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Going Back to the Start April 27, 2020

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(“Ramadan Mubarak, Blessed Ramadan!” to anyone who is observing Ramadan. I typically talk about Ramadan at the end of the season, so keep your eyes open.)

“I do not wish [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.”

 

– from A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft

 

 “Biology transcends society.”

 

–from The Chinaberry Tree: A Novel of American Life by Jessie Redmon Fauset

Many, if not most, Westerners are introduced to yoga through the physical practice – which is a combination of asana (“seat” or pose) and pranayama (awareness of breath or “control of breath”). This introduction often comes without any introduction to the philosophy itself – or to the fact that people are starting in the middle of the practice, instead of at the beginning.

In some ways, starting in the middle is problematic, because the beginning of the philosophy provides the ethical component and fundamentals through which one can access the rest of the philosophy. Just as the beginning of a story introduces the characters and their situation, the beginning of the philosophy/practice introduces the who, what, where, why, and (most importantly, in some cases) the how of hatha yoga (the physical practice, regardless of style or tradition).

When you start in the middle of the story, you are constantly playing catch-up or asking someone else to explain what’s happening. You’re a little lost. You can still catch on, but it’s harder than if you started at the beginning. Another problematic aspect, especially if you are asking someone else for all the pertinent details you missed at the beginning, is that they occasionally missed a detail that comes back up later – and suddenly, you’re lost again. It’s like walking into the middle of a something written by a fan of Anton Chekov and going, “Wait, why does it matter what color thread she uses?” Or, wondering why people are laughing about a Rolex watch in Die Hard.

Yoga Sutra 2.30: ahimsāsatyāsteyabramacaryāparigrahā yamāh

– “Non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-possessiveness are restraints (or universal commandments).”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.32: śaucasantoşatapahsvādhyāyeśvarapraņidhānāni niyamāh

 

– “Cleanliness, contentment, discipline (or austerity), self-study, and trustful surrender to the Divine are the internal observations.”

The first and second limbs of the 8-limb philosophy of yoga consist of five universal commandments and five internal observations. Although, the yamas are often referred to as “external” restraints the truth is that we may first need to practice these on ourselves. Hence, we not only do unto others as we would have them do unto us (to paraphrase Jesus, Luke 6:31 and Matthew 7:12), we also do unto ourselves as we would do unto others (which sounds a lot like Matthew 22:39). And the perfect place to practice is on the mat (or on the cushion). The same is true of the niyamas. Get on the mat, get in a pose, breathe and notice how you are treating yourself. Notice what you are thinking about yourself. Notice how you are loving yourself. Or Not.

As you all have heard me say, and as my early teachers say, “How you do yoga is how you do life.” So, as you move through the practice you are, essentially, moving through the different aspects of your life. How you treat the different parts of you, may reflect the different ways you treat people in your life; people who are, essentially and philosophically, reflections of yourself. How you focus on outside, versus on the inside, reflects what you have been taught is most important.

“Sometimes I think that no matter how one is born, no matter how one acts, there is something out of gear with one somewhere, and that must be changed. Life at its best is a grand corrective.”

 

– From There is Confusion by Jessie Redmon Fauset

“Taught from infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.”

 

– from A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft

A slight loophole to my earlier statement about how starting in the middle is problematic, is that most people are introduced to some aspect of yoga after they have already been introduced to some kind of moral code or ethical compass. You may not have heard of the yamas and niyamas before, but you’ve most likely heard of the Ten Commandments (notice 5+5 = 10). Even if you did not grow up in a Judeo-Christian environment, you did grow up within a society with a division between right and wrong and (for most people) that comes with an understanding that translates into a code of conduct. In other words, you have your own set of commandments and observations.

Ultimately, the real problem is not that people are not immediately introduced to the ethical component of the philosophy; it is that the importance of ethical behavior is not always emphasized at the beginning, and throughout, the practice. Furthermore, this ethical component has to extend beyond the practice on the mat (or on the cushion), because practicing will change the way you interact with yourself and the world around you.

That last statement is not conjecture or opinion. It is absolutely fact. Underlying this idea is, as William Broad points out in The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards, that yoga can result in physiological changes to the body, including an increase in testosterone. Testosterone, of course, is a natural occurring hormone in all genders. It is related to muscle and bone mass, prevention of osteoporosis, as well as sexual drive, aggression, and competitive behavior. Broad is a science writer and book received a lot of criticism from the yoga community (myself included) not because of his scientific research, but because he lumped all physical practices together and decided to only look at the practice through the physical lens. So, ultimately, the biggest complaint was that he left out the context; he left out the ethics.

Mary Wollstonecraft, born today in 1759, was one of the earliest feminist philosophers. She authored A Vindication of the Rights of Women, in which she argued that women should not only be treated, educated, and respected in the same way as men, but should also be held to the same accountability as men. Wollstonecraft wrote, “The mind will ever be unstable that has only prejudices to rest on, and the current will run with destructive fury when there are no barriers to break its force.”

“I am colored and wish to be known as colored, but sometimes I have felt that my growth as a writer has been hampered in my own country. And so — but only temporarily — I have fled from it.”

 

– Jessie Redmon Fauset in a 1923 Paris Tribune interview

Like so many other Harlem Renaissance artists, Jessie Redmon Fauset spent some time as an expatriate in Paris. An African-American editor, poet, novelist, and educator Fauset, born today in 1882, graduated as valedictorian of her class at Philadelphia High School for Girls, the city’s top academic school, and applied to Bryn Mawr College. She ended up at Cornell University, however, after officials from Bryn Mawr found her a scholarship at another university!

After graduating from Cornell and receiving a Masters in French from the University of Pennsylvania, Fauset was selected by W. E. B. DuBois to be the literary editor of the NAACP’s The Crisis (from 1919 to 1926). Her novels focused on the lives of the Black middle class and, in some cases, the ethical and psychological ramifications of “passing,” where a Black person enters into society as a White person. Her work, as an editor and as a writer, was highly praised during her lifetime. Yet, despite the praise and the fact that she went to highly respected schools, you’ve probably never heard of her. There’s a good chance, however, that you’ve heard of some of the people whose work she highlighted as an editor: writers like Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, and Gwendolyn Bennett.

You may notice that, with the exception of Bennett, all of those remembered writers associated with the Harlem Renaissance are men. And, you may not think very much of that, given the big picture that is how artists are promoted in the world, unless you consider a little bit of (her)story related by Morgan Jenkins in a 2017 The New Yorker article. The article talks about the events leading up to a dinner initially intended to honor Fauset and the release of her novel. The philosopher, writer, and educator Alain Locke, however, suggested that the evening should honor a group of writers and Faust ended up relegated to being “an afterthought.”

For many people, the other 6 parts of the 8-limb philosophy of yoga are an afterthought (or a never thought). If you join me tonight (Monday, April 27th) at 5:30 PM, however, the ethics will be front and center during a 75-minuite virtual yoga practice on Zoom. The new Zoom security protocols have definitely kicking in; so, please use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems. There is no playlist for the Common Ground Meditation Center practices.

I consent to you Kiss(ing) My Asana?

The 7th Annual Kiss My Asana yogathon benefits Mind Body Solutions, which was founded by Matthew Sanford to help those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. Known for their adaptive yoga classes, MBS provides “traditional yoga” classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon is only a week long! Seven days, starting yesterday (Saturday), to do yoga, share yoga, and help others. By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

The yogathon raises resources and awareness. So, my goal this year is to tell 7 stories in 7 days and raise $600 for Mind Body Solutions. You can do yoga starting today. You can share yoga be inviting a friend to one of my classes or by forwarding one of the blog posts. You can help others by donating or, if you are not able to donate, come to class Saturday – Wednesday (or request a class you can do on your own) and practice the story poses on Thursday and Friday so that I can make a donation on your behalf.

You can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day; you can learn something new about your practice; or even teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas about how you can spend this week, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 27th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 27th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 27th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

 

* Psst…Ella’s story was my first KMA 2020 offering and her pose is Tadasana / Samasthiti (Mountain Pose / Equal Standing) as if you are offering a gift. The second story was the story of philosophy and connectivity via a little bit of the histories of Charles Richter and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Today’s stories takes us back to the start. So far I only have one yogi submitted story, which means I need 3 more. Please tell me your story!

You can also check out yesterday’s all-humanity, Kick-Off gathering featuring insights from MBS founder Matthew Sanford, conversation with MBS students, and a mind-body practice for all. If you’re not familiar with MBS, this will give you a glimpse into the work, the people, and the humanity of the adaptive yoga program which I am helping to raise $50K of essential support.

### IMBALANCE BALANCE IMBALANCE ###

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