“One day I found out that personal history was no longer necessary for me and, like drinking, I dropped it… Little by little you must create a fog around yourself; you must erase everything around you until nothing can be taken for granted, until nothing is any longer for sure, or real. Your problem now is that you’re too real. Your endeavors are too real, your moods are too real. Don’t take things so for granted. You must begin to erase yourself.”
Carlos Castaneda

Journey to Ixtlan

Tapas and Relationships

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This post was inspired by a post titled “Let Them Eat Harmony” by Joe Gerstandt. What I liked about it and caught my attention was this:

“… tension is a catalyst for learning, for change, and for evolution … “

Friction

Joe’s post is focused on relationships between people and the idea of “tension” is examined in that context, but to me the idea appealed more to our inner workings. Joe referenced what seemed like an academic/research kind of article in his post. As I was reading his post the Sanskrit word “tapas” kept coming back to me – and so I followed it’s trail back into my source – the Yoga Sutra.

“Tapas” is the first word in the first sutra of the 2nd chapter of the Yoga Sutra – a chapter dedicated to practice. The 1st chapter talks about the idea of clarity – and the 2nd chapter is about the practices that can lead to clarity. If you read the 1st chapter and don’t quite get it – then the 2nd chapter is just for you. My teachers have suggested that for many people the 2nd chapter is a better starting point then the 1st.

The 2nd chapter is about action & doing – and it opens with the word “Tapas” – which can be translated as heat that comes from friction. In the context of Yoga practice it is a friction that comes from a rigorous & disciplined practice. People often come to Yoga expecting to be pleased and entertained (the business of Yoga) and to experience peace (and harmony) – but that is a mis-perception. Yoga is about “tapas” – that is, according to the Yoga Sutra, how it works. Yoga is not set out to be pleasant – it’s designed to disturb you – to create friction and heat, to purify impurities, to soften mind and body so that they can be reshaped into something better (good teachers will create just enough friction, too little will have no effect, too much can have adverse effects).

“A relationship that is focused solely on commonality and excludes all difference has some value, but it is not nearly as valuable and robust as a more honest relationship could be … “

A practice that pleases you and makes you feel good about your body has some value but it isn’t nearly as valuable as a robust and demanding practice that exposes and confronts the nature of mind. A robust and honest Yoga practice is something you may occasionally enjoy – but more often it is a disciplined and rigorous practice. Sometimes just getting on the mat is a source of friction.

Inside

But there was also something about Joe’s post that I didn’t quite agree with. If I had to choose a phrase that marked it – it would be this:

“And human beings being real with each other is loud and messy and sometimes we knock stuff over.”

I understand and I can personally relate to what Joe is saying – but I think it falls short of a better understanding. So I did some more research and indeed the “tapas” trail kept on going.

Sutra 2.29 (second chapter, sutra 29) is a list of 8 disciplines which make up the art of Yoga:

  1. Yama – your attitude toward your environment.
  2. Niyama – your attitude toward yourself.
  3. Asana (physical practices)
  4. Pranayama (breathing practices)
  5. Pratyahara (quieting the mind)
  6. Dharana (focusing the mind)
  7. Dhyana (meditation)
  8. Integration (being present / clear perception / …)

Yoga is usually identified with Asana – physical practices, but you can see there is much more to it. The “tapas” trail reappears in the 2nd item on the list – in sutra 2.32 which provides more details on “Niyama”:

“The five personal principles of positive actions are purity, contentment, a disciplined life, study of the sacred texts and worship of God”

(Translation by Bernard Bouanchaud from “The Essence of Yoga”)

There is “tapas” again – this time it is mentioned not just in the context of practice – but as a quality and attitude we need to develop towards ourselves – Niyama. So, according to Yoga – rigorous discipline of the self – internal friction – is a key practice.

Outside

“Tapas” is not mentioned in the context of Yama (the first of 8 disciplines) – your attitude toward your environment and others. Sutra 2.30 provides details about what is included in Yama:

“The principles of respect for others include nonviolence, truth, honesty and non-covetousness”

(Translation by Bernard Bouanchaud from “The Essence of Yoga”)

As Joe suggested, truth and honesty are prescribed – but there is no mention of friction!

But … Yama (your attitude towards your environment) is described in sutra 2.30 and Niyama (your attitude towards yourself) is described in sutra 2.32 – so what’s in between them in sutra 2.31?

“When the adoption of these attitudes [ see sutra 2.30 ] in our environment is beyond compromise, regardless of our social, cultural, intellectual or individual station, it approaches irreversibility.”

(Translation by TKV Desikachar from “Heart of Yoga”)

An immediate commentary by TKV Desikachar on this sutra explains:

“We cannot begin with such attitudes. If we adopt them abruptly we cannot sustain them. We can always find excuses for not maintaining them. But if we seek to identify the reasons why we hold contrary views, isolate the obstacles that permit such views and our attitudes will gradually change. The obstacles will give way and our behavior toward others and our environment will change for the better”.

This sutra seems to be saying that to we must be prepared in order to practice a good relationship with the world around us. How can we prepare? The answer is in the next sutra 2.32 – Niyama: by first developing a proper attitude towards ourselves. If your relationship with other people is “loud and messy” then maybe you should be working on your relationship with yourself – and then revisiting your relationship with others.

When you do get relationships right – the effects approach irreversibility:

“But if you manage to absorb it and not pass it on, that’s the highest moral conduct of all. That really advances everything, not just you … some of the great moral figures of history … Christ, Lincoln, Gandhi … that’s what they were really involved in, the cleansing of the world through the absorption of karmic garbage. They didn’t pass it on.”

(by Robert Pirsig from “Lila”)

Posted in Yoga, Yoga & Life, Yoga Sutra, Yoga Texts | You are welcome to read 7 comments and to add yours

It’s not Yoga, It’s You

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A Yoga pracitioner who recently resumed practicing wrote to me that “[Yoga] has had a wonderful impact on my body and mind”. I feel that the credit in this sentence is misplaced.

Yoga is essentially a “guide for better living” based on an assumption that existence is a meeting of Spirit & Matter (as described in Samkhya philosophy). It is a rich set of tools and techniques that can be used to play the magical instrument that we are. Yoga has no self-inherent existence or value. It comes to life only as an individual and intimate personal experience in practice.

We live busy and demanding lives – interacting with so many people in so many ways with so many self-reflections coming back at us that we become super-self-conscious. Something gets lost amongst a mirage of self-consciousness – to the point that we lose sight of it. Then, when we are gifted with a graceful Yoga practice – the busy-ness settles – sometimes long enough to enable something else to shine forth.

It isn’t Yoga that has a wonderful impact – Yoga has no “is-ness” that can make any impact. It is your interpretation and application of yoga – your practice that has a wonderful impact. Even that isn’t quite right … what you’ve “impacted” is disturbances that got in the way.

This isn’t about self-congratulation or taking credit – it is about clear perception and the responsibility that comes with that.

It is you that comes to Yoga – sometimes disturbed, sometimes peaceful.
It is you that practices Yoga – sometimes distracted, sometimes present.
It is you that walks out of Yoga – sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter.
It is you untangling knots you created.
It is you that are wonderful.
It is you that gets lost and found and lost and found …

Posted in Yoga, Yoga & Life | You are welcome to read 2 comments and to add yours

Jihva Bandha – Tongue Lock

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Bandhas seem like a very popular topic amongst western Yoga practitioners. Bandhas are “locks” that are used to effect the flow of energy in the body. Energetically, bandhas are effective and relevant when there is already a good flow of energy. But bandhas have another quality which can be useful for almos all practices and practitioners – they create focus.

I will start this conversation of bandha with a less known and less popular but very useful bandha – Jihva Bandha – the tongue lock. Jihwa bandha is performed by placing the tongue on the roof (upper palette) of the mouth. It’s that simple. It has an immediate and gratifying side-effect of silence – it’s hard to talk with Jivha bandha in place – so if you are a teacher it’s a great way to start a class 🙂 It becomes an interesting and sometimes challenging focus when you try to hold it in place during an entire practice. It demands attenion on focus – you’ll be able to perform any posture regardless of the position of your tongue – so it is entirely a practice of mind.

The effects of Jihva bandha are described in it’s more extreme form of Kechari in the “Hatha Yoga Pradipika” chapter 3 sutras 32 – 41. In the practice of Kechari the tongue is lenghtened so that it can reach deeper into the physical mouth and where there is an energetic “hot-spot” – where there flows a divine nectar “Soma” of concentrated life-energy. The tongue is lenghthened by stretching it, shaking it and gradually cutting the tissue beneath it which keeps it in place!

I don’t recommdne Kechari – but I highly recommend adding Jihva bandha to your practice.

Posted in Basic Movement, Energy, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Yoga, Yoga Texts | You are welcome to add your comment

Integration through Assymetric Postures

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My current practice includes numerous assymetric postures. These are postures in which one side of the body is placed in a different position then the other. They are usually performed in sequences in which both sides of the body are practiced – either in alternating form or in separate sets of movement.

One of the assymetric postures in my practice is Janusirsana – an assymetric forward bend in which one leg is folded in and the other streched straight. I practice each side and then a similar symmetric posture (Pascimatanasana) in which both legs are stretched straight. Here is a simplified version of this sequence:

Assymetric postures are an opportunity to observe differences between two sides of the body. In a seated posture sequence like this you may observe differences in leg stretches, in hip movement, in the lower back, etc. My spine feels the same on both sides but sometimes I experience a tension in my lower back on the left side. Stiffness in my lower back sometimes translates into stiffness in my shoulders. My right hip feels more open and dynamic then my left hip. My left leg is more stretchy then my right leg.

Having a symmetric posture following the assymetric sequence is good practice. For the body it recreates a sense of center and balance between the two sides. But what is more interesting to me is what happens in the mind. If I was present and observant in the assymetric practices – then I sometimes also find I am curious to see how the two will come together. How will the tension in my left-lower-back, my stretchy right leg and less stretchy left leg come together? The symmetric posture then becomes an experience of integration.

For me, it isn’t usually a comprehensible/analytical understanding (that would take me out of the experience itself) – but an appreciation of how the body is naturally capable of bringing it all together into a fluid and integrated movement. It is a reminder to me that my body is more then my mind can comprehend and that without my mind I wouldn’t be able to appreciate my body.

Posted in Asana, Basic Movement, Yoga | You are welcome to add your comment

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-06-27

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  • Reading Lila has evolved once more – online version upgraded to include images from PDF version: http://bit.ly/d6EH34 #
  • @shaharsol the truth 🙂 in reply to shaharsol #
  • My VPS is under attack – 2many calls to the webserver … does anyone know of a way to protect WordPress sites against this? #
  • "I read myself, not the person in front of me. I always know a lie because I want to turn my back on the liar." Frank Hebert #
  • a little something about breath and limits: http://bit.ly/c3P3yp #yoga #
  • "Medicare rewards doctors far better for doing procedures than for assessing whether they should be done at all." http://nyti.ms/aNTL3x #
  • put in a few screws to keep my chair from falling apart … proud of my not so subtle handywork 🙂 #
  • took me less then 5 minutes to create a local WordPress install on an Ubuntu laptop ! #

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