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How yoga improved my autistic symptoms

Picture of Nicole Niederman

Nicole Niederman.

When I was twenty-two months old, I was diagnosed with autism: a language and communication disorder. In the beginning of my life, I experienced belated milestone development, a slight inability to vocally communicate, and a social awkwardness to name a few of my symptoms. My parents and grandparents provided endless financial support for me to try many different therapies, some that worked and some didn’t. Because of all this I was lucky enough to gain higher-functioning skills to the point where I could seamlessly merge into the public school system without the aid of disability services or special education classes.

Despite my successful grades, my autism was secretly prominent. I found difficulty in reading the social cues of my peers and frequently made comments that were puzzling and, at times, brutally honest. I was victim to teasing and one-way friendships. I hardly made the effort to socialize with friends outside of school and opted to lock myself away in my room and play make-believe, write stories, or draw instead. On top of my social struggles, I had high anxiety about controlling certain things and erupted into meltdowns when I became frustrated. I was saddened by the unfair treatment from the other kids and many days I came home from school crying. I started to develop a toxic resentment towards my school mates. This torment continued until I was in tenth grade, when I felt that I needed to change something about myself in order to become more social and adaptable to the teenage world.

I had met with my yoga therapist, Ketna Shah, in a small yoga studio owned by a family friend in the fall of my sophomore year. I had originally intended to use yoga as a means to mend my slight scoliosis and possibly enhance my artistic skills. However, after visiting with Ketna and developing a steady home practice, I began to realize that yoga’s role was intended to relieve my social anxiety. Like most teenagers, I had difficulty committing to my home practice more than once a week (the one time being my weekly session with Ketna). Ketna would frown at me and repetitively say; “You must do your yoga every day. Do yoga and all good fortune will come!”

Adjusting the hour-long practice into my schedule became a challenge, but something inside of me yearned to persevere with the practice. When I committed to the practice and remained fully present, I noticed that I became more relaxed during the day. My mind was temporarily clear of ceaseless thoughts and the words that were more appropriate to say flowed out of my mouth more naturally. My anxiety also relinquished and I became more flexible with circumstances that did not go according to what I thought would happen. My creative fire ignited after a practice, allowing me to expand my ideas with my art and writing and become fully immersed in my creativity. But most importantly, my yoga practice got me more in touch with my body and connected me with my authentic self. Every day I practice, I learned a little bit more about the beautiful young woman I was meant to be. As a result, I set social goals for myself to become more outgoing and listened to my body’s cues to feel what actions were successful.

Today, I have blossomed into a very eloquent speaker with aspirations of becoming an illustrator and a creative writer. I have become so outgoing that I developed a reputation at my college for being friends with everyone. Hardly anyone can tell that I have high-functioning autism. I am approaching my fourth anniversary of taking yoga classes with Ketna. And I practice yoga as diligently as I possibly can, especially at five-thirty in the morning before my college classes. I continue with my practice because yoga has helped me with my social skills, my art, and my inner development. It has now become a truism with me that when I practice yoga, I do receive such pleasant fortune!

Nicole Niederman.

If you have questions concerning autism and yoga or want to explore Nicole’s art, please contact her at: nniede20 [AT] student.scad.edu.

Related: The Yoga Of Autism

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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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