By Ivy Xie-McIsaac, E-RYT200, YACEP
It has been more than 22 years since my first Yoga class in 1996. After I came back from Tibet in the summer, one of my colleagues gave me a book called “Lotus Fragrance”. The book introduces the great Tibetan Yogi Milarepa. That was the first time I encountered the word Yoga. Then in November of that year, my twin sister asked me if I would like to attend a Yoga class at the YWCA in Guangzhou, China, where we lived.
Our teacher, Mr. Tan always started the class with a half-hour meditation. His approach was simple, play Yoga music. Music from a Bhakti Yoga band (Wai Lana). Even though I didn’t understand what they were singing, the affection that they expressed touched me. It only takes a few minutes to feel the calming effects of meditation with the power of sacred sound.
Different forms of Yoga work on different fragments of the Self; some forms emphasize the body, some emphasize the mind and consciousness, and Bhakti Yoga directly works on the soul which is located in the heart.
To fully understand Bhakti Yoga one needs extensive knowledge, but knowledge is not a must to practice Bhakti Yoga. A main form of practice with others is through Kīrtana. Kīrtana means “mentioning, repeating, saying, telling”. It uses sound vibration to glorify and describe the Absolute Truth.
Anyone who is willing to share the love of the Divine and is willing to communicate by the heart can practice Bhakti Yoga together. Through Bhakti Yoga, the formless spirit can be seen, the heart-touching love can be felt, and the omnipresent Supreme God can be revealed in our own eyes. We will recognize that we are not a moving machine. We are a human being that has a soul in the heart. We are part of the Divine. What we need to do is participate, either sing along or listen quietly to the chanting. This is the way to connect with the Divine and gradually foster love of Divine Presence.
Warrior poses are being practiced a lot in Yoga classes. So, what is the essence of these Warrior postures? We can understand these āsanas from a Mahābhārata story:
A group of warriors are studying under their mentor Droṇa. One day, Droṇa wants to know if they grasp the art of concentration. Droṇa sets up a small wooden bird in a distant tree and asks his students to strike the eye of the wooden bird with their arrow.
Before the warriors take action, Droṇa asks his students what they see.
“I see the wooden bird, the leaves beside the bird, the branch the bird is sitting on, the tree. I can see grass under the tree, other trees around, the sky, the clouds…”
One by one, students give a similar answer. They name off everything. Droṇa asks them to put down their bows and even does not allow them to try as he knows that they won’t hit the eye of the bird.
At last Droṇa reaches Arjuna. “What do you see?”
“The eye of the wooden bird” Arjuna answers clearly.
“Is this the only thing you can see? Are you sure? There are lots of things around. Your eyesight must have some problems.” Droṇa is testing Arjuna.
“The eye of the wooden bird, this is the only thing I see.” Arjuna answers firmly.
Droṇa is pleased with this response and orders Arjuna to shoot. Arjuna holds his bow steady, gazing at the target and shoots the arrow which goes straight forward and hits the wooden bird’s eye.
Self-inquiry from the story: The ability to see can be an obstacle to fulfilling a task. The ability to perform a difficult āsana can lead us in the wrong direction of Yoga practice. Is Yoga for the purpose to get power or Self-realization?
Q: Why don’t I like meditation? When I do meditation, I can not be calm and peaceful. I see my mind like a monkey, jumping around from one thing to another. All in my mind is just the stuff I want to get rid of. Is meditation supposed to let me calm down and relax? Why can’t I sit quietly? Why do I feel tired instead?
A: There are 2 points to consider: