89 Chapters
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7 The Path of “WE”

Foundation, Anasazi Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

I would like to tell you more about my people.

Our story may help you to see the world anew
and to discover the majesty that lives in the hills.

My people have been upon the earth
as long as time itself, or at least so it is told.

According to legend, the Creator made Mother Earth
and dressed her with light, wind, water, stone,
plants, and animals. Then he placed my people
among his creation.

It is said that all creation lived in harmony. In all that they
did, light, wind, water, stone, plants, animals, and my
people supported one another. They had become, in the
language of my people, “WE”—that is, “as one.”

This pleased the Creator.

But this harmony did not last. Some say that a dark cloud
enveloped the earth and turned my people from the path
of light. Other say they were bound by a great cord, keeping
their feet from the sure path of stone. However it happened,
the hearts of my people began to walk backward against
creation. Darkness reigned, and the harmony was broken.

Witnessing the strife among the workmanship
of his hands, the Creator shed tears as the rain upon the
mountains. Unless creation could again be made as one,
the children of Mother Earth would be lost.

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5 The Path of Plants

Foundation, Anasazi Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

For all who have a desire to change their walking,
nature displays in abundance the way to do it.

The answer grows all around you.

Pardon me if it seems I speak in riddles.
For I do not mean to. Riddles are obscure,
while the path to forward walking is clear—
as clear as the flowers before you.

For plants, my young friend, know a secret—
the secret to forward walking.

It seems odd to say that plants walk forward, but they do.

And it is a shame that their knowledge of
forward walking remains a secret,
for they have been speaking of it to all
who would listen, from the beginning of time.

Listen to them, my young friend,
and they will show you the way.

You can hear the secret most plainly
when you are listening from a great distance.

For the secret of plants is most obvious in plants’ absence.

This is not another riddle
but simply recognition of what is sadly true:
man sees lack much more readily than abundance.

It is when plants are absent that we learn to see them.

My learning from plants began
as I wandered across a stark desert plain.

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4 The Path of Stone

Foundation, Anasazi Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

I mentioned that on the night of the great storm I found
safe passage on a formation of stone—one of many times
that stone has supported, taught, or saved me.

Taught? you might wonder. Stone teaches?

Yes.

Every stone we observe has been on the earth for ages.
Should we be surprised if they possess wisdom
that we do not?

In the months and years I was separated from my people,
wisdom was at my feet all the while.

The stones that met my every step—
those silent patriarchs from years past—
they made wisdom my foundation.
Or at least offered to do so.

To become wise, I had to learn to hear their silence.

Initially, I heard stone only when I turned to it
for help—as when I needed to cross a stream
or when I desired to shape a tool.

But even when I have ignored it, stone has always
offered itself to me and supported my every step.

What has stone offered?

In a word:

Peace.

Why peace?

Because amid turmoil, such as during the great storm,
stone has offered me safe passage.

When the earth has seemed to be shifting around me,
stone has been my sure foundation.

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3 The Path of Water

Foundation, Anasazi Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

I escaped the land of winding cliffs to the south.
And when I did so, I changed course from where
I initially had planned to go.

From that day, I no longer ran from my people
but merely persisted in staying away from them.

Days passed into months and months into years.

I grew into manhood without the companionship of
my father and without the worrying comfort of my mother.

The hills and the valleys raised me.

Then, as well as now, in my daily walking, I have sought
the answer to one question above all others:

Where will I find water?

Think about water for a moment.

Have you ever considered all it does for us?

I have learned to walk near water, for beside it the earth
springs forth to provide shade and refreshment.

I try to rest near water,
for I need it for nourishment and strength.

I bathe in water, for it cleanses and invigorates my skin.

My final destination at the end of each day has been
a pool of pure water.

And when traveling in dry places, each morning
I have set off with as much of that pool as I could carry.

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6 The Path of Animals

Foundation, Anasazi Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Animals sense our walking.

I don’t mean merely that they know our presence. I mean
that, in moments, they sense the intentions of our hearts—
whether our hearts are walking forward or backward.

You may wonder at my saying this. There was a time
when I wouldn’t have believed it myself.

But then I met a badger with a stone.

It happened not long after I escaped
the land of winding cliffs.

My moccasins had disintegrated from my feet, and with
them some of my confidence among the hills. Red ants
and stickers bade me turn around at each step. Finally,
I collapsed to rest in the pungent shade of a sagebrush.

After a few minutes, I heard from the other side
of the brush a muffled growl and spitting noise.
I turned my head to look.

Less than five feet away was a freshly dug hole.
From the hole a furry rump emerged—the rump of
a massive badger backing its way up the dirt ramp.
He held loosely in his front claws a fist-sized stone,
dragging and rolling it along up the ramp.

I forgot my troubles as I watched the scene.
As the badger’s body topped the ramp, he pitched
awkwardly down the other side and lost hold of the stone.
He growled and went back after it. Time and time again
he attempted the same, only to lose hold at the top.
When finally he succeeded and was about to go back—
perhaps for another rock or for a rest—he saw me.

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2 The Path of Wind

Foundation, Anasazi Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Weeks into my journey, I came to the edge of a land
known by my people as “the land of winding cliffs.”

Sandstone ridges filled the horizon.
Junipers peeked out from crags in the rocky cliffs,
but otherwise vegetation seemed scarce.

I had never seen this land, but I had heard rumor of it
among my people. It was said to be a place to be avoided—
a confusing land where many entered and few returned.

But here it was, too immense to be avoided, or so I thought.
And so I entered it, despite my people’s warnings.

For most of a day, I carefully picked my way from one
canyon to the next, consulting the sun above for direction.
But as the day grew longer, I became less sure of each choice.

By the time the sun set, I was lost.
Rock walls rose high on either side, obscuring
the night sky and pressing their shadows against me.
After a series of choices I could not retrace, I found myself
stuck in a labyrinth of dead ends and gullies.

It was the last time in my life that I would feel fear.

Yes, the last time.

For as morning dawn broke,
I discovered a truth that casts fear away:

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1 The Path of Light

Foundation, Anasazi Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

A few days into my journey, still kicking against nature,
I swung at what turned out to be poison oak.

I cursed my carelessness and
my anticipated discomfort and pain.

Truly all creation is against me, I murmured.

Later that day, I tripped in a bone-dry creek bed,
smashing my knee against a rock.
I remember grimacing in pain toward an empty sky.

As I lay there, I recalled words my father had spoken to me
while on a hunt: “WE who lose our footing have lost our
way,” he had said. “Our walking is in darkness.”

What did he mean by walking in darkness? I wondered, as
I picked myself up and limped on my way. And what did
darkness have to do with stumbling in daylight?

Despite my anger toward my father, in that moment I had to
accept that I had seen my father, and the great ones among
our people, sure-footed and rooted upon the earth as any
tree or plant, yet as light as a seed upon the wind.

This memory awakened my life to light
and for a moment brightened a son’s hurting heart.

Young friend, each morning offers lessons in light.
For the morning light teaches the most basic of truths:

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Contents

Foundation, Anasazi Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub
Medium 9781609947972

Contents

Showkeir, Maren S. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub
Medium 9781609947972

Six: The Fifth Limb: Withdrawal of the Senses (Pratyahara)

Showkeir, Maren S. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

The world within and the world without are
two entirely separate realities.
The external world dissipates energy,
but the internal world showers blessings
that fill the vacuum created by the world
.

Swami Rama

 

In the meditation hall, where hundreds of people sit in reflective silence, a woman begins to cry. The soft gulps of emotion soon escalate into deep, piercing sobs. The room begins to vibrate with bright tension as the outburst diverts others from their inward journeys, an unwitting and unwilling audience to the woman’s sensational drama. After a few moments, the person assigned to “hold space” for those meditating quietly but firmly says, “Please. Be quiet.”

Almost immediately, she is, and the room melts into silence.

Pratyahara combines the Sanskrit words prati, meaning against or away, and ahara, translated as food. This is a practice for gaining mastery over your senses and helps to develop the peaceful mind needed to achieve a deep, meditative state. Like the physical postures and breathing (asana and pranayama), it is a stepping stone. Many masters say that pratyahara is the most neglected limb of yoga, and yet it cannot be skipped on the way to meditation (dhyana) and absorption (samadhi). In the Heart of Yoga, T. K. V. Desikachar says pratyahara is when “our senses stop living off the things that stimulate.” In Western society, it is a particularly challenging practice, since our environment has evolved into a state of perpetual sensory overload. David Frawley, founding director of the American Institute for Vedic Studies, says, “Pratyahara is the key between the outer and inner aspects of yoga. It shows us how to move from one to the other.”

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One: Beginner’s Mind: The Power and the Promise

Showkeir, Maren S. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Yoga has less to do with what you can do with your body or
with being able to still your mind than it has to do with the
happiness that unfolds from realizing your full potential
.

Yogarupa Rod Stryker

 

More often than we can count, people have said to us, “I could never do yoga. I’m not flexible” (or “I’m too hyper”). That logic is like saying, “I can’t tend to my garden—it has too many weeds in it.” Or to use a work metaphor, “I can’t clean out my email inbox. It has too many messages in it.”

It’s understandable. The sheer amount of stuff we are asked to attend to in our daily lives can be overwhelming. But when people say they lack the physicality to put their bodies into yoga poses, they are not taking into account that it is the practice that develops flexibility, balance, and a quiet mind.

In any case, yoga on the mat is only one part of the practice—one-eighth, to be exact. To use one of Jamie’s favorite analogies, the physical practice (asana) doesn’t represent the spectrum of yoga any more than looking through a knothole in a fence and seeing a pitcher throw and catch a ball gives you a complete picture of a baseball game’s nine innings. Renowned Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, who received an honorary degree from the University of Calcutta, said, “Yoga practice would be ineffectual without the concepts on which yoga is based. It combines the bodily and the spiritual in an extraordinarily complete way.”

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Five: The Fourth Limb: Breath Control (Pranayama)

Showkeir, Maren S. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Listen, are you breathing just a little
and calling it a life?

Mary Oliver

 

Steve, a physician who works as a development officer for a large West Coast medical university, has found practicing breath control (pranayama) at work is a way to slow down a conversation, allowing him to be more grounded and thoughtful. When he is asked a question, he takes a slow, deep inhale and exhale before answering, a practice he adopted after a yoga teacher suggested it in class several years ago. “It helps me slow down that gerbil on the treadmill in my mind. I need that time to really think about what I have to say. It helps me not regret what I say.”

He’s noticed that most people at work answer questions without hesitation. It is not uncommon to hear someone respond before the other person even finishes a sentence. “I’ve even noticed in job interviews how quickly people respond,” Steve says. “I ask questions, and a lot of times I get a canned response. It’s like they came prepared with answers and are looking for a way to insert them into the conversation, instead of taking the time to really think about the question, then give a thoughtful response.”

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Seven: The Sixth Limb: Focus (Dharana)

Showkeir, Maren S. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Settle in the here and now.
Reach down into the center
where the world is not spinning
and drink this holy peace.…
.

Donna Faulds

 

Mary was in a room filled with more than sixty yogis, though she might as well have been alone. When she is on her mat, Mary says there is nothing else: “It is me, my mat, and my breath. I am so focused on my practice that I don’t even realize who is on either side of me. After class is over, I look around and think, ‘Oh yeah, there is so and so.’”

In this class, her longtime teacher, Rod Stryker, was talking the yogis through the mechanics of Lord of the Dance pose, natarajasana, an advanced posture requiring great strength, flexibility, and most especially, balance. On the mat next to Mary, a friend wobbled, fell out of the pose, then executed a tuck, tumble, and roll right under Mary’s feet.

Her pose never wavered.

Focus, or dharana, is the sixth limb of yoga. This practice is devoted to bringing a laser-like concentration to one thing—a mantra, the flicker of candlelight, a mental image, or a spot on the wall. This state of deep concentration, when mastered, forces the mind into the now. It is fully present in this place, at this time.

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Three: The Second Limb: Personal Code of Conduct

Showkeir, Maren S. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Personal transformation can and does have global effects.
As we go, so goes the world, for the world is us.
The revolution that will save the world is ultimately
a personal one
.

Mary Catherine Bateson

 

By now, you have a sense of how interrelated the yamas truly are. Violating one yama inevitably involves negative action in another. Practicing one strengthens and supports the practice of the others. Ahimsa (non-violence) cannot be achieved without aparigraha (non-hoarding) and practicing aparigraha makes it impossible to violate asteya (non-stealing). Practicing satya (truth-telling) will help you honor asteya (non-stealing) and brahmacharya (managing vital energies).

Michelle Ryan, who owns a yoga studio in Florence, Massachusetts, says practicing the yamas informs every aspect of her business. “I try hard to incorporate ahimsa in what I do, compassion for students and where they might be in their lives. I also try hard to be truthful (satya). I am honest with students about what they can and can’t do physically, and also about what I do or do not know! I am conscious about not sharing others’ ideas as if they are my own, which is asteya. And I do not look at my students as dollar-signs walking through the door, aparigraha. From a business standpoint, that may not make much sense to some people. But I am not teaching for the money—although it’s nice when that manifests, too!”

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Nine: The Eighth Limb: Absorption (Samadhi)

Showkeir, Maren S. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

One is rigorously awakened by
stirring the desire for enlightenment itself
.

Dogen Zenji

 

You can hear the smile in Heather’s voice as she talks about the day she took her father to his first yoga class. She is a senior manager at a wellness resort in the southwestern United States. At one time, her father had been an elite runner who placed in the Boston marathon. As a runner, her father had always been attentive to the warm-up, cool-down stretching that athletes do. Aging eventually slowed him down, and some of the activities that once had fueled his passion became unavailable to him. Heather’s sporadic attempts to get him interested in yoga had gone nowhere until he was in his eighties. While he was visiting from the East Coast, she finally persuaded him to come to the resort and take a yoga class with her.

“Our mission here [at the wellness resort] is intended to be holistic. What we do has a spiritual aspect that is centered on mindfulness and living your life in a fully present way. So many times I had tried to explain to my dad what mindfulness is, and why it is important to me, but he just wasn’t interested,” Heather says. “On the way to the yoga class, I was trying again to make him understand the shift that happens when you are truly present. But it didn’t seem to resonate or even interest him. He was looking out the window, saying, ‘Uh huh … Uh huh.’”

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