Yoga And Basic Virtue

As we walk through this wondrous, if baffling experience called life, we encounter rules, maxims, commandments, sutras and all manner of recommendations for our conduct as we go. No doubt many of these are instructive and valuable, the golden rule probably being perhaps the best example. Treating others the way we want to be treated is the best way to create good relationships with all beings. Patanjali made it first among his precepts for living when he enunciated ahimsa or non-harming in the Yoga Sutras. Even though the general idea of basic kindness is enshrined in religious doctrine across all traditions we still fail to master this most elementary of principles.

Recently I’ve heard rumblings from some quarters of certain political persuasions that kindness, love and goodness as a concepts for behavior in the sophisticated matters of political action are naïve and unrealistic. That strikes me as shockingly cynical and nihilistic. But this leads us to the age-old problem that may yet seem to have no satisfactory solution: the problem of goodness and its seeming impotence in the face of unremitting evil.

Perhaps these objections rise because concepts like love, kindness and goodness are often times just the hollow offerings of equally hollow traditions whose clean fingernails belie that fact they’ve never gotten down to the business of practicing the virtues they preach.

The problem with virtue, many people believe, is that there is no guarantee that its practice will result in equal treatment from others, that virtue is like a defenseless lamb before a world of wolves. But this assumes that the virtuous have the same intelligence quotient (IQ) as a lamb. Being virtuous doesn’t necessarily mean stupid, innocent or uninformed. Neither does the practice of kindness presume that others will react in kind. Kindness contains in itself a determined non-attachment to its results knowing that the law-of-averages is in its favor. The lineage of Jesus, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. demonstrates the power of a particular form of kindness that Gandhi called satyagraha, or soul force. Satyagraha is a Sanskrit word that means “insistence on truth.”

“Soul Force was originally used by M.K. Gandhi, as a part of “Satyagraha” or reliance on Soul Force. This was a philosophy brought about from the teachings of Jesus. Gandhi used Soul Force during the Indian people’s movement to transform their society through a peaceful means.”[1]

Next, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., used Soul Force as part of his nonviolent philosophy as he sought to help lead the African American people toward freedom. He even mentioned this term in the “I Have A Dream” speech,

“We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”
Delivered on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963. Source: Martin Luther King, Jr: The Peaceful Warrior, Pocket Books, NY 1968[2]

Insistence or the persistence of truth stands equal to kindness in its power as a change agent. Persistence erodes resistance like running water on a stone.

Another aspect of kindness that may not be readily apparent from its dictionary definition is curiosity. Kindness denotes open-heartedness. Open hearts quest for truth and intimate contact. Quest-ioning or curiosity lead to understanding which is followed by respect with the possibility of peace between serious parties.

Kindness, persistence and curiosity whether they are policies of governments or individuals provide the basic foundation of virtue by which humans can conduct their affairs. If you think that’s naïve, just look where subterfuge, deceit, greed and war have gotten us.





A Doorway to Realizing Full Human Potential

Human kind has been living under the illusion that chronology is the best way to measure time. Of course, dividing time into years, months, hours, seconds and beyond does serve myriad purposes. Precise measurements and split second accuracy benefit us in many ways. But they tell us little to nothing about the quality of time in human experience.

I’ve heard it said that yogis measure the moments of their lives by each conscious breath. Since we are only rarely aware of the breath that keeps us alive, it may boggle our minds that the human breath would even be considered as an increment for evaluating time. How could computing time by each inhalation and exhalation be of any use to us at all? Such an idea might even seem silly and unworthy of further deliberation. But anytime you think something is just plain hooey is exactly the time to stop and ponder that idea from another angle.

Raising “consciousness” has long been a hallmark of what some would call the New Age movement. For that very reason one might dismiss it out-of-hand as a crackpot concept to be flushed away as so much refuse. Though New Age thought may have its share of sloppy or wishful thinking, becoming more aware is not something that came along with the Age of Aquarius. To the contrary—since the first human being sat still with eyes closed following the rhythmic breath, acute awareness and expanding consciousness ensued. Jane Hirshfield in her poem “The Door” puts it aptly: The rest note, unwritten, hinged between worlds, that precedes change and allows it.” As a compliment, T.K.V. Desikachar wrote in his book, “The Heart of Yoga”,: “Yoga attempts to create a state in which we are always present—really present—in every action, in every moment.”

“Yeah, so,” you might ask?

I would answer, “When we are truly present within the ebb and flow of each breath, we open the connection to the full potential that human experience has to offer.”

Poet, Danna Faulds, in her poem, “Breath” nails it down succinctly. “In the breath, the soul finds an opportunity to speak.”

As I sat in meditation this morning, I swam my way through the usual distractions. (Note: The intensity of distractions often correlates directly to the amount of visual media I’ve consumed). But I’ve found a method to help wash distractions away— attention on the breath. Before the beginning of each inhalation and exhalation, I pause and recompose my attention to the pinpoint of that moment with my focus on the third eye or ajna chakra. (Ajna chakra corresponds to the pineal and pituitary glands in the brain. Both are powerful hormone producers that regulate essential body functions). Combined with the simple mantra, So Ham (Hum), I can practice one-pointed attention on my breath. To reinforce this technique, I further merge my attention to the action of my body as it breathes. Feeing the ebb and flow of the breath into the belly and chest supports the mental aspect of breath attention. By using this technique we can learn to displace the distractions that so often limit the depth of my meditation. By no means am I an accomplished adept at this technique, but this practice offers tantalizing evidence of its value.

Developing one-pointed concentration is the difference between attempting to do something and the mastery of that thing. Peak performance, as anyone who has achieved it will tell you, is a matter of being “in the zone.” The door way to the zone is samadhi or absorption into the object of your concentration as Patanjali said in the Yoga Sutras. Jesus of Nazareth confirms this in Mathew 6:22 when he says “…when your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light.”

Regardless of your religious beliefs, a mind trained to one-pointed focus can achieve bliss, excellence, joy, ethical groundedness and accomplishment beyond normal everyday existence. We see this in champion athletes, business tycoons, great religious figures and intellectual giants. These seemingly super-normal human beings have simply mastered some aspect of absolute concentration.

This ability to be full of light is the doorway to our dreams as individuals and as a species. The only limits are those we impose upon ourselves.

So, is it a watch with a second hand you want or the conscious quality of your breath?

The Seattle Seahawks Triumph with Yoga

For many years I’ve told my yoga students that whatever you do, yoga will make you better at it. Last night the Seattle Seahawks confirmed my statement.

Since Seahawks coach, Pete Carroll, took the head coaching job he began making big changes in the way a football team is run. The typical hard-ass approach so prevalent in pro sports has been replaced by a caring attitude that promotes kindness, self-inquiry and total fitness, attributes that are encouraged in yogic precepts from the Yoga Sutras written thousands of years ago.

After Carroll was fired from his coaching position with the New England Patriots in 1999, he coached USC to a string of successful seasons with a new style of coaching. As he dreamed of another shot in the NFL ranks, Carroll wondered what he would do differently. “I wanted to find out if we went to the NFL and really took care of guys, really cared about each and every individual, what would happen?” That’s the kind of atmosphere Carroll and his staff have created in Seattle. As a part of his new strategy, Carroll offered the Seahawks some unusual tactics to help them win.

In an article by Alyssa Roenigk in ESPN The Magazine of August 2013 she writes, “The entire roster also participates in yoga class, which players enjoyed so much last year as an optional activity that the staff decided to make it a mandated part of player workouts this year.” (

Coach Carroll has also hired sports psychologist, Dr. Michael Gervais, who teaches meditation to the Seahawks. Gervais works under the assumption that a happy player is a better player. Gervais has weekly meditation sessions with quarterback Russell Wilson. “We do imagery work and talk about having that innovative mindset of being special,” Wilson says. “We talk about being in the moment and increasing chaos throughout practice, so when I go into the game, everything is relaxed.”

Russell and his teammates demonstrated that calm-in-the-midst-of-the-storm attitude last night as they executed each play with precision. When Russell was flushed out of the pocket by Bronco defenders, he scrambled and often turned a broken play into a significant gain of yardage.

Though it’s too early to tell if Pete Carroll’s Seattle Seahawk revolution will spread to other NFL franchises, it is tantalizing evidence that yoga practice, meditation and kindness can achieve results that exceed the unforgiving harshness that so often masquerades as competent leadership.

Several NFL players including Kevin Boss, formerly with the New York Giants, credit yoga with being an integral part of their success. 2010 Most Valuable Player Troy Palamalu bypasses the weight room. As a yoga practitioner for years, Palamalu knows that his yoga practice gives him greater flexibility and increased range of motion while decreasing his chance of injury. The Giant’s Amani Toomer realized that weights weren’t doing him much good so he took up yoga. In 2009 he summarized his feelings about yoga, “If I hadn’t done yoga, I’d be out of the league by now.”

Seattle’s Russell Okung knows that recreating your mind helps to recreate your personal reality. “Meditation is as important as lifting weights and being out here on the field for practice,” Okung says. “It’s about quieting your mind and getting into certain states where everything outside of you doesn’t matter in that moment. There are so many things telling you that you can’t do something, but you take those thoughts captive, take power over them and change them.”

If yoga can help NFL players excel in their demanding world, imagine what it can do for you and how it could help transform our troubled world.