Building Victorious Will

We often hear it said that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” This speaks to our will power in general and to specific goals in our lives. More to the point, I see it in terms of creating a consistent yoga practice that will change every facet of our lives for the better.

Rather than just being the latest exercise fad, yoga comprehensively addresses every aspect of human existence. It is, as I’ve stated many times before, a universal toolbox. Whatever you need, yoga has an answer for it that has been tried and tested with millennia of successful evolution. Our yogic ancestors have honed this science/art and bequeathed it to us as a complete system for living healthy, victorious lives that reach the deepest levels of human satisfaction and accomplishment.

The path of yoga (or union with Universal power and purpose) is the process of being reborn each time we draw a conscious breath that makes us realize our connection to every life form and spirit in the cosmos.

Of course, we would all love to live lives of satisfaction, fulfillment, health and prosperity. That’s what I love about yoga; it shows us a way to get there. It’s a map through the maze of life, a template upon which we can build our lives as we experience the wonder of human existence.

A saying ascribed to Jesus of Nazareth comes to mind: if you have faith as a mustard seed you shall say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’, and it shall move; and nothing shall be impossible to you. (Mathew 17:20)

Before we get to mountains, we can begin with the more modest goal of building a yoga practice that will pave the way for such a victorious, mountain-moving life.

How do you think amazing people become amazing? They commit to and develop a practice that yields amazing results. Life is a practice, and we begin where we are.

I recommend beginning with your body and mind. Inseparable, they are the vehicle we’ve been given to transcend the human condition and reach our boundless potential.

Within the body is the breath, the golden key that opens every lock. When we support the movement of our bodies with the synchronized diaphragmatic breath, we begin to tap into infinite possibility. This is why yoga asana, or yoga poses are an integral technique for building the pathways of will.

As we begin to move and breathe into simple asana, we stimulate cellular renewal in every organ and gland of our bodies. Our muscles, ligaments, tendons veins, arteries, lymph system, indeed the entire body begins to pour itself into a template of purpose and alignment with our highest good.

To develop a home-based yoga practice, begin with a few minutes per day, preferably first thing in the morning. Use one of the movement sequences you’ve learned in yoga class or use a good yoga book. Do what feels good, safe and sound to you. Your body will lead you. Enjoy your simple practice. Make it a habit.

Consistent practice will begin to change your body and mind, literally. Your practice will stimulate positive neurochemical changes that make you feel clear, clean and eager to engage with your life in every area. These are the changes that build will power. As our bodies begin to function more efficiently, we often find that our will to resist cravings and unhealthy habits gets stronger. It becomes easier to create new habits that displace habits of unskillful living.

As you devote a few minutes each day to your personal practice, you will notice that you feel more at ease and steadier in your attitudes toward life. Results will prompt you to explore your practice more deeply. You are now on the path to infinity. Soon, you may yearn for a deeper experience of life. Meditation, or cultivating the mind, will facilitate this yearning. As we cultivate a deeper experience of life through the meditation practices prescribed by yoga, our lives begin to fall into place as we align ourselves with the universal principles of goodness that are stated in Yama and Niyama, the ethical considerations described by Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra.

Though it will take some time, steady practice, incremental gains will earn you a will of flexible steel that will help you shape your life according to your dharma, or your highest good.

So, begin with ease, a little faith and open your heart to the genius that lives within you. Allow yoga, or union with Universal energy, to unlock the mystery of life.

Note: As always, I’d love to hear from you. I see that my posts are being read all over the world. I’m honored and humbled. Please drop me a line and say hello. Share your yoga experiences. Let’s connect and increase the prana of yoga worldwide.

Namaste. I recognize, respect and affirm your goodness.


Yoga Musings 20 Years After the Rwandan Genocide.

As covered by National Public Radio this last Sunday, Rwandans are entering a three month long period of remembrance of the genocide that occurred 20 years ago. Poverty, inequality, repression of women and ethnic hatred fanned by influential Rwandan men ignited a spree of murder that claimed the lives of nearly one million souls.

After the killing was over 70% of the population were women. These women were left to pick up the pieces left them by the murder of neighbors and families. The women of Rwanda have had no choice but to heal their wounds by the kind of decisive action that has now, buy some estimations, elevated their country to the status of one of the cleanest and least corrupt in Africa poised on the brink of a technological revolution.

Today, women hold more seats in Rwandan parliament than any other nation in the world. Forty percent of the president’s cabinet is female and over 50% of the judiciary is comprised of women. Women may now own property, girls and women may inherit wealth from their parents, and girls are being educated in unprecedented numbers to prepare them for future leadership roles.

Minister of Gender and Family Promotion, Oda Gasinzigwa, proudly recites the rebirth of women’s empowerment in Rwanda, but admits that full gender equality is still a work in progress.

Hearing these stories about Rwanda’s rise from the ashes of genocidal holocaust got me thinking about an entry I posted on November 19 last year. In my essay, The Meek Will Inherit the Earth, I wrote about the human race as a geological force strong enough to change our climate and threaten our existence as a species. I also defined meek as not merely humble, gentle and patient, but as cooperative. One part of the inheritance of the meek that I didn’t speak about but have always held as central to my thoughts on this subject is that after the aggressive and hateful extinguish themselves in a national blood-letting like Rwanda, that the meek will be left to rebuild a society based on justice and equality rather than hate and violence.

Now the formerly oppressed women, girls and orphans of Rwanda who were brutalized, raped and tortured en masse 20 years ago are in the unique position of inheriting their native land. In the process a balance is being established between the men and women of this society that may well lead this once desolate country to become an example of what human potential can achieve when it is based on the cooperation of the meek,  the kind and the respectful.

I like to look at this blossoming Rwandan transformation as the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy in the Sermon on the Mount that that indeed “the meek will inherit the earth.”

I would also like to think that the whole world could take a lesson from what the Rwandans have so cruelly endured. When girls and women are excluded and disenfranchised, when they are relegated to serfdom, when their human rights and their very bodies can be violated without consequence their society is on a collision course with disaster. When patriarchy enforces itself half the potential of the human species will never reach its potential. Any species that allows such incalculable waste will never have the tools it needs to survive much less flourish.

As I alluded to in my November post, humanity is facing multiple challenges that may well be surmountable. However, considering present circumstances and future trends, our survival as a race is by no means guaranteed. Certainly, without the genius of every man, woman and child willing to guide our troubled evolution we risk everything. Inequality, sexism, racism and hatred are no longer affordable. With nearly 8 billion souls on the planet, the margins of success grow thinner each day.

The Rwandan renewal, though incomplete, presents possibilities for us all; possibilities of a world where every one of us has an equal opportunity to contribute our best. When we get the best from everyone, we can all get the best of every thing.



The Glorious Rainbow of Being Present

One of the central features of any meditation tradition is “present mindedness,” or the ability to inhabit the present moment without being burdened by preoccupations of the past or future. The usual busyness of everyday makes this a bit of a challenge, but there are techniques we can use to break the one-track-monotony of the day to refresh ourselves and crown each new moment with clarity. Simply developing a habit of pausing from hour to hour to recollect your thoughts with a conscious breath is a very effective and simple way to create a golden moment of being here now as Ram Dass would put it.

The present moment can also take on several distinctly different colors that form a rainbow of perspective through which to view the moments of our lives.

As I am wont to do, I like to play with words and think about how they can have more than one meaning. Those different meanings help me to think about how to embody the state of mind that those words define. Take the English word “present” for instance. Present and its cousin “presence” have varied Latin roots. Depending on the context in which we use them, they may mean being alert to circumstances in this moment as distinguished from the past or future. By using a long “e” sound and placing the accent on the second syllable it means to introduce to the public in a formal way, as in “may I present to you the art and science of meditation.” Finally, a present is a gift that is sometimes given in surprise.

The slightly different “presence” may refer to the manner in which one carries oneself, the aura surrounding a great personage, or having a supernatural influence that can be felt by others.

When we pause in recognition of the present moment, we also instantly become silent and motionless. A quote ascribed to Benjamin Disraeli shines a bright light on the importance of silence. “Silence,” he said, “is the mother of truth.” Chief Luther Standing Bear of the Teton Sioux, reflecting on Disraeli added, “a silent man was ever to be trusted, while the man ever ready with speech was never taken seriously.”

Practicing present-mindedness immediately opens the door for us to connect with our deepest truth. Nothing dignifies our humanity more than being present in the primordial truths that inspire us to think, speak and behave with integrity.

As we develop our practice of fully making our homes in each present moment we dwell in the integral truths that guide us to transparently “present” (long “e” accent second syllable) who we are to the world without shame or regret. When we see such people we know that we are well-met with those who can earn our trust and help us create the relationships that will make the world flourish in the peace and freedom for which we all so deeply yearn.

This kind of attention to our lives will cause us to shine with the aura of transfiguration that Jesus underwent in Mathew 17:2: “his face shone like the sun and his garments became as white as light.” This is the presence that being present can cultivate within each one of us. In our moments of being utterly present, truth shines from us for others to see. Though the light others see may not be the dazzling physical blaze portrayed by the gospel, each of us will be able to recognize, respect and affirm the god-likeness that resides in each one of us when we are present with our basic innate truth.

Rather than being some pie-in-the-sky, New Age, fairyland idealism, the practice of being present will endow us with the super-normal power to live the lives of which we are capable.  So, let us touch the golden present with the consciously breathing silence that gives birth to integrity, friendliness and a future of unbounded wonder and humane accomplishment.

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 Meek Will Inherit the Earth

Human evolution is now at its most critical crossroad. We are facing a world where converging crises threaten our survival as a species. Within a generation, according to the World Bank’s most recent report, temperatures will rise 3-6 degrees Fahrenheit  and perhaps seven degrees in fewer than 100 years. As oceans rise and food production becomes less dependable, mass migrations will challenge every strategy we know to maintain some kind of stability.

Our inertia in the face of climate change has caused us to sit passively by as the point of no return has come and gone.

Even at the age of 61 many of these cataclysmic changes will happen or at least begin within my lifetime.

If we face these facts honestly we return to the fundamental questions we all ask ourselves. Why are we here and what is the purpose of life? These are the questions that Roy Scranton poses in his sobering essay, “Learning to Die in the Anthropocene.”

The Anthropocene is a new term for the epoch in which we now live—an epoch that has seen human beings become a global geological force powerful enough to knock our climate out of balance.

In light of these changes Scranton asks what it will mean to be human as we respond to an unrecognizable world that is hostile to life as we know it? Contemplating our individual deaths and the finality of our extinction as a species is forcing us to answer these questions.

Who will we become and how will we behave in a world that presents humans with precious few options for survival? Scranton answered this question as an Army private on duty in Baghdad reading the Hagakure, an 18th century treatise on Samurai conduct. It’s author, Yamamoto Tsunetomo wrote “Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily…. If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he gains freedom in the Way.”

So, how does this relate to yoga? The Hagakure and yoga both direct the aspiring human being to gain mastery of over his or her nervous system. Toning our nervous systems through meditation and conscious action helps us to face death and achieve the freedom of knowing how to live.

Jesus the Nazarene also spoke prophetically when he proclaimed that “the meek will inherit the earth.” I read this as the “cooperative” will inherit the earth.

As yogis the great mysterious creative force that gave us birth beckons us to embrace impermanence, our ultimate death. In so doing we are guided to live lives that transcend our ego driven pursuit of wealth and power. Jimi Hendrix put it aptly, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.”

We are being called to a higher level of existence. We are being called to face our finest hour—the hour when we, as human beings no longer pursue the eternal in the transient—an hour when we will mature and ripen into the god-likeness that is our destiny.

Thanks for reading my work. Please leave a comment. I need to hear what you think.

Here is the link to Roy Scranton’s essay: