“Your thoughts and your actions are fixed forever in their terms. That is slavery. I, on the other hand, brought you freedom. Freedom is expensive, but the price is not impossible. So, fear your captors, your masters. Don’t waste your time and your power fearing me.”
Carlos Castaneda

Tales of Power

Learning Curves


Shakuhachi is a challenging instrument to play because it only has 5 holes. The range of notes you can play depends on subtle variations of blowing technique. One of the challenges a beginning player faces is playing higher octaves. I can’t do this yet – but I do play around with it all the time. This morning focused on this – and still nothing! So I did some (re)searching online for tips and advice how to do this.

My searching led me to a blog post by Bas Nijenhuis (who’s blog  I enjoy visiting from time to time) titled Wavering Motivation. This is something I’ve experienced in Yoga and  in Shakuhachi practice. When I’m fortunate enough to not get overwhelmed by it – I recall some supportive teachings I have received about this in Yoga – and it helps me.


When people first come to Yoga, it is relatively easy to experience change – the very fact that they are there, moving and breathing is an achievement. Sometimes there are achievements such as noticeable improvement of the breath, touching the floor when bending forward, calm and meditative moments, etc. This is the first part of the learning curve – there is a sense of satisfaction that comes from a balance of effort and reward. Each such period of “satisfaction” is followed by a period where there is no evident progress, the learning curve flattens – and motivation drops. Until sometime down the line there is an experience of progress again – in a recurring pattern.


My experience shows that as learning progresses:

  • Periods of satisfaction (green tinted areas on the chart) become shorter.
  • Periods of low-motivation (red tinted areas on the chart) become longer.
  • As a result of which, periods of satisfaction grow further apart.
  • Achievements (which lead to satisfaction) become more subtle and refined.
  • Somewhat surprisingly – less effort is required to experience achievements (most of the effort is focused on the longer period of waiting)

Preparing for the Waiting

Longer periods of waiting are inevitable. As your practice deepens the more likely you are to experience longer and more challenging such periods. A sign of a mature and quality practice is the ability to recognize and sustain these periods gracefully:

  • Discipline is usually the first tool mentioned for these situations. It is useful to cultivate discipline during periods of satisfaction when there is a forward momentum working for you. This can be achieved by introducing regularity into your practice – forming a habit. There will be parts of the practice you love doing (usually those that give you a sense of satisfaction), and there will be others which are less interesting – some almost like chores. A balanced practice includes an effective combination of these qualities – so when the motivation drops – you will have a fall-back – you will be practiced at doing your chores. But discipline shouldn’t be over-rated.
  • Grazing – is a quality I learned in improvised performance. It is a quality of doing without expecting results. It is a mode of suspended judgment and an appreciation of whatever is present. A great way to learn grazing is watching professionals do it – so go and watch cows. They do what they do not because of a promised fruit, they do what they do, because this is what they do. Calling it “grazing” seems to give it a legitimate existence – it’s no longer something temporary we do until something better comes a long, it is a worthy action in it’s own right.
  • Playfulness is a really great ingredient to introduce in your practice. I used to take Yoga sooooo seriously – ridiculously serious. Smiling is a great technique to introduce playfulness – whenever I find myself intensely concentrated I add a smile – which softens my face and then radiates into whatever posture my body is in.
  • Softness is quality that balances effort & discipline and it usually comes bundled with grazing and playfulness. Sometimes when I teach guest classes (which means teaching only once people I don’t know) I build a practice around a theme of softness. One way to introduce this is to approach familiar practices but stopping just before your known limits – doing slightly less then what you are used to doing. It’s always proved to be a great practice. It comes in very handy when you are impatient and achievement is stubbornly pushing you into an intense practice which leads to more impatience. A touch of softness can turn that around.

In Waiting

I find that periods of waiting are delicate times (at least in the context in which I am in waiting). I tend to be protective and private about my Yoga practice when I am in waiting. I don’t talk about it with others, I don’t seek advice, I don’t try to solve it. It’s tempting to look for solutions and salvation, and it usually leads to disappointment – because there are none. Advice seems to always fall short, what works for someone else may not work for you.

If possible, I will turn to my teachers for inspiration, they have been through this too, they know me and they know how to offer a supportive presence without making false promises.

I find that this learning curve is typical of many aspects of life. Relationships come to mind, as I write these words, as another great example where I experience this curve. It’s kind of like driving on a fast downhill road and accumulating momentum for a steep uphill climb that follows. Momentum is not enough to get you up the hill, you need to know how to run the engine effectively, and hopefully remember to enjoy the view going up as much as the thrill of going down.

Posted in Asana, inside, Models & Metaphors, Shakuhachi, Yoga, Yoga & Life | You are welcome to read 1 comment and to add yours

What is the Essence of Buddhism?


At the High Seat, a monk asked: “What is the essence of Buddhism?”

The master raised his fly-whisk
The monk gave a Katsu.
The master hit him.

Again, a monk asked: “What is the essence of Buddhism?”

The master raised his fly-whisk again.
The monk gave a Katsu.
The master also gave a Katsu.
The monk hesitated.
The master hit him.

The master then said: “Monks, some do not shirk losing body and life for the Dharma. As for me, I spent twenty years with my late master Obaku. Three times I asked him on the essence of Buddhism, and three times he kindly beat me. It was as if he had caressed me with a branch of fragrant sage. Now I feel like tasting a sound beating again; who can give it to me?”

A monk stepped forward and said, “I can.”
The master took up his stick and handed it to him.
The monk hesitated to take hold of it.
Then the master hit him.

taken from (attention: link leads to a large PDF file)  The Teachings of Rinzai

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Yoga: Gross to Subtle


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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


  • 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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