Dec 3, 2016 - Dec 3, 2016
MORNING SESSION $35 – SOLD OUT
9a – 11p Yin + Tibetan Rites
11p – 12p Chakra Meditation
LUNCH BREAK 12p – 2p
AFTERNOON SESSION $45 – SOLD OUT
2p – 3p Dhama Talk
3p – 4p Kripalu Yoga
4p – 5p Yoga Nidra
5p – 7p Kirtan
BOTH SESSIONS $65 –SOLD OUT
Take Refuge with Satsanga
While its possible to walk a spiritual path alone, most find that it is made much easier, enjoyable and effective to have a spiritual community in which to practice. In Buddhism this is known as a Sangha or ‘harmonious community’ and is one of the ‘Three Jewels’ in which a buddhist practitioner can take refuge; the other two being the Buddha (teacher) and the Dharma (teaching).
Satsang or satsanga generally refers to a spiritual gathering or discussion. Our gathering of Mahāpatha practitioners will consist of several complimentary yoga practices to help you dive deep into your practice right in time for the holidays. While ultimately designed to be an all-day affair, I know people have very busy lives and may not be able to spend a whole day practicing yoga. So if you can’t make the whole event you have the option to attend only the morning or evening session as desired.
The morning session will be the shorter of the two lasting just three hours from 9:00a till Noon. It will start with a Yin/Yang asana practice I created called the Five Rites Flow, followed by Pranayama and then Bija Mantra Nyasa Abhyasa – a mantra meditation where the seed sounds for the 5 elements are placed within the Chakras. More details about each practice and the morning session provided below.
The afternoon session is longer and will last from 2:00p till 7:00p. It is titled ‘Four Paths to Freedom’ and in it we will explore, both intellectually and experientially, the four traditionally recognized forms that yoga takes: Jnana (study/wisdom); Karma (action/surrender); Raja (introspection/meditation); and Bhakti (devotion/love). All other forms of yoga, indeed all other forms of religion and spirituality, fall into one of these categories. Each form compliments the other and ultimately leads the practitioner to Kaivalyam or absolute freedom. More information about the afternoon session and the specific practices is provided below.
When, Where and How Much?
Our satsang will be held at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center on December 3rd. The morning session will be from 9:00a till Noon. There will be a two hour lunch break where you can go to a nearby local eatery for food or have a picnic or take a walk in nearby Zonolite Park, adjacent to the Atlanta Soto Zen Center. Then the afternoon session will pick up at 2:00p and run till 7:00p. It will be $35.00 to attend the morning session only, $45.00 for the afternoon session only and $65.00 for both sessions.
Five Rites Flow and Bija Mantra Niyasa Abhyasa
9:00a – Noon
Our morning session will consist of three practices. Asanas in the form of the Five Rites Flow, various Pranamayas and a Chakra Meditation using the Bija Mantras. The cost is $35.00 for the morning session alone, or $65 for both sessions. More about each specific practice below.
We will start our practice with asanas or postures. The ‘Five Rites Flow’ is a Yin/Yang sequence I created consisting of mostly Yin postures with more active vinyasas or ‘Tibetan Rites’ interspersed throughout. Legend has it that at the monastery where these rites originated the monks do not age. Some have called these rites ‘the fountain of youth.’ I have found that they are a good and simple way to energize and invigorate the body and prepare it for deeper practices.
I developed this practice while teaching 6am yoga as a way to prepare people for their day. My intention was to leave people feeling both energized and relaxed. Since I no longer teach 6am yoga, I now only teach this sequence on retreat, so don’t miss this opportunity to experience this very special practice.
Next we will do several Pranayamas or breathing techniques to balance the two major energetic channels in the subtle body – the Ida and Pingala nadis. This is an important prerequisite to the safe and effective awakening the chakras, sushumna and eventually kundalini.
It is said that before one awakens kundalini (the transformative serpent-power of yoga) it is wise to first balance Ida and Pingala nadis and ‘awaken the chakras’ through gentle means. One of the best ways to awaken the chakras non-aggressively is with the bija mantras. Bija Mantras or ‘seed sounds’ are short words that don’t really have a ‘meaning’ per-se, but instead conjure and reveal certain energies, elements or understanding within us and the universe we live in. Nyasa means ‘to place’ and Abhyasa means ‘practice.’ So this practice could be translated as: ‘seed-sound placing practice.’
In this practice we will ‘place’ the bija mantras associated with the five elements: earth; water; fire; air and ether, within the five lower Chakras or energy plexuses and the Pranava (aum) at the 6th Chakra. This practice will guide energy up the central channel (or Sushumna) balancing and harmonizing the nervous system and the flow of prana or subtle energy within the body. It purifies the body and mind leaving the body feeling energized, and the mind one-pointed. If one has done a substantial amount of asana and pranayama practice in the past and balanced the Ida and Pingala nadis (the kidney and urinary bladder meridians in TCM), then this practice can be a key practice to help safely and gently awaken ecstatic kundalini.
Noon – 2:00p
We will take a two hour break for lunch and/or hiking in the surrounding area. Communing with nature is a great way to calm the mind and help facilitate yoga. There is a beautiful park with trails right alongside the ASZC in which you can picnic or hike. There are also many restaurants nearby in the Emory Point and Emory Village area. I recommended that you research where you plan to eat ahead of time so you can make the best use of your two hour break.
Eat Light and Avoid Stimulants and Depressants
You are encouraged to eat a light lunch and limit or eliminate your consumption of strong stimulants and depressants like coffee and alcohol due to their effect of the nervous system. Our practices subtly manipulate the human nervous system. This is often made harder or impossible if strong physical stimulants and depressants are present in the blood stream. Additionally having a belly full of heavy food takes a lot of energy to digest as well as making certain yoga techniques difficult or impossible.
Please DO NOT STOP taking any medications your doctor has prescribed and please eat enough food to make sure hunger is not a distraction. You are welcome to bring a light snack if you fear you will not make it through the afternoon session without additional food.
If you decide to have coffee or a drink during lunch, please do not feel guilty about it. If you see someone else doing so, please do not judge them. Using guilt and shame to motivate ourselves or others is counterproductive to advanced spiritual practice. Something deeper must ultimately awaken within us to motivate us in our practices. Until it does, shame and guilt about what we believe we should and should not do are obstacles to our development.
These are suggestions for a general audience and are not necessary or helpful for everyone. If however you have been practicing for a while and feel like something has been keeping you from going deeper, you may want to consider how much, and what you are taking into your system. You body has to process everything you consume and there is some truth to the old adage: garbage in, garbage out.
Four Paths to Freedom:
Exploring the Four Paths of Yoga
2:00p – 7:00p
In yoga there are four paths that are traditionally recognized: Jnana Yoga (the yoga of wisdom); Karma Yoga (the yoga of action); Raja Yoga (the yoga of meditation); and Bhakti Yoga (the yoga of devotion). While you might focus on one of these forms of yoga, traditionally you would be encouraged to combine these different forms of yoga to help avoid becoming dogmatic, fundamentalist, limited and fixated in your views and practices.
In our afternoon session we will explore and get a taste of all four yogic paths. We will explore Jnana Yoga with a Dharma Talk and discussion. Karma Yoga with Asanas performed without attachment. Raja Yoga with Yoga Nidra or sleep-meditation. And finally Bhakti Yoga with Kirtan or chanting sacred names in sanskrit. More information about each specific practice follows.
We will begin our afternoon session with a dharma talk or spiritual discussion. Traditionally in yoga you would never be taught postures, breathing and meditation without additional guidance in the form of Jnana yoga. This might come in the form of listening to talks on various aspects of the spiritual path, studying texts and scriptures and discussing various concepts with your teacher. This shows up in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – the primary text for guidance in Raja Yoga – in the form of svadhyaya: self-study or reflection on sacred words.
When asana and pranayama are practiced without svadhyaya there is a risk of our development being lopsided, inefficient and even dangerous for ourselves and for others. If you give a horse-thief tools that will ultimately give them more energy and power like asana, pranayama and dharana, you will likely end up with a more-powerful horse-thief and not an enlightened being.
Yoga is not about being a better, more-powerful version of ourselves as we know ourselves today. Rather it is about uncovering the true-self that is hidden in plain sight. It is ever-present and eternal, which is part of what makes it so hard to ‘see.’ While having more energy and power can be an important part of our progress, this alone is not the goal of yoga practice.
Jnana yoga can be an invaluable tool for making sure we stay on-course with our practices as we find ourselves becoming more and more capable beings in the world of form. This is a natural side-effect of our practices but if we are not carful they can be used to simply enlarge our egos. Jnana yoga can keep our energy and power directed toward the formless rather than trying to manipulate the forms that make up the world of Maya or ‘illusion.’
Traditionally karma yoga is often done in the form of Seva or ‘selfless service.’ But Karma Yoga simply means ‘action yoga’ or the yoga of action. Whether what we are doing is karma yoga or not comes down entirely to our attitude and how we see what we are doing. If we have expectations and desires while performing our actions be they for work, raising children, or doing our yoga practice then quite simply we are not doing karma yoga. But if we can let go of our expectations and desires and simply do what is asked of us, moment by moment, without concern for our own preferences, desires or the outcomes of our actions, then whatever we are doing becomes Karma Yoga.
In this practice we will use asanas which are traditionally used to prepare the mind and body for Raja yoga, as a vehicle to exploring Karma yoga. To do this we simply need to give up the fruits of our action, let go of our expectations and desires and perform what is asked without regard for personal praise, gain, profit or approval. In this practice we will use asana as a vehicle for exploring performing action without attachment, agenda or expectation.
Yoga Nidra means sleep meditation. This is a form of meditation that is both beginner friendly and extremely powerful. It has several unique features that make it a nice compliment and adjunct to other meditation styles and yoga practices.
First, it is done lying down. This may not seem like a big deal but one of the most common complaints of beginner meditation practitioners is discomfort / pain in the hips, legs and spine. Laying down can reduce or completely eliminate these issues for many practitioners.
Second, Yoga Nidra takes advantage of the fact that when we lie down to go to sleep we naturally have to let go of our ‘ordinary’ state of consciousness. Many people think experiencing different states of consciousness is a exotic experience reserved for shamanic journeys and acid trips. Yet they fail to realize that they experience three different states of consciousness daily. This is considered scientific fact. Everyday we experience waking, sleeping, and deep dreamless sleep. Normally we are conscious and remember only one of these, waking. Sometimes we remember a dream or wake up in a dream and consciously experience two. In time with practice we can become conscious and awake in the third state of consciousness which is deep dreamless sleep where we are aware without any images or impressions being present in the mind. Yoga tells us that there is a fourth state of consciousness that is simply called Turiya or ‘The Fourth.’ Of this fourth state there is not much that can be said because it is beyond the ability of the mind to conceptualize. However it is this fourth state that is the goal of Raja Yoga, the reunification of our awareness with its source.
Finally, yoga nidra is often offered with the opportunity to use an intention or Sankalpa. Sankalpa can take two forms, what Richard Miller calls “the heartfelt desire,” which is an expression of truth or our true nature. An example of this kind of sankalpa might be: “I live in truth,” “I recognize my true-nature moment by moment,” “I am love.” This form of sankalpa expresses a deep profound truth that you are trying to merge with, live or become. The second form a sankalpa can be a more ‘mundane’ goal like the manifestation of health, wealth or an achievement. While these goals are not the ultimate purpose of yoga or of human life, they can be important for us to achieve to help us realize our ultimate purpose. Examples of this kind of Sankalpa are: “I am wealthy,” “I am healthy,” “I am loved.”
Kirtan is the chanting of ‘revealed’ names. These are names of saints, avatars and gods, all symbols of truth or love. There are several ways to think about the Kirtan practice.
On the most physical level it is a form of pranayama or breath control. As Dr. Balasubramanian has begun to prove with his scientific research into the benefits of regular pranayama, I have full confidence that one day science will easily show positive physiological changes occurring within the brain and nervous system when chanting and singing. Till that day comes we have our own felt experience and the experience of billions of religious and spiritual practitioners throughout the ages. Chanting is without a doubt one of the most powerful spiritual practices there is.
Viewed through more religious or devotional eyes Kirtan can be seen as a kind of prayer or offering we make to ‘realized beings’ for aid or favor on our journey. All of these names can ultimately be seen as personal expressions of the one nameless being that is manifest in all things. When we give up our own egoic agenda and throw ourselves upon the mercy of another we may find things changing, and not always for what we think is the better. But if we have faith, which is an important aspect of the bhakti path, then we will know that everything is being done for us and not to us.
On a more subtle level we can see the names we chant as drawing forth certain qualities from within us. Chanting to Ram draws forth his quality of perfection in dharma. Chanting to Lakshmi helps us cultivate an awareness of abundance and so on.
Finally we can see this practice as an offering of love. When we experience the bliss, peace and contentment that can come from our practices we long to express this. This is a very natural movement that inner stillness takes and you could say is the end of the journey. This can be through art, poetry, dance, or song. Kirtan gives us a chance to express our gratitude and our full-hearts and at the same time cultivate even more fullness.
It is recommended that you have a light or no breakfast the day of the practice and minimize or eliminate consumption of alcohol and caffeine for as many days before the practice as possible for the reasons mentioned above. Tea, both black and green are fine and may actually help you in cutting back on coffee and food consumption as they tend to have the effect of quelling hunger when consumed in moderation. Again if you cannot adhere to any of these suggestions it is not a problem and may not effect the depth of your practices.
Again I must stress that these are general suggestions designed to maximize the effectiveness of the practices we will be doing, not moral guidelines for ‘good’ behavior. There are a lot of good, moral people in the world who are spiritually asleep and there are spiritually awake beings who may do things we would not agree with personally. This is the reality of advanced spirituality. Keep your own council on what you think is important and what will be helpful or not helpful to your practice. I can only make recommendations based on my experience and study.
Things to Bring
Bring a yoga mat, a beverage and any props you think you may need. You may also want to bring a light snack if you think hunger between breaks may be an issue.