Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Come to Cuba with Us!

February 6-11, 2016.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore yoga and meditation while immersing yourself in the unique culture of Cuba. This is not your average yoga retreat, and Cuba is unlike any other destination. Organized by Pure Yoga, the retreat will include daily yoga and meditation with Adrian and Dennis while you explore the heart of old Havana and the stunning beauty of the ViƱales region of the island.

Spaces on this retreat are limited and it’s expected to fill up very quickly.

Click here for more information and itinerary, and email Laina Jacobs at Pure Yoga (laina.jacobs@pureyoga.com) to arrange your deposit.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Civilization and Its Discontents

by Dennis Hunter

"People who are really happy with themselves are f***ing boring. The worst word in the world is content." — actor Kevin Spacey, who turned 56 last week

I think maybe I understand what Kevin Spacey meant by that statement. Drive and personal ambition are important American values. Always aiming higher, not settling for less. More, better, stronger, faster. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Spacey plays (so very, very well) one of the most evil, Machiavellian, greedy, power-obsessed characters on television, in the disturbingly good Netflix series “House of Cards,” which provides a devastating and hair-raising glimpse into American national politics.

But I disagree with Spacey’s statement. Because I think it’s actually incredibly, incredibly rare for human beings to experience true contentment. And contentment is one of the secret, neglected keys to spiritual awakening and self-realization.

Most of us live our lives chronically caught up in a pervasive feeling of what ancient yogis and Buddhists referred to as “dukkha,” a Sanskrit word that (unfortunately) is often translated as “suffering” but could be (more accurately) rendered as discontentment, dis-ease, imbalance, a sense of lack and insufficiency that plagues us and leaves us—no matter how much good stuff we get—always wanting more.

The ancient yogis and Buddhists said that on the flip side of this coin that is our human experience is the opposite of dukkha: sukha. Sukha, (again, unfortunately) is most often translated into English as “bliss,” which sounds like some kind of fuzzy, pleasurable state that is assumed to be the opposite of suffering. (By that definition, a junkie strung out on heroin could be experiencing sukha.) But there are much better choices for rendering “sukha” into English: contentment, for one, or a sense of ease and well-being, balance, things working smoothly and harmoniously according to the natural order.

Contentment is one of the magical, golden keys to a life well-lived. Without cultivating a basic sense of contentment and gratitude for what we have, we cannot unlock the doors that keep us trapped in our self-made prisons of resentment, jealousy, greed, and all the other afflictive emotional patterns that diminish and discolor our human experience. We don’t have to rest on our laurels and become doormats, but developing a greater sense of contentment and appreciation for what we already have is a really good place to start.

— Hunter


“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn't try to convince others.
Because one is content with oneself, one doesn't need others' approval.
Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.”
― Lao Tzu

“Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.”
― Lao Tzu

“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.”
― Socrates

Monday, July 6, 2015

Freedom's Just Another Word

by Dennis Hunter

This weekend, as a nation, we celebrated Independence Day. This got me thinking about the notion of freedom, which was the theme of my meditation class last night.

Ordinarily when we talk about freedom we’re talking about something that comes from outside. It’s given to us, or we fight for it, or we earn it somehow. We often think of freedom as the right to do whatever we want (within reasonable limits imposed by law and society).

But the kind of freedom we talk about on the spiritual path doesn’t come from outside. It isn’t given to us by anyone else, and it doesn’t even really depend all that much on external circumstances. Freedom in a spiritual sense is an inside job. It’s less about being free to do what we want and more about setting ourselves free from all the forms of internal conditioning that keep us imprisoned in psychological and emotional suffering.

The spiritual teacher Adyashanti writes:

“Human beings have a drive for security and safety, which is often what fuels the spiritual search. This very drive for security and safety is what causes so much misery and confusion. Freedom is a state of complete and absolute insecurity and not knowing. So, in seeking security and safety, you actually distance yourself from the freedom you want. There is no security in freedom, at least not in the sense that we normally think of security. This is, of course, why it is so free: there's nothing there to grab hold of.

The Unknown is more vast, more open, more peaceful, and more freeing than you ever imagined it would be. If you don't experience it that way, it means you're not resting there; you're still trying to know. That will cause you to suffer because you're choosing security over Freedom. When you rest deeply in the Unknown without trying to escape, your experience becomes very vast.”

What happens when we drop down beneath our habitual drive for security and safety? We touch in with the vast, open Mystery that was always there, and in that Mystery there is a freedom that surpasses understanding. Imagine what this very moment would feel like if we could suddenly drop beneath our protective shell and taste that freedom right here, right now.

Imagine experiencing this very moment free from the mind’s obsessive thinking. What if we could drop into a natural stillness and silence in which the mind is aware and relaxed, without chatter, without commentary?

What about freedom from troubling emotions — greed, anger, jealousy, hatred, and so on? What would this moment feel like if the waters of the mind were not whipped into a frenzy of emotion?

Freedom from judgment — that’s a big one. Look at how we constantly judge and evaluate ourselves and others. What if, for one moment, we could just drop our compulsive need to be the judge of everything?

And can we even imagine being free from caring what other people think? How much time do we spend trapped in worrying about other people’s opinions of us, and trying to manipulate perceptions to make a good impression? We don’t have to let ourselves go to seed and become the Crazy Cat Lady, but wouldn’t it be sort of glorious to experience, if only for this moment, the freedom of not being quite so concerned with everyone else’s opinions of us?

And our own opinions! How heavy are they? We seem to have opinions about everything under the sun, and we take our opinions so seriously, as if each one is the gospel truth. When we relate openly to the Mystery that underlies our experience, we start to see our own cloud of opinions as a cloud of biting insects, an irritating drain on our attention and a veil that obscures reality.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Lost in Translation

by Dennis Hunter

Yoga and meditation have taken American society by storm. Starting from a few transplanted Indian teachers and their ashrams, countless styles and schools of yoga have evolved to address every niche market and demographic: bootcamp-style hot power vinyasa classes; body-image oriented yoga for glutes and abs; traditional Bhakti devotional yoga done in front of murals and statues of Hindu deities with chanting and incense, wearing white clothing; corporate yoga done in front of computer screens or at office desks, wearing suits and dress socks; yoga for children; yoga for the elderly; yoga for overweight people; yoga for women; yoga for men; prenatal yoga; postnatal yoga; alignment-based yoga; Christian yoga; dance-based yoga; pilates-based yoga; yoga for sleep; yoga for sex; martial arts-based yoga; acro-yoga; aerial yoga; and, yes, even hot nude yoga.

In the realm of meditation, something similar is now taking place. Starting from a few Buddhist meditation centers established by teachers transplanted from various Asian countries, “mindfulness” (and a host of related practices) has grown into a cottage industry and a household word in mainstream society. Mindfulness is taught at Google and in Wall Street banks to help employees be less stressed and more productive; it’s taught in hospitals to help patients cope with pain and illness; it’s taught in classrooms to help students concentrate and perform better on tests; it’s taught in church basements to help addicts in recovery and in therapists’ offices to help patients regulate mood disorders; it’s taught in temples to help spiritual aspirants reach towards enlightenment and in boutique meditation centers to help busy urban professionals find a time to slow down and relax; it’s taught by the military to help soldiers cope with the stresses of warfare.

With yoga and meditation finding their way into so many corners of American society, and taking on so many new — and frequently materialistic — manifestations, it may be time to take a step back and assess whether something essential is being lost in the translation of these ancient Eastern traditions into American culture. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Self-Care

by Adrian Molina

The pace of the city keeps you on your toes, from dawn to sunset and even late at night. We are so driven to accomplish things, always striving to build a future. A reputation. A name. A family. An identity. But sometimes, in the city that never sleeps, we forget the importance of self-care.

When the scale has been tilted too much and too long to one side, it is difficult to come back to a state of balance and bring things into perspective. A life of constant doing and activity becomes a vicious cycle that can be hard for even the most advanced yogi or meditator to break.

Often, I see my students struggling to bring some sense of balance to their lives. They come straight from the airport to take a class. They use their lunch hour to practice. They secretly hope for a scheduled meeting to be canceled so they can find some space to do yoga. I see them taking off high heels right outside the studio and switching from mind to body in a blink of an eye.

I see my fellow teachers struggling with this too. Always teaching, teaching, teaching...always giving. Perhaps the ultimate oxymoron is being stressed out from teaching too much yoga.

I struggle with this myself. Juggling and planning classes, private clients, projects, recordings, teacher trainings, planning retreats. Always trying to squeeze more juice out of my 24-hour day. Perhaps it's ironic—but telling—that I'm drafting this article on a crowded train during rush hour and in-between classes.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Teacher Who Forgot to Be a Student

by Adrian Molina

Over the last few months I’ve been puzzling over this....
What is the best way to handle it when other yoga teachers come to your class and decide to put extra scoops of protein and spirulina into every single posture or flow you offer?
They go for the large size fries even if you offer only the small. They go for Venti even if you offer only Tall. They add extra shrimp even when the plate only comes with veggies.
What's the highest road to take? Should you say something when a colleague takes your class and decides to showcase their entire portfolio, in every single posture you offer, to the point where it becomes a distraction to students and even to you as a teacher?
A few months ago, I approached a colleague who was taking my class and very gently asked him to stop making a wet noodle out of every posture I was offering, and I suggested he might want to move his mat to the back of the room so he would be less of a solo act and more of a choir member. But it left me with a bittersweet taste. Who am I, after all, to say anything?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Power of Meditation: Voices of Students (Part Nine)

Over the past several weeks I’ve been working with students in a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training and helping them develop a daily meditation practice. I asked each student to explain, in their own words, their personal motivation for meditating. I’m sharing one student’s response per day. To read the introduction to this series, click here.


STUDENT 9:  “ I never thought meditation could be so powerful...”

STUDENT 9 took an interesting approach by journaling her experience after meditation on three separate occasions. In the process, not only did she gain insights into herself and her past, but she recorded how her own views of meditation and experiences with it radically shifted over the course of a few weeks.

March 18, 2015
Honestly, I do not meditate in the traditional sense. I sometimes feel I am meditating while I am baking but clearly I am not still nor is my mind clear because I know I have to take the cookies out of the oven in ten minutes so I’ll wash the dishes in the meantime. However, baking comes easily to me and is practically a routine, I am quite relaxed even though I am very conscious of time.

My very first experience meditating was at the age of 8 when my parents dropped me off at our Buddhist Taoist temple after school to keep the elder company. Pastor Chiang had a practice of meditating daily. The only guidance she gave was to sit on this chair with my hands on my knees, eyes closed and to be quiet. I think we sat for an hour.  Of course, I opened my eyes from time to time to look at her to see if she had her eyes closed, but also to look around the room. I remember waiting to see what would happen – maybe the room would change, maybe she would change – I was not scared, just curious.  I cannot remember much more from that experience, however, whenever I think of meditation, I cannot help but to relate this to Pastor Chiang.

Unfortunately, when Pastor Chiang comes to my mind, I can’t help but also think of all the pain she caused my family. But I have grown and do not associate meditation and Pastor Chiang together. However, I have kept my distance from stepping foot into any temple and meditating since my father passed. My father devoted his life to that temple and helping Pastor Chiang but all she did was cause us tremendous pain, especially to my mother.

I am a busy body and feel like I have to make use of all 24 hours in a day so I spend every minute accomplishing something. While I have not practiced meditation because I have not looked at it as an act of accomplishment, I am willing to do my homework and try to meditate daily for 10 minutes and see where it takes me.

March 19, 2015
Wow. I did my first 10 minute meditation last night. I realized that I had associated meditating to not just Mrs. Chiang but more so to all the hurt she caused my family and that I don’t think I have forgiven her for this. Taking the time to clear my mind allowed me to think more clearly afterwards. I realized I had suppressed these feelings of anger.

April 8, 2015
I can finally say I have meditated for 4 days in a row now – my longest stretch since Yoga Teacher Training started. And I find 10 minutes is not long enough. Usually, the monkey mind is still wild the first 5 minutes or I am still getting myself into a comfortable seated position. So out of the 10 minutes, I’ve only had 5 minutes of quality meditation. So last night, I upped it to 15 minutes.

“Alert! Alert! Yet, relax! Relax!” This is so on-point as to how I feel after I have meditated. Four weeks ago, my attitude was I’m so tired at the end of the day, I don’t have time to meditate. I have so much to do and I need to get some sleep - I don’t want to spend 10 minutes of time not being productive. What I have come to realize is that because not only is my mind so active with planning and reminding myself of all the tasks I need to do each day and actually doing all that I do each day, it actually is very productive to force my body and mind to stop and rest. Even more surprising is how relaxed and energetic I feel after I meditate. It’s like we all need a break from training. When training for a marathon, you need to build up the miles gradually, incorporate speed work but also take rest days and let the body and muscles recuperate. My mind is working every waking moment that it also needs to take a rest break. Before meditating, sometimes I have to reread the same paragraph two or three times to really grasp the meaning of the words. I think this is because my mind is so tired or cluttered with so many thoughts it cannot concentrate as well. But after meditating, my mind is clearer and more focused - I understand it the first time around. I have always believed in quality versus quantity but never thought this applied to my mind as well. After meditating, I benefitted from both quantity and quality with my reading.

I have also found myself to be a calmer person after meditating. The past three weeks have been quite challenging with issues I’ve encountered at work. I find myself quite angry in my work environment and have decided I need to leave this environment. I will never be happy here and should not subject myself to this harmful environment but am better able to deal with the situation until it changes. Meditation has helped me see that my personality just will not jive with my coworkers. And my supportive husband has helped me to meditate each day because he feels he needs to get back at me for always nagging him. After I tell him about yet another bad day at work, he immediately tells me to meditate.

Wow, I never thought meditation could be so powerful.

_________________________________


Dennis Hunter is a writer, yogi and meditation teacher living in New York City. He is the author of You Are Buddha: A Guide to Becoming What You Are. He is a co-founder of Warrior Flow™ with his husband Adrian Molina.

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