“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be careful about that. After you've not fooled yourself, it's easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.”
Richard Feynman

Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman

Yoga: Gross to Subtle

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My recent visit with Vedic Philosophy continues to resonate with me – leading to ideas meeting and interconnecting. Today I am trying to assimilate some thoughts around the subtle elements of ether, air, fire, water & earth as an overview map for the tools of Yoga.

The subtle elements are presented in Vedic Philosophy as a hierarchy in which each element has one quality that is unique to it (which separates it from the other elements) and additional qualities it inherits from the more subtle elements that come before it.

element_hierarchy01For example – ether is a subtle element that has a unique quality of sound. Air is a subtle quality that inherits the quality of sound from ether & has a unique quality of touch. Earth is a subtle element that inherits the qualities of sound, touch, form and flavor, and has a unique quality of odor.

Though all five elements are referred to as “subtle elements” – there is actually a refined order of gross to subtle within them. Ether being the more subtle “subtle element” and earth being the most gross “subtle element”.

Asana, Pranayama & Meditation

The structure of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (a primary text about Hatha Yoga) delineates an overview structure of practice:

  • The 1st chapter is about generating and stimulating Prana using Asana (physical practices)
  • The 2nd chapter is about containing the Prana that has been stimulated using Pranayama
  • The 4th chapter is about Samadhi – a Meditative state.

element_hierarchy02

When applied to the map of elements we see that the tools are arranged from gross to subtle – fire, air and then ether. Asana is a gross form of practice compared to Pranayama, and Pranayama is a gross form of practice compared to Meditation.

Kriya

Kriyas are cleansing practices and they are described in the 2nd chapter of the HYP (slokas 21 – 38). There are 6 practices introduced in the following order:

  1. Dhauti – swallowing a wet cloth and pulling it out
  2. Vasti – which is basically an enema
  3. Neti – passing a thread through the nasal passages
  4. Trataka – intense gazing
  5. Nauli – revolving the stomach muscles.
  6. Kapalabhati – a forceful breathing practice.

The order in which the Kriyas are introduced is aligned with the overall strategy of practice – from gross to subtle. The first 3 (Dhauti, Vasti & Neti) are water practices, the next 2 are fire (Trataka & Nauli) practices and the last one (Kapalabhati – which some consider a Pranayama) is an air practice. Therefore Kriya’s are practices that cross over from water to fire.

element_hierarchy03

Mudra & Bandhas

The 3rd chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika is dedicated to Mudras & Bandhas. These are various techniques that can be thought of as locks – their purpose is to internally direct Prana that has been aroused through Asana and contained through Pranayama.

element_hierarchy04

Chanting

Chanting is a special tool that is often overlooked in Yoga practices and also can be difficult to introduce in the West (people are generally very self-conscious about using their voice). It is said, and I have experienced, chanting to be a “magical shortcut” that leads directly into meditation.

Chanting is an art of it’s own and deserves specialized teaching and practices. It is fairly intuitive to associate Chanting with air, though anyone who has practiced it will recognize that it is also a practice of fire – it requires a steady stamina.

Chanting can be useful in teaching people to breathe – particularly to lengthen the exhale. People can feel lost when they are asked to extend their exhale, but ask them to make a continuous sound – and voila – the exhale lengthens.

Chanting can also be used together with Asana to bring the breath into consciousness. By creating sounds during exhales both the practitioner and teachers can better observe the quality of the breath. If the breath is even slightly unsteady – it will immediately effect the quality of sound. Sound paints the breath, bringing it closer to consciousness and to a refined physical practice.

element_hierarchy05

A Practice Session

A Yoga practice session can be a conscious practice of these qualities. The HYP can be applied to the construct of a single practice session:

  1. Asana
  2. Pranayama
  3. Meditation

A path from gross to subtle can be experienced as a change over years of practice, in a single practice session, in a single asana and in a single breath. We are always on this path and it is useful to recognize and embrace both qualities. Gross is a starting point, pretending otherwise denies the present and weakens the foundations upon which we stand. Subtle is an elusive end, we work towards it and never reach it, it is a reference point for the gross. Hopefully subtle qualities of today’s practice will become tomorrow gross starting point – as we travel onward constantly improving and refining.

Posted in Models & Metaphors, Yoga, Yoga Philosophy, Yoga Sutra, Yoga Texts | You are welcome to read 4 comments and to add yours

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-09-27

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  • all that #yoga and #meditation and I end up kissing her on the cheek: http://twurl.cc/1m9h #
  • Prana (=energy in #Yoga) what is it, where does it come from, what does it do? http://twurl.nl/ar7uwi #
  • when your tears have dried, you will arrive at your heart to find either the love you planted or the hate that consumed you #
  • in case u r following the #pranayama technique series – I've added Pratiloma Ujjayi http://twurl.nl/h31obq , tomorrow Nadi Sodhana #
  • in the C's, ripping Harry Connick Jr. & listening to Phil Collins… #
  • up next Elvis Costello… #
  • @CambridgeYoga hello :) so great to find another student of Paul on here :) #
  • @CambridgeYoga I studied/study with Paul in Israel, different format then UK, completed 3rd year therapy training last year in reply to CambridgeYoga #
  • collected words to describe my experience of Leonard Cohen's concert in Israel: http://twurl.nl/0qsuce #
  • @maiki that scenario is probably too close to what twitter considers a future business model :) when you get sticky it gets tricky! in reply to maiki #
  • I would love to have an RSS reader built into my WordPress Admin: http://twurl.nl/8fbczj #
  • RT @raymondpirouz: http://bit.ly/2V0PtH Twitter Funding Round Is Said to Value Company at $1 Billion,lol, based on..oh, wait..pretty bubble! #
  • just saw Titanic for the first time, respect or what… #

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Leonard Cohen in Concert

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So it finally happened, I saw Leonard Cohen in concert, it was two days ago and just now the energy is beginning to settle and I can start placing some words in sequence to describe my experience. Numerous people have asked me about it and I still haven’t answered them.

Wish

I have a long-standing wish to photograph Leonard Cohen in concert and though that wish has not yet been fulfilled, pursuing it is a story worth telling. I began acting on this wish last summer when there were first rumors about a possible concert in Israel. The concert was to be held on September 21st 2008 – and he was to arrive in Israel 3 days earlier on his birthday. I first wrote to Jarkko Arjatsalo the webmater of The Leonard Cohen Files website, and he told me that there is a very protective bubble of security around Leonard Cohen. This wasn’t very encouraging but I did send an email to Robert Kory (Leonard Cohen’s manager) – I got no response.

As the concert was finalized this year I again sent a number of emails (to Jarkko, to Kory and numerous emails to the wonderful people who worked relentlessly to bring Leonard Cohen to Israel). Nothing came of it.

The day before the concert I was considering if I was going to carry with me my camera gear to the concert, in the end I charged my batteries and decided to take it with me to keep my options open. As we were riding the train towards Tel-Aviv I wrote a short letter to Robert Kory in the hope that I would be able to get the letter to him and that there would be a window of opportunity for him to read it and make it possible for me to photograph the concert.

When we arrived a few hours early at the stadium I parted ways with my family and began wandering around the many gates hoping luck would point out to me someone to whom I could hand the letter who could pass it on to someone else on a path that would eventually lead to Robert Kory. After some time (I think it was about 20 or 30 minutes) walking around I began to feel that it wasn’t going to happen. Then something happened.

I saw someone with an inviting face wearing a staff badge around his neck. I asked him if he could help. He pointed north and said that the Israeli manager was just ahead and I should try him directly. I walked up to him, he shook my hand and I asked him if he would be willing to pass the letter on to Robert Kory. He said he couldn’t because Mr. Kory was very annoyed with him … but … he pointed south and said that Mr. Kory was giving an interview to the press 100 yards away and I could try him directly.

I turned to walk in that direction and within a few seconds I saw Robert Kory walking alone and in my direction – he was maybe 20 yards away. I approached him, he had a peaceful, clear & pleasant presence, he acknowledged me and shook my hand. I asked if he would accept the envelope with my letter, he did. I said that it would be great if he had time to read it before the concert and wished him a pleasant evening.

I walked away with a feeling of peace and serenity, and I knew that I wasn’t going to be using my camera tonight.

Violence

The concert itself took place despite violent efforts to prevent it. Proceeds from the concert went to supports peace initiatives – specifically projects involving bereaved Israeli & Palestinian families who continue to build bridges and pursue peace.

When the concert began I was drained and tired. This was out 3rd visit to the center area of Israel (we live in the north) in two weeks and my energy was pretty dissipated. I live a fairly quiet and monastic life and I don’t enjoy cities and crowds, they overwhelm my senses and disturb me. I sense much violence around me in Israel, it’s so subtly ingrained into so many things that it goes largely unnoticed, but it’s there. When I am closer to it, it tires me (which is why I live far from it).

In addition, luck would have it that earlier at my parents home, I found myself (again) engaged in conversation (with my family) that attacked me and the choices I have made in my life in recent years. Though these conversations are rooted in care and good intentions, I experience them as violent attacks on subtle and precious aspects of my life. So they too drained me of energy. Of course, I am grateful to my family because they invited us to this concert – and that’s the way life goes :)

I have never experienced the kind of violence that kills individuals and breaks hearts & families but I could relate to it and feel it’s deep roots reaching out and touching even my relatively isolated existence.

So, drained of energy, I headed out to a 3 hour gathering of 50,000 people, with some heavy traffic, my father’s aggressiveness behind the steering wheel of the car and my sister’s aggressive consulting behind my father :)

Leonard Cohen

Then a 75 years old Leonard Cohen, touring the world for the last two years (“sent around the world like a postcard” is how he described it in one interview) walked on stage and gave a three hour concert. I was barely able to move in my seat and I recall thinking of Robert Kory and admiring (and appreciating with some envy) the protective bubble he created around Leonard Cohen to make it possible for him to appear.

Numerous times during the concert I closed my eyes and let the entire sound and space penetrate me. Each time I did this I first felt loneliness, then I felt embraced, supported and comforted – I could surrender to the tiredness that filled my body. When I did, my eyes overflowed with tears, a shiver flowed through my body and my lips trembled. Though I knew all the words by heart I could not move my lips – it was as if opening my lips would cause a damn to collapse.Only near the end I was able to move my lips to some beautiful words.

To me, the most beautiful moments of the concert were the occasions on which Leonard Cohen stepped aside and let his fellow musicians and singers fill the space. I was too far to see the faces of the people on stage, but there were several times when the cameras brought to the screens Leonard Cohen in waiting (I specifically remember his shaded face singing backup-spirit to Sharon Robinson’s solo on Boogie Street) – and those were magical moments – when his presence filled me – when he looked completely in tune, peaceful, attentive – meditating on stage.

I saw and stored in my heart many beautiful images that I still do hope to capture on camera. I witnessed divine beauty. For the next 12 hours I kept to myself and barely opened my mouth. Even yesterday, when Andreea asked me on the train on the way home about the concert – I still couldn’t give an answer.

I hope that when I am 75 years old I’ll be able to kneel, rise and run around like Leonard Cohen has been doing for the last two years.

Posted in Photography, Wishes | You are welcome to read 3 comments and to add yours