The Yoga Path • Omaha, NE

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{ Practicing Physical, Mental & Spiritual Health }

One Step at a Time

A story was once shared by Michael Ciborski, one of the dharma teachers in the Plum village tradition. Michael was a monk at Plum Village for nine years and was one of the first Americans to join this Buddhist monastics at the French monastery. Thich Nhat Hanh, Michael retells, was very accessible in those early days and so he, Michael had a good rapport with the venerated Zen teacher. One day Michael was bounding up some stairs preoccupied with his own thoughts. Joyfully running up two, to three steps at a time, when he turned the corner at a flight of stairs and almost ran into Thich Nhat Hanh before abruptly stopping. Michael was startled by almost knocking over his teacher. But Thây (teacher in Vietnamese) looked right at him, at first sternly, then with a smile and then quietly said to his monk: “You should take one step at a time.” Then he mindfully walked past Michael down the steps.

We at the Path are trying to mindfully walk this new path one step at a time. Recently there have been a lot of opening of businesses, parks, and activities. While the need to get back to life’s activities and endeavors can be appreciated, the circumstances that have promulgated these closing and social isolation haven’t in reality been diminished at all. Numbers of those infected by Covid19 still increase and the need for caution, when being in groups is still something we should all respect for ourselves and those around us. With that in mind, we at the Yoga Path will review current circumstances and implement protocols to insure the safest possible atmosphere when we do return. While the school will not be opening June 1st, we will be monitoring our local environment on weekly basis to see how to best come back to physical classes.

In the meantime I will begin to offer online classes through the Zoom platform. To begin with I will offer a
Tuesday evening class at 5:30 p.m. and
a Thursday morning class at 9:30 a.m.

The classes will be at least one hour. If more class times are needed they can be added.

This online format will probably become a new normal even when classes at the studio do resume, as there may be those who would still be more comfortable attending virtually for a time.

I miss the Yoga Path community and the energy that you all have brought to your practice and thus to my teaching. Virtual classes are poor substitute for your actual presence, but seeing your faces will be some consolation.

If you are interested in participating in these online classes please email me at omyogapath@gmail.com. Or if you have questions or comments please feel free to write. Any comment will very helpful, so don’t hesitate to contact me. Hearing from you would be such a gift.

Filed under: Education, Stories, , , ,

Practicing Metta

The practice of Metta/Loving-Kindness meditation can be practiced as follows. There are a number of variations that you can search for on you own. The script below is my own adaption. It is simple and easy to remember (an important factor for me.) I’ve also rearranged the phrasing, because it seems more logical and in-line with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety/health/ease/happiness. This is especially useful when I carry these sentiments onto others, particularly for those to whom I have neutral or negative feelings.

metta symbol

In my own experience, metta requires that I be very settled and stable in my own meditation. If practicing it feels artificial or forced, then give it up and just come back to the breath or some present moment experience. In most cases it may require more time than the typical 20 minute sit. It might take just that long to settle into stillness, but sometimes, going right into metta is just what is needed. And some people are able to naturally flow right into this loving-kindness practice with a natural spontaneity.

May I be safe.
May I be healthy.
May I be at ease.
May I be happy.


First you begin with yourself. For some this may be the most difficult. But it is essential.

“To know the real situation within yourself, you have to know your own territory, including the elements within you that are at war with each other. In order to bring about harmony, reconciliation, and healing within, you have to understand yourself. Looking and listening deeply, surveying your territory, is the beginning of love meditation.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

Then you can bring to mind some close to you. This may be a loved one, a friend, a teacher, maybe a pet or a tree. It’s good to practice doing this for someone you are fond of to begin with.
Then you move to someone neutral. Perhaps someone you don’t know very well, but you know is struggling and could benefit from a kind thought.
Then you can bring to mind somebody who you find difficult. You may not want to pick the most difficult person in your life, instead choosing someone who is mildly difficult. Maybe it’s someone you find yourself agitated with or annoyed by.

If you still have the concentration and stability to continue, then you can move on to include everyone you’ve been thinking of and add more if you want:

May we be safe.
May we be healthy.
May we be at ease.
May we be happy.

If you can do this with sincerity, while maintaining focus you will find metta exercise renewing and refreshing. It will revive your outlook about yourself and the people in your life.

For those looking for a more in depth explanation of the metta meditation, enclosed is an article written by Thich Nhat Hanh entitled: Cultivating Compassion

Filed under: Education, Virtual Yoga, , , , ,

Tools of Practice: Metta

Probably many of you have heard of metta meditation. The meditation on loving kindness. There also a story about how the Buddha first introduced this practice with a sutra teaching. In many ways this teaching seems appropriate to making friends with our current situation of distancing and social isolation. So often the pat answer is to say: “just be with the strong feelings as they arise.” But emotions like anger, fear, sadness, envelop us in the the energy that then sweeps us into them. So to “just be” seems like a wishful afterthought. Stories like this helps me to realize there are concrete ways to bring mindfulness to life:

This version of the story is borrowed from a meditation and mindfulness teacher Manoj Dias , born and raised in the Theravada Buddhist tradition.

The Story Of The Metta Sutta

Some 2,500 years ago, in the time of the Buddha, there were 500 monks that were sent by the Buddha to go on retreat. They call it the rains retreat as it’s usually during the monsoon season. Whenever the monsoon season comes, the monks would be sent off to a particular part of the forest in the mountains to meditate with a particular practice and not come back until they had insight, until they had vipassana or wisdom.
These 500 monks were sent away to one particular part of the forest and back then there was the belief in devasDevas, we could refer to them as spirits, ghosts, or energies that lived in the trees and in the forest. These trees were initially very welcoming of the 500 monks as they came, they were meditating, they didn’t seem to disturb the energy of the forest or nature. But over time, every day they realized that these monks weren’t going away. So, they hatched a plan to get rid of them.
In the evening they decided to make some ghoulish sounds. They decided to let off some really bad smells and to really scare these monks into leaving. Sure enough the monks weren’t able to sleep at night. Their meditation was disturbed, and they became distracted, agitated, anxious and stressed. Like what many of us are feeling right now.
Soon enough the monks became quite terrified, which broke their concentration (samadhi) and disrupted their mindfulness. Some even developed fever and pain and dizziness in conjunction with the fear they were experiencing, and all felt it was impossible to continue practicing where they were. They decided that they had enough and were going back to the Buddha to ask him to send them somewhere else, so they could continue their practice. And they went back and they said to the Buddha, “Buddha, we can’t go to that particular part of the forest. Can you send us somewhere else? There’s ghosts, odd sounds and things that scare us.”
The Buddha sat there and he thought for a little while about the words of these monks. Then he said to them, “You’re right. I sent you into the forest, into this pitch black, dark forest without a weapon. I’m going to give you a weapon. I’m going to give you a weapon that you can defend yourself with no matter what.” And the monks were stunned. “ A weapon?” 
The Buddha sat all 500 of the monks down and he gave the discourse of what’s called the Metta Sutta. The Metta. It’s sometimes translated as the teachings of love or teachings on loving-kindness. Essentially, what it boils down to is, it is a teaching on friendship.
So, after these teachings were imparted to the 500 monks, they returned to the forest, and they practiced cultivating friendship towards everything that was in their lives. This included the spirits that were scaring them and themselves. All of them were feeling anxious and scared. This included the people that they love. This included teachers that had helped them along the way. This included people like their neighbors and friends. Through the quality of this kindness and friendship that they cultivated towards the devas, the devas allowed them to stay. As such stories go from back then, these monks eventually became Arahants, awakened ones.

KARANIYA METTA SUTTA*
from the Buddha

This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech.
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied.
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways..
Peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born,
May all beings be at ease!

Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world:
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.

*Translated from the Pali language by monks from the
Amravati Monastery in England.

Filed under: Education, Stories, Virtual Yoga, , , ,

Luminous Thoughts

When experiencing thoughts that are luminous and free of sorrow.

Yoga Sutra Ch.I v.36

Okay we are still working on different techniques for removing the obstacles/distractions that make the body restless, breathing coarse, and the mind agitated. You know, those things that result in suffering. That next technique is captured in this opening statement. Experience thoughts that are luminous and free of sorrow. Sure, yeah let’s just do that. No problem. Got it! Done.

Sometimes the sutra’s are so simple we often just pass over a sentence and move on to the next. But this directive it packed full of underlining assumptions. Aren’t we always experiencing luminous thoughts that are free of sorrow? My dictionary defines the word luminous as — full of or shedding light; bright or shining especially in the dark. Sources that emit their own light. The opposite word would be dark. One other translation uses the term “inner radiance”. So to the question: Don’t I do this anyway, the answer would have to be — No. Not if I’m being honest. And what does this have to do with sorrow. How does sorrow have anything to do with luminous thought. Perhaps a story might serve to illuminate?

I went for a bike ride yesterday. Just this year I’ve discovered gravel riding. Recently bike and tires have been redesigned to handle the rough back roads that in the Midwest are typically gravel roads. This gets the bicycles off the busy highways that are more traveled and thus more noisy and dangerous. In contrast these back roads are quieter and safer. Often times though they are hillier and the going is slower due to conditions.
This day the weather was somewhat unusual for the Midwest. It was ideal. Temperature was around 65, no clouds, no noticeable humidity, and the most amazing phenomena of all, no wind. The lack of wind is something that almost never occurs here. This is almost a constant presence in our region of the world, so it’s absence is significant. Such weather days are rare when bicycling in Omaha and to be treasured

However, I ride with this underlying thought that there are always better places to ride in the world. I read about and watch videos of people riding in other places. The Great Divide in the Rockies, the Baja of Mexico, Patagonia in South America, the Highlands of Scotland, the Tian Shan Traverse through Kyrgyrstan to name a few such rides. Foreign faraway locations with expansive landscapes that seem remote, beautiful and beyond my imagination. So not experiencing these places, these exotic roads brings me sorrow.
Yet on this Sunday through the back roads of western Iowa in this perfect weather, I realized that this ride contained all the elements I’d been longing for all along. Rolling hills, winding roads, flowering trees, and quiet roadside lakes. I saw deer running through fields and leaping barded-wire fence, eagles flying overhead, and wild turkeys running across the road. All of this less than ten miles from my home on roads that I have bypassed and overlooked for years. In Iowa of all places, I was able to put aside my regrets and sorrow to luminously look in at the present moment to see that what I was longing for was right here, right now, with no sorrow.

ASSIGNMENT: So how do we practice having thoughts that are luminous and free of sorrow? I don’t have a precise answer to this question. But maybe the sutra is itself pointing the way. Start by noticing the sorrow or regret that you are bringing to any given situation. You might be surprised by how this “sorrow” underlines and influences many things you see and think about. Then notice just the energy awareness behind this looking, bringing light to this present moment. Just that: the awareness. The luminous quality of the bare awareness in this present moment, bypassing the sorrow or regret that may be underneath it. You might discover this quality of luminous thought, takes you where you need to go.

Filed under: Education, Virtual Yoga, , ,

Are You Sure?

There is a Zen story that you have perhaps heard. This condensed version is borrowed from the writings of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.

One day a farmer went to the field and found that his horse had run away. The people in the village said, “Oh what bad luck!” The next day the horse returned with two other horses and village people said, “What good fortune!” Then the farmer’s son was thrown from one of the horses and broke his leg. The villagers expressed their sympathy, “How unfortunate!” Soon after, a war broke out and the young men from the village were being drafted. But because the farmer’s son had a broken leg, he was the only one not drafted. Now the village people told the farmer that his son’s broken leg was really “good luck.”

It is difficult to judge whether an event is fortunate or unfortunate, good or bad. Success contains failure and failure often offers lessons we wouldn’t learn any other way. And many of these judgements arise from our perceptions of how we think things ought to be. This is good and this is bad, right or wrong. Then these perceptions lead us to creating a story about what will happen in the future or if only something different had been done in the past.

Wrong perceptions can create a host of problems. So much of our suffering and dissatisfaction arises from our failure to recognize things as they are. There is a phrase; a question in Buddhism: “Are you sure?” Asking ourselves this question can sometimes stop the story and give us space to reflect what is really happening.

‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

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Finer Levels of Senses

Moving on down the list of ways to free the mind of those pesky obstacles, we come to the next practice. One translator of the sutras describes it as follows:

“Experience of the finer levels of the senses, establishes the settled mind. “
another interpretation is
“Consciousness settles by steadily observing as new sensations materialize.”

For those of you who are just coming to this conversation or haven’t read or don’t remember what is being discussed here, we are talking about how to “settle the mind and body” from the constant obstacles that distract it, thus leading to suffering. If suffering seems too strong a word we could refer to it as a sense of dissatisfaction, unease, dispersion, or just an inability to focus. In Sankrit the word is dukkha, and its presence in our lives generally underlies the motivation for all our actions.

In past teachings, we talked about how yoga guides us in different ways to settle consciousness thus diminishing this suffering.
We can —

“Life does not consist mainly–or even largely–of facts and happenings. It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever blowing through one’s head.”

Mark Twain

So now here is another offering from classical yoga: Experience the finer levels of the senses to aid in settling the mind. But how do we practice this? How will we implement these finer levels of sensation?

ASSIGNMENT: Go outside. Sit outdoors and experience the sensation around you. Pick one sense to bring all your awareness on. It could be the sounds around you: wind blowing, birds singing, dogs barking, children playing. Or you could just feel the wind on your face, a sense of warmth or cold, the position of your body in space, comfort and discomfort. Or the smells, odors, and scents around you. Look with your eyes at what is in front of you. Since eyes are so distracting, try to just keep your head still and gaze steady to frame just what’s in your present field of vision. You don’t have to do this anymore than 3-5 minute, but surrender your attention to just that one sensation. Notice how new sounds, feelings, or smells arise, change, and perhaps disappear. If you don’t have the luxury of a yard, go out for a short walk. Maybe find a bench or place to sit, or just pause and stand still for the time.

I find this practice especially fruitful in the early morning or evening close to sunset. Notice how your thoughts and opinions about some sound or odor emerges and just smile at these intrusions , going back to the sensation. Or maybe some random thought just pops in that have nothing to do with what’s going on around you. These are the sneakiest, because they hook us and take away for finer levels of sensation, but again just smile a the obtrusive thought and come back to the sensation.

Settling the mind is not the same as silencing the mind. It is nature of the mind to have thoughts, like wind blowing, or rivers flowing. But yoga is the practice of calming the fluctuations of the mind-stuff. Intentionally directing our attention with these exercises is the prescribed way in yoga. Even a little practice allows us the opportunity to rest in this marvelous present moment; our true home.

Filed under: Education, Virtual Yoga, , ,

108 Sun Salutations

March is at an end. Any other year we would have done Sun Salutations together in class. The classic sequence would have offered a variety of teaching opportunities. We would have dissected the poses, explored ways to refine and improve our technique. Done them quickly in succession, slowed down to savor the energy being expended, practiced with our eyes closed, then faced the sun to surrendered our efforts to the cosmos. But this was not a typical March this year. Most of this was abruptly halted due to the reality of a collective corona contagion.

Yet some of you told me of your endeavor to continue on with the goal of 108 salutations. Some of you even let me know that you completed them. Some of you, finished just today. I congratulated all who finished, but am equally gratified by those who did what they wanted. But the true treasure here is doing them for yourself and for those who touch your life.

Some of you know this number 108 is considered sacred, and continues to pop up in not just in yoga, but in nature, spirituality, and mathematics.

Exactly how the yogis arrived at 108 is not quite certain, but it seems to be a number that connects us to our place in the cosmic order. The distance between the Earth and sun is 108 times the diameter of the sun. Around the time the ancient Vedic texts were being collected, far away Stonehenge was built—the Sarsen Circle is 108 feet in diameter. In Belize, during the era of the Mayans, the High Temple of Lamanai was erected at 108 feet tall—the same height as the funerary Tikal temple in Guatemala. And within the temple of Kukulkan at Chichen Itza in Mexico archeologists believe there to be a second pyramid inside measuring 108 feet wide. Is it possible that our ancient ancestors knew this? These temples, built to worship and to house the souls of great leaders upon their death, perhaps used this number to connect humans not just to our sun as a giver of life, but to the Creator.

In yoga, the number 108 refers to spiritual completion. It is why japa malas are composed of 108 beads. In other spiritual teachings beyond the traditional yogic texts, this number comes up repeatedly in the search for liberation. The ancient yogis believed that if we could align ourselves with the rhythm of the creation, we would ultimately bring an end to our cycle of reincarnation.

Hindu deities have 108 names, and India is said to have 108 sacred sites. In Jainism there are believed to be 108 virtues. In some forms of Tai Chi there are 108 moves. In Tibetan Buddhism there are 108 delusions. Many Buddhist temples have 108 steps representing the 108 steps to enlightenment. While in Japanese Zen Buddhist temples, a bell is chimed 108 times at the end of the year closing a cycle to serve as a reminder of the 108 earthly temptations a person must overcome to achieve nirvana.

In mathematics 108 brings a whole host of equations and possibilities most of which I can’t explain. But one simple examples is: if you square 2 you get 4 and if you cube 3 you get 27, and if you multiply 4×27=108. Galileo said the universe is written “in mathematical language”— that the mysteries of creation itself could be unraveled through numbers and equations. For the yogis, that code is 108.

Yet none of these numbers or what they symbolize are really to the point. Whether one does 108 or 27 or 2 squared, the most pertinent sun salutation is the one you are doing now. In moving from one pose to the next, you realize that you can embody the practice, this ancient teachings through movement. It doesn’t have to be perfect or precise. Surya Namaskar becomes beautiful when we take these poses, one after another, into our bodies in ways we never could by just talking or thinking. So when we walk away from having done them, we join with the mystics who offered a code for awakening, a code to our own nature.

Filed under: Education, Stories, Virtual Yoga, , , , , ,

Stonewalls and Strong Winds

I’m late getting today’s entry out. The day was sunny and warm, so I went for a bike ride. There were strong northwest winds that I rode into until the headwind just felt like the normal way of things. The wind blew stiffest through open valleys and over the tops of hills, reminding me that it was always present and that it could knock me over at any time. But when I turned to go home, it pushed me along as though I was entitled to this luxurious easy pace. Almost like I was taking a friend for granted.

Here’s a poem by the Irish poet John O’Donohue that I wanted to share with you. It reminds me that some days it’s okay to let the wind blow you; to coast on the drift of your efforts.

THIS IS the time to be slow,
To lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.

Try, as best you can, not to let
the wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.

If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on the fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.
~ John O’Donohue

Filed under: Education, Virtual Yoga, , ,

Home Practice Level I, 2

I’ve been hearing from some of you that in the midst of social distancing and our self-imposed remoteness, you are feeling somewhat antsy and dispersed. Today’s sequence* might help with that feeling. It starts out active with some standing postures, then spirals into a more introspective poses. Give yourself room to sink into these quieter poses. Their simplicity can perhaps mislead one to thinking they are easy or insipid. But stop and dive down into the intricacies of each asana. The stillness offered can sometimes be quite intense.

Trikonasna/triangle pose: Use a block or prop as need be, but repeat 2x each side and see if you can get lower on second attempt. Keep both legs very strong.

Virabhadrasana 2: Repeat 2x each side and see if you can get lower on second attempt. Keep both legs very strong.

Ardha Uttanasana / half forward bend:
With hands on the wall at hip level or higher so you can strive for a concave back. Keep legs very straight. Do 1x but hold.

Parsvottanasana / side-angle forward bend: Leave hands on hips and try to maintain a concave spine. Repeat 2x each side and see if you can you can get lower on the second attempt.

Prasarita Padottananasana / wide legged pose: Start with hands on floor, straight arms, and concave back. Then lower head to floor or block. Repeat 2x.

Sukhasana/simple sit: Simple crossleg position. Do on a folded blanket to get hips the height of the knees. Switch leg position or (if you’re feeling adventurous) twist to each side but be kind to knees. Repeat 3x

Baddha Konasana / bounded angle pose: Get the back supported against the wall or couch. Use your arms behind you as pictured to learn to get spine straight and strong. Get the outside legs supported as needed. Hold for several minutes with back straight; read a poem.

“Yoga does not just change the way we see things; it transforms the person who sees.”

BKS Iyengar

Vajrasana (urdhva Hastasana & Parvatasana): Sit with heals and knees together under you placing a rolled up blanket between calves as needed. Bring straight arms up in line with ears (urdhva hasta) then repeat interlacing fingers and palms turned up (parvata).

Adho Mukha Virasana with support. Try to find a cushion or blankets to get the head the same height at the hips. Legs are apart, arms are forward.

Pavanmuktasana: Remember you can stuff the hands behind the knees. Play around with the legs to going into the happy baby pose rocking from side-to-side.

Adho Mukha Svanasana / downward -facing dog: Repeat 2x after short rest between.

Supta Baddha Konasana: getting support for the back, head, and outer legs too. Should be comfortable because again there is no savasana in this sequence.

*These sequences originate from the Iyengar Institute of New York.

Filed under: Education, Home Practice, Uncategorized, Virtual Yoga, , , , ,

Tea on the Brain

Been a long time since making an entry in this category — tea, but I always marvel at the relationship of tea in Buddhism, Yoga, and meditation. Now here is a neurological explain for human predilection for Camellia sinensis.

Filed under: Tea, , , , ,

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