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Breathing Just Breathing January 24, 2021

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“Here we are – again, beginning and also ending. Ending also and beginning, again – are we here? Are we all in?”

– my “faux” palindrome from the 1/20/2021 blog post

Even though I mentioned him in yesterday’s blog, I didn’t mention Ed Roberts during yesterday’s practice. But, I was thinking about him. I was thinking about him and the way he had to breathe after he was paralyzed by the polio virus. Naturally, thinking about him breathing started me thinking about the different ways we breathe and how that impacts our practice – which, in turn, impacts our life and the way we live our lives.

Over the last few years, but especially last after last year, yoga teachers and teachers of other Eastern philosophies and contemplative practices have been joined by more and more people who are focusing on the impact of the power of the breath. Most recently, perhaps, the publication of James Nestor’s Breath has reignited interest in (a) breathing – something we know people have been doing since at least the dawn of man (or since God breathed into clay, depending on your beliefs) and (b) prāņāyāma or breathing exercises – something we know people have been doing for thousands of years. I have not read Breath, but I have been slightly amused and intrigued by the number of people that have called, texted, or emailed me in the last few months because of this book.

The conundrum, or riddle, to me, is that the people who reached out to me about the book are people who already had some experience with prāņāyāma. But, Mr. Nestor is not a teacher, by trade or by training. He is a journalist, who is about the “who, what, where, when, why, and how” of things. His first book, DEEP: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us about Ourselves, exposed him to different breathing methods and also had him metaphorically exploring a space (the ocean) that teachers like me constantly use as a metaphor for breathing. His initial focus in writing his book on breathing was on presenting the facts, not cultivating the experience. (I say “initial focus,” because he is now very definitely engaged in the “cultivating the experience” of the practice – even if that change in focus is being driven by the desire to sell the books.) By presenting the facts and, also, cultivating the experience, he is proving to people that the practice works – and that draws more people in and more people deeper.

While I often provide “proof,” I am more about cultivating the experience – and so today, like every day, we breathe. As today, 1242021, is another palindrome day, we’re going to start off with a breath pattern that is the same coming in as going out. It is not technically and traditionally “box breathing”… so we can call it “palindrome prāņāyāma” – and we’ll use it to go deep.

“In a world of seven billion people, where every inch of land has been mapped, much of it developed, and too much of it destroyed, the sea remains the final unseen, untouched, and undiscovered wilderness, the planet’s last great frontier. There are no mobile phones down there, no e-mails, no tweeting, no twerking, no car keys to lose, no terrorist threats, no birthdays to forget, no penalties for late credit card payments, and no dog shit to step in before a job interview. All the stress, noise, and distractions of life are left at the surface. The ocean is the last truly quiet place on Earth.”

– quoted from DEEP: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us about Ourselves by James Nestor

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10272020 Pranayama II”]

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

You can request an audio recording of Sunday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

### Breathe In, Breath Out ###

Let Me Reintroduce the Practice (the Saturday post) January 24, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, California, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Volunteer, Wisdom, Yoga.
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[This is the post for Saturday, January 23rd. It contains some examples not included in the class. You can request an audio recording of Saturday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.]


“I fell in love, like many people do. We do that as well. And it became ridiculously inconvenient to have my attendant pushing me around in my wheelchair with my girlfriend. It was an extra person that I didn’t need to be more intimate. I learned how to drive a power wheelchair in one day. I was so motivated to learn something that it changed in many ways my perception of my disability and of myself. She jumped on my lap and we rode off into the sunset or to the closest motel.”


– Ed Roberts in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

Last week’s practice included a quick a quick summary review of the “Samadhi Pada” (Chapter or Foundation on Concentration), in which Patanjali explains (in 51 sūtras) how the mind works and how to work the mind. This week’s practice focuses on reintroducing the practice that Patanjali introduces in the “Sadhana Pada” (Chapter or Foundation on Practice), which is 55 sūtras outlining the 8-limbs of the Yoga Philosophy.

One of the things that I appreciate about the practice of the Yoga Philosophy is that it is practical. Granted, the Buddha (historically) did not agree. I have heard that, in his time, yoga as a philosophy was not widely practiced by householders and the Noble Eightfold Path was his codification of a practical practice for all. However, I feel that Patanjali also did this with the Yoga Sūtras. I feel that way because I have seen people, from all backgrounds, practice yoga just as I have seen people, from all backgrounds, practice Buddhism – just as I have seen people, from all backgrounds, struggle with integrating the 8 elements of either practice into their lives. More to this point, however, is the fact that Patanjali starts off the second section of his practicum talking about “Yoga in action” (kriyāyogah).

Even before breaking down the 8 Limbs, Patanjali offers what some have called a prescription for achieving the state of yoga that will cease the fluctuation of the mind. This prescription is a combination of what he will eventually explain are the last three “internal observations” (niyamāh): “austerity or heat” (tapah), “self-study” (svādhyāya), and a trustful surrender to the Divine (īśvarapraņidhāna).

These are things anyone can do – if they truly understand what it is they are doing. Part of the problem in the modern world (and Buddhism runs into a similar problem) is that people get things twisted. They focus on what’s happening on the outside, superficially; rather than what’s happening inside. Even if they know that tapas can be defined as “heat, discipline, and austerity” – as well as the practices that cultivate the same – they might look at a really sweaty physical practice and think, “Oh, no, I can’t do that. That’s not for me.” And, while those styles and traditions can be a form of tapah, they are not the only form – and it is possible to do those very hot or heated practices and not cultivate discipline or austerity, which begs two questions: What are you practicing? What are you accomplishing?

“From a practical standpoint then, svadyaya is the process of employing the power of discernment and maintaining a constant awareness of who we are, what we are trying to become, and how the objective world can help us accomplish our goal.”


– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.1 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Having previously established (in the first chapter) how the mind works and how to work the mind, Patanjali reiterates the purpose of yoga (“union” of mind-body-spirit and an end to the causes of suffering) – this time as it specifically relates to afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns. He gives a more detailed explanation of those afflicted thought patterns by describing them as ignorance, the false sense of self, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (which is attachment rooted in pain), and a fear of loss/death. He establishes ignorance (āvidya) as the root of the other four and states that this groundwork is established no matter if the ignorance is dormant, attenuated, disjointed, or active. He then breaks describes the different ways of āvidya manifests in the world – which basically takes us back to the ways in which we misunderstand the nature of things – and explains how the other four afflicted thought patterns rise up.

There are examples of how āvidya and the other four dysfunctional/afflicted thought patterns manifest all around us. There are, therefore, also examples of the sources of our ignorance can be the path towards freedom, fulfillment, and more clarity. One example of this is how some people view those that are not considered “able bodied.” Think about the activist Edward V. Roberts, for example. Known as the “Father of the Independent Living” movement, Mr. Roberts was born today (January 23rd) in 1939. By all accounts, he spent his formative years as a “regular” boy. Then, at the age of fourteen, contracted polio – this was in 1953, two years before the vaccine ended the polio epidemic. The virus left the active, “sports-loving” teenager paralyzed from the neck down, with mobility only in two fingers and a few toes. It also (temporarily) crushed his spirit. He initially spent most of his days and all of his nights in an 800-pound iron lung and, when he wasn’t in the iron lung, he used “frog breathing” – a technique that uses the facial and neck muscles to pump air into the lungs.

Now, if you are someone who has not interacted with someone with a disability, you might think – as Ed Roberts initially thought of himself – that he was a “helpless cripple.” You might, like him and one of his early doctors, back in 1953, think that there was no point to his life. You might think that he couldn’t do yoga; couldn’t get married (and divorced); couldn’t have a child; and definitely couldn’t do anything to change the world. But, if you think any of that, just as he initially thought that, you would be wrong.

“There are very few people even with the most severe disabilities who can’t take control of their own life. The problem is that the people around us don’t expect us to.”


– Ed Roberts in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner


Just to be clear, to my knowledge Ed Roberts didn’t practice yoga. However, he did practice Shotokan karate. Also, it is interesting to note that (a) the glottis or empty space at the back of the throat that is engaged to practice Ujjayi prāņāyāma, is the same area he would engage to breathe without the iron lung and (b) once he changed his understanding of himself – let go of his “false sense of self” – he was able to change the world.

Even though he could attend school by telephone, Zona Roberts, Ed Roberts’s mother, insisted that he attend school in-person one day a week for a few hours. She also encouraged him to think of himself as a “star” and to advocate for his own needs. So, when he was in danger of not graduating from high school, because he hadn’t completed driver’s education of physical education, he pushed back on those who would limit him.

He not only graduated from high school, he also attended the College of San Mateo and the University of California Berkeley – even though one of the UC Berkeley deans wanted to reject him because someone had had an unsuccessful bid at college and the dean viewed all people with disabilities as a monolith. At Berkeley, Mr. Roberts pushed to have on campus housing that would accommodate his needs and, once that was established, pushed the university to admit and provide the dormitory experience to other people with “severe disabilities.” The Cowell Residence Program became a model for universities around the world.

Mr. Roberts and some of those students in the Cowell Residence Program referred to themselves as the “Rolling Quads” – and they were very active in changing people’s perceptions and understandings, and therefore changing policy and infrastructure. “Curb cuts,” the ramped opening between a sidewalk and street, are one of the changes that resulted from their activism. After Ed Roberts graduated with a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Political Science, he went on to teach at an “alternative college;” to serve as Director of the state organization that had once labeled him too disabled to work; and eventually co-founded the World Institute on Disability (at Berkeley). His activism – including protesting at the San Francisco offices of the Carter Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and testifying before Congress – led to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990).

“And I literally went from like 120 pounds to 50 pounds. I also discovered how powerful the mind is, when you make up your mind.”


– Ed Roberts in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

In the second chapter Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali continues to emphasize the importance of the practice by explaining how the afflictions can end – with meditation being one of the methods – and also outlining the connection between these afflictions and karma (“work, effort”), which can be a never ending cycle of action and reaction. In explaining this connection, Patanjali (like the Buddha) points to how the causes of suffering can also be the way to “fulfillment and freedom” from suffering. He also breaks down the composition of the “objective world;” the three properties of energy; the four ways in which we can understand or sense everything in the objective world; and reiterates the power of the mind – both in its ability to delude and its ability to achieve clarity.

In his discussion of personal power, Patanjali expounds on how powerful the mind-body can be and how that power is magnified when combined with the power of the Divine. He also explains that this power, fueled by two levels of “unshakable discerning knowledge,” which fall into seven categories. After laying out this foundation, Patanjali states (just like the Buddha does after him) that his path leads one to the “end of suffering.” The remainder of the second chapter is devoted to outlining the 8-Limbed philosophy, and explaining the benefits of the first 5, as follows:

1. Yamās (External Restraints or Universal Commandments): Non-violence, honesty, non-stealing, an awareness of one’s connection to the highest reality, and non-grasping/non-hording

2. Niyamās (Internal Observations): cleanliness, contentment, heat/discipline/austerity, self-study, and a trustful surrender to the Divine

3. Āsana (Seat or Pose)

4. Prāņāyāma (Awareness and mastery of energy)

5. Pratyāhāra (Withdrawing the Senses, inward)

6. Dhāraņā (Focus or Concentration*)

7. Dhyāna (Concentration or Meditation*)

8. Samādhi (Meditation, Perfect Meditation, or Spiritual Absorption*)


*NOTE: Different English translations are based on different traditions.

Patanjali very specifically states that the five yamās (“restraints”) are “universally applicable” and are not limited by an individual’s identity and/or circumstances. Anyone and everyone can practice them! He emphasizes the importance of cultivating an awareness of opposites, which can be useful in attenuating negative and afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns, especially in the absence of or in conjunction with the 10 elements of the ethical component. He references seven steps (or stages) or prāņāyāma, as awareness of breath, and basic practice instructions related to the three parts of the breath. He then references a fourth state or experience, which transcends the other parts of the breath.

His explanation of the direct benefits of the first five limbs illustrates how each limb takes you inward in a way that can be partially measured by external factors. Additionally, he points to how the “mastery” of the third limb allows one to practice the fourth limb, the mastery of which allows one to practice the fifth limb, and so on. Even though he does not go into a great deal of detail (with regard to the final three limbs), Patanjali’s breakdown of progression in the practice is shown to also apply to those higher limbs: dhāraņā, dhyāna, and samādhi.

“My bottom walk-away experience that I believe I carry with me every day is that my father never settled for anything and always fought for everything. And he always, always followed his gut, followed his passion, went with it no matter who was against him, and oftentimes there was more people against him than it was for him.


So I’ve always followed my gut and followed my passion. And in so many different speeches, he would always encourage that person to look within themselves, find their passion, follow it. You can’t… You can’t go wrong with your gut. You can’t go wrong with your passion. Don’t ever settle. He never settled. I’ll never settle. I carry that with me every day, and if there’s anything he loved to pass on, it’s just go for it.”


– quoted from “A Day in the Life of Ed Roberts: Lee Roberts Talks About His Father, Ed Roberts” by Lee Roberts


Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the playlist dated 07/11/2020.)


### OM AUM ###