“In order to see truth, we must be able to tolerate it.”
August Sandler

Allergic response reflected in Breath?

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I made a few subtle changes in my practice since I last reviewed it. One of them was a decision to increase softness. And one way to do that was to drop the counting of breath lengths in most asana. This was a bit challenging to do at first. It created a new potential field for me to inhabit. Now every part of every breath became a conscious choice … I exhale as long as is right, I hold my breath for as long as is right … right for what? for my whole integrated experience … right for my body, right for my emotions, right for my energy, right for my quality of presence and right for my breath.

This “relaxation” of counting demanded more attention from me. Before I relied on established patterns via counting. Now more attention was required of me. There were places where my inhale got a bit shorter (which meant I was pushing a bit too much before), there were places where my exhale or the hold after the exhale got longer (which means I was under-performing). Every breath became an opportunity to enhance or to over-do.

Over the years I have tempered my tendency to over-do (I suppose that comes from years of practice on and off the mat). However there are a few “traps” in the practice where over-doing is … shall we say … inviting? It is in these that I realized with more profoundness something that I’ve known for a long time. Any pushing of the breath immediately creates a stress that echoes in everything that follows the pushing. And it takes only a small push to create a large and rapidly diminishing ripple effect.

My current “favorite trap” is in utkatasana (squats). I do 4 movements alternating between 2 full squats and 2 half squats with a breath of ~ 10.0.10.2. The “trap” is currently between the exhale and the pause after the exhale. If I over-do the exhale, the pause after it is fleeting and hard to hold. If I release the pause (skipping to the next inhale), the tension is eased and will continue to build up more subtly throughout the sequence. If I try to force the pause a tension is amplified and continues to build throughout the sequence, I become forceful and my pulse shoots up.

But, there is also an opposite feedback loop: if I exhale correctly (whatever the moment requires) and the movement is contained in the breath, I land in a soft pause, my concentration increases (it is an interesting experience of softening into sharpness) and I continue to flow with a sense of steadily increasing intensity. At the end my pulse is moderately increased and I feel energized and my attention is stable.

I realized that when I “fall into the trap” and push my exhale too far (creating a tension)  and then also forcibly hold my breath (amplifying the tension) … that sequence is an “allergic response.” It is an excessive response to a small tension … and if unchecked, leads to a collapse of the breath. I wonder, if acknowledging this pattern and learning to approach the “trap” with care and attention will … resonate deeper inside me … in the field where my allergic response is triggered? Will soothing the small and local allergic response effect the larger global allergic response?

 

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Christopher Alexander – A Freedom Inducing World

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“Using Wertheimer’s definition of freedom, we may define the best environment for human life. It would be one which gives people the maximum chance to be free, one which actually allows them to be free … This is an environment which goes as far as possible in allowing people’s tendencies, their inner forces, to run loose, so that they can take care, by themselves, of their own development.

… This environment will be, by character and in structure, something far less ordered in the superficial sense than we architects may imagine. It will be more rambling, with a deeper kind of order than we have come to expect …

In a alcove of the Linz cafe

… This ease, this freedom, depends on configurations which are opposite from the conflict inducing configurations I have been describing earlier. Rather it depends in part on …  configurations … which remove energy-wasting conflict from the environment … release human effort for more challenging tasks, for the freedom to be human.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 1: The Phenomenon of Life

 

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Christopher Alexander – The Stress Reservoir

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“Broadly speaking, the reaction to each unsolved problem, or annoyance, or conflict that is encountered creates in the individual some level of stress. Stress is initially functional and productive. Its purpose is to mobilize the body in such a way that problems get solved … But there is a limited capacity for stress in every human individual. Varying from person to person, it is nevertheless quite finite in all of us.

There is, in effect, a stress reservoir in the body … as the stress reaches the top of the reservoir, the organism’s ability to deal effectively with the stress decreases. This then gives rise to the ‘stress,’ as used in its popular meaning. The organism is overloaded … creative functioning is impaired. Sometimes it finally breaks down altogether …

… this stress is cumulative, because it is all in one currency. Stress from money worries … physical pain … unresolved argument … light shining in one’s eyes … it is all … one kind of stress.

… look at the case of a wall outside the University Art Museum in Berkeley. This wall has sloping sides … I suppose the architect thought this would be fun or exciting – or perhaps just ‘different.’ But what it actually does is to create very tiny amounts of stress. A person walking along cannot quite tell where the sloping part starts, so there is a chance of tripping. One has to walk away from the wall, minding one’s feet, and has to give up what one is thinking in order to concentrate on not bumping into the wall. And if you were inclined to sit on the wall, you could not … So, this wall … is actually a little expensive in needless stress and discomfort.

… Let us now consider a rather more troublesome example from architecture. This concerns the life of families with small children on the fifth or sixth floor, or higher, in apartment buildings .. the mother with small children, the apartment usually small. Naturally the children … want to go out to play with their friends, on the ground, six stories below. The mother wants them to be able to play there. But she cannot easily keep an eye on them, and she can’t get to them quickly if something happens. But she can’t keep them in the apartment … So the children go down. She worries constantly … But there is no alternative. If she finds it too stressful, she keeps them in the apartment, but after an hour … she gives up and goes back to the inevitable. She lives with this stress day in, day out.

… Each example adds to the total reservoir of stress people must contend with. It makes everything else more difficult, and a meaningful life just that little bit harder to attain.

… the apparently small trace-like conflicts in the environment all cause stress. But they go much further. They cause a separation of people from reality … We easily recreate, in our hearts, the sense of hopelessness and despair, the confining reality of a sterile world, that are summarized by these illustrations. And we know, from our own walks through the empty office building, through the still, despairing upstairs mall of shops, or through the empty motel room, devoid of all but bed and bathroom and small window and plywood door, how real this despair can be, and how little this atmosphere does to sustain us – how, rather, it can bring us nearly to the brink of hopelessness.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 1: The Phenomenon of Life

 

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Christopher Alexander – Freedom of the Spirit

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A discussion of svatantra

“Can it really be true that something as elusive as freedom – and perhaps the even deeper capacity to be human – depends in some way on the environment? Is it possible that the rude form of walls, windows, and roads could affect something so subtle and precious as the freedom, or the wholeness, of a person?

The effect I suggest is large, but subtle, and resembles the effect of trace elements in the human body … certain vitamins … and … even certain rare metals – have a disproportionate impact on the health of a human body … they are necessary in tiny quantities, since they make possible the construction of crucial enzymes, which themselves catalyze crucial and highly repetitive components of protein synthesis …

… They are used again and again and again in reactions which happen millions of times per day. Without this catalysis, the major and more gross processes of the body simply break down. The impact of the geometry of our environment … has a similar, nearly trace like effect on our emotional, social, spiritual, and physical well-being.

A healthy human being is able, essentially, to solve problems, to develop, to move towards objects of desire, to contribute to the well-being of others in society, to create value in the world, and to love, to be exhilarated, to enjoy. The capacity to do these many positive things, to do them well, and to do the freely, is natural. It arises by itself. It cannot be created artificially in a person, but it needs to be released, given room. It does need to be supported. It depends, simply, on the degree to which a person is able to concentrate on these things, not on others. And this steady-mindedness, even in joy, is damaged by the extent to which other unresolved or unresolvable conflicts take up mental and physical space in the person’s daily life.

Such damaging interference from extraneous factors can take many forms … hunger … disease … physical danger … dysfunctional family … More subtle issues can also create preoccupation, hence damage, to the individual … conflict in the workplace … personal tragedy … family problems … money problems … And still more subtle … a chance remark can throw off a person’s functioning for a day or two; a badly fitting shoe, a headache … irritating noise …

Of course, it is often said that challenge makes us more alive … The nature of interference caused by hardship and conflict must therefore be very well understood … before we can say that we have a clear picture of its effects – either negative or positive.

… It will be accepted, I think, that the best environment would be one in which each person can become as alive as possible – that is as vibrant intellectually, physically and morally …

The psychologist Max Wetheimer once wrote a short article called ‘A Story of Three Days,’ in which he proposed a simple, and extraordinary definition of freedom … true freedom lies in the ability a person has to react appropriately to any given circumstance … anything which causes a blockage of this ability … causes a loss of freedom.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 1: The Phenomenon of Life

 

 

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Christopher Alexander – More of a Person

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For the last months, I have been reflecting about this phenomenon from a slightly different perspective – using erosion/nourishment as a metaphor (I thought I had written something about this on the blog, but I couldn’t find it, so it could be that I spoke it out but didn’t put it in writing). I feel that some life experiences nourish me and that some erode me. Some experiences may generate both nourishment and erosion … but there is a sum experience … overall did it nourish me more or erode me more.

I tend to stay at home at Bhudeva because the overall experience here is nourishing for me. When I leave, even though I may go to something pleasurable and nourishing, the overall experience is usually one of erosion – I end up lesser (and requires a period of healing). I believe that this process is accumulative – that there is a sum experience of nourishment or erosion (which can express itself in many ways). I feel that unless I am attentive and caring with my life, erosion will dominate. Reading Alexander’s words (below) validates my experience.

Another interesting observation for me about this excerpt is that the integrated experience Alexander talks about of expansion/contraction is, as I was taught about Yoga, inverted. The feeling of expansion comes from a collected/contracted energy field while the feeling of contraction comes from a diffused (expanded) energy field.

” … the extent to which the observer experiences his or her own humanity rising or falling, expanding or contracting … If I pay careful attention to own state, from instant to instant during the day, I can notice that at different times I am more humane, or less: at one instant lethargic, at another filled with loving kindness and appreciation of the world; at another I am a son-of-a-bitch; at another loving  … I can watch, in myself, the continuing expanding and contracting of my own humanity.

For example … I was … on my way to a record store. I Stopped on the street to speak to a homeless man who often sits there. I sat down on the sidewalk with him … Something hard had happened to him just before – I could feel it in him; we sat and talked about it. Then, all of a sudden he put his hand on mine, pressed three fingers into the back of my hand. He left them there for a few seconds, without speaking. Then, slowly, he took his hand away. During those moments, I felt in my a great expanding of my humanity,,, For a few moments of silent communication, I was more than I usually am: more of a person.

Of course, it didn’t last. When I left him, as I walked away, my humanity started dropping down again. I went into the store. A few minutes later, I bought a record and went to the front desk to pay for it. I had a few words with the clerk. He took my credit card. Chit chat. Nice guy. Nothing out of the ordinary. But it was a mechanical transaction. The credit card. It was OK. But, very slightly, my own humanity was diminishing, just a little bit, while I went through the motions of paying with that card.

These things are happening in each of us all the time. At each instant, as I go through the world, because of what happens to me, and because of what I do, my humanity is expanding and diminishing all the time; sometimes for a an instant it is a little greater, sometimes for an instant it is a little smaller.

… So, the life in things that I have been writing about has a direct effect o me.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 1: The Phenomenon of Life

 

 

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