jump to navigation

FTWMI: Practice Responsibly July 26, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Men, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

This post from 2020 – and the one you can find here, related to yesterday’s “anger/kindness” theme – have come back to haunt me. Yet, they have also come back to bring me some comfort. I hope you, too, find some comfort and good practice reminders in the following. In addition to some format edits, class details and links have been updated for today.

“…aware at last that in this world, with great power there must also come — great responsibility!”

– quoted from Amazing Fantasy #15 by Stan Lee, et al, August 1962

In 1962, at the end of the comic book that introduced Spiderman to the world, Peter Parker is faced with the tragic and life-altering loss of his Uncle Ben Parker. This loss leads to the life-altering realization that he can never again take his actions for granted. The words above, which appear in the final panel, are perhaps the most well-known and oft quoted words in comic book history. Really, in world history, when you consider that the words (and the idea behind them date back) to the French Revolution. We’re human; so, context matters. The way we receive the message, or even internalize the lesson, is different if we first read it in the final panel of a fantasy comic book versus if we’re studying historical documents from the French National Convention in 1793. We may discount the message, or take it more seriously, when it is attributed to a beloved elder (like Ben Parker) versus when it is attributed to a British Prime Minister (like William Lamb or Winston Churchill). Especially in a situation like those referenced above, there is a certain gravitas that comes not only from the words, but also from the speaker and whether their life is a reflection of the words.

“Are you practicing?”

– David Swenson, on the cover of his Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual

Do they practice what they preach? Seeing the contradiction and/or hypocrisy, do we do as they say or as they do? Or, do we completely disregard the benefit of the lesson, because it is associated with someone who behaved badly?

These are the questions a lot of people are asking right now, in regards to race, sex, sexuality, religion, and the forming of countries (in particular the United States) and companies. They are also questions some of us in spiritual and religious communities have been asking for years with regard to our practices. Part of the challenge in answering these questions, with regard to bad behavior associated with the founders of an institution, is ignorance about the true nature of thing (avidyā). We may not always know about the bad behavior when we first become associated with an institution and, sometimes, the way in which we learn about the bad behavior makes it seem not so bad. Doesn’t matter if we are born into a society or join a community as an adult, once we are involved, our experiences are very personal and, as a result, we associate these situations with our sense of self – or false sense of self (asmitā). We define ourselves based on our attachment to things we like (rāga) and our aversion to things we dislike (dveşa) – even though sometimes don’t understand the true nature of what we like and dislike (hence, more avidyā). Finally, we are challenged by these questions, because answering may mean we lose something very meaningful to us, we may lose our sense of who we are, and we fear those losses like Peter Parker fears the loss of his uncle.

Notice, all the challenges I mentioned above are identified in the Yoga Sūtra as kleśāh (“afflicted” or “dysfunctional”) and therefore they are the very things that lead to suffering. Patanjali recommends meditation (YS 2.11) and the 8-limbs of yoga (YS 2.28) as a way to end the afflicted or dysfunctional thought patterns (and therefore the words and deeds) which lead to suffering. (Note, this instruction dovetails with the Buddha’s recommendation of meditation and the noble 8-fold path of Buddhism, as well as certain theological practices found in the major religions.) There’s only one problem: For most of us in the West, the practices of yoga and meditation are mired in the muck of bad behavior and the suffering that has been caused by that bad behavior.

“I was far more hurt by the culture of silence and ignoring the victim and victim-blaming than the abuse itself. If there would’ve been support from the community, and it had been dealt with, it would have gone away.”

– Anneke Lucas, founder of Liberation Prison Yoga, quoted in The New Yorker (07/23/2019) about confronting Sri Pattabhi Jois

Almost exactly a year ago, I posted about the foundations and how on Saturdays I place a year-long emphasis on “building the practice from the ground up,” both physically and philosophically. In the post I mentioned B. K. S. Iyengar (b. 12/14/1918) and Sri Pattabhi Jois (who was born today in 1915). Both teachers are part of a small group (of mostly Indian men) who were charged by their teacher Sri Krishnamacharya with introducing the physical practice of yoga to the Western world. Both teachers introduced their personal practice as “the practice” and for many people those practices are how people define “yoga.” Thinking that yoga is a particular set of poses and/or a specific way of doing them is problematic in and of itself. However, there is a bigger problem: both of these teachers have been very credibly accused of bad behavior. And, they are not alone. There are a number of yoga (and Buddhist) teachers (male and female) who have been called out for bad behavior. (Note: I am not using the term “bad behavior” in an attempt to belay or undermine the heinous of what people have allegedly done. Instead, I am using the term as an umbrella to cover sexual misconduct, physical and psychological abuse, and financial misconduct.)

A few days after I posted, a friend and fellow yogi sent me an email, with a link to an article about Jois, and expressed concern about the allegations and “about the current Ashtanga community’s response (or lack thereof) to his abuses.” In conclusion, this friend acknowledged their own conflict about allegations related to their own practices and asked about my thoughts. I started to reply, but then didn’t finish or send the reply (because, well…life). So, with apologies to my friend and fellow yogi, here is part of my response:

Hi! How are you?

Thank you for your email (and the link). I had only heard a portion of this, and it was quite a while back – so, obviously, a lot more has come up. I appreciate the information. Interestingly enough, a friend who is also an Iyengar teacher is in town and when we were catching up she posed a similar question about the value of the teachings when the teacher (and their actions) are so clearly heinous. I ask myself this question a lot, because (unfortunately) there’s so much bad behavior.

Honestly, I’m not sure I have a good answer. In regards to individuals and their bad behaviors, this is something I have also seen in the performing arts (and obviously in Corporate America and religious organizations), and it is why I think it is so important to maintain awareness and connection to the ethical components of these practices – not as a way to condemn or ostracize others, but as a way to have checks and balances into our own practices and behaviors. Ultimately, there is a power element to the practice of yoga and a power imbalance in the (formal) teacher-student(s) relationship. It is up to the (formal) teacher to maintain awareness of this power and power imbalance in order to protect themselves AND the student(s).

I am not part of a formal tradition and have not had any direct contact with guru-predators. And I’ve never had a big-G Guru, which is itself a can of worms. That said; if I hear of someone doing something questionable I will steer people away. (Even though, in my case, I am only going by hearsay and have to step carefully.) Also, when people ask me about teacher trainings I always stress checking out the teacher/studio/situation to make sure that their comfortable with the instructors. I also stress that during teacher trainings (or intensives) people are sometimes asked to do things they may not feel comfortable doing and that it is important to feel secure in knowing when you are uncomfortable because you are outside your comfort zone (i.e., being asked to do something you haven’t ever done before) versus feeling uncomfortable because someone is doing something or asking you to do something that is just plain wrong.

Like Jubilee Cook, I often wonder why – even when people didn’t/don’t feel like they had/have the power to bring a predator down – they don’t understand that they have the power to stop others from being abused! I mean, I do get it on a certain level…and I say this not as a way to blame the victims, but to highlight an additional challenge.

Part of that additional challenge (or maybe it’s a separate challenge) is that people in formal traditions (led by big-G Gurus) experience a combination of hero worship and brain washing that can itself be a kind of trauma. In the recent past, it has taken people a bit of time to “deprogram.” My hope is that the delay in Ashtangis speaking up comes from needing to “deprogram.” Or maybe that’s my naiveté, because honestly, as more comes out, more shame and blame comes up – and people tend to want to curl up and ignore it. Especially, if/when you can pretend that sense certain people are dead the abuse has ended.

With regard to actual teachings…I found there is amazing value in the practice of yoga (on so many different levels)

That’s where I stopped. And, to a certain degree, that is where I am still stuck; because I can’t go back and learn all the valuable things about yoga through a less fractured lens. Maybe “stuck” isn’t the right word, but the bottom line is that this is an issue I confront on a fairly regular basis – not because I’ve personally encountered so much of this bad behavior, but because I can’t go back and pretend like bad behavior didn’t happen. I want people to be informed, but I don’t not always feel it is appropriate to bring certain things up in the middle of a yoga practice. Yes, yes, I do sometimes bring up a lot of controversial and horrific things that have happened in history. I also wrestle with the decision to do so.

Sometimes, I become aware of someone’s bad behavior and I change the way I teach certain things – or leave something/someone out completely, if I know of another way to make the point. Sometimes, I pivot because I’m aware of the history (or age) of someone in the room. I also, sometimes, make a misstep; I am human after all. However, I teach certain things (like religion, philosophy, science, and history) as if they were part of a history lesson or a survey course. I do this out of respect for the subject/theme and also because I think knowledge is power. And with that power…

I am not a big fan of William J. Broad’s very well researched and very well written book The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards. Broad is very upfront about the fact that his book is about the physical practice – but that’s one of my big complaints about the book! By separating the physical practice from the larger context, the book does the exact same thing so many people do: it removes the ethics. Yet what Broad’s research reinforces, to me, is that one of the “rewards” of the postural practice (the increase in physical health and power) becomes a risk if some kind of ethical component is not affixed to the practice.

Let us not forget, Patanjali gave us the ethical component when he codified the system – and he didn’t give it to us as an afterthought. He gave it us first (just as the Buddha did). Most yoga teachers, and all teachers of Buddhism or the major religions, are aware of the ethics of their particular system. If they are not teaching those elements, they may not be practicing them. If they are not practicing the ethics of their system, in all aspects of their life, we end up with more suffering.

My apologies, again, to my friend and fellow yogi, for the delay. I also apologize to all for any missteps I’ve made along the way.

Please join me today (Tuesday, July 26th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. If you are using and Apple device and having problems viewing the “Class Schedules,” you may need to update your browser.

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

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “04192020 Noticing Things”. It is actually two playlists and you can decide which one you use.)

If you would like to know more about the history of the practices mentioned above, here is a Kiss My Asana blog post from 2016. I started to excerpt it, but trust you won’t think unkindly about the amazing yogi in the profile just because he shares a gender with people who have harmed others.

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.)

### “HOW YOU DO YOGA, IS HOW YOU DO LIFE” ###

Chillin’ with the Sun (mostly the music w/a link) December 21, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Music, Philosophy, Wisdom, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Happy Winter (or Summer) Solstice!

“One of his longtime students, Patricia Miller, who now teaches in Washington, D.C., recalls him leading a meditation by offering alternatives. He instructed students to close their eyes and observe the space between the brows, and then said, ‘Think of God. If not God, the sun. If not the sun, your parents.’ Krishnamacharya set only one condition, explains Miller: ‘That we acknowledge a power greater than ourselves.’”

 

– quoted from the Yoga Journal article entitled “Krishnamacharya’s Legacy” by Fernando Pagés Ruiz

Please join me today (Tuesday, December 21st) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “12222020 Winter Holidays”]

 

CHECK OUT THE CALENDAR! You can kick off New Year’s Day 2022 in two ways: with the very active practice of 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM or with the very “chill” practice of a Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM. All times are Central Standard. Details are posted on the class schedules calendar. And, yes, some folks have done both!!

 

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, playlists, 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). If you don’t mind me knowing your donation amount you can also donate to me directly. Donations to Common Ground are tax deductible; class purchases and donations directly to me are not necessarily deductible.)

Here’s the 2020 post related to this practice and date. 

 

.

### 🎶 ###

 

And Here Comes The Sun! December 21, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Mala, Mantra, Mathematics, Meditation, Mysticism, Philosophy, Religion, Robert Frost, Science, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

“Happy Winter Solstice!” to all who are observing.

[The 75-minute Common Ground Meditation Center practice, in the spirit of generosity (“dana”), is freely given and freely received. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

If you are able to support the center and its teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” my other practices, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.]

“One of his longtime students, Patricia Miller, who now teaches in Washington, D.C., recalls him leading a meditation by offering alternatives. He instructed students to close their eyes and observe the space between the brows, and then said, ‘Think of God. If not God, the sun. If not the sun, your parents.’ Krishnamacharya set only one condition, explains Miller: ‘That we acknowledge a power greater than ourselves.’”

 

– quoted from the Yoga Journal article entitled “Krishnamacharya’s Legacy” by Fernando Pagés Ruiz

There is a great power in the sun and great power in harnessing the sun’s power. Even before high school students used a magnifying glass to boil water or start a fire and long before people attached solar panels to their homes and businesses, people worshiped and honored the sun – and figured out ways to use the sun’s power. And long before Sri T. Krishnamacharya told his students to meditate on the sun or showed them how to “salute the sun,” people around the world told stories about the sun. For instance, in ancient Māori mythology and other Polynesian traditions, a clever and precocious young man named Māui figured out a way to quite literally harness the sun. With the help of his siblings (and sometimes using his sister’s hair), he lassos the sun and slows it down in order to give humankind more daylight to work, find food, and eat.

The indigenous people of islands in Central and South Pacific Ocean are not the only people with stories about the significance of the Sun. In fact, many cultures consider the Sun to be a god or goddess who flies through the sky at regular intervals. Their stories speak of an anthropomorphized deity who heals people and provides them with sustenance. Sometimes, he is depicted as part bird (e.g., the ancient Egyptians’ Ra); sometimes he has a winged chariot (e.g., the ancient Greeks’ Helios and the Hindus’ Sūrya); sometimes he has both bird characteristics and a horse with wings (e.g., Turkish sun god Koyash); sometimes he was a former human with noble qualities (e.g., the Aztec’s Nanāhuātzin); and sometimes, as I mentioned before, he is she – like Sól (or Sunna) in the Old Norse tradition and the goddess Amaterasu in Japan’s Shinto religion. Although these different cultures portray the Sun as more powerful than mere mortals, in most myths, the Earth (and its inhabitants) are still the center of the Universe.  

“This invocation, these our words may Heaven and Earth, and Indra and the Waters and the Maruts [storm deities] hear. Ne’er may we suffer want in presence of the Sun, and, living happy lives, may we attain old age.
Cheerful in spirit, evermore, and keen of sight, with store of children, free from sickness and from sin,
Long-living, may we look, O Sūrya, upon thee uprising day by day, thou great as Mitra is!
Sūrya, may we live long and look upon thee still, thee, O Far-seeing One, bringing the glorious light,”

 

– quoted from “Hymn XXXVII. Sūrya” (verses 6-8) in the Rig Veda (translated by Ralph T. H. Griffith)

Today, we know that the Earth revolves around the Sun and that it does so while also tilted and revolving around its own axis. This tilt, the way the Earth revolves around its own center, and the way it orbits the Sun results in the amount of daylight (and nighttime) we have at various times of the year as well as the change in temperature related to different seasons throughout the year. More often than not, we do not notice the gradual changes between dawn (“morning twilight”), daylight, dusk (“evening twilight”) and night. And, let’s not even get into whether or not we even know to notice the difference between the degrees of civil, nautical, and astronomical twilights – which are based on the position of the Sun (in nautical terms) or the Sun’s geometric center in relation to the horizon. More often than not, we notice what might be considered the end of these transitions – i.e., the quality of dawn, daylight, dusk, and night.

In the same way that we barely register the gradual changes during a 24-hour period, we may not always notice the gradual changes between seasons. Four times a year, there is a moment where the Earth is tilted and turned in a way we can perceive and have learned to understand. We know these four times as Winter Solstice, Vernal (or Spring) Equinox, Summer Solstice, and Autumnal (or Fall) Equinox.

The word “equinox” comes from the Latin meaning “equal night” and marks the point, twice a year, when the Sun is directly over the equator (or you can think of it as the equator being closest to the sun). It marks the beginning of astronomical Spring and Fall. It is often explained as the time when everyone in the world has the same amount of daylight and nighttime, but that’s not exactly true. It’s more precise to say that we have equal amounts of day and night on the “Equilux” (which is a word derived from the Latin meaning “equal light”), but people don’t necessarily know that’s actually a thing. Unlike the equinox, which happens at the same time for everyone, the equilux is based on latitude and happens a few days before or after the equinox (depending on the season and where you are in the world).

“He will not see me stopping here   

To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

 

My little horse must think it queer   

To stop without a farmhouse near   

Between the woods and frozen lake   

The darkest evening of the year.”

 

– quoted from the poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost

The word “solstice” comes from the Latin words meaning “sun” and “to stand still.” The solstice marks the moment, twice a year, when one hemisphere is tilted toward the Sun while the other is tilted away and it appears as if the Sun is hovering over one of the poles – thus creating the longest day (and the longest night) of the year. In the Northern Hemisphere today is Winter Solstice. It’s our shortest day and longest night, but it also marks the moment when we begin to perceive longer days (i.e., more daylight).

Throughout history, cultures all around the world have celebrated the Sun during this darkest (and longest) night. Specifically, people celebrate the Sun returning to their land and give thanks for the benefits of having sunlight. Traditional celebrations include the use of candlelight, bonfires, and Yule Logs. Some people will “sweep away” the old year and as they might during the other big season changes, some people mark this transition by practicing Sūrya Namaskar (“Salutes to the Sun”) 108 times.

There are different types of “Sun Salutations,” but it is traditional viewed as a series of twelve poses and, therefore, a practice of six (inhale-exhale) breaths. The movement mimics the body’s natural tendencies to extend, or lift up to the sun, on the inhale – which is the solar breath – and get closer to the earth on the exhale – which is the lunar breath. It is a mālā (“ring” or “garland”) meditation practice involving ajapa-japa (“not thinking-repeat” or explained as “repeat-remember”), similar to a reciting, chanting, or praying with a rosary or beads. In fact, there are chants and prayers which are sometimes used along with the movement. Not coincidentally, 108 corresponds with the way people use mala beads and the old fashioned rosaries – which had beads to recite 10 decades (10×10) plus 8 beads (for mistakes) (and the cross as the guru bead).

“According to the Surya Siddhanta, an ancient Indian astronomical work, the sunlight moves at a speed of 2,202 yojanas in 0.5 nimisha. One yojana is nine miles. 2,202 yojanas amount to 19,818 miles. One nimisha is equal to 16/75 of a second. Half a nimisha amounts to 8/75 of a second, which is 0.106666 seconds. A speed of 19,818 miles in 0.10666 seconds equals 185,793 miles per second. This is approximately in line with the modern calculations, according to which the speed of light is 186,282 miles per second. Modern science has arrived at this number with great difficulty and all kinds of instruments, while a few thousand years ago, they got this number by simple observation of how the human system and the solar system function together.”

 

– quoted from a talk about during a “Mahabharat – Saga Nonpareil” event by Sadhguru (Jaggi Vasudev)

There are a ton of reasons why 108 is considered auspicious, and these reasons come from a lot of different traditions and disciplines – not all of which are religious, spiritual, or metaphysical. The number 108 pops up in mathematics, geometry, physical science, and even baseball! Astronomically speaking, the sun’s diameter is just a little more than 108 times the diameter of the earth’s diameter and the average distance between the earth and the sun is almost 108 times the sun’s diameter. Additionally, the average distance between the moon and the earth just a little more than 108 times the moon’s diameter. Consider that evidence shows the sun’s diameter has increased (over centuries) and the moon’s diameter has decreased (also over centuries) – which means that there was a time when the ratios were presumed to be exactly 108. If the math is throwing you off, just remember that 108 is why the sun and moon appear to be similar in size (even though the sun is about 400 times bigger, and further away from us, than the moon).

Speaking of the way we perceive those gigantic objects in the sky, this year’s December solstice overlaps with “The Great Conjunction” or “meeting” of Jupiter and Saturn. People have been watching the two planets coming together over the last couple of nights. Shortly after sunset (Monday night) the two largest planets in the solar system will appear to merge. This happens about every 20 years, but this year they are the closets they have been in the last 800 years. People are referring to the appearance as “The Christmas Star” or “The Star of Bethlehem” and they won’t be this close again until 2080.

“To be a star, you must shine your own light, follow your path, and don’t worry about the darkness, for that is when the stars shine brightest.”

 

– Source unverified

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

 

CHECK OUT THE CALENDAR! The First Friday Night Special in 2021 is on January 1st. You can kick off New Year’s Day 2 ways: with 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM or with a Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM. All times are Central Standard. Details are posted on the class schedules calendar.

 

### SUNRISE ###

Mo Betta Asana November 21, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Philosophy, Science, Vairagya, Wisdom, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

“According to Krishnamacharya, practice and knowledge must always go together. He used to say, practice without right knowledge of theory is blind. This is also because without right knowledge, one can mindfully do a wrong practice.”

– A. G. Mohan

A couple of my early yoga teachers (and my substitute Gaelic teacher) really got me thinking about what we’re “practicing” in any given moment. To break down several different encounters, let me just boil the ideas down to this: If you have anger issues and someone tells you to hit a pillow, you are practicing violence. You may argue that hitting the pillow is better than hitting a wall (which might result in damage to you and/or the wall) and that hitting a pillow or a wall is preferable to hitting a person. But, the bottom line is that you are still channeling your anger towards a violent, potentially harmful act. So, according to this premise, there is really nothing, in any given moment, that prevents you from accidentally or intentionally hitting someone – because you are preparing yourself for the moment.

In some ways, this is the whole idea behind self defense classes. You want to practice and integrate, integrate and practice, until your reaction to a dangerous situation is automatic and almost instinctual. Keep in mind, in self defense classes, you are taught defense: how to escape, evade, and defend yourself. The offense actions you are taught during a self defense class are related to awareness; because, ultimately, you are not practicing how to engage, pick a fight, and beat someone up – you are practicing and integrating how to stay safe: which is also what you’re practicing in yoga.

Yoga Sūtra 2.48: tato dvandvānabhighātāh

– “From that (perfected posture) comes lack of injury (or suffering) caused by the pairs of opposites.”

Vinyāsa is a Sanskrit word that means “to place in a special way.” It is a technique that has also become a style in yoga. But, one of the tricky things about practicing the style is that many people don’t understand the underlying theory or concept that is the technique. They think vinyāsa is what happens when they move from “high to low plank, Up’dog, Downward Facing Dog” – and that, is, in fact, one example of a vinyāsa. The reason why it is an example, however, is two-fold. First, you are linking your movement with your breath. Second, instead of moving randomly, you are moving in a way that mimics your body’s natural reaction to the breath: extending (and rising up) on the inhale, flexing (and getting closer to the earth) on the exhale.

Sometimes, like with the inclined series described above, it’s really easy to see the special way things are placed. In other examples, however, it can get a little trickier. What does “one breath, one motion” really mean? What do you do when you’re standing still, i.e., holding a pose? What do you do when some movements are big and some small? Where is my focus when different parts of my body are doing different things? What if it doesn’t make sense for my body to move like that? Can I take an extra breath?

Let’s start with the last two questions and work backwards. Yes, yes, take an extra breath if you need it, but be mindful of why you need it. Do you need an extra breath because you’re not actually breathing fully and deeply or is it because the move is too big? Bringing awareness to how you are breathing brings your awareness to the important parts of your practice. Once you focus on those important parts, you start mastering those parts. Part of that mastery is knowing when something is not an appropriate move or not an appropriate move for your body.

“Teach what is appropriate for an individual.”

– Sri T. Krishnamacharya

The physical practice of yoga (haţha yoga, regardless of style or tradition) is sometimes described as a practice of the spine and one of the foundations of vinyāsa is the idea that the spine naturally reacts to the breath in a very specific way (see above) unless something gets in the way. So, first and foremost, consider how each transition is reflected in the movement of the spine and hips. Next, consider how the movement is reflected in the movement of your big joints. Once you get an understanding of how the body moves, you bring more awareness to what is appropriate (in general and for you specifically).

Note: there are times, when you may find that a sequence moves around a joint you weren’t expecting. For instance, there are some lunging sequences where the front knee bends on the exhale and extends on the inhale – which brings focus to stretching the back of the front leg. Other times, the same sequence of poses is performed with the front knee bending on the inhale and flexing on the exhale – which brings more awareness to the spine and the hips. Keep in mind, the same parts are being affected, but in a slightly different way – and that way can make all the difference.

When you are matching the movement to the breath, with an awareness of how the body moves, then you start to mindfully and intentionally engage the muscles and the joints so that you are following the pace of the breath. This means that while an inhale from a forward fold to Mountain Pose will take the same amount of time as an inhale from forward fold to a “Half Lift,” you have to change the way you move your body by slowing down or speeding up the movement (while keeping the breath long and fine and deep). Similarly, when you are holding a pose, there is an opportunity notice how you are creating space (with the inhale) and engaging space (with the exhale). Early in your practice you may actually “do” things while holding a pose. Once you’ve mastered a pose, you may find that your awareness is drawn to what happens as you relax into the pose; letting gravity and your breath take you deeper.

Yoga Sūtra 2.46: sthirasukham āsanam

– “Cultivate a steady [or stable], easy [comfortable or joyful] seat [or pose].”

Yoga Sūtra 2.47: prayatnaśaithilyānantasamāpattibhyām

– “[The way to perfect the seat or pose] is by relaxing [or loosening] effort and by merging with the infinite.”

Ashtanga Yoga was one of the first vinyāsa practices introduced to the Western world and it’s where most people get the idea “one breath, one motion.” The Primary, Intermediate, and Advanced sequences feature vigorous continuous movement which can be incredibly therapeutic or incredibly dangerous – depending on how you practice. The sequences were set with an awareness of vinyāsa krama (which is a step-by-step progression towards a goal) and, therefore, even when one practices a “short form” your body is prepared for each subsequent pose until you reach the end. Each sequence is often taught in the West as a whole, but traditionally each sequence was taught piecemeal – meaning a teacher would give a student the beginning and the end of the sequence and only introduce new elements once the original elements were mastered.

Practicing Ashtanga in the traditional way can create an opportunity for great strength and flexibility. However, if enough attention isn’t paid to alignment and an individual’s needs, it becomes a recipe for injury. Additionally, if you study alignment and study the Ashtanga sequences, you start to understand that no matter how vigorous and challenging the sequence gets, the body really isn’t making big moves. This is why Seane Corn advises that if you are going to practice any kind of vinyāsa you should also practice an alignment-based style of yoga, like Iyengar. Combining the awareness of alignment with the awareness of breath also allows you to actually practice āsana, as opposed to just posing.

“Stability and comfort go hand in hand, allowing us to remain relaxed during the peak moments of the posture.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.47 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, November 21st) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0.

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.)

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for 07112020 An Introduction”]

“I had come to understand that yoga has never been about the stretch; it’s always been about the reach. And if I could use my reach to bring yoga’s healing powers to people everywhere and my influence to raise awareness and funds for social causes that alleviate suffering and separation, then I was all in.”

– quoted from Revolution of the Soul: Awaken to Love Through Raw Truth, Radical Healing, and Conscious Action by Seane Corn


### INHALE, EXHALE ###

Practice Responsibly July 26, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Men, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

“…aware at last that in this world, with great power there must also come — great responsibility!”

– quoted from Amazing Fantasy #15 by Stan Lee, et al, August 1962

In 1962, at the end of the comic book that introduced Spiderman to the world, Peter Parker is faced with the tragic and life-altering loss of his Uncle Ben Parker. This loss leads to the life-altering realization that he can never again take his actions for granted. The words above, which appear in the final panel, are perhaps the most well-known and oft quoted words in comic book history. Really, in world history, when you consider that the words (and the idea behind them date back) to the French Revolution. We’re human; so, context matters. The way we receive the message, or even internalize the lesson, is different if we first read it in the final panel of a fantasy comic book versus if we’re studying historical documents from the French National Convention in 1793. We may discount the message, or take it more seriously, when it is attributed to beloved elder (like Ben Parker) versus when it is attributed to British Prime Minister (like William Lamb or Winston Churchill). Especially in a situation like this, there is a certain gravitas that comes not only from the words, but also from the speaker and whether their life is a reflection of the words.

“Are you practicing?”

– David Swenson, on the cover of his Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual

Do they practice what they preach? Seeing the contradiction and/or hypocrisy, do we do as they say or as they do? Or, do we completely disregard the benefit of the lesson, because it is associated with someone who behaved badly?

These are the questions a lot of people are asking right now, in regards to race, sex, sexuality, religion, and the forming of countries (in particular the United States) and companies. They are also questions some of us in spiritual and religious communities have been asking for years with regard to our practices. Part of the challenge in answering these questions, with regard to bad behavior associated with the founders of an institution, is ignorance about the true nature of thing (avidyā). We may not always know about the bad behavior when we first become associated with an institution and, sometimes, the way in which we learn about the bad behavior makes it seem not so bad. Doesn’t matter if we are born into a society or join a community as an adult, once we are involved, our experiences are very personal and, as a result, we associate these situations with our sense of self – or false sense of self (asmitā). We define ourselves based on our attachment to things we like (rāga) and our aversion to things we dislike (dveşa) – even though sometimes don’t understand the true nature of what we like and dislike (hence, more avidyā). Finally, we are challenged by these questions, because answering may mean we lose something very meaningful to us, we may lose our sense of who we are, and we fear those losses like Peter Parker fears the loss of his uncle.

Notice, all the challenges I mentioned above are identified in the Yoga Sūtra as kleśāh (“afflicted” or “dysfunctional”) and therefore they are the very things that lead to suffering. Patanjali recommends meditation (YS 2.11) and the 8-limbs of yoga (YS 2.28) as a way to end the afflicted or dysfunctional thought patterns (and therefore the words and deeds) which lead to suffering. (Note, this instruction dovetails with the Buddha’s recommendation of meditation and the noble 8-fold path of Buddhism, as well as certain theological practices found in the major religions.) There’s only one problem: For most of us in the West, the practices of yoga and meditation are mired in the muck of bad behavior and the suffering that has been caused by that bad behavior.

“I was far more hurt by the culture of silence and ignoring the victim and victim-blaming than the abuse itself. If there would’ve been support from the community, and it had been dealt with, it would have gone away.”

– Anneke Lucas, founder of Liberation Prison Yoga, quoted in The New Yorker (07/23/2019) about confronting Sri Pattabhi Jois

Almost exactly a year ago, I posted about the foundations and how on Saturdays I place a year-long emphasis on “building the practice from the ground up,” both physically and philosophically. In the post I mentioned B. K. S. Iyengar (b. 12/14/1918) and Sri Pattabhi Jois (who was born today in 1915). Both teachers are part of a small group (of mostly Indian men) who were charged by their teacher Sri Krishnamacharya with introducing the physical practice of yoga to the Western world. Both teachers introduced their personal practice as “the practice” and for many people those practices are how people define “yoga.” Thinking that yoga is a particular set of poses and/or a specific way of doing them is problematic in and of itself. However, there is a bigger problem: both of these teachers have been very credibly accused of bad behavior. And, they are not alone. There are a number of yoga (and Buddhist) teachers (male and female) who have been called out for bad behavior. (Note: I am not using the term “bad behavior” in an attempt to belay or undermine the heinous of what people have allegedly done. Instead, I am using the term as an umbrella to cover sexual misconduct, physical and psychological abuse, and financial misconduct.)

A few days after I posted, a friend and fellow yogi sent me an email, with a link to an article about Jois, and expressed concern about the allegations and “about the current Ashtanga community’s response (or lack thereof) to his abuses.” In conclusion, this friend acknowledged their own conflict about allegations related to their own practices and asked about my thoughts. I started to reply, but then didn’t finish or send the reply (because, well…life). So, with apologies to my friend and fellow yogi, here is part of my response:

Hi! How are you?

Thank you for your email (and the link). I had only heard a portion of this, and it was quite a while back – so, obviously, a lot more has come up. I appreciate the information. Interestingly enough, a friend who is also an Iyengar teacher is in town and when we were catching up she posed a similar question about the value of the teachings when the teacher (and their actions) are so clearly heinous. I ask myself this question a lot, because (unfortunately) there’s so much bad behavior.

Honestly, I’m not sure I have a good answer. In regards to individuals and their bad behaviors, this is something I have also seen in the performing arts (and obviously in Corporate America and religious organizations), and it is why I think it is so important to maintain awareness and connection to the ethical components of these practices – not as a way to condemn or ostracize others, but as a way to have checks and balances into our own practices and behaviors. Ultimately, there is a power element to the practice of yoga and a power imbalance in the (formal) teacher-student(s) relationship. It is up to the (formal) teacher to maintain awareness of this power and power imbalance in order to protect themselves AND the student(s).

I am not part of a formal tradition and have not had any direct contact with guru-predators. And I’ve never had a big-G Guru, which is itself a can of worms. That said; if I hear of someone doing something questionable I will steer people away. (Even though, in my case, I am only going by hearsay and have to step carefully.) Also, when people ask me about teacher trainings I always stress checking out the teacher/studio/situation to make sure that their comfortable with the instructors. I also stress that during teacher trainings (or intensives) people are sometimes asked to do things they may not feel comfortable doing and that it is important to feel secure in knowing when you are uncomfortable because you are outside your comfort zone (i.e., being asked to do something you haven’t ever done before) versus feeling uncomfortable because someone is doing something or asking you to do something that is just plain wrong.

Like Jubilee Cook, I often wonder why – even when people didn’t/don’t feel like they had/have the power to bring a predator down – they don’t understand that they have the power to stop others from being abused! I mean, I do get it on a certain level…and I say this not as a way to blame the victims, but to highlight an additional challenge.

Part of that additional challenge (or maybe it’s a separate challenge) is that people in formal traditions (led by big-G Gurus) experience a combination of hero worship and brain washing that can itself be a kind of trauma. In the recent past, it has taken people a bit of time to “deprogram.” My hope is that the delay in Ashtangis speaking up comes from needing to “deprogram.” Or maybe that’s my naiveté, because honestly, as more comes out, more shame and blame comes up – and people tend to want to curl up and ignore it. Especially, if/when you can pretend that sense certain people are dead the abuse has ended.

With regard to actual teachings…I found there is amazing value in the practice of yoga (on so many different levels)

That’s where I stopped. And, to a certain degree, that is where I am still stuck; because I can’t go back and learn all the valuable things about yoga through a less fractured lens. Maybe “stuck” isn’t the right word, but the bottom line is that this is an issue I confront on a fairly regular basis – not because I’ve personally encountered so much of this bad behavior, but because I can’t go back and pretend like bad behavior didn’t happen. I want people to be informed, but I don’t not always feel it is appropriate to bring certain things up in the middle of a yoga practice. Yes, yes, I do sometimes bring up a lot of controversial and horrific things that have happened in history. I also wrestle with the decision to do so.

Sometimes, I become aware of someone’s bad behavior and I change the way I teach certain things – or leave something/someone out completely, if I know of another way to make the point. Sometimes, I pivot because I’m aware of the history (or age) of someone in the room. I also, sometimes, make a misstep; I am human after all. However, I teach certain things (like religion, philosophy, science, and history) as if they were part of a history lesson or a survey course. I do this out of respect for the subject/theme and also because I think knowledge is power. And with that power…

I am not a big fan of William J. Broad’s very well researched and very well written book The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards. Broad is very upfront about the fact that his book is about the physical practice – but that’s one of my big complaints about the book! By separating the physical practice from the larger context, the book does the exact same thing so many people do: it removes the ethics. Yet what Broad’s research reinforces, to me, is that one of the “rewards” of the postural practice (the increase in physical health and power) becomes a risk if some kind of ethical component is not affixed to the practice.

Let us not forget, Patanjali gave us the ethical component when he codified the system – and he didn’t give it to us as an afterthought. He gave it us first (just as the Buddha did). Most yoga teachers, and all teachers of Buddhism or the major religions, are aware of the ethics of their particular system. If they are not teaching those elements, they may not be practicing them. If they are not practicing the ethics of their system, in all aspects of their life, we end up with more suffering.

Please join me for a 65-minute “short form” virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, July 26th) at 2:30 PM, when you can practice your ethics. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. PLEASE NOTE: Zoom 5.0 is in effect. If you have not upgraded, you will need to give yourself extra time to log into Zoom. You can always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the playlist dated 04192020. It is actually two playlists and you can decide which one you use.)

My apologies, again, to my friend and fellow yogi, for the delay. I also apologize to all for any missteps I’ve made along the way. If you would like to know more about the history of the practices mentioned above, here is a Kiss My Asana blog post from 2016. I started to excerpt it, but trust you won’t think unkindly about the amazing yogi in the profile just because he shares a gender with people who have harmed others.

### “HOW YOU DO YOGA, IS HOW YOU DO LIFE” ###

Foundations 2019 July 29, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Japa-Ajapa, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Surya Namaskar, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
2 comments

(NOTE: The picture above is missing Leslie Kaminoff’s Yoga Anatomy, Steve Ross’s Happy Yoga, Stephen Cope’s The Wisdom of Yoga, all my Yin Yoga and Taoist texts, a copy of the Ramayana, and Alanna Kaivalya’s Myths of the Asanas, at the very least.)

“Form follows function – that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.”

Frank Lloyd Wright

 

“If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”

John Cage

 

Saturday mornings at the Y, just like any morning, is a great time to explore the physical and philosophical practice of yoga. However, I am partial to my Saturdays since I have 90 minutes to engage in the practice of exploration. For the last few years, I have started the new year with a “Building From the Ground Up” sequence – each Saturday adding more poses and another layer of the philosophy. Sometimes I still tie-in a meditation point specific to the date, and to whatever aspect of the philosophy is on tap for the day. Sometimes, however, it’s just straight philosophy and an opportunity to consider the meditation through movement. Whatever I plan for the year, usually wraps up around the end of July – when we start breaking down a different physical practice, the Ashtanga Primary Series.

This year, philosophically, I decided to sequentially move through Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Each week breaking down a sutra with commentary. (This week will be YS 1.31.) Physically, we have been breaking down a course of poses outlined by B. K. S. Iyengar in Light On Yoga.

The Saturday class is not an Iyengar class; however, (as teachers like Seane Corn have pointed out) if you are going to practice vinyasa, it’s a good idea to practice Iyengar as it will give you the solid foundation and insight into the asanas (poses).

Iyengar’s Course I is 30 weeks of detailed practice, specifically intended to build a physical practice from the ground up. While they are not limbs themselves, abhyasa (continuous practice with devotion) and vairagya (actively practicing the art of letting go or non-attachment) definitely make up the fertile soil from which the 8-limbs of yoga grow and thrive. And, they are key elements to the courses that appear in the appendix of Light On Yoga.  At first, each set of poses is practiced for two (2) weeks before additional poses are added to the sequence. Later, some sequences are repeated for three (3) or four (4) weeks – and sometimes the order of the sequence changes. The 30-week course is followed by a 3-day course, which is slightly different from the 30-day course since the asanas are timed. Finally, there is some guidance on adding sun salutations (surya namaskar) to the physical practice and a list entitled “Important asanas in Course I.”

“If these asanas are mastered then the others given in this course will come even without regular practice.

– B. K. S. Iyengar writing about the “Impostant asanas in Course I”

The important asanas list, when followed by the sun salutations, looks and feels a lot like one of the first vinyasa practices to appear in the West, the Ashtanga Primary Series introduced to Sri Pattabhi Jois.  This is not a random coincidence. While Iyengar and Jois were in very different physical/health conditions when they started practicing yoga, they practiced at the same time and with the same teacher: Sri Krishnamacharya. The practices they introduced to the West – just like the physical practices introduced by some of Krishnamacharya’s other students (including Indra Devi, T. K. V. Desikichar, and A. G. Mohan) reflect their own personal practices – which were the result of the physical and mental needs. Remember, classically, the physical practice of yoga (hatha yoga, regardless of the style or tradition) prepares the practitioner for deep-seated meditation. Ergo, even though they might practice the same poses, a very sickly young boy may use a different method of practice than a very active teenage boy.

(Side Note: It is also not a random coincidence that we generally start exploring the Ashtanga Primary series at the end of July: instead the timing coincides with the birthday of Sri Pattabhi Jois.)

YMCA classes are always open to members and their guests. If you are a member, please feel free to join us for class at any time throughout the year – and, feel free to bring a guest.

For further reading, check out Light on Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar; Heart of Yoga by T. K. V. Desikichar; Ashtanga Yoga the Practice Manual by David Swenson; The Secret of the Yoga Sutra: Samadhi Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD (Note: This is Part 1 of a series and only includes the first section of the sutras. There are many translations of the sutras, a great online resource is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras on swamij.com.)

“Talent works, genuis creates.”

– Robert Schumann

~~~ AUM ~~~