The Emotional Body: The Next Frontier

The Emotional Body: The Next Frontier

I’ve spent the greater part of my life working on the physical body, from competitive swimming as a kid to practicing yoga poses since 1972. I have also spent a great amount of time focusing on the mental body, completing a Ph.D. in sport psychology and having a regular meditation practice for nearly 40 years.

Through yoga, and especially meditation, I have become aware of the power of the mind and the importance of where I choose to focus my thoughts. It appears that the next frontier in yoga for me, and possibly for many yogis, is the emotional body.

I’m sure many of us have noticed that occasionally something triggers a strong automatic reaction that seems to come out of nowhere. Upon reflection, we realize that one of our “hot buttons” got pushed. I’ve realized that it is unresolved issues in me that trigger those automatic reactions.

According to Bruce Lipton in Spontaneous Evolution, 95% of our daily behavior comes from our unconscious programming that was downloaded to us by the age of 6. That leaves only 5% of our behavior coming from our conscious choices. Yikes! That catches my attention! That means whenever we have an outburst, it most likely comes from conditioning received in the first 6 years of life, conditioning that operates powerfully but below the surface. And as is probably the case with all of us, some of my outbursts have been disastrous.

Over the years, through yoga and meditation, I’ve connected with a deeper place inside that is eternal and unchanged. Rather than continuing to think of myself as primarily a mind in a body, as I did before yoga, I’ve connected with a deeper spiritual essence. I am eternally grateful for this precious gift of yoga. Along with that, yoga and meditation have encouraged self-acceptance and self-love. Knowing that I have a spiritual essence that is deeper than my emotional layers has given me both the perspective and the courage needed to look into negative emotional patterns that have been influencing my life.

Then, a couple years ago, I found The Presence Process by Michael Brown. His amazing book details an effective process to uncover hidden emotional issues in a safe and gentle way, fully feeling and integrating them. It’s a 10-week program that includes 15 minutes of deep breathing twice a day along with readings from his book and “perceptual tools” to use throughout the day. It’s been a transformational experience for me, and I wanted to share information about it in case it speaks to you as well. I’ve done the process twice and have just started my third time. Each time I clear more energetic blockages and become more compassionate toward myself and everyone else. I also find that I react less (from my conditioning) and respond more (from my consciousness). As a result I feel more present in my life, and I am more authentically joyful!

There are many You-Tube videos of Michael Brown talking about the process. This 4 minute video is a great introduction: You can also check out a website devoted to his work: as well as order his book, The Presence Process: A Journey into Present Moment Awareness, from Amazon.

The Presence Process teaches a skill that can be used for the rest of our lives: the ability to “digest and integrate” our emotional experiences so that we are more present in our lives.

The Issue is Integrity

The Issue is Integrity

There have been many comments recently about John Friend going back to teaching and the quality of his teaching. That’s NOT the pertinent issue. It’s not about whether JF is a good teacher, or whether he’s charismatic or passionate or sensitive or teaching better than ever. It’s about integrity. It’s about what values and principles you stand with when you study with him. He was/is seriously out of alignment with yoga and all its precepts. He abused his power consistently for years. He said repeatedly that he wanted to have an ethics evaluation. But when an ethics committee was established he refused to go through with it.

JF seriously impacted many lives in a very negative way. He exploited many for his personal gain. He caused loss of income and reputation for those who depended on him and supported him, some for nearly two decades. He betrayed the community that he created. And now the Wikipedia entry about JF has been so whitewashed it implies that his only transgression was to have had affairs with two women.

I’m all for forgiveness and compassion … at the appropriate time. That time will come when all the information is on the table, when we know the true extent of JF’s behavior, and when he has taken responsibility for his actions by submitting to an ethics evaluation, and owning the findings. Until then we are enabling his behavior. If you want to help someone who is seriously misaligned you don’t ignore the problems; you take the uncomfortable stance of confronting the issues so that realignment can occur.

Certainly we’re all a work in progress. None of us is perfect; and presumably all of us are working on being more in alignment with what we know to be true; to align our words with our actions; and to take the dharmic action in each situation. I know I’m working on myself in this way. It’s not unreasonable to ask JF to do the same.

All of us who were involved in Anusara yoga were taught to “look for the good”. It helped us see the best in each other and to find the best in ourselves. Many blossomed with this attitude, and were nurtured, and possibly healed, in significant ways. However, in order to step fully into emotional and spiritual maturity, and to live responsibly as whole human beings, we have to move beyond this one-sided approach. We need to be willing to look at that which is painful, both in ourselves and in our leaders.

As a result of this tendency to avoid pain (remember dvesha in the Sutras?), our community developed a huge shadow side of problems and issues that simmered beneath the surface, never being fully addressed. Therefore as a community we developed very few skills in effectively resolving problems. We cannot heal something that we cannot see, or are not willing to look at.

All in all, limiting our attention to only the good has not served us very well, and I think this attitude helped bring Anusara down. Averting our gaze from the darker side of JF’s behavior allowed significant problems to grow bigger and remain unaddressed. To bring sunlight into the shadow we must be willing to look beyond how JF is currently teaching. We must feel the discomfort of looking beyond his words to the values he has displayed in living his life. His integrity is revealed in his actions, not his words.

A Yoga of Engagement

A Yoga of Engagement

An interesting thing has been happening during yoga class. While we were deepening our breath and refining our Triangle poses a group of the super-wealthy has hijacked our country! Little by little, as we have focused on inner peace and transcendence, the super-wealthy, the 1%, has been buying up Congress by making huge donations to their campaigns. In return they are demanding and receiving changes in the laws that favor their businesses and the growth and protection of their wealth.

Some yogis’ have told me they don’t vote because all politicians are corrupt. That logic doesn’t make sense to me because it’s like saying all triangle poses are the same. We’ve learned that when we take the time to pay attention we see that some triangle poses are more aligned than others. In the same way, when we take the time to pay attention, we can see that some politicians are more aligned with integrity, justice, and service than others. Yoga is not just about transcendence; it’s also about engagement, as we learn in the Bhagavad Gita. Douglas Brooks’ teaches us that yoga is first about being a responsible citizen.

The inequality of wealth and power between the 1% and the 99% continues to increase and it troubles me greatly. Princeton professor and Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has noted that unequal wealth translates into unequal power, and we’re seeing that now.

Productivity of our workforce has been increasing even through the economic downturn, and yet wages are flat. All of that increased productivity has fattened the 1%, and flattened the 99%. The 1% has obtained greater wealth at the expense of those that produced it! Companies are transferring jobs offshore to maximize profits for their investors at the expense of their workers. Offshore is also home for much of the wealth of the investors where it is safely out of the reach of U.S. taxes. Taxes on the super rich are not proportional to their share of the wealth. All of this has greatly diminished the middle class.

I have had the privilege the last few years of teaching around the world, and it’s given me the opportunity to see how differently other countries approach the responsibilities of citizenship. For example, in Australia, instead of making it harder to vote, citizens are actually required to vote! In fact, they are fined if they don’t! As a result everyone is engaged in what’s happening in their country: everyone, including the bus driver, is discussing politics and debating the pros and cons of the options. Interesting that Australia does not suffer the extreme spread in wealth that we do in the U.S. and I wonder if it’s due to the fact that everyone knows what’s going on and the populace is engaged more fully than the average citizen in the U.S.

I’m writing to make a plea to take an hour of your precious time and go online and research where the 1% is investing its money in the upcoming elections. This is an urgent plea for all of us to educate not only ourselves but also our students, friends, and family. Go online and research candidates for federal, state, and local offices; listen to the debates; do a little digging; go to a non-partisan website to find out the facts; look below the surface. After all, as a wise man once said, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts!

Let’s engage in the process of preserving and extending democracy and equality for all people in our country. If we don’t step up and get involved, who will? What is at risk are our children’s and our grandchildren’s futures. I know that the yoga community is a formidable force for consciousness, compassion, and aligned action! The Dalai Lama said at the Vancouver Peace Summit in September 2009, ”The world will be saved by the western woman.” Maybe this is one of the avenues he had in mind!

Get informed! Choose! Vote! Step up! Speak out!
We can make a difference when we practice a yoga of engagement!