“… but it was the saxophone soloing that challenged credulity, it’s length and perhaps its unwillingness to tell a traditional story… If there’s one thing the facile critic needs to do his job, it is some verbal personality from the bandstand, some words to transcribe into the review – anything to make a thoroughly musical endeavor more literary or conversational. Coltrane would not provide it.”
Ben Ratliff

Coltrane - The Story of a Sound

Yoga Sutra – Chapter 2 Sutra 31

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An article I recently published on Tapas & Relationships continued to reverberate within me for days after I published it. I was particularly caught up with Sutra 2.31 which seems to describes a relationship between the first two practices on the ashtanga list – Yama & Niyama.

Ashtanga: Eight Limbs of Yoga

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. Samadhi (integration / being present / clear perception / …)

People sometimes speak of this as a “ladder” – which seems to suggests that Meditation (Dhyana) is a higher practice then Attitude towards others (Yama) or that Samadhi is the “highest achievement” of Yoga. I don’t think this is right, I think it is an incorrect interpretation, I think it blinds people from what Yoga is and I think it gives birth to incorrect views and false promises.

I believe that Sutra 2.31 offers a key to a better understanding of the relationship between the 8 practices of Yoga.

Trim Tabs: Refined Controls

This post started with an image I had from a long time ago about ship-rudders. I did some research into it and came across the idea of “Trim-tabs”:

“Trim tabs are small surfaces connected to the trailing edge of a larger control surface on a boat or aircraft, used to control the trim of the controls…”

Source: Wikipeda: Trim Tabs

My memory of it was related to ships where a smaller rudder (trim tab) is attached to the huge rudder that actually navigates the ship. Ship steering is controlled by moving the small rudder which then moves the large/main rudder. I couldn’t find a good ship-rudder image but I did find the same mechanism on airplanes. You can see how they work in this diagram. Small surfaces are used to activate and stabilize the larger surfaces. The smaller surfaces are refined controls for the larger surfaces.

This is what it looks like on an actual airplane:

Sutra 2.31: Gradual Change

What caught my attention about this Sutra was not the text itself but a commentary on it by TKV Desikachar:

“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”.

Life demands engagement, it creates friction (Tapas) with many people. That is where the practice of Yama comes into play. It’s easier to take on a pleasant facade when you are on Yoga retreat with like-hearted people in a supportive environment then it is in a traffic jam when you are late for a meeting at work with people who annoy you. Yet being stuck in traffic on your way to somewhere you don’t want to be with people you don’t want to see is the more typical state of of life – and that is where Yama is practiced.

Yama is a practice of living an engaged life – it is about navigating truthfully, honestly, moderately, considerably and appropriately when it seems least possible. It’s like trying to fly a plane through hammering cross-winds and the stick is shaking in your hand violently. You may be able to keep a steady course for a while – but eventually you will tire out. The alternative is a refined system of steering – a trim tab to stabilize your flight.

This is what Sutra 2.31 suggests. If you are having trouble navigating in Yama (your relationship to others) examine your relationship towards yourself. Your attitudes towards yourself can stabilize your attitudes towards others. You can never really stop “navigating through life” – but the ride doesn’t have to be so bumpy. Use your attitudes towards yourself to stabilize your flight and to do so with less effort.

Trim Tabs for Trim Tabs

The Yoga Sutra is known for it’s conciseness and sparing use of words. It is an “economically efficient” text – it packs a lot into as little as words as possible. What if Sutra 2.31 is not just about the relationship between Yama and Niyama? What it is a formula that applies to all 8 limbs:

  • Yama – Niyama: If you experience friction with the world around around you, take a look inside – that may make it easier for you to navigate your relationships.
  • Niyama – Asana: If you find your own attitudes difficult to contain you may want to take on a physical practice.
  • Asana – Pranayama: If your physical practices seems limited or stuck – try breathing practices.
  • Pranayama – Pratyahara: If your breathing seems constricted – try practicing where there are less distractions.
  • Pratyahara – Dharana: If you have no distractions and yet you find your thoughts are disturbed – try steadying your mind.
  • Dharana – Dhyana: If you find it hard to steady the mind – try meditating on an image, thought or metaphor.
  • Dhyana – Samadhi: If you find it difficult to meditate – wait.

It’s easy to misread this list and to conclude that one should start with, for example, a subtle practice like meditation. This is not true. To use a refined control you must first experience the limitations of the gross controls. You cannot, for example, experience or appreciate the subtle qualities of Pranayama without first practicing Asana. At some point you may feel that asana has become repetitive and boring and not really affecting you. That is when you may find motivation and appreciation for breathing practices.

Ashtanga seems to describe a system of trim-tabs. As you advance in your practices you gain access and learn to appreciate subtler qualities. As you master subtle qualities you may call upon them to make your passage through life smoother and easier.

It would seem that the “highest achievement” of Yoga is not Samadhi (some theoretical state of bliss) but Yama (traffic on the way to work). Samadhi is merely a subtle tool for steering through life. It is a bumpy ride through life that sets us on a path of disocvery that leads to Samadhi. It is a smoother ride through life that makes it possible for us to appreciate it’s quality.

Buckminster Fuller

The term “trim-tab” was coined by one Buckminster Fuller:

“Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary — the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab.

It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab. Society thinks it’s going right by you, that it’s left you altogether. But if you’re doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go.”

So I said, call me Trim Tab.

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

Two Authors on Love and Death

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Frank Herbert

This morning I finished reading (for the n-th time) the last book Frank Herbert wrote in the Dune series – “Chapterhouse: Dune“. I then (again) encountered an intimate and moving afterword by the author:

Frank Herbert

“One of the best things I can say about Bev is there was nothing in our life together I need forget, not even the graceful moment of her death. She gave me then the ultimate gift of her love, a peacefull passing she had spoken of without fear or tears, allaying thereby my own fears. What greater gift is there than to demonstrate you need not fear death?”

Robert Pirsig

I then remembered Robert Pirsig’s afterword in the edition I have of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance“:

“Chris is dead. He was murdered … I go on living, more from force of habit than anything else … Where did Chris go?  … What was it I was so attached to? .. Do real things just disappear like that? … What is the ‘he’ that is gone? … What had to be seen was that the Chris that I missed so badly was not an object but a pattern, and that although the pattern included the flesh and blood of Chris, that was not all there was to it … Now, Chris’s body, which was a part of that larger pattern, was gone. But the larger pattern remained. A huge hole had been torn out of the center ot if, and that was what caused all the heart-ache … If you take that part of the pattern that is not the flesh of Chris and call if the “spirit” of Chris or the “ghost” of Chris, they you can say without further translation that the spirit or ghost of Chris is looking for a new body to enter … it was not many months later that my wife conceived, unexpectedly.”

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Yoga Sutra – Chapter 4 Sutra 34

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A couple of days ago I had a conversation with a caring relative who was worried about me / for me. She was referring to an unpleasant period I had gone through recently. She asked if I considered seeking professional/medical help and suggested that medication may be helpful. I replied that I did not consider that an option. I believe that the widely available medical view subscribes to a value system that is different then mine – it seeks and sees illness, it applies analytical understanding, it isolates and then it fixes. I suppose that these values may be useful in extreme life-threatening situations. But these values are blind and useless (at best) when it comes to well being. At any rate – these are qualities that I do not want in my life.

Today I came across this wonderful quote posted by Shulamit which expressed my feelings about what professional care could be (and usually isn’t):

“The only thing I think we have to offer someone else is our own centredness, our own being all right, and knowing beyond a doubt that they’re all right. If I know that about myself in a way that lets me know that about everyone, I speak with true authority, in the sense of knowing what is so. But if I don’t have that experience of being all right, if I am afraid for you because I am afraid for me, all I have to offer you is my fear. “Maybe if you quit drinking…” or “Why don’t you try such-and-such?” That all comes from my own fear.

I think it’s disrespectful of someone else’s life process to assume that they are inadequate to their experience. It would be good to follow that back and see how I am simply projecting my own fear of inadequacy onto them. I simply cannot know about someone else’s life… The contribution I can make is to clean up what’s mine… I can’t remove the obstacles to your path, but I can avoid putting things in your way… I this way to do I most deeply vow to train myself.”

Cheri Huber, Good Life: A Zen precepts retreat

The quote is so complete I do not care to make any commentary on it. I do wish to suggest that it applies inside (self-help) as well as it does outside (for lack of a better term – “helping” others).

One of the early teachings I was given and carry with me is of the relationship between Cit and Citta – the idea that there is something (Cit) that comes before mind (Citta), something that is eternal, something that can “see” mind – a “see-er”. I looked this up in the Yoga Sutra – and I found many references to Citta (mind) – but I was surprised that I could not find a clear instance of Cit (that which is eternal and “knows” mind). There are however numerous instances of the word “Purusa” which Desikachar translates as the “Perceiver”.

Of all the instances I would like to relate to one – the last sutra in the Yoga Sutra – chapter  4 sutra 34:

“When the highest purpose of life is achieved the three basic qualities do not excite responses in the mind. That is freedom. In other words, the Perceiver is no longer colored by the mind.”

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

The three basic qualities refers to the three Gunas (Tamas, Rajas & Sattva). They are like waves which we ride-out in life. Our senses tell mind that we are “happy” or “depressed”. When our perception is bound to mind we take what the senses report as real and true.

But inside us there is a “Perceiver” that is seeing a bigger picture. It is sitting high up on the cliffs overlooking the ocean – looking down at mind as it tossed around by the waves of life.

  • This Perceiver can see that sometimes we are riding high on a powerful wave and that mind calls it “happiness”.
  • This Perceiver can see that sometimes we are under stormy water struggling for breath and that mind calls it “depression”.
  • This Perceiver can see that sometimes we are floating peacefully in a tranquil ocean without any distraction and that sometimes the mind looks up and even sees the Perceiver seeing it.

The “Perceiver” is “centeredness”  – is it that which is always all-right and always knows it. It is the “Perceiver” in me that said to me “everything is all-right, this wave will also pass, hang in there” when I was literally struggling to breath. It is the “Perceiver” in me that corrects misperceptions that assail mind from internal (self) and external (others) criticisms. It is the “Perceiver” that guides me to right action and keeps me from wrong action (making things worse).

Just as it is “disrespectful of someone else’s life process to assume that they are inadequate to their experience” – it it also disrespectful that “I” assume that “I” am inadeqaute to my own experience. That assumption is rooted in ignorace and a limited perspective. There is nothing in me that needs fixing except for that ignorant and limited perception – and that cannot “be fixed” – it can only mend itself (given supportive settings). This is the “end-game” of Yoga.

Posted in Yoga, Yoga & I, Yoga & Life, Yoga Sutra, Yoga Texts | You are welcome to add your comment

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-07-04

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Subtly Not Present

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I felt that my obvious lack of presence in making coffee yesterday morning was a great preparation fot this post. On-the-mat, wondering presence can be more subtle and bringing attention to it a rewarding practice. I recently “caught” myself being not present in a very subtle way during a sequence of back-bends – and I thought to share it as a real-life example instead of writing some theoretical post about the subject.

Though it’s not my practice sequence – this is what a typical back-bending sequence may look like. It is a vinyasa (gradual progression) of back-bend variations (note to myself: do a post on the subtle aspects of back-bends!).

I teach and practice such sequences with a rest between each variation. A resting position would be legs and arms in a relaxed position and the head resting on the floor, turned sideways to one side (alternating the position of the head in each rest – to keep an overall centered exprience).

When I am present in the practice, I complete a variation and simply lay my head to one side. When I am not totally present in the practice I start thinking about the resting position before I finish the last round of movement. As I a moving back down towards the floor I am thinking about what the position of my head should be. If it’s the first asana in the sequence I may find myself debating on which side I should place my head in the first rest (keeping in my obsessive mind that this first choice affects the entire sequence) . My mind has left the posture while my body is still in it.

It’s relatively easier to catch mind wondering off when it makes larger fumbles like losing count, forgetting where you are in a sequence, losing balance or just plain shopping around worries and preoccupations of life. Smaller excursions are more subtle and deviant. Catching them is a more subtle practice.

Have you noticed what your mind likes to do when you practice?

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Passion Fruit

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Shortly after we moved into this house (~18 months ago) we planted two passion-fruit plants to cover two cement columns that stood on our porch. One of them didn’t take hold – the other has grown quite … passionately. We helped it work it’s way up the column and now it has finally reached the wire that will lead it across to the other column.

Disclosure: I helped it to grab hold of the wire – but it’s been holding on … passionately … ever since 🙂

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Obviously Not Present

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For a few days now I’ve been carrying around an unwritten post about a subtle aspect of being present in Yoga asana practices. A few minutes ago I was gifted with an amusing incident which gave the post the context I was looking for.

This morning has been peaceful. I have not yet engaged “work” on the computer. It began with a cup of tea and quiet reading, then an asana practice followed by tortilla breakfast with Andreea. I then sat down to review a series of images I took a few days ago. I was happy to find some images I really like.

Excited and content with the images on my screen I left the computer to make a cup of coffee. I prepared the coffe-pot and put a cup with milk to heat in the microwave. 93 seconds later the microwave beeped – I took the cup out and found it’s empty! I laughed outloud and went to show Andreea my “warm cup of milk”. My mind was obviously not present in making coffee – I was with the images and with some thoughts that were moving inside me.

I went back to the kitchen and took out another cup (the first one was hot and I set it aside to cool)… AND AGAIN … I placed it in the microwave without any milk. This time I caught myself before pressing the activate button on the microwave – I guess you can say I was improving 🙂

This is the nature of mind. It’s not something that needs “fixing”, but it does need to be recognized and appreciated.

Stay tuned for a subtle aspect of not being present 🙂

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Yellow Green

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A week ago I went for a short walk in our village with a friend who came to visit us. At the hills just outside the village I was taken by an amazing palette of colors. Most of the vegetation has already dried to yellow but there was a stripe of light green vegetation that hasn’t given  up yet. All this was dotted by blue-purple thorny flowers and lit in the warm colors of a setting sun.

I didn’t have a camera with me so I planned to return the next day. But the next few days were surprisingly cloudy and cool and the light I wanted wasn’t there. So I waited. A couple of days ago the weather resumed it’s season-typical hot & blue-sky look and in the evening I went back to get the picture I was carrying around with me in me mind. I found it … and then some.

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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 …

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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.

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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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A Change in Breath

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I found a paper in my Yoga teachers training pile – and on it is a short phrase written in large capitalized letters that cover the entire page. If memory serves, I wrote it down during  a retreat as my teacher was talking. I don’t recall if it was a sponatenous phrase or if he was quoting another source – but it is a gem of wisdom:

A change in breath can diminish the experience of limits. A breathing pattern is usually committed to memory and the limits are associated with it. When the breathing is altered, the memory of the limit disappears and we can explore beyond.

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-06-20

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Myself – May 2010: Settle

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May was mostly about rounding corners and shedding extremes. Emotionally it was a bland month. Depression had moved on, and in it’s place was a feeling of emptiness, lack of motivation to be or to do. Which seems to have been the right thing for me. I spent more time resting, staring out the window in the mornings … I occasionally visited my  Yoga mat for short practices. There wasn’t yet any steadiness … but there was much less unsetadiness.

I made a conscious choice to move as little as possible, I didn’t leave the house unless I had to (once a week shopping for food). In the mornings I would sit next to the big window in our livng room – and look outside. We had some of the best weather in the year and yet I didn’t go outside to sit on the porch. I would ask myself “Would you prefer to sit outside?” and the answer was constantly “No, I’d rather be inside.”.

My choice not to move also led to the defining event of May – my sister’s birthday. My parents invited us to join them for a typical family celebration. Andreea chose to go, I chose not to. It wasn’t a stubborn choice, I considered the invitation and felt that it was better I didn’t. I could feel myself moving towards better and leaving the house would have taxed me and probably set me back again. It wasn’t a difficult choice – but it did have it’s own resonance. First there was my parents who were offended by me – but I have grown used to that. I try to communicate my reasoning when possible – but my reasoning mostly does’t make sese to them. There was more difficulty in the fact that Andreea chose to go without me. This put her in the center of our family frictions. We felt this in the days before she went to my parents.

My sister seemed fine with this. She came to visit us soon after and we enjoyed a pleasant weekend together.

These words were written well into the month of June – so I can say without a doub that my choices were to good effect.

Posted in About, Myself | You are welcome to read 1 comment and to add yours

A Refreshing Breathing Practice

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It is common knowledge that taking a deep breath is relaxing – how about taking a few deep breaths?

For this practice you will need a place to sit, a few quiet minutes and familiarity with Ujjayi breathing:

  • Find your quiet place and a comfortable seated position with your eyes closed.
  • Sit quietly for a minute or two and observe your natural breathing.
  • Gradually move into Ujjayi breathing – let it build until the length of your exhale is longer then (or at least equal to) the length of your inhale. Do this until you have a steady pace of breathing.
  • Count 8 breaths.
  • Count 8 more breaths adding a short pause after exhaling.
  • Count 8 more breaths adding a short pause after inhaling (in addition to the pause after exhaling).
  • Count 8 more breaths without any pauses (like the first 8).
  • Resume natural breathing and stay for another minute or two to observe.
  • Gently open your eyes.
  • Resume life 🙂

If you have a tailored pranayama practice you can ask your teacher for a shorter variation you can use instead of this general sequence.

Posted in Breath, Practice Sequences, Yoga, Yoga & Life | You are welcome to add your comment

Yoga Sutra – Chapter 1 Sutra 1

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atha yoga-anusanam
“Now begin the authoritative teachings of Yoga”

Translation by TKV Desikachar

This sutra has been on my mind for a few weeks now until a recent conversation with my teacher brought clarity to my thoughts.

This is the sutra that opens the Yoga Sutra – a text that is well known for it’s concise form and sparing use of words – and it opens by saying “this is the beginning”? duh!

Literally it is pretty straightforward. Atha can be translated as “now”. It indicates that this is a text that has a quality of prayer to it. Anusasanam can be translated as “teachings”. So “now come the teachings of Yoga”. My teacher suggests that it is a metaphor where “atha” represents a student, “yoga” represents a teacher and “anusasanam” represens teachings. An “education” requires that all three be present.

Anyway I read it – it is as if this sutra draws a line in the sand – on one side is everything I’ve known so far, crossing over it leads into something different altogether – the realm of Yoga. Why does the primary text about Yoga – which is about unity and integration start with a separation between that which is Yoga and everything else?

Then I recognized the word “anu” – which wasn’t individually acknowledged in any of the translations I consulted. It was always coupled with “sasanam” into “anusasanam”. I remembered the word “anu” from reading about Vaisesika philosophy:

Consider a point, defined as that which has neither parts nor extent, but position only. It occupies no space, has no inside or outside, no parts and is not produced and cannot be destroyed. Therefore it is eternal, has no magnitude – no length, breadth or thickness. This positional reality is what is implied by Anu and Paramanu.

I couldn’t a find a reliable definition for “sasanam” – the best I’ve been able to come up with is that it means “teaching” (I still wonder about it’s relationship with the word “asana”). This means that Anusasanam is not just any teaching. It is a core/root teaching – a teaching that is at the heart of everything.

This led me to another interpretation of this sutra “Now begins the linkage with the root of all teachings” – which led to a train of thought:

  • I came to this text because I was seeking something.
  • I didn”t know what that something was but I knew it was missing from my life.
  • This wasn”t a beginning of a journey – I had been on it for a long time.
  • It brough me to a teacher (the Yoga Sutra is not meant for reading, but to be transmitted by a teacher to a ready student).
  • My teacher and the teachings I received acknowledged my search.
  • This sutra was a marker on my path – it was telling me I was heading in the right direction.

When I was working my way from the outside in, the separation was clear to me. I had finally arrived at something that started to resonate with my questions. Things started to make a new kind of sense – a sense that is a result of a a new, less disturbed sensing.

When I was starting to move inside and looked back to where I came from – the separation was still very clear to me. There was no doubt in my mind I was in a better place and that “outside” was a lesser place. During my early practice years, I had a very hard time coming back from retreats and engaging my day-to-day life.

The farther in I travel into this “better” place, the boundary between it and everything else seems to fade – things seem to be integrating. This is off-the-mat Yoga. This is the Yoga I find in pulling weeds or doing dishes, or facing my fears or living in relationships. The “boundary” is in a way still useful – it reminds me when I stray off my path – it says to me “this is not in the spirit of Yoga, make a change”. From this I can deduct and speculate that there is a place where everything is truly integrated in the spirit of Yoga. Maybe this is “Samadhi”? I am not there yet, I don’t know if it is humanly possible to “arrive’ at such a place? I can and do continue to live my life aspiring to stay on my path – swinging back and forth between friction and peace, identifying more separations and arriving at better integration.

Posted in Yoga, Yoga & I, Yoga & Life, Yoga Sutra, Yoga Texts | You are welcome to read 3 comments and to add yours

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-06-13

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Got Milk

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Andreea made plans for us to go and purchase some goat’s milk from a local farmer. And there she is on a hot saturday morning on the trail … where we shortly encountered a cow who seemed suspicious of us

and this was our destination on a hill overlooking fruit-tree orchards (mostly peaches) that belong to our village

and a 1 year old orchard of kiwi plants … with the smoke of very-not-organic substances being spread in the background … our path took us literally around a few fields to where we could look back towards where we came from

Where we met the farmer from our village who was doing the spraying of not very-not-organic substances

… and the piles of chicken poop that are collected from the pens in our village

which meant we were getting close to our destination … which appeared soon after the next bend … with, what else, cows to greet visitors

… and after a short climb into the farm we met Hadad and his daughter and were able to take in a panoramic view of the way we had come

… and his son driving around with a dogish-looking navigator

… after a relaxed conversation and a small cup of strong coffee Hadad went to milk the goats

… and then filled up our bottles with all the milk he had – almost 6 liters

… and then refused to take our money and sent us home to process the milk with his best wishes

where we now have 6 jars of milk settling, 1 jar accumulating the fat that floats on top – which we will process into butter

and 1 jar to which we added some yogurt – to make more yogurt 🙂

little things and suprising gifts make for grand gestures and good feelings

Posted in Enjoy, Expanding, inside | You are welcome to add your comment