By Viki Distin
The lotus flower, a strong yet delicate flower, is the perfect analogy for our spiritual growth as human beings. This beautiful flower rises out of the muddy pond symbolizing that regardless of our external environment or circumstances we all have the potential for incredible growth and beauty.
The image of the lotus flower is held sacred in many of the world's religions and cultures. With its root in the mud, the lotus rises through the murky water to blossom clean and bright, symbolizing to the Buddhist purity, resurrection and the enlightened being who emerges from the chaos and illusion of the world.
In the Greek and Roman Christian Churches, the Archangel Gabriel is portrayed holding a spray of water lilies in every picture of the Annunciation, when he appears to the mother of Jesus. In Egyptian mythology, the lotus was associated with the sun, because it blooms by day and closes by night. To Native Americans, who found all parts of the flower edible, the flower symbolized the sun's power to transform energy into food.
In yogic lore, the lotus is a metaphor for how past experiences can be used for fertile soil for blooming into a more awakened soul. According to Sharon Gannon, the founder of Jivamukti Yoga, "We can all become people like Martin Luther King Jr., and embody that awakened state of spiritual activation and send compassion into the world."
Life for the lotus begins with the roots growing deep in the mud at the bottom of the pond. There is a density and heaviness, just like our material or physical world. This is where spirituality begins with the physical or material world. It is here that we learn our proper lessons that life wishes to teach us. It is here that our relationships come into play and we learn to "ground ourselves" by improving our interactions with others. In our yoga practice this is represented in our standing poses, hip openers, floor work and in the act of feeling our feet touching the earth. It is the grounding nature of our practice that relates to how we feel about the world in which we live and then how that energy is expressed back into the body. It is here that we create stability by aligning our bones, and the recognition of what is not aligned on all planes of existence. It is here that we use our physical practice to help us find our own "muck." While it might be tempting to skip this stage it is essential before we move upwards.
"We all have the potential for incredible growth and beauty."
As we mature as human beings and have the opportunity to work through our circumstances, it is then that we can begin to vibrate at a higher level than the physical body and symbolically this is the water where the stem reaches towards the light above. In this place in our practice, we are moving towards more subtle aspects. Maty Eratzy, founder of Yoga Works in Southern California and a yoga teacher for over 20 years can do really difficult poses. Maty mentored many well know yoga teachers such as Seane Corn, Shiva Rea, Rod Stryker and Kathryn Budig. She says that in yoga we advance from the gross to the subtle. She claims that doing more poses is not necessarily better and this might even become a distraction, leading to attachment of the advanced poses.
So we move up and out of the mud by feeling more and becoming more aware of the smaller subtleties of our practice. For example, during savasana, the ability to feel your eyelashes gently interlacing is so delicate that unless a student is very still and conscious, then this would be impossible. Another example of cultivating the subtle is when we allow ourselves to feel places of deeper tension in the body. Or moving from the outside in. The first step in releasing tension is to become aware of it, and then stay present and feel it. The "feeling" of the tension or negativity of course takes courage and that is why it is considered a higher level of spiritual maturity.
Finally, the flower opens above the water's surface, basking in the light and freedom of the open air. This is our spiritual journey. To begin with the physical, and then the mental, and at last the spiritual. It is here you come to know ease and spiritual truth, the least dense of these three realms.
Yoga and Meditation disciplines are tools to help us ground ourselves, grow through the mud of the mind and reach our arms upwards towards the heavens, finding our true inner nature. May we can all be like the lotus flower and rise above our challenges and bloom.
Photo credit: tdlucas5000 via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Sheila Dayton (above, right) has been an inspiration to all of us since she first came to Expressions of Grace. Her story will certainly inspire you to make your own changes. Sheila is pictured with her instructor, Katherine Florentine (above, left; E-RYT 500).
In March 2015, I started a weight loss journey that was desperately needed - I was nearing my 60th birthday and my weight had ballooned up to 325 pounds. Yikes! By mid June, through dieting, I was thrilled to have lost nearly 50 pounds. In addition to continuing the weight loss, I wanted to get fit but was at a loss on what to do - I hadn't gotten that overweight by being a fan of exercise! To be honest, I was physically a mess, as the sedentary lifestyle that contributed to my weight gain had also left me with little in the way of muscle tone, flexibility or balance.
My friend and co-worker Ruth had done yoga years ago and talked several times about how wonderful it made her feel. One day she suggested that we do something outside of work hours for fun and I found myself saying - why don't we try a yoga class?
Yoga is one of those things that you think, "Hey, I should be able to do that" and then you discover that it’s much more than it looks on the outside (in many ways, really, but more about that later.) I bought the two week unlimited pass for new students at Expressions of Grace ("EoG") and came to every session classified as "gentle", "beginner" or "basics" in the hopes of finding something I could do. I quickly determined that "gentle" was as much as I could even begin to tackle, and even then, it was a struggle to keep up.
I think in those early days, the thing that kept me coming back was a combination of sheer determination and the truly lovely people at EoG. At a time when I felt horrible about myself, the people around me were supportive, affirming and encouraging. I've seen ads about places being "no judgment" establishments, but EoG is more than that. "No judgment" just means a lack of condemnation. EoG is a place where you are actively supported, which creates a welcoming and wonderful learning environment.
Over time, my reasons for coming shifted a bit. I started finding when a class was done it wasn't just relief I was feeling, but a growing sense of well being. A portion of that comes from the physical exercise that yoga brings. But for me, it also came from the teachings/philosophy and practice of yoga, which nurture my spirit.
I'm currently reading a book by Judith Lasater, who says that her motivation in teaching yoga is to help her students connect with the Divine. I feel that process has begun in me. For me, yoga has helped getting in closer contact with God. I am reminded on a daily basis just how "fearfully and wonderfully made" we really are. And I have come to know in a much deeper way what it means to quiet my heart and mind - to be still and know the peace that simply being in the presence of God brings.
Well-being. Relaxation. Joy. Is it any wonder that I now come to yoga five to six times per week? I have come to a point where I still enjoy the gentle classes, but can now also enjoy the beginner, basic and even some intermediate classes. Each has its own challenges, and I learn more every day in each class.
Yoga has changed more than the appearance of my body (through diet and yoga, I have now lost over 125 pounds and am still losing! Yowza!) I came for exercise but I got so much more! Yes, I do have far more muscle tone, flexibility and range of motion than I had before yoga. No small feat for someone with stiff knees, severely deteriorated bone tissue in my spine and neck and a shoulder that doesn't respond well to a whole lot! Yoga really is for everybody! But I'm better in more than a physical sense.
For example, it is much easier for me to reach out to others with compassion and kindness now. If I were reading this, I'd be rolling my eyes about now. But at the end of each class, my teachers often urge the class to show ourselves compassion and kindness and to offer ourselves gratitude for the commitment to self care showing up at the mat involves. Those words have gradually soaked into my mind and heart, and I have turned off much of the self-hating talk that I once engaged in on a daily basis. In my increased happiness, it's easier to show kindness and compassion to others. Well being, relaxation, and joy - they each walk out the door with me and find their way to others in the form of kindness and compassion.
So if you are thinking about trying a yoga class - do it! Don't give up! Keep watch for and celebrate progress - at first it may be just remembering the name of a pose or the position of your feet for it. Then maybe a pose that was difficult for you becomes a little easier or maybe something you couldn't do before, you now can. Notice how you feel after your practice - relaxed, happy, lighter in spirit. Come as often as you can and the changes you'll notice will happen much faster, and that is so encouraging!
As Sheila said, "do it!" Start your yoga journey today. Our entire team is here... for you. - EoG
1) like, appreciate, or understand
2) discover information after a search or investigation
3) bring out something that is hidden or has been stored for a long time
4) extract from the ground by breaking up and moving earth
The name for this yoga blog was inspired by the Rainer Maria Rilke’s quote:
“Dig into yourself for a deep answer.”
We live in the age of information. We have answers everywhere from Wikipedia, Google, You-tube and Trip Advisor. But as Rilke advises we must "dig" into ourselves for the "deep" answer. We may have to unearth a lot of obstacles before we discover our truths. But as yogis, we make the U-turn of awareness from the outside world to the inside world of thoughts, emotions and digging up conditioned patterns.
Our intention for this blog, is to help students with this process. As yogi’s, we are like archaeologists excavating tension and holding patterns within the body/mind.
Sri Sri Shankar writes, “I tell you, deep inside you is a fountain of bliss, a fountain of joy. Deep inside your core is truth, light, love. There is no guilt, there is no fear there. Psychologists, or most people have never looked deep enough.”
Writings about asana (postures) will be rare, as there is much already written about that. We will explore concepts relating to the other limbs of yoga and other avenues to help students dig deep.