III.29

I decided to sit down and read The Yoga Sutras the other day. I realized that I had never read them all the way through in one sitting before. This really shouldn’t be that difficult considering that The Yoga Sutras are actually like a recipe book.

There are 195 steps, which are divided up into four Padas/Chapters. I have attempted to read through this historical recipe book for enlightenment in the past, but I typically find myself sidetracked by the commentary on one of the aphorisms, or I just get tired, and I fail to make it all the way through.

This time I was determined.

This is what I love about The Yoga Sutras. They start out simple. The very first ingredient is water; it is an everyday necessity!

l.1 Atha Yoganusasanam.

Translation: Now we begin the practice of yoga.

If you want to bake a loaf of enlightenment you can’t put it off until tomorrow. Turn on the oven, get out your mixing bowls, and start cooking right here and now with this very breath.

The second ingredient defines the first ingredient. It is the H2O. If the first sutra/ thread/ ingredient, sets up what you are going to be making, the second sutra defines what it will look like.

l.2 Yogas citta-vrtti-nirodha.

Translation: Yoga is the quieting of the fluctuations of the mind.

The next logical question is, why would I want to do that? This is described in the third line of text… And so it goes throughout the manual. It is a drum-roll of answers being questioned and questions being answered.

What I found particularly inspiring on this last read-through The Yoga Sutras was the third Pada. It expounds upon the mystical powers/siddhis that human beings are capable of. The way I see it is this: Most of us know how to drive a car. We get in, turn on the engine, put it in drive, and hit the gas. There are all sorts of great gadgets like brakes, blinkers, radios, cruise control and windshield wipers. These things come standard in any Toyata, Chevy or Mercedez. So what if you happened to find yourself in some sort of a James Bond mobile? Would it be possible that you wouldn’t even know that your car could actually fly? Become invisible? Travel faster than the speed of light? Coast on water? Because you didn’t know where to look for these buttons and you were satisfied with seat-warmers?

According to the third chapter of The Yoga Sutras, these bodies that we are inhabiting may have some extra special features that we aren’t aware of, but with a little searching we may discover that we all have a little super-power within us just waiting to be discovered…

The siddhi, super-power, that I have been focusing on in my own practice and in class lately feels the most accessible and relevant one to start with. It is the 29th sutra of the 3rd pada.

III.29 Nabhi-cakre kaya-vyuha-jnanam

Translation: By fixing the mind and meditating on the wisdom inherent within the naval plexus of the body comes knowledge of the arrangement of the body.

I find that this sutra has tremendous value for our asana focused yoga practices. If we can concentrate our attention on our naval center throughout our practice we can gain a better understanding about how the body is organized. We don’t have to wonder about our alignment, and whether or not it is proper because we will feel it. Focusing our attention primarily on the naval center can give us a starting point.

There are lots of ways that we can concentrate our attention on our core. Some of the results will lead to stronger abdominal muscles and healthy organs. These results can be achieved in any core centered workout class.  I think what is so appealing about a yoga practice is that the ways that we concentrate on our naval plexus will lead not only to a strong physique, but also an inherent understanding of how the entire body is organized.

To learn these techniques, come to class.

Peace and Love,

Joyce

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The Empty Page

Dropping the anchor,
To try to find the middle ground.
Down into the “I don’t know” rather than the forms.
There is a hesitation.
In the chest, a question is uncovered.

Is it true?
Grounded in my abdomen,
I see that this turning inward, is just as vast and nebulous
As launching outward.

Opening to where I am, now
At this table writing, and listening.
The weight of this body sitting here on the chair changes
and a fragile silence appears
that is louder than me or you.

Breathing in and out,
in profound exchange.
Of emptying and filling
Silence and sound.

While navigating varieties of lost.
The light in the room shifts and
Something changes.
My abdomen is trying to tell me something
But the language is lost in the process
Of trying to find the right words.

Luke Storms

E.B. White writing in his boathouse

*Source: Parabola

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The Sound of Silence

A few years ago, I was new to New York and full of love inside yet I didn’t know very many people yet so I was feeling rather lonely. One Friday night I went to the Open Center because a wise Rimpoche was coming to town. She was going to give a talk and lead a meditation. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I knew that the enlightening was supposed to begin at 7pm. I was propped up on my seat and ready to go – eager to get my spiritual buzz on before meeting some friends to go dancing. 7:20 rolls around and I’m still sitting there, quietly, with everyone else, but I’m starting to get pretty aggravated. Something about sitting in that room, silently, with all of those people I didn’t know made me feel even more lonely. 7:30 arrives and there is still no sign of a great teacher walking into the room so I’m starting to get anxious and impatient. 7:45 pm and I’m beyond restless and even feeling quivers of anger.

All the while I’m still sitting there, waiting, and no one around me could tell by looking at me just how disrupted I felt inside (or at least I don’t think so…)

7:50 rolls around and I open my eyes and all of a sudden it’s as though I am 80 years old. I start to laugh at my 25 year old self. I say, “enough already! Would you just relax!” And I knew I had somehow, in that moment, broken through some sort of time/space continuum to arrive at this moment when the elderly Joyce could have a good laugh at herself as an impatient young adult. A quietness took over my mind at this point, a patience I had never known before, and a thought that maybe in fact life is long.

I’m convinced that the teacher was late on purpose that night. By requiring all of us to sit silently in meditation before she even began talking we were able to finally sit and be present with our own thoughts. It is hard to actually make time to sit with oneself for 10 minutes let alone an hour! By having this time to sit and listen or bare witness to our own thoughts we were in turn capable of being much more present to the teacher.

I’ve come to think of silence not as an absence of sound but as the space that holds the potential for sound. A silent mind is one which may be full of knowledge but is not so firm in opinions that it has lost its plasticity. To truly listen to someone mustn’t there be some silence within? If someone is explaining something to you and in your mind you are thinking of the next thing that you are going to say, or thinking of how what they are saying is similar to things which you already know – then are you truly listening?

I love the anatomical composition of the ear – especially the snail looking coil inside the ear canal. It’s remarkable to me that we have these little vibration seekers on the sides of our heads, which pick up the unique and distinct oscillations in the space around us and then make sense of the little tremors via the synapses in our brains. What I like to do in my practice to cultivate some silent space is turn the focus of my ears inward. When I practice breathing Ujjayi Pranayama I make the quietest, whispered sound that I can make in my throat and still hear that there is a sound. When I am doing this I feel as though I am in a sacred space. I feel as though the quietness of my breath is guiding me. I am able to still listen to the guidance of a teacher’s voice, but it is as if the sound of silence coming from my breath can hold the space for any other sounds and nothing could possibly be a distraction from simply being in the present moment.

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Wisdom and Youth

What if you really could have more energy, your skin could be luminous, and all of those little health complaints you had could go away? But there wasn’t any quick fix? What if you actually had to change your lifestyle and eating habits for such a miracle to occur? Would you have the discipline, drive or desire?

I’ve been sharing with my classes this week some really interesting information about the body, what it is exactly, and how our choices shape our body. I think this discussion can help to shed some light for anyone who is interested in the nature-vs-nurture debate, and hopefully it can help to sum up how much control we have in the equation of our health and well-being.

Earlier this week, I was telling my mom about this cleanse I am doing, and at first she asked if it was like one of those cleanses that you can buy in the grocery store, which clean out your system (if you know what I mean…) This however is not the kind of cleanse that I am doing. I am doing an Ayurvedic cleanse for two months, which is helping to restore balance to my system.

Two months! You might be saying… which is definitely what my first reaction was. Especially when you find out that this cleanse requires:

  • No alcohol
  • no coffee
  • no sugar
  • no cheese
  • no hot spices
  • no garlic or onions
  • no citrus
  • no vinegar or anything fermented
  • no tomato
  • no sesame seeds
  • no fried foods
  • no red meat or seafood

Ok, now try to go to a restaurant and see what you can eat. This diet is the definition of socially awkward. The purpose of all of this is to reduce the acid in my system by not eating any foods which are acidic. This may not be the appropriate cleanse for everyone, but it is for me.

In addition, I am making a hot drink made from boiling water with fennel seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds and a pinch of cinnamon, and I am taking special Ayurvedic Herbs. Cooling foods like avocado, cucumber, watermelon, and coconut are particularly helpful for this transformational process.

I am now five weeks into the cleanse and I feel amazing. It’s getting easier not to cheat, because every time I do I don’t feel as well in the morning. I thought it would be a nice time to take a slightly more in depth look at how what we eat has an effect on the body. I will also try to answer the question: What is the body, exactly? This is really fascinating & I will try to make it clear and interesting…

According to the yogis the body is made up of five layers.

1. The Annamaya Kosa/The Food Body. 

How it works: You eat arugula, chew it well, it makes its way into your digestive system where it is further broken down into its chemical, component parts – let’s say Vitamin D. This vitamin D then eventually makes its way into the cells of your body. The food you eat and liquids your drink helps to build the shape of your cells and therefor the shape of your body. This layer also constitutes all aspects of your body which can be visible to the naked eye.

Sampling of how The Annamaya Kosa/Food Body applies to yoga class: If you don’t have enough protein in your diet, you won’t have the building blocks of strength and endurance that you will need to create the poses.

2. The Pranamaya Kosa/The Breath Body

How it works: You breathe in air through your mouth or nose and into your lungs. Your lungs are able to pull out the Prana/the elements in the air that provide a source of energy for the body, which are then circulated into the cells of your body. The Breath Body could be defined as all of the gases in the body, which have come in through the breathing mechanism and which will leave through that same door we call the nostril.

Sampling of how The Pranamaya Kosa/Breath Body applies to yoga class: One of the reasons we breathe through the nose and create a whispering sound in the throat as we breath, Ujjayi Pranayama, is because it warms the air as it comes into the body. This warming of the air is an equivalent to cooking or chewing our food. In other words – this breathing technique makes it easier for the body to digest the air. Also, breathing with a steady rhythm helps to regulate circulation, which will aid the cells in getting the freshly oxygenated blood that they need and getting rid of the carbon dioxide that the plants need. (note: this is not being sited from a scientific study but is an observation I’ve made in my own practice and those of other practitioners I’ve had the privilege of observing over the past thirteen years.)

Pause>>> So far we can see how The Food Body is pretty tangible and we can all agree that, yes, some part of what we eat will be the building blocks for the body we inhabit. Furthermore, ok, we can kind of agree that, yes, what we breathe in clearly becomes a part of our cells if even just for a little while. So we can wrap our heads around the idea of The Breath Body. >>>

3. The Manomaya Kosa/The Mental Body

How it works: When we take in ideas, experiences, knowledge etc. through our senses where does this go? Into the third layer of the body: The Manomaya Kosa. If I watch a video on Ted.com and it talks about the importance of trial and error in solving complex problems I have stored this idea somewhere in my brain, and I can talk about it later, at dinner with friends. If I learned how to type when I was in elementary school some circuits were set up between my brain and my fingers that allows my fingers to feel the keyboard and know where the letters are, which allows my brain to translate my thoughts into written words. So these stored bits of information that I have leaned in this lifetime all are a part of this body that I am now living in, and this is what we call, The Manomaya Kosa, or The Mental Layer of the Body. A little more subtle, but actually really cool to think about.

Sampling of how The Manomaya Kosa/Mental Body applies to yoga class: When we hear the teacher tell us to move the top of our thighbones back into our hamstrings and the sacrum forward into our belly we know where these landmarks are in the body, we know what all of these directions mean, and the body can follow the instructions as they are being heard.

4.Vijnanamaya Kosa/The Wisdom Body

How it works: This one is really interesting! The Wisdom Body could be considered the equivalent to our DNA. It is the information that the cells of our body were born with. It is the wisdom of being a living being that has been passed down to us generation after generation. This layer of the body is how the digestive system knows how to digest; how the circulatory system knows how to circulate; how the reproductive system knows how to reproduce. Something about our DNA is innate within our cells.

Sampling of how the Vijnanamaya Kosa/Wisdom Body applies to yoga class: Hmmm, let me think about this for a moment… perhaps there is wisdom in our dna which can be put to use only in certain environments. According to the third pada/chapter of the yoga sutras there are many siddhis/mystic powers like insight, knowledge of the past and future, understanding the communication of all creatures, reading people’s minds, invisibility… which can be unlocked through the system of yoga. It also could be that through the practice of yoga we strengthen the body while also making it more spacious and mobile, which we can feel on the grand scale in the mobility of our spine, but perhaps this is also true on the cellular level. If I were a double-helix strand of DNA I think I would want some space to work in, as well as some strength to make sure my work could be upheld.

5. The Anandamaya Kosa/The Bliss Body

How it works: This most subtle layer of the body might explain why you get the chills when you hear something that is true. It is the least tangible layer of the body. It is whatever part of you that you know is a part of you that you cannot attribute to those other parts I already mentioned. (How about that for a definition?)

Sampling of how the Anandamaya Kosa/Bliss Body applies to yoga class: This could be the role of your imagination, your intention or your prayer.


In Buddhism a symbol for wisdom is youth. I used to think this meant that although we may be inexperienced in our youth we can still carry wisdom, which is perhaps true. But perhaps it also means that by not bogging down the first three layers of the body, The Wisdom Body can help to keep us looking and feeling youthful and in touch with our Bliss Body. I can only speak from experience that since beginning this cleanse I have more energy and feel better than I can ever remember. It’s well worth what I have given up for all the energy and radiance gained.

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Notes from a Dreamer

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I believe in infinite possibilities. I believe that anything is possible. Sometimes there may be huge, enormous, seemingly insurmountable obstacles, but that doesn’t equate to Impossible. Perhaps an idea has never been done before, but does that make it impossible or simply undone?

What did we think of art before impressionism? How many people once said it was impossible to fly? What did we think of navigating the world before there were engines, cars, roads? How did people communicate before telephones, mobile phones, the World Wide Web? What if no one had ever thought, “Couldn’t there be some better way?”

Collaboration is such an enriching process.

I have nothing against practical people. In fact some of the most important people in my life are practical, realistic & grounded individuals who are far more intelligent when it comes to engaging in even basic, functional skills. My problem is that I may have ideas for how I want something to look, but I don’t necessarily have the skill to build the look. I appreciate practical people for their reliability, for their technical skill, for their straightforwardness – I simply wish that there could be some way for a dreamer to more easily communicate with a pragmatist.

Perhaps I just read too much about Quantum Physics & practiced too much yoga when I was in my early 20’s to believe that anything is “impossible”…

“Newtonian physics and quantum mechanics are partners in a double irony.  Newtonian physics is based upon the idea of laws which govern phenomena and the power inherent in understanding them, but it leads to impotence in the face of a Great Machine, which is the universe. Quantum Mechanics is based upon the idea of minimal knowledge of future phenomena (we are limited to knowing probabilities) but it leads to the possibility that our reality is what we choose to make it.”

Gary Zukav ~ The Dancing Wu Li Masters

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Karma + The Art of Vinyasa

What is your first memory?

The word for memory in Sanskrit is smriti. So perhaps I should ask… What is your first smriti?

What I find particularly interesting about memories is the way they weave themselves into the story of our present moment. When a memory dates way back, it has often been repeated, over and over again, so many times throughout one’s life that it becomes a pattern of memories, which form a mosaic into one’s life story. This concept can extend to anything we do on a regular basis in our life… Our experiences build upon one another and we have the opportunity to fine-tune any of the mosaics of our life with care and attention. This way of living is also known as, Karma Yoga. “Karma yoga is the yoga of doing something; it is the yoga of work. Karma yoga is when you are doing work that really needs to be done in such a way that the work itself becomes joyous.” (Richard Freeman, The Mirror of Yoga, pg. 113)

The way that I look at it there are two ways that we can go about doing this: A) We can love our work, or B)We can put love into what we do.

This weekend Elizabeth Neuse & I are teaching our second Art of Vinyasa Workshop. As far back as Aristotle it has been suggested that there is a human instinct to produce and enjoy artistic experiences, and while yoga may utilize the human anatomy as its medium for creating beautiful shapes – yoga is an art as much as it is a science.  Elizabeth and I are excited to collaborate and explore the ways in which Vinyasa Yoga, when it is its most virtuous, can be both skillful and playful & a modern expression of Karma Yoga…

Karma Yoga is all about devotion:

“The distinguishing feature of karma yoga is that even though you may offer the fruits of your work to the benefit of others, you honestly do not have any expectations whatsoever that you will gain anything from that offering. In this way work itself is important to you, and eventually the work becomes art. In the yogic sense of the word, art is more than creating a pretty design… Instead it is a connection through the heart to the very essence of one’s being – a connection to the truth within everyone’s being. In this light, the quintessence of the path of karma yoga is the understanding that yoga is the art of work. Because we work with no attachment to the payback, the outcome in terms of what we are going to get out of the work, we can then work with deep concentration, an open mind, and an open heart. This is actually how people become incredible efficient at their work and extraordinarily gifted in the art of their actions,” (R.F. pg.116)

I can think of no better place to cultivate this ability to work without attachment, with a sense of surrender to the outcome, vairagyam, then on the yoga mat. There is not doubt that we work hard when transforming our bodies into the various shapes that constitute our yoga practice.  But even if we are yoga teachers, there is truly no need to be attached to any results. In fact, the more attached we become to creating the same shape we did the day before the less beneficial our yoga practice is to our bodies and our minds.  Even though a yoga practice requires our attention, and invites us to be skillful and disciplined, it is an art. It is an opportunity to learn how to be artful so that whether we are doing a job that we love or a job that we despise in life we can at least take from our yoga practice an understanding of how to move with devotion; how to act without attachment to the outcomes.

I often say in class that there isn’t necessarily a “right way” and a “wrong way” to do the postures there is simply karma. In other words, there is cause and effect. If we work without attention to the details we are making messes. If we work without care then we are cultivating carelessness. If we work without a blueprint then we aren’t building something sturdy and reliable.  If we work quickly then we aren’t building longevity. If we work well then we are promoting wellness. If we practice with clarity then we are cultivating space. If we plant seeds for tomatoes we will grow tomatoes… this is karma.

“As we ourselves practice the art of work as sacrifice, we can experience a sense of freedom & can become unbound by our own work in the same way.” Richard Freeman

If finding the intersection between Art & Yoga is of interest to you I hope that you will join Elizabeth Neuse and I for this workshop, which will cultivate your inner artist… and at the very least we’ll make a memory together.

This Saturday, June 18th from 1:30 – 4:00 at Yogaworks in Soho.

http://www.yogaworks.com/Events/Workshops/NY/11_June/Art%20of%20Vinyasa%202.aspx


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Welcome to Earth

“I often thought there ought to be a manual to hand to little kids… called Welcome to Earth…”

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

That’s so funny, I often think the same thing. It isn’t like we received these bodies or these minds with an instruction manual. Although, wouldn’t that have been nice?

I suppose that there are many religious, philosophical, spiritual, scientific, anatomical and poetic texts which have attempted to be such a book; or in essence to answer the questions “Who am I? and What am I doing here? In addition, today it may be more appropriate to say there are plenty of songs, artists, yoga teachers, tv shows, cartoons, plays, video games, blogs, groupons, websites and virtual realities which are trying to woo the minds of children & adults alike – to help us find a purpose to our life.

In one of my favorite philosophy books, The Splendor of Recognition, the author Swami Satchidananda compares all of life to a game of hide-and-seek. She says that, “when we open our eyes and become aware of the world around us, we are creating our world.”  Perhaps this is how the world became so diverse! So many eyes & so many perspectives. I imagine that the world will change a great deal from the time we are children, to adults, to elderly, and so hopefully whatever manual we come up with has some sort of flexibility built into it, which will allow for the growth and maturation of finding purpose through the stages of one’s life.

What would you include in a manual titled, Welcome to Earth?

“Out beyond ideas of right doing and wrong doing    

there is a field   

I will meet you there.”

Rumi

I must admit, it is exciting to walk around on these beautiful spring days in New York, and open my eyes as if my seeing the world is actually creating that world that I am seeing. It’s comparable to the riddle, if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If no one is around to witness the jubilant red tulips. not even one of the ten thousand trillion ants on the planet, how do we know the tulips were truly created? It’s heady, and perhaps self-centered, but the concept makes for an adventurous life no doubt. It encourages one to be a participant; to be present; to be a loving witness for this life as we pass through it; perhaps, to see the best in one’s circumstances; to pause and see this tree, torn open by lightning and yet left standing with a city scape torn into its trunk.

“And the one thing I would tell them about is cultural relativity… A first grader should understand that his or her culture isn’t a rational invention; that there are thousands of other cultures and they all work pretty well; that all cultures function on faith rather than truth; that there are lots of alternative to our own society… Cultural relativity is defensible, attractive. It’s a source of hope. It means we don’t have to continue this way if we don’t like it.” Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

What advice would you give?

What wisdom would you include?

What truth would you pass on in the manual titled: Welcome to Earth?

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May the Force Be With You

I just found out that today is Star Wars Day. I of course watched Star Wars when I was growing up, and I rediscovered the epic story when I was in my early twenties. Joseph Campbell, who studied mythology and offered discourse on the importance of masks for humanity, the hero’s journey, and finding purpose in one’s life was an inspiration for me as well as, it turns out, George Lucas. If you’re looking for some behind the scenes glimpses at the making of Star Wars I highly recommend reading The Hero With A Thousand Faces, or watching The Power of Myth.

The epic story of Star Wars is of course a classic because it deals with the forces of good and evil, love and destruction, friendship and enemy, success and failure. Opposition is entertaining, but the seeds of these characters – the archetypes of their personalities – and the conflicts and alliances built amongst the characters does seem to resonate in a deeply personal way. Not only are we dealing with very scary global power struggles amongst various groups of people, but we all have to deal with our own various power struggles in our professional, personal and internal lives. It has been my idealistic hope that if we can just recognize and reduce our internal power struggles, then we can recognize how much easier it is to share generously with those in our personal and professional lives, and that if we are all doing this we will have a deeper understanding of abundance and love, which will alleviate the need for the larger power struggles that bring such mass suffering. A simple solution, n’est pas?

In Yoga we learn to start by observing the power struggles withing the self



It seems to me that at different times in my life I have had different goals. When I was a child it was for safety, security, and pleasure. When I was in school it was to be intelligent and insightful. When I am with friends it is to be at ease, sincere and to bring out the best in those I’m with. When I was just out of college I set goals to lead a life with integrity and to follow my instincts. As I am nearing my thirties the ideas of a family are coming closer and closer – it feels like I’m driving down the highway and I keep seeing signs telling me that the next turn is soon, soon. I find that all of these goals, and others in regards to my health and my overwhelming hope for peace on earth, are all still important to me even though they are often times in conflict with one another.

Whenever I have questions about life I bring them to my yoga mat. If I want to know how I can live my life to my greatest potential & honor my ambitions for being a part of a great movement of yogis who are living to bring out the best in people – while at the same time attempting to live a peaceful life free of unnecessary anxiety – I often find myself in direct conflict with myself.

So I come to my mat & I ask myself – how can I do these poses to my greatest potential while remaining at peace? Over and over, pose after pose, I ask myself this same question. What better place to ask this question then when in a yoga position that seems to defy gravity, and which asks me to work on so many opposing actions at the same time. I can zoom in and observe the question in action. Something about simply asking the questions is liberating. Perhaps it is because it is an admittance that I don’t know everything? Perhaps because it helps me to feel as though I am on a journey? Whatever the case, I assume that most of my fellow New Yorkers also struggle with this quest to live to their fullest potential, and that most of my fellow Yogis are concerned with their overall health, well being, and stress management peace management. And so I wonder – what questions do you bring with you to your mat?

“I would like to beg you dear, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a foreign language. Don’t search for answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions, now. Perhaps then, someday, far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” Rainer Maria Rilke, Letter to a Young Poet

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Deepening the Conversation

Opinions make difficult companions:

Have you ever dined with someone whom the only opinion you seem to share is that you don’t have the same worldviews? What options for discourse do we have when someone is so sure of what they know? There is the age old nod-and-smile, which at least stirs up no arguments, but of course the conversation is as shallow as a tweet. Conversely, we could debate our opinions & embark upon an argument, which will inevitably cease in a stalemate & look as frightening as our current congress. We could have a sense of humor and try to make fun of the other person’s asinine and illegitimate ideas, but all of these options mean that no one is actually learning the art of compromise or how to see the world from a different perspective, which in my opinion is one of the keys to world peace. For the pleasure of expanding our minds, we could practice our meditation skills, truthfully listen to what our companion has to say, and rather than counter-attacking with an opinion we could… ask a question or two. Questions can have a remarkable way of reorganizing how the mind views a topic, and inquiry may even be the key to growing our opponents opinions, which could therefor create a candlelit landscape for a deeper conversation rather than a battlefield for defensive know-it-all pride.

How is the internal dialogue of the nervous system similar to a dinner conversation?

Often, when I look around a yoga classroom I see that students are having one-sided conversations within their bodies. Many students are able to follow a teacher’s sage advice for how to maneuver more deeply and cleanly into a position, but it is another thing to understand how to navigate one’s self into a pose. There is of course a trick, which will help anyone who wants to practice safely on their own as well as all aspiring teachers.

The Trick: Listen to the conversation going on inside the body.

The Nervous System Speaks A Language

If we are holding a pose like Revolved Triangle, Parivritta Trikonasana, notice what part of the body has the most sensation, i.e. the loudest voice? If we were going to give that part of the body a voice, what would it be saying? Perhaps it would translate into something like…  A little less tension please!? Why are you pinching me? Mmmmm, that’s nice!? I don’t feel very grounded.? Am I supposed to be collapsing? or, Whoa, too much… too much!?

Once we are able to covert what our body is saying into words, how can we respond?

Consider some of this simple advice that applies to all yoga postures:

Sthira-Sukham Asanam – Postures should be steady and comfortable; Stability and Good Space are the seat of every posture; Through steadiness we cultivate joy in our Asana. This aphorism comes from the Second Chapter, and the 46th verse of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

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“Enlightenment feels like space in the joints.” A quote by Swami Satchidananda

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Richard Freeman teaches that when a pose is well established it takes on an infinite quality, meaning that there is such a feeling of balance within the pose that it could be held for an indefinite amount of time. (The Mirror of Yoga, pg 177).

*

Listen and Respond

Therefor, if we are listening to the sensations in your body, and our hip is explicating to us that it is being pinched, and we know that the goal of all postures is to be stable and create good space, then why not alleviate the pinching? If we know that we are seeking a feeling of space in the joints, and we should feasibly be able to hold this position for an indefinite amount of time… then we better hear the angle of that hip and back off a bit. Once we clear the pinching from the hip, we can pause, observe and notice the next place in our body that is speaking up.

Self Care is Health Care

The little adjustments that we can make in our practice are endlessly helpful if we are willing to pay attention to the conversation going on inside our body & I can imagine no better health care system than this one. When we can learn the language it’s a little like looking in a crystal ball and knowing that we have some control over the future of our health and well being.

Deepen this Conversation

I’d be discouraged for this to be a one sided conversation… we may not be sitting across from one another at the dinner table, but I am interested in your opinions and questions. What are your thoughts on self-practice? Diplomatic discourse? The art of listening to others and to the self?

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The First Limb

Yama

One of the assignments for the teacher training I am now taking is to write a provided list of vocabulary words on a note card, and then provide the definitions on the other side. I already have at least a general knowledge of most of the words on this list, so I have decided to take it a step further. I now have a notebook, with two pages to take notes in for each word, but even this doesn’t feel like enough. On Monday I spent some time researching Yama, the first limb of Ashtanga Yoga, which lays the foundation for how a yogi is to act in the world. What I have always appreciated most about the ethical guidelines of being a yogi is that they “offer an approach to overcoming obstacles, living daily life, and becoming an enlightened being,” (Freeman, 172). I joked with a friend the other day that I am always willing to grow or change my actions and responses to life and relationships, if someone can point out to me a way that my actions are un-enlightened.What’s the point in being defensive when instead I could learn to be more kind, honest, peaceful, good humored?

So what are the guidelines?

There are 5; Ahimsa; Satya; Asteya; Brahmacharya; Aparigraha. So poetic in Sanskrit, n’est pas? It makes it easier to practice these five acts when they are beautiful words with no meaning, but lets see if we can deepen our understanding of these concepts and how they apply to our yoga practice on the mat and our sadhana practice in our lives.

Ahimsa

This is the very fist guideline, of the very first limb. So when the yogis of long ago were contemplating what is the absolute first and foremost ingredient that must be present in order to live an enlightened life they agreed that it was Non-Violence. So anytime we are faced with a decision the very first question we can ask ourselves is “Will this cause suffering?” If the answer is yes, then we are not practicing Ahimsa, and even if it is challenging can we rise above and devise a way to act while minimize suffering for our self and others?

I could not emphasize the importance of Ahimsa enough in an asana class. When we are doing postures we must be taking care of ourselves and listening to the feedback from our nervous system so as not to cause pain. Yet, this can of course be difficult. A teacher is telling you exactly what to do and how and when, and she is even telling you when and how to breathe. You are doing your best to keep up with the pace and follow the instructions, you hardly have time to pay attention to that weird pinching feeling in your wrist. It’s easier to ignore it.

This isn’t unlike the challenges we may face in our lives when we’re presented with opportunities to practice Ahimsa. As an idea we can nod and agree and see why practicing non-violence makes sense, but as soon as we land two feet on the ground, where not all people believe in non-violence, and where suffering is perhaps inevitable, this practice becomes much more three dimensional. It becomes a practice – something that we attempt to get better at over time. My best suggestion is to experiment. To make an Ahimsic choice the next time you are presented the opportunity and then observe any possible side effects.

“If the Yamas are practiced, then love is allowed to flow freely and to function right at the center of our lives,” (Freeman, 175).

Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya, Aparigraha

In brief the remaining Yama: Satya means truthfulness; Asteya means not stealing and conversely it is an understanding that anything material is only borrowed anyways – even the breath and our bodies; Brahmacharya can be translated as neither suppressing nor indulging our desire for union with others; and Aparigraha means to not grasp at things and ultimately to understand that no thing out there is going to fulfill us for we are already whole.  In my opinion this doesn’t have to mean not-desiring, but it does help to recognize that desire is only momentarily fulfilled by the accumulation of stuff, and overtime all of the things we have grasped for and accumulated can just become more to keep organized.

Eka Pada

To go along with the first limb this week we worked on several poses in the Eka Pada, or one-legged, family, specifically Eka Pada Kundinyasana I (See, not even the wooden mannequin can do it! Oops.) 

and II, which are both arm balances where the legs are extending in different directions.

Other postures that relate or can help to teach the work of the legs in these arm balances are Virabradrasana III, Warrior III;

Ardha Chandrasana, Half Moon; Eka Pada Adho Mukha Shvanasana, One Legged Downward Facing Dog; etc.

Why would I couple teaching the Yama with One-Legged poses?

In order to balance on the hands and send the legs out in opposite directions there has to be an understanding of how all of the limbs actually work together. Literally – the limbs of the body. All of the limbs connect to the body through the core. Being a yogi often involves putting yourself into different shapes, but you can’t forget everything you know. Each time you practice you carry with you previous lessons. You learn how all of the poses and the limbs related to one another. The body becomes more conscious and intelligent. So even when we are faced with lifting our foundations limbs, our legs, off of the floor they are still dynamically participating in the posture to help support the manifesting limbs, our arms, as they attempt to bare weight and provide foundation. So even when we are faced with the challenge of lifting our foundation limbs, the Yama and Niyama, of the ground they are still dynamically participating in the postures to help support the manifesting limbs, Asana and Pranayama, as they attempt to bare weight and provide foundation.

For More Information On This Subject:

The Mirror of Yoga by Richard Freeman

Light on Life by B.K.S. Iyengar

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Here

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