A Complete Meditation Path To Enlightenment When I discovered this meditation system while living at a Tibetan Buddhist centre it changed everything for me. At the time I was engaged in all sorts of spiritual Tibetan Buddhist practices including making prostrations to Buddhas, reciting daily prayers and making imaginary offerings to gurus, attending complicated philosophical
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The Buddha taught there were five things to consider before speaking.[v] Is what you’re about to say:
Factual and true
Helpful, or beneficial
Spoken with kindness and good-will (that is, hoping for the best for all involved)
Endearing (that is, spoken gently, in a way the other person can hear)
Timely (occasionally something true, helpful, and kind will not be endearing, or easy for someone to hear, in which case we think carefully about when to say it)
Will What We Say Be Helpful?
In the last post on right speech, we already discussed the importance of our speech being factual and true. The second point to consider before speaking is whether what we’re about to say is likely to be helpful or beneficial. This doesn’t mean we should never say anything unless we’re sure it’s going to be useful or help someone. The instruction to consider whether something will be helpful or not applies more to things we want to say in the hopes of getting others to change their minds or behavior in some way. We may want to admonish someone, or complain about something they’ve done. We may feel the urge to give advice, or educate someone – overtly, or by telling them about how we think or do things.
If we practice honesty and mindfulness, we’ll discover that many times, when we want to speak in this way, our primary motivation is to build up our own sense of being right, capable, moral, noble, victimized, etc. It seems to be human nature to try get as many people on our side as possible, as if the more people who agree with or admire us, the more legitimate our behavior or positions. Speaking primarily in order to show we’re right doesn’t qualify as “helpful” or “beneficial” speech from the Buddhist point of view.
At other times, of course, we sincerely want to help, or feel the need to point something out. Then the question of whether our speech will actually be helpful becomes critical. Even if we’re right, even if someone would be better off if they took our advice, is it going to be helpful to speak up at this time? Are we instead likely to make someone angry or defensive, and perhaps even less likely to accept or act on what we have to say? Is our speech going to reinforce someone’s sense of inadequacy, perhaps, and encourage them to rely on us for guidance? Is someone ready to hear and accept what we have to say?
Basically, if it seems very unlikely our speech will be helpful or beneficial, no matter our intentions, the Buddha suggests we remain silent. Kind of makes you think about how much less we’d end up saying if we followed the Buddha’s guidelines on speech, doesn’t it?
Are We Speaking with Kindness and Good-Will?
Chances are, if we speak with good-will, it’s more likely someone will be able to hear and accept what we have to say, and will benefit from it. If we maintain a sense of good-will, we’re more likely to be motivated to speak what will be helpful (as opposed to what’s idle or self-serving).
Considering our own attitude while speaking is another useful approach to evaluating our speech. What are we thinking and feeling as we contemplate saying something? Do we have judgments in our mind about the person we’re speaking to – that they’re stupid, weak, pathetic, inferior, deluded, stubborn, etc.? If so, chances are we’re feeling superior to them and our motivation to speak isn’t sincerely about their best interests. If someone has hurt or offended us and we’re speaking up about it, have we already categorized the other person as unreasonable, cruel, selfish, or irredeemable? If so, chances are our speech will be tinged with anger and a desire to hurt the person in return. Sometimes we can remind ourselves of the importance of speaking with good-will, and we’ll be able to extend some warmth, patience, and benefit-of-the-doubt to those we’re speaking to or about.
However, what about when we find our attitude toward others is still less than kind, affectionate, or based in good-will? Sometimes we may still decide it’s important to speak. But at least we can be aware that we’re coming from a biased place, and perhaps speak in a way that minimizes expression of that bias. In addition, it may help to consider the Buddhist premise that each person is doing the best they can and just trying to avoid suffering and seek happiness. Sure, sometimes, due to ignorance, people go about seeking happiness in deluded and harmful ways. But in general, people don’t set out to be evil. They see themselves as good, or at least as trying to be good. Your message will be more likely to get across if your speech in some way appeals to the other person’s better nature.
Will What We Say Be Endearing? If Not, at Least Timely?
As for whether our speech is endearing (that is, pleasant, polite, agreeable, and appealing to people), the Buddha says it’s not right speech if what we say is endearing but fails any one of the other tests. “In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, but endearing and agreeable to others, he does not say them.”[x] This is a whole realm of wrong speech we haven’t even covered yet – speech that curries favor while divorced from sincere good-will or truth. This includes flattery, political machinations, divisive tale-bearing, etc.
Apart from manipulative speech, however, it’s interesting to me that the Buddha would ask us to consider whether what we’re going to say is endearing or not. Most of us feel that it’s more important to speak the truth, or speak up when something’s wrong, than it is to be endearing. Still, the Buddha explains his considerations about speaking by saying he “has sympathy for living beings.” He pays attention to how they are going to feel as a result of his words. Frankly, even if we’re convinced we should speak, failing to consider how our words are going to make someone feel shows either self-centeredness or folly. After all, why are we speaking? Do we just want make a point that we’re right, or do we actually want to communicate something to others? If we actually want to communicate, then we’d better think about how our words are likely to be received.
Of course, the Buddha makes it clear right speech may sometimes not be endearing. We can easily think of examples where this is the case – when we need to say “no,” or set a boundary with someone, or we need to point out harmful behavior, or say something that’s likely to make someone feel defensive or ashamed no matter how we put it. If we’re motivated by good-will, what we say is factual and true, and we think saying it will be beneficial, then we can say it.
But – and this always warms my heart as a prime example of the Buddha’s wisdom and sympathy for all beings – we should have “a sense of the proper time for saying” what we want to say. Maybe we should bite our tongue and speak to someone in private instead of blurting our message out at the dining room table, surrounded by guests? Maybe we should let our teenage son or daughter cool down after an argument before explaining to them why they need to change their behavior?
All of the different aspects of right speech are, of course, interdependent. Finding the proper time for saying something may determine whether or not it will end up being beneficial. (In fact, the Prince Abhaya sutta says the Buddha looks for the proper time to speak even when what he says is true, beneficial, and endearing![xi]) If we try speak with kindness and good-will, we’ll look for a time to say something that will minimize another person’s potential embarrassment or discomfort. If we limit our speech to what’s really factual and true, it will be more likely to be endearing.
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It was practically ordained by Paramahansa Yogananda that Finger teach. Learn more about his journey from young yogi to creator of ISHTA Yoga.
Yoga Journal’s new online Master Class program brings the wisdom of world-renowned teachers to your fingertips, offering access to exclusive workshops with a different master teacher every six weeks. In April, Alan Finger will share ISHTA meditation practices. If you’re ready to get a fresh perspective and maybe even meet a lifelong yoga mentor, sign up now for YJ’s year-long membership.
Like many master yoga teachers, Alan Finger’s first foray into the practice came early. He started dabbling at age five with his father, Kavi Yogiraj Mani Finger, at their home in South Africa. At 15, he got serious about studying, and a year later, he was teaching classes across Johannesburg on the path to systematizing a profound yoga method that would come to be called ISHTA—now studied widely across the globe.
Though Finger had no initial ambitions of becoming a teacher, it was practically ordained by his father’s teacher Paramahansa Yogananda, a father of yoga in the West and preeminent teacher of Kriya Yoga, advanced meditation techniques to move you through different levels of consciousness. And as Finger describes, his first time teaching was almost surreal: “It was freaky,” he says. “I said all of these things and I didn’t know where they were coming from. It simply came through me. From that moment on, I just taught; I didn’t even think about it.” Keep reading for the rest of Finger’s story and more about ISHTA Yoga.
My father was shell-shocked in the Second World War; he had shrapnel in his back, and he became a drug addict and alcoholic. My grandfather was a wealthy businessman, and he tried to get my father involved by sending him on a business trip to Los Angeles. One time at their hotel, Yogananda happened to be giving a lecture. Drunk, my father went to the lecture. Afterward he went up to Yogananda, who said, “Come; I’m going to teach you Kriya Yoga. It’s going to change your life. I want you to go to the Sivananda Ashram in India, and then go back to South Africa where you’ll become a famous yogi, and one of your sons will follow.” And so he did!
I was five years old whenmy dad came back from India. In South Africa, there’s a very large Indian population, and they brought all the yogis and swamis over. My dad would get them to lecture or stay at our house, which slowly metamorphosed into half ashram, half home. I started doing a little bit of yoga then. Swami Venkatesananda, from the Sivananda lineage, was a major influence in my life. He would spend up to three months of the year at our place. Swami Nishraisananda from the Rama Krishna would come for a week at a time; Shuddhananda Bharati contributed a lot to the tantric part of the ISHTA practice.
By the time I was 15,I had various psychosomatic problems because of the way my father had been for the first five years of my life. My mom got me to go to a psychiatrist, and when my dad asked how it went, I said, “Terrible! That guy can’t help me!” We laughed, and then I said, “Dad, you’re teaching all these other people how to use yoga to get better; I need you to teach me, please.” He told me I’d have to wake up at 4:30 in the morning and join whatever practice he was doing, which involved 1.5 hours of pranayama, kriya, meditation, and 1.5 hours of asana. I did it! Immediately, it worked—I felt so much more clear and stable; the psychosomatic breathlessness and lightheadedness I was experiencing all went away. In four and a half years, I missed only two days of practice.
One day, when I was 16, my dad had to travel to a funeral and he couldn’t contact the student who was coming to see him. He came to me and said, “You need to teach Mrs. Lazarus.” So I met her in the yoga center, and I asked, “Is there anything in particular I can help you with?” She opened up and started crying and telling me all her issues and stresses. I explained to her how the nervous system works as it had been explained to me by the swamis, and before I knew it, she stopped seeing my dad and became my student. Then her granddaughters wanted to learn, and then her cousins. When my dad’s back collapsed and he had to have surgery, I took over all his classes. It was never a thought—I’m going to make this my profession—it was just a natural progression.
Developing the system of ISHTA was my doing. My dad was a genius, and very academic. He and all the swamis used to sit together with their books, discussing kriya and Kriya Yoga. But the information that was being handed down was being taken for granted. I wanted to systemize it. I told them, “It’s too all over the place; people have no idea what we’re talking about.” Eventually, I got Venkatesananda and my dad to agree to it, and we started organizing. And then we had to give it a name. My dad liked ISHTA, because it comes from Sutra 2.44—Svadhyayat ishta devata samprayogah—which means, “When you are grounded in self-study you will find the appropriate yoga practice, life’s purpose, and path that really resonates with you.” I love that, because I believe every human being is different. The yoga that resonates with you is the yoga that’s correct for you. Eventually we created an acronym for ISHTA: Integrated Sciences of Hatha, Tantra, and Ayurveda, which are the three sister sciences in India and what ISHTA yoga revolves around.
Things became very tough politically in South Africa. I got in trouble because I wasn’t supposed to go into neighborhoods that were black or Indian, but I kept going there to teach. Eventually the police actually threatened me with house arrest. My wife said, “Why don’t we go to America?” She had friends there, so we moved to Los Angeles. Norman Seeff, a famous South African photographer, was in Los Angeles. I went to see him, thinking I’d get some photographic work with him to make ends meet, but he wanted to learn about yoga. His girlfriend at the time was the actress Taryn Power, and she was totally into it too. I started teaching at her apartment. Within a month, I was teaching two classes a day with 30 to 40 students. So I moved my classes to Norman’s studio in West Hollywood, and one of the people he was shooting was Cindy Williams from Laverne and Shirley. She took my class, and afterward she told me she was about to sign a contract for a new season, and she wanted to write me into it to help her cope with stress. I said yes, and my business grew from there. Robin Williams signed me into his contract for Mork & Mindy, and the director of Family Ties brought me in once a week to teach. I ended up teaching all these stars, which is funny because I’m not into celebrities—it’s not a part of me.
I eventually started YogaWorks with Maty Ezraty. She was looking for a teaching space, so we joined forces. I had always taught ISHTA Yoga, but as yoga was becoming more popular in Los Angeles, I wanted to open a studio that encompassed all different styles of yoga. I later moved to New York City to open another YogaWorks studio, then Maty bought me out, and I went on to open Yoga Zone, followed by Be Yoga, and finally, my first ISHTA studio in 2008.
Over the years, ISHTA has evolved into different teacher trainings, master programs, modules, and manuals. But the ancient secrets of yoga, specifically of Kriya Yoga—how to change and alter your consciousness in the energetic body—haven’t changed. It’s so profound that scientists are beginning to say the same things as the ancients. People come to ISHTA to learn more about the science of yoga—to look a little deeper than just the physical body and to learn how to purify consciousness so it’s not filled with thought and with vritti (fluctuations of the mind), and instead begins to reflect spirit, knowledge, and genius.
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Waking up this morning, I glanced at my cell phone and noticed the weather app ominously predicting many days of snow and icy temperatures ahead. Brrr! I could feel the chill of dark thoughts starting to gather. I could feel my body creak with cold and aging.
Life’s challenges were seemingly everywhere. And yet…I was smiling. I was cheerful. I was grateful. What? Was I crazy?
As one of my New Year’s resolutions, I’d made a point of tuning my awareness toward appreciation of life’s small delights. I was curious about what I would discover if I focused intentionally on the things that I appreciated. This morning, as I let wakefulness peel the dark back, I could smell my neighbor’s coffee brewing. The snow outside gently buffered the sounds of the world. I could sense my husband’s warm weight in the bed. I took a long moment to enjoy the muted winter light edging in around the slats of the window blinds.
There was nothing particularly special going on, but I noticed that being grateful for little things was already lifting my dark thoughts. Difficulties were still present, but awareness of my gratitude was shifting my view, letting me see that everything was not dark and cold—in fact, many sights and sounds were quite lovely.
There was nothing particularly special going on, but I noticed that being grateful for little things was already lifting my dark thoughts.
Would you like to join me in cultivating a bit of gratitude together?
Mindfulness Practice: Cultivate Gratitude Through the Senses
Use the breath to anchor yourself in the present moment. Our minds are always so easily pulled to busyness. Bring particular attention to feeling the breath, or something in the body, as you bring your shoulders down and orient your attention toward gratitude.
Next, bring to mind a sight you are grateful for. Move through your senses, and find one thing to start with that you appreciate that comes to you from the world of sight, if you have this available. It could be a color…a shadow…a shape…a movement. Remember, it will never be like this again. What do you see right now, and can you feel grateful that you get to see this, whatever it is?
Now, shift to a scent you appreciate. As you continue to work with your senses, now take time to tune in with appreciation to an aroma. What do you notice? What about that glorious or interesting or subtle smell is making you smile? It could be gratitude for something familiar: a scent that brings comfort, upliftment; or maybe it’s something you’ve never smelled before, and it just piques your curiosity, ignites you, enlivens you.
Moving on, tune into any sounds around you. Allowing the world of smell to gently recede into the background, on an in-breath, shift your attention to your ears and the world of sound. Maybe notice what it feels like to really listen. How many sounds can you notice, and can you feel grateful that you’re able to experience sound, if you are? What can you notice about these sounds—far away? close? Perhaps you could play a piece of music that brings you joy, and have gratitude that it’s so available? Or maybe it’s the sound of children laughing, the sound of loved ones breathing, the sound of the beating of your own heart.
The world of touch and texture beckons us next. We find so much to be grateful for in touch! If there’s someone near who you can hug or who can hug you, notice how this makes you feel filled with gratitude for the joy of human contact. Or perhaps you have a beautiful pet that you can stroke and cuddle, or some lovely material with a texture that feels warm to the touch, soft, evocative. Let your senses ignite your gratitude! There’s so much to be appreciative of.
Shift to noticing and appreciating objects around you. Now take a moment to look around: Look down, look up, and from side to side. Appreciate how much effort must have gone into anything at all you own or use. Someone conceived of the need and many people worked on the details of the design. Much care even went into the packaging to deliver your item to you safely. What do you feel when you let yourself be grateful that all that talent went into making your life a little easier?
As you end this practice, carry this attitude of gratitude with you. One last little grateful tip: Why not offer your thanks to each person who does anything at all for you today? Even if it is their job to help you? When you’re grateful, when you let your heart open up and be filled with appreciation, notice how being grateful makes you feel.
I’m so grateful that you tuned in to this gratitude practice, and I appreciate your time, your effort, and your energy to be present, awake, and alive to your precious life. Have a beautiful day.
This mindfulness practice provides additional information to an article titled, “Thanks for This,” which appeared in the April 2018 issue of Mindful magazine.
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With this sutra, Patanjali teaches that yoga practice is preventive medicine for our minds—a way to keep future pain and suffering from manifesting.
With this sutra, Patanjali teaches that yoga practice is preventive medicine for our minds—a way to keep future pain and suffering from manifesting. He reminds us that past pain doesn’t exist anymore, current pain is in process and will run its course, and future pain can be diminished or avoided altogether by committing to the yogic lifestyle.
“Pain that has not yet come is avoidable” is a sutra in the Sadhana Pada, the chapter of the Yoga Sutraonpractices. This chapter tells us to work hard, tempering our level of effort with both self-observation and an understanding that how our efforts are received is beyond our control. Through practices on and off the mat, we build strong, pliable bodies to maximize the health of our physical systems; cultivate free, unobstructed breathing to invite fresh energy into our bodies; and gain a greater understanding of our minds by meditating, reading, and reflecting on our experiences.
By practicing whole-hearted attention in whatever you are doing, you become more aware of the subtle details that fill your days. Try to observe your interactions, and then begin to notice what kind of residue your thoughts, words, and actions leave. When you observe an undesirable residue (usually accompanied by feelings of sadness, doubt, fear, guilt, or anger, to name a few), you can then shift your actions to prevent a recurrence. Once you start paying attention, you’ll notice that your days are sprinkled with tiny bits of avoidable anxiety and stress, like hitting the snooze button and then suffering from the self-imposed anxiety of rushing to avoid being late. Through reflection and assessment, you can keep suffering from happening again by choosing to get up when the alarm goes off.
Another example might be excessively indulging your sweet tooth and then agonizing through a stomachache, disturbed sleep, or even worse, dental work. There’s no need for a radical shift and swearing off sweets entirely, but the solution is one of moderation.
Of course, life is filled not only with mild states of anxiety and suffering, but sometimes you are overwhelmed with unexpected tragedy, inexplicable cruelty, illness, and loss. While these kinds of suffering cannot necessarily be avoided, your capacity to process the trauma can be enhanced by your studies. During times of great sadness, I have found that the tools of my asana, pranayama, chanting, and meditation practices create an invaluable refuge. Even if the suffering is only assuaged while I’m on my mat, that relief wouldn’t have been possible without the structure and support of these teachings.
As with everything in your yoga practice,there is no quick fix or trick, but there is the suggestion that you can have a positive effect on your own life—immediately and continuously. By doing a little bit of sincere practice every day, you’ll cultivate the discernment to make better choices, minimize your exposure to disturbing situations, and protect yourself from harm that is easily avoidable—like overreaching in your asana practice or overextending and overanalyzing yourself—so you don’t miss out on the gift of this life.
Remember when you distributed love notes to every single kid in the class on Valentine’s Day? Imagine how the world would be different if adults spread that kind of light.
What the world needs now, is more love, sweet love. It’s undeniable, as we’re bombarded by world news of hate-fueled terror attacks, discrimination, and injustice. The only remedy for such darkness has and always will be to bring more light into the world through the practice of love and kindness.
Luckily, there are plenty of people doing such good work—acts of kindness, random and targeted, large and small. Let them inspire you to take your yoga off the mat, rediscover the kindergarten spirit of Valentine’s Day (remember when you distributed love notes to every single kid in the class?) this year, and do something to brighten a stranger’s day. Everyday efforts like these can truly heal the world.
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Getting your body, mind, and heart to agree is easier than you may think. Baron Baptiste says it starts with your feet.
Want to unlock an unexpected world of possibility in your practice—and your life? Then Yoga Journal’s upcoming course The Power of Play Bootcamp is for you. Baron Baptiste—veteran yoga teacher and founder of the Baptiste Institute and Baptiste Foundation—will lead you through four weeks of meditation, asana, and self-inquiry specifically designed to spark awakening and growth. Start the new year with a powerful perspective—and discover how to put it into action.
One of the keys to moving through life with the kind of ease and harmony we all want is being comfortable with yourself. The quality comes easily when your body, heart, and mind align—when you come from center, from your true north.
About 10 years ago I was in a teachers workshop with B.K.S. Iyengar, when he said something that has stayed with me since: “The spiritual heart is located just to the right of the physical heart, and it sits right in the center.” Iyengar’s guidance gave a measurable place for the desires in my heart to join my mental attention and body, then move in one direction simultaneously, creating my true north.
Sometimes asana practice helps illuminate concepts like this. Tadasana (Mountain Pose) is the true north of all yoga poses. Let’s break down why that is and how to get there. Finding your center is something we focus on in my new course, The Power of Play Bootcamp. Here are three steps to help you find your true north, in any situation, big or small, easy or difficult.
1. Find and feel your feet.
Focusing on your feet is the first step toward finding your center: Draw your attention to each foot, and feel its contact with the earth. In Mountain Pose, the feet are grounded and activated, a few inches apart. Your feet are like antennas that tune in to the physical universe below, above, and around you. Locating your feet in real time creates a physical “presencing.” It wakes up your whole body and its sensory doorways up to your pelvic core and your centerline—your physical true north.
2. Find and feel your centerline.
Locating your physical center creates the physical container for your mind: Integrate your whole body, from periphery to centerline and drop your attention into your spine. In Mountain Pose, your spine is stacked and relaxed. Your muscles are drawing in toward the bones, and there is a general organization of all physical parts toward your centerline—as if they were notes in an orchestral arrangement.
3. Drop into yourself.
Physical presencing lets you mentally stop, drop into your center, and just be: Notice the ebb and flow of breath, in and out of your chest. In Mountain Pose, the eyes are focused with a calm determination—the drishti is steady, alert, and relaxed. Much like a ballerina’s performance, the pose appears effortless yet dynamic. Through the pose, you are comfortable in your own skin. This space allows for the natural, organic arising of what’s in the heart. You can be open and receive the inner guidance to follow the true north of what matters most to you, and then allow your body and attention move in that direction and manifest what matters most. Sometimes you will lose your center and fall back. When you do, simply begin again, finding Mountain Pose, and again working to restore your true north.
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Joshua Miller was just starting out as a clinical psychologist at a treatment center for addiction when a new patient sauntered into his office. People with addictions often have other disorders, so Miller was prepared for anything. “The first time we met, he put his feet up on my desk,” said Miller, now a professor at the University of Georgia. “It was a clear display of bravado, dominance, and entitlement”—key ingredients in narcissism. “It was like a dog peeing on your desk,” a show of territorial dominance that spells out, I’m the alpha male here. Don’t mess with me, you insignificant twerp.
There aren’t many personality traits that reference Greek mythology, in this case Narcissus, the beautiful young hunter who disdained human relationships and instead fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. While over 2,000 years would seem to be enough time to figure out where narcissists’ extreme self-love comes from, and what they think and feel and believe deep down, the study of narcissism is still shot through with controversies and unknowns.
But lately, Miller says, there is new understanding of the phenomenon. Psychologists are recognizing that, as a personality trait, narcissism can be beneficial in moderate doses. They are identifying what experiences foster it and questioning whether the self-esteem movement (every child should be constantly praised and rewarded for just showing up) may have produced a generation of narcissists.
Numerous studies find that levels of narcissism have been steadily rising among teenagers and young adults in North America. In a 2014 review, Miller and colleagues reported that compared to Americans 65 and older, those in their 20s were nearly three times as likely to have symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder.
Narcissism exists within virtually everyone to a degree, since at its core it is “the drive to feel special, to stand out from the other seven billion people on the planet, to feel exceptional,” argues psychologist Craig Malkin, author of the 2015 book Rethinking Narcissism and director of YM Psychotherapy and Consultation in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Malkin argues that it can be a useful trait, providing self-confidence when we might otherwise give up on a goal. Teens with moderate narcissism tend to be less anxious and depressed, and to have better relationships, than teens at the high or low end of the scale.
Narcissists believe the rules of office behavior, friendship, marriage, and social interaction don’t apply to them.
Scoring at the low end generally indicates basement-level self-confidence and self-regard. This disposition can be crippling: Me? I’ll never be able to do this. I might as well give up. Conversely, extreme narcissism is characterized by a need to be treated as if you’re uniquely gifted, superior, and valuable. It breeds entitlement—Since I’m so great, I deserve everything I have and more—and a willingness to exploit: What are the inferior good for, anyway, other than to serve the superior? Extreme narcissists have little empathy: Feeling other’s pain makes no sense to them.
When narcissists are challenged—especially to the point of humiliation—they tend to lash out in an effort (often subconscious) to preserve superiority. His biographers say that Steve Jobs was an extreme narcissist, infamous for screaming at his employees and calling them a term for fecal matter whenever he felt their performance, which would reflect on him, was lagging.
Did he or other super-achievers have a mental disorder? Narcissistic personality disorder was almost dropped from the latest (2013) edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual (the DSM-5), partly because people with this constellation of traits are not necessarily distressed or impaired by them. (A condition must cause distress or impairment to be considered a mental disorder, according to the DSM.) The debate highlighted an important facet of extreme narcissism: People who have the disorder do not rate its core traits—including sky-high self-regard and even the antagonism they typically feel for others—as undesirable. This research, presented by psychologist Joanna Lamkin of Baylor College of Medicine at the 2017 annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science, found that narcissists don’t mind their egotistical traits: “They don’t want to change.”
The debate highlighted an important facet of extreme narcissism: People who have the disorder do not rate its core traits—including sky-high self-regard and even the antagonism they typically feel for others—as undesirable.
The suspicion that narcissists secretly know, deep down, that they’re merely ordinary is therefore almost certainly wrong. Psychologists once thought they might harbor such self-doubts, explaining why they lash out viciously when challenged. Some still argue that the outward swagger and braggadocio masks profound self-doubt. But the emerging view is that there are in fact two forms of narcissism. Both have the core characteristic of extreme self-regard. On one hand, “grandiose narcissism” is marked by what Miller calls “florid immodesty” and extreme feelings of entitlement, which makes grandiose narcissists disagreeable, aggressive, outspoken, assertive, show-offy, and extroverted. In contrast, “vulnerable narcissists” don’t think of themselves as better than everyone, Miller said; their high self-regard is absolute, not relative to others. Grandiose narcissists are people like Steve Jobs and, according to a famous 1997 study, US presidents. Most of them, from Washington to Reagan, qualified as moderate to extreme grandiose narcissists, judging by descriptions in historical records. Chester A. Arthur had the highest narcissism score; Calvin Coolidge, the lowest.
When grandiose narcissists lash out, they’re not defending a secretly doubted superiority. Instead, they believe the rules of office behavior, friendship, marriage, and social interaction don’t apply to them. Being questioned and disagreed with are intolerable assaults on their superiority, and they make risky decisions because of “overconfidence in their own knowledge and abilities,” Miller said. Bernie Madoff thought his brilliance would let him fool not only his clients but also government regulators. This delusion earned him a 150-year prison sentence.
The roots of extreme narcissism lie in what psychologists call “parental overvaluation.” In a 2015 study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers in Europe concluded that “Children seem to acquire narcissism, in part, by internalizing parents’ inflated views of them, for example, ‘I am superior to others’ and ‘I am entitled to [special]privileges.’” But lack of parental warmth, which children might overcompensate for by pumping up their self-regard, was exonerated, and so was the general self-esteem movement, unless parents really overdo it.
Parents probably can’t create an extreme narcissist from scratch, said Miller. Instead, inflated praise feeds what are likely genetic seeds of narcissism. “Of all the personality disorders, narcissism has the strongest genetic component,” psychologist Sander Thomaes of the Netherlands’ Utrecht University told the 2017 Association for Psychological Science meeting. The predisposition is exacerbated by telling children what they did is “fantastic, perfect, or extremely well done.” Narcissism tends to take hold in a child’s personality around age seven or eight, he said.
According to Miller, there is no empirically validated therapy for extreme narcissism, and less traditional approaches probably aren’t going to help. Scientists at the University of Amsterdam wondered if narcissists might benefit from mindfulness. As reported in the journal Self and Identity in 2017, they had volunteers (who rated very high on a scale of narcissism) engage in a five-minute exercise of focusing on the physical sensations of breathing, while observing any thoughts without judgment.
The debate highlighted an important facet of extreme narcissism: people who have the disorder do not rate its core traits as particularly undesirable.
Apparently, since narcissists’ thoughts tend toward their greatness and specialness, the absence of judgment let those thoughts run unchecked and unquestioned—so much so that their ability to identify emotions in people by reading their eyes actually worsened. Mindfulness seemed to give the narcissists “license to focus even more on their self-aggrandizing thoughts,” the researchers wrote, with the result that they could barely perceive others’ mental states. When it comes to narcissists, perhaps the contents of their thoughts are better left unexamined.
The Myth of Narcissus
Narcissus was known to be proud, and he held himself above everyone else, including those who loved him. Nemesis—the goddess whose job it was to mete out punishment for hubris (arrogance toward the gods)—could see how Narcissus was carrying himself. So she caused him to be attracted to a pool, where he saw his own reflection in the water. He immediately fell in love with it and was unable to understand that it was merely an image. Narcissus clung and clung to the beauty of his reflection, until he cared about nothing else. He stared at his reflection until he died.
http://mindfulsangha.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/begley-narcissism-feat.jpg357740Chopahttps://mindfulsangha.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/ubx006-header-03-300x169.pngChopa2018-02-15 00:03:122018-02-15 00:03:12Truly, Madly, Deeply in Love… with Myself
Students, teachers, and organizations alike are speaking out—and figuring out where we go from here. Here’s a place to start.
Mary Taylor, Ashtanga yoga teacher and former co-owner of the Yoga workshop
In light ofthe recent discussion around issues of sexual abuse and harassment that has swept the entertainment, political, and now yoga worlds, I find myself heaving a huge sigh of relief. As a woman who has had her own harrowing experiences with male abuse of power, sexual assault, rape, and betrayal of intimacy over the years, I’m relieved that these issues are no longer taboo to discuss.
But I am also filled with sadness. I’m sad that we, as a species, have treated each other with such callousness for thousands of years. I’m sad that I have not always known how to speak up, how to stand up in my own defense, or how to take action in the defense of others.
There is something particularly foul about sexual misconduct in the context of yoga. Yoga is a path of insight into the roots of decency and desire—into both the glorious and shadow sides of human nature. There is a deeply personal and, for many, an intimately spiritual aspect to yoga. Students often come to yoga in a vulnerable position, pursuing balance, calm, and a clarity of mind. When a yoga teacher sexually abuses a student, it is not only hypocritical, but also incredibly damaging to the student and the tradition. This kind of behavior can throw sincere and innocent students off the path for years, if not lifetimes. It is tragic. Yet sexual misconduct within the yoga world is common.
In fact, it is well documented that my own teacher, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, whom I love dearly, had certain “adjustments” that he gave to female students that were invasive. Many of these adjustments were sexually inappropriate, and I wish he had never done them. On some level, I also wish that I had spoken publicly about them before now. Yet these adjustments were confusing, and not in alignment with all the other aspects of Jois that I knew, so I didn’t know how to talk about them without disparaging the entire system.
This has been a confusing part of my relationship with my teacher and the yoga community as a whole. Why did he do this? Why didn’t I speak up about the inappropriateness of his assists? Why didn’t others? Why didn’t I make it my mission to expose his wrongdoings as a demonstration of an irreparable flaw in the Ashtanga system?
First and foremost, I still think Ashtanga is a remarkable system of learning and transformation. It is a system of practice that has worked for me and many other students over the years. I do not see Jois’s behavior as a flaw in the system, but a flaw in the man. I think this is part of the reason why, until now, I have only spoken privately to students who ask about this. I have such deep love for the practice—a practice that has saved my life.
When I take a step back and turn my gaze to the future, I see an opportunity for deeper contemplation and an imperative to stay authentic, honest, and real. There is a burning need to question and to look ever deeper at ourselves, our teachers, and the yogic traditions we love in order to find the seeds of truth that lie within. When we place teachers on a pedestal (or, as teachers, when we allow students to put us on one), honest inquiry becomes impossible, and the deep contemplative insight and compassion that is at the heart of yoga may never arise. If the ground of the inquiring mind becomes eroded, then deeply destructive things—like sexual misconduct—find an environment in which to thrive.
Today things have changed. The accounts of sexual misconduct that at one time might have been dismissed are now being met with open minds, support, kindness, and respect.
Judith Hanson Lasater, Restorative yoga and applied anatomy teacher, and former Yoga Journal editor
I’ve had many instances of #metoo, all the way up to attempted rape. But in the yoga context, I’ve only had one. And that was with Pattabhi Jois. At some point in the late 1990s, he came to San Francisco to teach. We were doing drop-backs from Tadasana (Mountain Pose) to Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel Pose). He came over to help me and put his pubic bone against my pubic bone, so I could feel him completely. He had me do three or four drop-backs, and when I came up after the last one, I looked around and saw three of my students, who were in the class with me, looking at me, mouths hanging open.
What happened for me is what I think happens for so many women: I was so shocked that the first thing I did was doubt myself. Did that really just happen? I wondered, silently. The part that I regret is that I didn’t leave. I stayed in the class. The next thing Jois asked me to do was something I thought was physically dangerous for my knees. I just said, “Namaste; no Guruji, no.” And he hit me on the head and said, “Bad lady.”
That was the last time I saw him. It was only years later, when pictures and videos of him assisting women became public, that I recognized that what he was doing was sexual assault. I thought That’s what happened to me. For a long time, I had just brushed it under the carpet, where I had brushed all the other instances. At the time, my context of a male teacher was B.K.S. Iyengar, who never did anything like that. So I was trusting. I believed, and still believe, the yoga studio and yoga mat are sacred spaces. That’s why crossing this boundary in class is a double-whammy upset for women.
Now I make my students repeat this mantra: “Trust yourself first.” I ask them to repeat it frequently. And we talk about what it means: that we all need to listen to our gut, to pay attention to the deep visceral feelings that are arising from our inner wisdom and never to disregard them. In our culture, women are trained to ignore their intuition for a host of twisted reasons: We fear it’ll make us seem impolite or ridiculous. We tell ourselves, “It couldn’t be true, because I know this person well.” If this is you, start flexing your intuition muscle in less risky circumstances, like shopping for new tires. When you walk into the store, slow down and see what your belly says, then immediately act on it. This will help you say “no” when something doesn’t feel right in yoga.
Alanna Zabel, Founder of AZIAM yoga and creator of yoga barre
Years agoI developed a passionate relationship with a fellow yoga instructor. I’ll call him Rick. At first, I was shy and avoided Rick’s advances—but I was also enamored by the energy and attention that he was lavishing on me. He was a revered teacher, and he was interested in me. I was hooked.
In class, Rick would often hover around my mat, caressing my body sensually when he was making “adjustments.” At first, I found it flattering, but I didn’t have the confidence and maturity to separate my youthful desire for attention from my logical understanding of power abuse. The connection turned me on, despite the fact that I always left his yoga classes feeling empty and confused.
Rick became increasingly sexual with me in class, almost as if he didn’t care that other students were there. When I was in Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose), his hands would slip to my crotch; in Revolved Triangle, one hand caressed my butt and the other was on my chest. My attraction and excitement around him eventually morphed into confusion and fear. Gradually when he made these advances toward me, I froze and became very awkward. Rick rolled his eyes and brushed me off, doing his best to make me feel bad for my reaction—shaming me for not responding in the way he wanted me to. It became clear to me that conscious intimacy, mutual understanding, and my consent to his groping were all missing.
One day, I decided I was done. Done with this silent game of power and control. Done feeling awkward around him when he’d shame me for not accepting his advances. Done watching him take no accountability for his actions. Before class that day, I made it clear that I didn’t want him to touch me—that I wasn’t interested anymore. Halfway through that practice, while I was in Headstand at the front of my mat, he pushed me over. Then he threw my mat out the window and told me to leave.
With time and deep self-reflection, I have found compassion in deeply meaningful ways. I’m so grateful that we’re collectively having these conversations now. Talking about past—and present—inappropriate behavior is part of our practice today. The more all of us—teachers, students, women, and men—can see that, the more we’ll be able to co-create a clear path forward.
Advice from the experts on how to navigate turbulent waters.
As news of sexual misconductrolls out on a seemingly continuous basis—including reports of wrongdoing in the yoga world—yogis everywhere have been disheartened, if not surprised. We’ve known, after all, that the yoga world is not immune to horrible abuses of power—from inappropriate assists from Ashtanga Yoga founder Sri K. Pattabhi Jois to rape accusations against Bikram Choudhury. “A simple web search will reveal that almost every major tradition in modern yoga has at least some experience with alleged sexual misconduct,” says David Lipsius, the recently appointed president and CEO of Yoga Alliance.
But the volume of stories and allegations exploded late last year when yoga teacher and entrepreneur Rachel Brathen (aka @yoga_girl) shared her own non-yoga–related #metoo story—and then started hearing from yogis around the world about sexual abuse, harassment, and assault they had experienced during classes, at their neighborhood studios, and at yoga festivals and other events. Within a week of speaking out, Brathen had collected stories from more than 300 yogis, many angry and confused about what had happened to them. “I was fielding questions like, ‘Are you supposed to have your breasts adjusted in Savasana (Corpse Pose)?’” says Brathen.
Overwhelmed by the outpouring—and committed to doing something about it—Brathen selected 31 excerpts (with consent) to share on her blog, stripping out the names of the victims and the accused. The accounts of misconduct varied—from out-of-line adjustments and being propositioned for sex to being aggressively or violently assaulted. Yet almost all these stories shared a common thread: The victims were shocked to be violated by members of the yoga community, in what they thought was a sacred, protected place. “There’s an extra level of betrayal in having someone treat you in a disrespectful and unsafe way in what should be a safe space,” says Peg Shippert, MA, LPC, a licensed professional counselor in Boulder, Colorado, who specializes in working with victims of sexual misconduct.
Judith Hanson Lasater, PhD, who has taught yoga since 1971, agrees: “In the context of a yoga class, I was dumbstruck that [sexual misconduct] would happen, and it totally immobilized me. I thought of a yoga class almost like going to church, and the thought of that happening was not something I had ever even conceived of.”
Dacher Keltner, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, yogi, and author of The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence, adds that unfortunately, there has been a long history of abuse of power in spiritual communities in general. “Think of the women who killed for Charles Manson, the abuse of priests in the Catholic church, or the tradition of polygamy in strict religious communities,” he says. “Spiritual settings create a structure that is ripe for the opportunity for seduction.”
Yoga is no exception. “The paradox of teaching yoga is that it is all about relationships: The student needs to yield to the teacher, to be receptive,” says Lasater. “That said, students also need to be very aware that they still have power in every situation.” On the opposite side of the same coin, teachers must be aware of what students are projecting on them. “We all get triggered,” says Annie Carpenter, a longtime yoga teacher who has a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling. “This is where you have to do klesha work and ask yourself, ‘What does my ego want?’ If you’re a teacher, will your students project onto you that you’re a healer or a sexy yoga teacher? Or will you imagine, or even hope, they do? You have to know how to respond to those types of projections that will inevitably happen.”
The bottom line: We need to look at these issues and talk about them—even though the topic can be difficult, says Elizabeth Jeglic, PhD, a professor of psychology at New York City’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, whose research focuses on sexual violence prevention. “We’re still navigating the best way to respond to these things,” says Jeglic. “But overall, the more we can share—with each other and with authorities—the more helpful it will be in how we all proceed.”
When Brathen posted #metoo stories last year she wrote: “I hope that shedding light on this issue will [contribute] to some sort of change.” And it already has. In cases where multiple women have spoken up about the same yoga teacher, Brathen connected the women (with consent) to the media and with each other to see if, as individuals or a group, they wanted to publicly reveal the teacher’s name or take legal action.
Before Brathen’s post, Yoga Alliance—a nonprofit teacher and school registry—had already put into motion an ethics and conduct committee as part of its standards review project. It had also just begun talks with the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) for recommendations on new policies on sexual misconduct. Lipsius, also the former CEO of the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, says the new administration at Yoga Alliance is determined to take on the issue of sexual harassment and abuse in the yoga community. “I personally have witnessed the devastating effects of abuse in a yoga community and know that the after-effects may linger even decades after the alleged abuser is removed,” he says. “The simple fact is those who commit crimes must be held accountable. There’s no excuse for sexual misconduct or abuse of power in a yoga studio, ashram, festival, or any other venue.”
Here you’ll find advice for teachers, students, and yoga organizations. Consider it a start—to help us all process the misconduct that’s occurred and take the steps we can to prevent it from happening again.
If you’ve been victimized, triggered, or want to help…
Go with your gut about what feels wrong—and speak up.
If you can, tell studio or organization leaders and law enforcement immediately. If you don’t feel comfortable doing so, or have questions about what may have just happened to you, there are anonymous, free resources that can help, such as the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN). “RAINN’s hotline (800-656-HOPE) and online chat service (rainn.org) are not just for people who are sure they have been victimized,” says Kati Lake, vice president of consulting services at RAINN. “They’re also for people who are unsure if they’ve experienced unwanted sexual contact, and for friends and families of those affected.” RAINN can also help you understand the laws that govern sexual abuse (they are different for each state). The organization maintains a comprehensive legal database at apps.rainn.org/policy. And, if it feels safe, speak up the moment something happens. “It may be scary, but it may also be an effective tactic to stop the offenders out there,” says David Lipsius. “If just one person stood up in class and said, ‘Please don’t touch me without asking permission,’ the system would change.”
Give yourself permission to be triggered right now.
Hearing the news of others who’ve been through something similar to what you have can take you right back to your own trauma from previous abuse—and prompt you to relive it, says Elizabeth Jeglic, PhD. “I think a lot of victims have felt helpless in these situations in the past,” she says. “Now, many are reporting feeling guilt and shame that they didn’t come forward before, or they feel like they′re still not in a place where they can come forward with details of what happened to them.” No matter what you’re feeling, Jeglic says, it’s important to be gentle with yourself. And if you feel rocked by recent events to the point of feeling like it’s affecting your well-being, it may be a sign that you need professional help, such as talking to a therapist, says Annie Carpenter, MS. “If there’s a part of you that feels shut down or uncomfortable, you may have some repressed emotions,” she says. “If you don’t talk about those, they have a chance of causing more harm.”
Support those who have been victims and want to talk.
While it may seem obvious to listen to someone’s story, Peg Shippert, MA, LPC, says that listening well is one of the most important things you can do—and it may be harder than you think. “A lot of people have a lot to say about this phenomenon going on right now, but a victim doesn’t need to hear your thoughts on the topic—what they need is to be heard and acknowledged,” she says. Try not to ask a lot of questions; instead, simply listen, and convey to them that you believe what they’re saying. “Almost every victim of sexual harassment or assault has had experiences where they tell someone what happened, and that person questions parts of her story,” adds Shippert. “That is so hurtful and potentially damaging.”
Double down on go-to self-care tactics, and use your yoga.
Now is the time to do whatever you usually do to feel good. “For most of us, that often includes connecting with the network of people who’ve been a reliable, safe support system for you in the past. If it feels right, let them know this is a tough time for you,” says Shippert. If yoga has become something that re-opens old wounds, listen to that, too. “This might mean not going to your favorite class, finding another teacher, or trying private classes,” she says. “You might also ask a friend to go with you—someone you feel safe with.” Right now, we all need a practice that helps us feel empowered, says Carpenter. If not asana, maybe work with a deity, such as Durga, that helps you tap into your resilience. Or if letting your voice come out through chanting works, do that, she says. “Use your yoga to feel strong and clear; it’s from that place that you’ll be able to handle it all.”
Even when no malicious intent is present, energy can shift easily from healthy classroom relationships to an unhealthy power imbalance. If you’re a teacher, hold yourself accountable to the inherent power dynamic at play in the yoga teacher–student relationship. At minimum, you may be viewed by your students as a more advanced practitioner and an experienced guide. At maximum, you may be viewed as a master, guru, or enlightened being. Either way, do not abuse the power that is enmeshed in the relationship. Teaching yoga comes with great responsibility to individual students and the community you serve; maintain an appropriate boundary, and let the yoga practices themselves become the guru for all students.
Ask permission before all hands-on assists.
Use consent cards (or “yes/no” discs, stones, symbols) and verbal affirmation every time you assist a student. Every student deserves to be empowered within their own practice. Always ask permission before touching a student. Using clear communication, make each assist an empowering co-creation, inviting students to choose or decline your help, to change their mind, and to alter their answer from moment to moment. All types of hands-on assists require consent, including nurturing presses, manipulative adjustments, and press-point assists. To safely support all students in each class, strengthen your skillfulness with nontouch assists: Use precise verbal cues and invitational mirroring.
Update, clarify, and publish your policies and procedures.
Community leaders in all settings must be explicit about what they will do in the event of a report of assault, rape, unwanted touching, or other misconduct in their yoga space. A well-defined response policy is necessary to lay a clear foundation for public safety. Be clear, be precise, and ensure that all policies and procedures are published and available for everyone to see. Then train your staff to follow those policies and procedures to the letter, every time. Consistent enforcement is essential to develop and maintain a culture of safety.
Set in place an explicit reporting structure.
It’s unrealistic to think that a yoga institution is equipped to function like a qualified law-enforcement, investigative, or judicial body. For all reports of criminal activity, law enforcement should be notified—without delay. Have phone numbers for law enforcement and victim advocacy groups clearly posted. For noncriminal but questionable activity, clarify the reporting structure within your organization and advise and train all employees, contractors, and students to report violations to the appropriate human-resources professional, an ombudsperson, security person, or manager. Effectively training staff in reporting procedures helps employees at all levels feel empowered to speak up against abuse.
Acknowledge the issue of sexual misconduct, and act as a leader.
Far too often in yoga’s history, a yoga brand, lineage, tradition, ashram, or organization has failed to properly acknowledge and deal with problems related to sexual misconduct. For a better future, all yoga institutions need to openly discuss their history and take active steps to change the dynamics that led to alleged abuse and the alleged silencing of whistle-blowers. Use external—not internal—experts and support networks to address the issues. Together, we can change cultural systems so that issues are no longer kept within the “family.” Many thriving traditions have become stronger over the years by learning from difficult experiences. Transparency, honesty, and truth can be used to help educate, elevate, and inspire future generations of yogis.
http://mindfulsangha.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/eye.jpg349620Chopahttps://mindfulsangha.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/ubx006-header-03-300x169.pngChopa2018-02-12 23:56:042018-02-12 23:56:04#TimesUp: Ending Sexual Abuse in the Yoga Community