patience

Getting past boredom in meditation

Does meditation leave you feeling bored and restless? Maybe you took it up so you could find a refreshing oasis in the midst of a too-stressful life — but it’s just not doing much for you. Sunada offers her perspectives on how to work through this all-too-common situation.

Most of us come to meditation with varying degrees of expectation that it’s supposed to make us feel good. And really, that’s a very normal human reaction. We seek out things that make us feel good, and lose interest in things that don’t. Even when we know intellectually that meditation is good for us and we want to keep at it, we get that irresistible urge to do something, ANYTHING other than sit there.

Even when we know intellectually that meditation is good for us and we want to keep doing it, we get that irresistible urge to do something, ANYTHING other than sit there.

Certainly a good place to start examining this issue is to take a closer look at the rest of your life. Like most of us, your days are probably pretty packed. How much have you gotten into the habit of filling up your time with things to do? Are you constantly multitasking throughout your day? Do you feel the need to fill every spare moment, including you leisure time, with tasks, projects, and doing, doing, doing? Are you constantly checking your email, phone messages, Facebook and Twitter? When we have a momentum of speediness in our life, it will inevitably carry over into our meditation. What can you do to slow that down a bit?

But I think another even more important place to look is around our views of meditation itself. I’d like to suggest that feel-good meditations aren’t really what we’re after. I think what we really want is not to feel held so captive by the ups and downs of our lives. To not get so blown off course when things get tough. More sturdiness and resilience.

Am I right? If so, I’m going to ask you a challenging question. Is boredom bad? Just because it’s uncomfortable, does that mean we should avoid it? What if we were to get to know boredom so well that we could prevent it from happening in the first place? Or knew how to deal with it confidently when it arrived?

The American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron suggests what this might be like in her book, The Wisdom of No Escape.

“There’s a common misunderstanding among all the human beings who have ever been born on the earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable. You can see this even in insects and animals and birds. All of us are the same.

A much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop our curiosity, not caring whether the object of our inquisitiveness is bitter or sweet. To lead a life that goes beyond pettiness and prejudice and always wanting to make sure that everything turns out on our own terms, to lead a more passionate, full, and delightful life than that, we must realize that we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is, how we tick and how our world ticks, how the whole thing just is. If we’re committed to comfort at any cost, as soon as we come up against the least edge of pain, we’re going to run; we’ll never know what’s beyond that particular barrier or fearful thing.”1

What she’s alluding to here is a kind of contentment and confidence that comes from a deeper place than simple ego-driven pursuit of pleasure or avoidance of discomfort. Rather than being at the mercy of our feelings, we learn to stay and hold our ground from a different place of knowing. We’re able to stand firm no matter what’s going on, whatever storms blow us around. We make our choices from a fuller awareness of who we are rather than what feels good. And because we’re acting with a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us, we can choose to flow in harmony with the world as it is, rather than fighting our way through it.

Rather than being at the mercy of our feelings, we learn to stay and hold our ground from a different place of knowing.

So when we sit in meditation, feeling bored or restless, what can we do? Start by taking a deep breath and bringing your awareness to what’s coming in through your five senses: what are you seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, smelling? What’s the quality of your physical experience? Is your energy high or low? Are you tense or relaxed? What thoughts are running through your head? Acknowledge those thoughts for what they are – just thoughts. (Recent research suggests that just noting these thoughts weakens their hold on us.). Notice that we’re not judging anything, but simply observing and taking in everything that parades before us.

And what does that do for us? When we do that over and over, something subtly starts to shift. At first it will feel really hard to stop judging everything, wanting the boredom to go away, wishing it will all end. (When that happens, it’s OK. Just try to observe those thoughts too.) But after a while, a small space begins to emerge between “me” and those seductive thoughts. It may only be a tiny crack, but it’s just enough to take the edge off the experience. When that begins to happen, celebrate it. THAT is the start of your connecting with a deeper awareness. It’s a far more stable and satisfying place to be than just “comfortable”!

So if you’re feeling discouraged by your meditation practice, please don’t give up! I think the arrival of boredom is actually a good sign. It means you’re ready to progress to a new level, and you’re being shown the doorway in. It’s about as direct and concrete an invitation as you’ll get. Why waste the precious opportunity? With patience, it IS possible to let go of our likes and dislikes, and to see through them to a deeper layer of sturdiness, resilience, and yes, contentment. It’s a place that’s much more free and unburdened. We can stop investing all that energy into running around, chasing after this and that, and instead BE the stillness and calm that we were seeking all along.


1. The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Lovingkindness by Pema Chodron (Shambala, 2001), p. 3.


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Parenting and practice

Steve BellHow do we maintain an active practice while being immersed in the world of parenting and work? Are children a hindrance to spiritual practice? Or can parenting also be a path? Steve Bell, Buddhist practitioner and social worker, speaks from his experience of meditating while parenting two young boys.

I tell prospective parents to make a list of all the things they enjoy doing in their spare time. What are your hobbies? Do you like to go to the movies? I ask them to list the obscure little things they would miss. Do you like timely haircuts? Do you like to luxuriate in the bathroom, on the toilet, in the shower, and grooming? Then I ask them to cross off half the things on their list — those that are least important. Then cross out half of the remainder. Keep whittling the list down, until there is just one last thing, the thing you couldn’t give up.

The last thing on my own list was meditation. I’d give up everything but that. I love meditation and what it gives me. And I wouldn’t have known all that if I didn’t have children. The narrowing of possibilities as a parent has focused me onto what’s most important in my life and helped me to see what’s most important to me.

Parenting is a kind of crisis that makes it more important for me to meditate, because meditating is a survival strategy for me. I underestimated the amount of work it would take to raise children. The pressure of having no sleep and caring for children has challenged me maybe more than living in a hermit’s cave would. I’ve done the “mindfulness of my exhaustion and sleeplessness” meditation more than I care to. At times, when I’m tired and stressed, I feel moved to act in a way towards my children that I know is wrong. Somehow I’m primitively drawn forward, like there’s some archaic script that must be followed, some intergenerational trauma that must somehow be passed on. Meditation helps me to step aside from that, to act in my own best interest and in my children’s best interest.

The age of the children, the number of children you have, their disposition, how much support, and other circumstances, determine the constraints that you practice under. Here are the factors that affect me: My children are aged two and three. My wife works. My sons are not good sleepers. They’re very loud, active boys who like climbing, jumping, shouting and exploring. It’s been a challenge to get them into their beds, and to have them sleep through the night in their own beds. I wake up in the morning and they are in bed with us. They sneaked in while we slept.

All these conditions effect whether I get to meditate uninterrupted. My wife leaves for work during the time I meditate, and if the boys wake up I need to stop what I’m doing. There will no doubt come a time when I can ask them to let me finish meditating, or when they will just know to leave me alone until I’m finished. But for now I have to cultivate patience. To help with this I’ve taken to reading the chapter on patience in Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatara after I meditate, if there’s time. Rarely is there time.

My boys challenge me in unexpected ways and constantly catch me out. They are my gurus, pointing out the aspect of my practice I need to be focused on: patience. Nobody can unravel me and find my weak spots more easily than they do.

When I complain about not being able to meditate, my friends say, “Just be mindful in your day-to-day life.” I get irritated at that because on the one hand it is actually the answer. On the other hand, I feel that meditation is an essential way for me to increase and even just to maintain my mindfulness. The challenge for me is finding the right balance between the depth of sitting practice and cultivating mindfulness in everyday life.

When I don’t meditate I feel less capable, less positive, less open, and less flexible. I am more easily overwhelmed and unbalanced, more small-minded and selfish. When I meditate I can relax into the challenges of parenting. I am grounded in my body, and I’m not as reactive. I have more objectivity.

When I don’t meditate, I resist my circumstances more. One of my core understandings of the Dharma is that we hurt ourselves when we resist our circumstances. The struggle to accept my situation as a father, and in particular being interrupted when I meditate, is one of my key spiritual challenges.

The Satipatthana Sutta says that you should cultivate mindfulness when your mind is “restricted, scattered, unconcentrated.” I have more of a restricted, scattered, unconcentrated mind when my children wake up early and I don’t get a chance to meditate. Meditation is my main method for increasing mindfulness.

So how do you develop the mindfulness to parent well when parenting prevents you from meditating? How do you get inspiration in the very situation that seems to be drying it up? I can’t find the answer in the life of the Buddha. He left his family to pursue a spiritual journey that resulted in enlightenment. He never went back, though his wife sent his son to live with him at age seven, and he took him on as a disciple. Later his wife even joined the Sangha. But that’s not a reunification of the family unit — they joined his spiritual movement.

With my literal mind, in moments of weakness, I sometimes wonder if I have to leave my family to seek more spiritual depth and challenge. But of course I couldn’t leave my children. My father left me, and it was deeply painful. His leaving was perhaps the central event in my life. Because of my childhood experiences and my commitment not to harm others I could never do the same thing to my own children. So I need to find a more metaphorical kind of going forth that will benefit me and my family and that takes into account my circumstances and commitments.

Meditation is essential to me. I’ve practiced meditation daily for the past six years, and my sitting practice has been the biggest catalyst for positive change in my life. Some people are amazed that I meditate for 40 minutes most days despite having two small boys. For me, it’s vital, necessary, and not negotiable.

Retreats are very important to me. I want to squeeze the most out of the few retreats that I get to go on. On retreats it’s easier to meditate and we meditate more than I do normally, but my hunger for meditation is such that I never feel there is enough. I have an urgency I would not have developed if I was able to go on retreat more.

And I’d love to get on retreat more, but it wouldn’t be fair to leave my wife alone with the children. She’s not a Buddhist, though she is very kind, and because she doesn’t go on retreat we can’t have a straightforward quid pro quo arrangement. I won’t go on retreat against her wishes, so the retreat negotiation is yet another struggle on the spiritual path, attempting to get my needs met while also taking my wife’s needs into account.

You parent well by giving attention: by giving a particular kind and quality of attention. I don’t usually see that as mindfulness, but in a way it is. I have the challenge of trying to remain calm when flummoxed, to remain kind when my conditioning tells me to crack the whip in an unskillful way by imposing my will rather than relating empathetically. I have to watch for being so tired that I just want to let some of my children’s undesirable behavior slide by unaddressed.

Although my practice is important to me I worry about pushing Buddhism onto my children. I dislike the coercive indoctrination of religion on children. Yet my practice and my parenting are inseparable. There are many ways my boys learn about my Dharma practice. I chant to them to help them fall asleep. They see me meditate. They have met my Buddhist friends. They have gone to a Buddhist naming ceremony. They had naming ceremonies themselves, although they were too young at the time to be able to remember. They can identify the Buddha on the cover of books I read. My practice subtly diffuses out of my pores, and they pick up on it, without my proselytizing or forcing anything on them. Most of the time they appreciate my kindness and my mindfulness. So in a way I have done what my friends suggest, and infused my parenting with my spiritual practice.

I wish I could say I act gracefully all the time, that I go around in a state of equanimity, that I’m always a “good Buddhist.” The fact is though, that my boys have exposed some of my fragility and inflexibility of mind. They show me that I have lots of work to do. They are my gurus, and they humble me because they help me to see more clearly who I am and who I want to be. Pema Chodron talks about “the big squeeze”: when we realize the pressure of our ideals and how far we are from them. I have learned to clarify and use ideals, like the ten precepts, in a positive way, and not to turn them against myself in the pressure cooker of parenting.

My teacher, Sangharakshita, tells a story. There was a fellow who meditated on lovingkindness every morning. Every day, his servant boy would quietly bring some tea into the meditation room so that his master could have tea after meditating. One day, during meditation, the servant boy spilled the tea. The man roared at the boy for interrupting his meditation, “Can’t you see I’m radiating universal loving kindness throughout the world!”

So when my son comes up to me while I’m meditating, and says, “Do you want to play?” my heart melts, and I get up from my cushion — even if I’ve only been sitting for four minutes — and go play with him. That is how I express my metta.

Parenting is a challenge, but it also brings direct spiritual rewards. Kevin Griffin points out in One Breath at a Time:

Sometimes we are focused on developing concentration or investigation or some other quality. New parents have to work hard at cultivating and maintaining a lot of spiritual qualities: patience, generosity, renunciation (as they give up so much of their freedom and time). But the gift that they receive is love, as well as what’s called mudita, or appreciative joy. There’s no work involved, no effort in developing metta and mudita for our children, they just blossom. Appreciating that this is happening for us can help us to be easier on ourselves when other aspects of our practice seem to be crumbling.

I love my sons. They are utterly precious to me, even if they sometimes stop me from meditating. My love for my boys is as at least as powerful as my feelings of frustration about not being able to meditate. I sometimes catch myself speeding home from work: I am rushing to get back to them, to see them, urgently, passionately.

This is not the spirituality of being on retreat, of meditation, dharma study, and sangha. I contrast my life with a retired friend’s simple life of meditation and reflection, his walks in nature, his artistic and social activity, with no television or internet. His children have grown up and he no longer needs to work. Is that the only way to be spiritual, with free time, with no pull of responsibility? Do you have to be a monastic to move towards enlightenment? Can I be spiritual while immersed in my parenting and working life?

My spiritual practice is about staying with my experience, and not running away internally in order to cope with difficult experiences. It’s the same as with an itch on my nose in meditation — I don’t have to react, I can just experience it. I must stay with the challenging experience of parenting, not do the violence of wishing I was elsewhere, taking myself out of the here and now. It’s in this way, staying with and accepting my experience, that I become less scattered and restricted.
I wouldn’t have known all these things if I didn’t have children. Maybe I would have learned different lessons — I can’t say, and there’s no point in trying to second-guess myself. The challenge of losing my free time, of being needed so much, has taught me something vital: My children are my gurus. They help me blossom.


Steve Bell is a 40 year old father of two small children, who’s been meditating for five years. He lives in New York City and works as a psychotherapist at an agency for people with HIV/Aids. Steve is currently studying at the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy. His wife of 10 years is a middle school teacher.

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Thich Nhat Hanh: “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”

What exactly does Thich Nhat Hanh mean by “presence”? And how is it a gift to others?

When I first started consciously practicing mindfulness in my day-to-day activities, this was one of the first areas I explored. I watched what was running though my head one day as I chatted over lunch with a work colleague. I was dismayed to realize how often I was not really paying attention to him. As he talked about a project we worked on together, I discovered I was busy formulating my own ideas about it. When he continued talking for a long while, I found myself wandering off and planning my afternoon meetings. In short, I was pursuing my own agenda somewhere in the future, not being fully in the present with him. That was something of an eye opener!

I’ve now come to realize, sadly, that it’s a rare event when we’re really, truly present with others. There are many ways we can fall into the trap of not doing so. Our own views, agendas, and opinions come along with us, usually unwittingly, and can easily stand in the way of seeing others clearly, as they really are.

One particularly challenging example is when we’re with someone who is in pain, in trouble, or otherwise in need. If this person is someone we care about, we naturally want to do everything we can to help. But how much of our response is about our wanting to “fix” things in our own way? Or about assuaging our own discomfort and anxiety over seeing this person in pain? Or about living up to our own self-image as a kind and helpful person? Or keeping score — in the hope that if I do this now, they’ll repay me in kind in the future? These are all self-centered motivations disguised as altruism. And even if we DO have a genuine desire to help that person, it’s almost inevitable that some amount of these mixed motives creep into our thoughts and actions.

If helping people is our profession, yet another layer of complication comes into play. If our self-identity gets too wrapped up in our job role, we can find ourselves relating to others through the mask of our professionalism. Is it really me that’s present, or is it the nurse, counselor, teacher, or whatever, that’s doing the talking? Are we using our role as a way to avoid connecting with this person, heart to heart?

Another difficult situation is when the other person is doing something we consider “wrong.” Maybe they’re doing something illegal or unethical; maybe they’re doing something that’s hurtful to someone else or perhaps to themselves. When we become convinced of the rightness of our position (and hence the wrongness of theirs), we become polarized and fall into the trap of self-righteousness. It’s another way that our own views prevent us from truly walking in the other person’s shoes, as the saying goes.

So then, does being mindful mean being passive and allowing the other person to continue on in pain or creating a mess of their lives? Of course not!

In my view, mindfulness has to begin with a respect for the other person’s dignity and rationality. By this I mean, no matter how much I might disagree with what they’re doing, I make an effort to understand why they’re doing it and what circumstances got them there. It means suspending my own views and really appreciating the situation completely from their perspective – not just intellectually, but in my heart.

Mindful presence also means putting my self-centered motivations aside. Even if I can’t get rid of them, I can at least try to avoid using them as the filters through which I look at the situation. This includes putting aside my fears. What is it that prevents me from opening my heart to this other being? Am I afraid of getting hurt? Making a fool of myself? Making a professional blunder? What is it, really, that puts a wall of separation between me and this other human being who is fundamentally just like me?

Of course, there are times when the best thing to do is for us to step in and take action before any further damage is done. We need to do this in a way that, on balance, causes the least harm to everyone involved. Perhaps we need to act strongly toward someone to prevent them from doing something far worse. But it should be our last resort, done only after we’ve really walked in the other person shoes for a while.

And above all, mindfulness is about patience. It recognizes that changes need time, and that we cannot make things happen on our desired schedule. And some things are completely beyond our ability to change (as people often are). We can’t make a flower bloom when we want it to. In some cases, it might not bloom at all. But we can set the best possible conditions to support its happening. So we fertilize the soil and provide water and sunshine. Then we must wait, patiently and without expectations.

Sometimes this is all we can do. Some situations can’t be “fixed,” but can only be fertilized, watered, and given the sunshine of our mindful presence. This is what I believe Thich Nhat Hanh is talking about. It’s when we drop all our clinging to self-concerns and offer our naked, vulnerable humanity to another person. It’s this profound connection with another being that forms the soil upon which positive growth and change takes place.

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Yoga, more popular than ever, flexes body and mind (Seattle Times)

Tyrone Beason, Seattle Times: Ever since Oprah featured a segment on yoga and Madonna beat back her nasty side with namastes, Americans can’t get enough of the ancient Indian practice.

Though 5,000 years old, yoga has boomed in recent years, with private instructors, gyms, community centers, even churches offering classes to help people wind down, focus, get limber and stay fit.

Yoga Journal magazine estimates that 15 million people in the United States practice yoga, twice as many as five years ago.

The nationally recognized instructor Aadil Palkhivala said when he opened Yoga Centers in Bellevue, Wash., 12 years ago, his was the only such facility in the area. Today there are dozens of yoga studios – “within walking distance,” he joked.

So what’s behind the yoga craze?

For starters, Americans are more passionate about fitness in general, instructors say. At the same time, yoga’s exotic image has transformed into one that appeals to mainstream, Western tastes.

More important, yoga seems to work.

Yoga emphasizes stretching, building core body strength, controlled breathing, enhanced circulation and deep relaxation.

For these reasons, doctors in this country have started to recommend yoga for their patients based on its value as a fitness routine alone. Coupled with meditation, it is also used to reduce stress and high blood pressure, bolster the immune system and even treat depression. Many cancer and AIDS patients, as well as pregnant women, practice yoga. More vigorous types of yoga – which induce increased heart rates and sweating – have become popular among people who want to lose weight.

“There are very few people, from kids on up to seniors, who wouldn’t benefit from it,” said Dr. Peter McGough, chief of the University of Washington Medicine Factoria Clinic.

McGough noted yoga’s positive effects on musculoskeletal disorders – such as arthritis – in particular.

But while studies in India, Europe and the United States point to yoga’s potential benefits in a number of areas, even some yoga supporters concede more research is needed to track its long-term effects.

Yoga has become so commonplace that it’s easy to lose sight of its roots and original purpose. The word itself is a Sanskrit expression that refers to a “yoke” or “union.” As both a philosophy for living and a physical exercise, yoga unites the mind, body and spirit, bringing mental clarity, health and balance, its adherents say.

The ultimate goal of a yoga student is to reach a state of enlightenment, or ecstasy, through disciplined meditation.

But most Americans practice some form of hatha yoga, which focuses on breathing exercises and striking complex poses, or “asanas,” that encourage flexibility, balance, strength and good energy flow through the body. Traditionally, hatha yoga serves as a foundation for other, more cerebral types.

“Hatha yoga is just the bait,” Palkhivala said in his soothing, breathy delivery. “The mind is much more subtle and the emotions even more subtle.” As students learn the physical techniques and begin to feel the benefits, he said, some may want to venture deeper.

Palkhivala says yoga has become popular as more and more people grapple to find a real purpose in their lives, something to aspire to. They’re seeking spiritual fitness, as well as elastic hamstrings. He believes it’s important for people to shop around for an instructor who can teach not just physical techniques but yoga’s deeper principles.

“There is an urge to find something greater than the humdrum repetition of an unfulfilling existence,” he insisted. “People are beginning to ask the question, ‘So what?’ ”

Whether or not people reach an end to spiritual suffering through yoga, its physical effects alone keep people coming back.

“What yoga does is it moves the body in all different directions,” without the repetitive motion of say, an aerobics routine, said Joseph Rodin, director of Northwest Yoga Festival, a four-day event featuring lectures, yoga classes and performances at Seattle Center that kicks off tomorrow. “It takes your body through its full range of motion.”

Doctors and physical therapists agree yoga benefits a variety of age groups, body types and physical conditions, but they are reluctant to rank it higher than other forms of exercise.

Some people get more pleasure from – and are therefore more likely to stick with – aerobics, pilates or sports, which also promote fitness and stress relief.

New yoga styles are springing up all the time to accommodate different needs, including some people’s desire for a routine that gets the blood pumping.

One of the hottest – literally and figuratively – is bikram yoga, which uses high room temperatures to loosen muscles and promote the release of toxins through sweat.

Whereas the iyengar style of yoga taught at Palkhivala’s studio emphasizes meditation and holding individual poses for long periods to perfect form, bikram yoga involves a set of 26 poses that flow from one to the other. The faster pace and saunalike conditions offer a stimulating cardiovascular workout.

At The Sweat Box on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, “Hot Yoga” instructors crank up the heat to 105-110 degrees Fahrenheit for each 90-minute class in the bikram style.

It may sound excruciating, but the studio’s co-founder, Frankie Oser, said more than 2,300 students have taken classes in 3 1/2 years of business, and many of those are repeat customers.

Oser said Hot Yoga helps deliver more blood to muscles, speeds the breakdown of glucose and fatty acids, improves coordination, makes muscles less prone to injury, reduces heart irregularities and burns fat.

It’s a total body experience, Oser said, “from head to toe, inside and out. … Your whole body is worked out every time you come in.”

McGough advises people with pre-existing medical conditions or who are on certain types of medication – blood-pressure drugs, for example – to consult a doctor before joining a particular yoga class, just to make sure the style is appropriate for them.

While yoga instructors usually ask students about medical concerns before classes begin, most are not equipped to do in-depth screenings. It’s up to the student to bring up any issues.

A person who has especially tight hamstrings, for example, may want to avoid yoga routines that call for strenuous forward bends, because this might lead to injury.

Another aspect of yoga classes that may attract people is the lack of competitiveness.

While yoga students strive to be more self-aware, they also work at being less self-conscious in relation to those around them.

But to eliminate the social pressure altogether, some yoga students prefer one-on-one sessions.

Many instructors offer classes in studios built onto their homes or in neighborhood storefronts. In settings like these, the feeling is more intimate and the embarrassment of making a mistake is minimal, since nobody’s watching.

Jo Leffingwell, a former Seattle theater actress, exercised patience and grace as she coached this reporter through a series of warm-up stretches, breathing exercises and iyengar poses, followed by 10 minutes of meditation and a lesson in yoga teachings, at her studio in Seattle.

Leffingwell explained that just as a person’s mind has tendencies and cravings that lead to an imbalanced life, that person’s body has tendencies that can lead to physical imbalance, discomfort and pain. It could be shortness of breath, an inability to twist in one direction, or simple tightness in the back or legs resulting from a lack of exercise, stress or a previous injury. Yoga, she said, “shows you what the tendencies are in your body and brings you back to a more balanced state.”

She encourages her students, as they bend and flex into position, to take their time and truly “experience the posture.” If you can’t bend over and touch your ankles on the first few visits, or balance your body on one leg, that’s fine.

“What you’re trying to do is be present in your body, moment by moment,” she said.

Leffingwell explained that an essential part of yoga study is learning sutras, or words of wisdom about yoga, the self and the universe, many of which have been passed along for thousands of years.

One prominent idea embodied in both the physical and mental aspects of yoga is the belief that inside each person is a being that “sees” everything clearly. Some might think of it as the conscience, or intuition.

The problem for many people, Leffingwell said, is that they make decisions that contradict their own higher instincts. They get swept away by a jumble of thoughts, memories, fears, frustrations, expectations and desires, and life loses focus and meaning.

While many experts are pleased that people are introducing themselves to more physical types of yoga, they say the greatest path to a healthy life is connecting with that inner being.

“Yoga helps bring out what you are,” Palkhivala said. “You have to face it, and sometimes it’s not pleasant.”

But if mastering yoga poses and getting a good workout are all you’re looking for, that’s OK, too, he said.

“The house is huge,” Palkhivala said, referring to all the yoga choices people have available to them. “Where you want to live in it is your choice.”

YOGA TIPS FROM THE EXPERTS

– Shop around and find an instructor whose technique and teaching style suit you. This is very important, instructors say. Many yoga teachers are poorly trained or don’t work well with clients. If you don’t have a good feeling about the first class or two, move on.

-Take it easy. Yoga is about self-awareness, but also patience. You shouldn’t expect to be able to perform every asana, or yoga pose, after a couple of tries. Some require a high level of flexibility, so you may have to work your way up to them. Trying too hard at the beginning also may lead to muscle and joint injury. Focus instead on breathing deeply and understanding how your body moves and where the most tension occurs. Let the instructor know about any past injuries and health concerns before the class begins.

-Don’t worry about your neighbors. Yoga is not a competitive sport, so if the student next to you can fold himself in half while standing, don’t be discouraged. Focus on your own ability level and progress.

-Go with your emotions. Yoga is ultimately about transcendence and liberation – from pain, memories, anxiety, this month’s household budget, everything that keeps you from being at peace with yourself. Think of yoga as a way of identifying obstacles in the mind and body and working through them.

YOGA GLOSSARY

-Yoga (YOH ga) – Sanskrit for “yoke” or “union,” in this case, a union of mind, body and spirit. There are eight progressive “limbs” in yoga ranging from moral discipline, self-restraint, posture, breath control, sensory inhibition, concentration and meditation to ecstasy, all leading to “liberation.”

-Asana (AH suh nuh) – A physical posture, or yoga pose.

-Hatha (HAH thuh) – The method of yoga most practiced in the United States, focusing on asanas and breathing skills. Many styles of yoga fit under this umbrella, from slower-paced iyengar yoga to flowing ashtanga yoga to bikram or “Hot Yoga.”

-Ashtanga (Ahsh TONG guh) – A type of yoga that uses a fast-paced series of postures in a nonstop sequence, providing a solid workout. A variation is called “Power Yoga.”

-Bikram (BEE krum) – Another flowing style of yoga that incorporates temperatures over 100 degrees to help loosen muscles and cleanse the body through sweat. Also called “Hot Yoga.”

-Viniyoga (VEN ee yo guh) – A milder category of yoga that is tailored to the emotional and physical needs of the student.

-Iyengar (I YEN gar) – This popular yoga features a slower pace, focusing on precision and proper alignment. Students breathe methodically and hold each posture for extended periods, working to refine them over time. Students can use props, such as blocks and straps, to help achieve their postures.

-Ananda (Ah NAHN da) – A more spiritual form of hatha yoga that uses breathing, postures, silent affirmations and meditation.

-Namaste (Nah mas TAY) – A traditional yoga salutation meaning, “I bow to you.” It’s one person’s humble recognition of another’s soul. To give the greeting, press the hands together at the chest, as in prayer, close your eyes, and bow your head. It’s OK, but not customary, to say the word aloud.

-Pranayama (Prah nah YA ma) – Breath-control exercise.

-Mantra (MAHN trah) – A sacred sound that has a transforming effect on the person saying it.

-Om – A common mantra, just one syllable but spoken in a deep, resonant, elongated breath.

-Sources: Yoga Journal, Joseph Rodin, Aadil Palkhivala and Jo Leffingwell

RESOURCES

-Yoga Journal has an online site with interviews and practical information on various types of yoga, as well a directory of yoga studios at www.yogajournal.com.

RECOMMENDED READING

-“Autobiography of a Yogi” (Self-Realization Fellowship Publishers, $6), by Paramahansa Yogananda.

-“The Healing Path of Yoga: Time-Honored Wisdom and Scientifically Proven Methods That Alleviate Stress, Open Your Heart, and Enrich Your Life” (Three Rivers Press, $17), by Nischala Joy Devi, Dean Ornish and Shaye Areheart.

-“Yoga RX : A Step-by-Step Program to Promote Health, Wellness, and Healing for Common Ailments” (Broadway, $17.95) by Larry Payne, Richard Usatine, Merry Aronson.

-“The Tree of Yoga,” (Shambhala, $13.95) by B.K.S. Iyengar.

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