“I can't understand anything in general unless I'm carrying along in my mind a specific example and watching it go.”
Richard Feynman

Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman

A Place for Yoga

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A few years ago I taught for a few months at a very fashionable Yoga studio. It was located on a boardwalk facing the ocean. There was also a power station emitting toxins into the air near by. A student once asked me if it wasn’t potentially unhealthy to practice Yoga and especially breathing practices (Pranayama) with the polluting power station so close by.  I replied that I was more concerned with the pollution of the mind – the hectic business of the place, people walking back and forth and bicycles flashing in and out of view outside the huge studio windows, the ocean waves hammering away relentlessly, the noise of other classes coming and going, etc. Yoga is a science of the mind, and the place we practice can support that.

“Yoga is the containment of the minds activities”

(Yoga Sutra – Chapter 1 Sutra 2 – translation by Paul Harvey)

In the first chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (a prominent Yoga text) one of the first things mentioned is a specific description of where Yoga should be practiced (Chapter 1 Slokas 12 & 13):

“12: The Hatha Yogi should live in a secluded hut free of stones, fire, and dampness to a distance of four cubits in a country that is properly governed, virtuous, prosperous and peaceful.

12: These are the marks of a Yoga hut as described by masters practicing Hatha: a small door, no windows, no rat holes; not too high, too low, or too long; well plastered with cow dung, clean and bug free. The grounds are enclosed by a wall and beautified by an arbor, a raised platform, and a well.”

(translation by Brian Akers)

So, cow-dung aside, the core idea resonates with the purpose of Yoga – it is about containment – removing distractions and creating a support for the practice of mindfulness. The short version: practice Yoga in the basement not on the beach. Too many practice spaces cater and indulge the mind instead of supporting it. Where do you practice Yoga? Does it support you in your practice?

… oh and … Pranayama is not about the air that moves in and out but about the affect of breathing on Prana which is already inside us… more on that soon…

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

Mind to Heart & Beyond

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Yoga teachings suggest that the heart is the “seat of knowledge”. In thinking back about the evolution of my practice and of people I have taught – I recognized some milestones which seem to mark a path. I began my journey as most westerner’s do – entrenched in the mind, seeking something more. Early in my practice I observed that Yoga both reflects and affects my life. Therefore these milestones can be found both on and off the mat.

The beginning is strongly anchored in the mind, which depends on the senses, which are anchored outside. Stimulation from the outside are observed and are often translated into action – we see and we do.

heart2mind01

A delicate first change is a small break in the immediate link between observation and action. Yoga postures are new to most beginners so they require a bit more attention – there isn’t yet an automated routine to handle them.

heart2mind02gap

This small gap in reaction to stimuli presents an opportunity for even more refined attention. There are potentially limitless variation and details to explore in postures – this exploration takes time and extends our stay in contemplation and observation. Conscious & expanded breathing linked to movement give us time to and space to explore.

heart2mind03stay

With the skills of opening a gap and staying attentive at hand, a teacher can now guide us into more subtle aspects of practice. This leads us to the heart. As with the mind, visiting the heart is done gradually. Initially the visits will be short – they bring about a subtle quality of care.

heart2mind04extend

As our capacities for attention, breath, movement and emotions expand the heart gets more involved. This is a phase where clear instructions are replaced by subtle queues, metaphors, meditative focuses, etc. It is usually an extensive period of continuous practice.

heart2mind05stay

This has the potential for a very subtle but major shift in experience – it is approached slowly and gradually, but arrives suddenly. When you get it, it feels like you’ve know it forever. The point of origin is no longer on the outside – you find it is now within you – your intentions. Another subtle change is that the loop is no longer open ended, things seem more connected, there are subtle relationships that draw a bigger picture than the mind was able to comprehend on its own.

heart2mind06origin

I think this is where the “beyond” part begins to really kick in. You may find that you can both sense the world and act on it directly from your heart. Enough said!

heart2mind07heartWhen that gate has opened … well .. the heart emerges as “the seat of knowledge” and … well… enough said!

heart2mind08allheart

Engaging the world with heart and care can lead to a new perspective –  differences observed by mind are replaced by commonalities known in the heart.

heart2mind09connectEventually we may even come to the conclusion that what we have in common is what dominates our lives. That the seat of knowledge is one.

heart2mind10merge

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

Heart of Matter

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Yoga is founded on a unique perspective on human life & existence. As a Yoga practitioner and teacher this knowledge paints my life with a sense of “coming home” – it inspires me, it directs me, it refines my experience and it resonates with my intuitive perception of what is happening in my life. This knowledge has a mysterious affect on my mind – it refuses to get pinned down into a fixed and clear explanation – is it both confusing and settling at the same time. It dances inside me.

I chose to start this journey with the introduction of Elements & Gunas – the building blocks of existence and the forces that shape them.

Elements: a Static Aspect

I found an inspiring description of the elements in Vaisesika Philosophy. It is a practical approach that claims that the fact that are diverse materials and objects in existence, indicates that there must be different subtle (basic) elements – building blocks. We cannot perceive these subtle elements directly – we can only infer their existence based on how they make themselves known to us.

Let’s take for example – Water. We intuit there is a basic element called water from the different forms it takes – we know that water flowing in a river, wine and apple juice share a common element. But we can never perceive this subtle element directly – we can perceive it only when it comes into being in some gross form.

Then how do we know what elements there are? Vaisesika suggests that all subtle elements have numerous qualities. Some of these qualities are common, and some are special & unique. We can’t tell things apart by their common qualities, but we can identify them uniquely through their special qualities. A special quality is so tightly related to it’s subtle element that you can’t separate them – you can’t take the wetness out of water.  If we could identify such special  qualities – then we could say that each special quality is associated with a unique subtle element.

elements01Vaisesika suggests that an examination of the objective clearly reveals such special qualities – and each quality reveals a subtle element:

  • The special quality of Sound points to the existence of subtle element of Ether
    Ether is that which has the special quality of sound
  • The special quality of Touch points to the existence of subtle element of Air.
    Air is that which has the special quality of touch.
  • The special quality of Form points to the existence of subtle element of Fire.
    Fire is that which has the special quality of form.
  • The special quality of Flavor points to the existence of subtle element of Water.
    Water is that which has the special quality of flavor.
  • The special quality of Odor points to the existence of subtle element of Earth.
    Earth is that which has the special quality of odor.

elements02

Samkhya philosophy suggests that the subtle elements are evolved from one another – each having the special properties of it’s preceding elements in addition to it’s special element:

  • Ether – sound
  • Air – sound & touch
  • Fire – sound & touch & form
  • Water – sound & touch & form & flavor
  • Earth – sound & touch & form & flavor & odor

And so we have the building blocks that make up everything in existence. Because it seems so obvious, it may be interesting to note that the special qualities relate not only to the subtle elements but also to our knowing senses – BUT they are not the same. Sound is not hearing,touch is not feeling, form is not sight, flavor is not taste and odor is not smell. This is something to meditate on.

Gunas: a Dynamic Aspect

Gunas describe the dynamics of matter – they are the forces that “pick up the pieces” of subtle elements, shuffle them around cause them to take the different forms of matter and objects we perceive. Gunas are foundations of existence, but unlike the foundations of a building, they are constantly shifting and changing. Gunas are also the roof of all change – nothing can manifest beyond the limitations they impose.

There are three Gunas – Rajas, Tamas & Sattva.

  • Rajas is a perky Guna – it is activating and exciting, always leaning into change, destabilizing.
  • Tamas is an inhibiting Guna – it slows and prevents movement, it allows things to settle.
  • Sattva is a content Guna – it is where it needs to be and has no need or motivation to change.

Connected & Ever-changing

According to Samkhya the Gunas were in perfect balance before the objective world manifested – and then there was a disturbance. Which of the three Gunas do you think moved first? Sattva is just fine with the way things are, Tamas does not initiate -so  it can only be Rajas. Then Tamas kicked in opposing movement initiated by Rajas. Sattva is a state of balance & harmony of Tamas & Rajas. The Gunas are always affecting one another, leading into and through change.

Dominance & Continuity

At any given time one of the Gunas is dominant:

  • Do you ever get the feeling that the world around you is busy or hectic? That would be dominant Rajas.
  • Do you ever get the feeling that the world is heavy and depressing? That would be dominant Tamas.
  • When you feel that everything is sweet, simple and peaceful, nothing needs to be changed? That would be dominant  Sattva.

It would be great if it were that clear and obvious all the time, and though it’s not too far from that, it’s not always so straightforward. When a Guna becomes dominant it tends to stay that way for a period of time. This is most obvious with Tamas – since it is in it’s nature to persist: if you’ve ever been depressed or gone through a phase of heaviness and low motivation then you have experienced Tamas – it is very difficult to escape it.

Rajas is required to move away from Tamas. Rajas is by definition a less continuous Guna – it is prone to change. A continued state of Rajas is likely to pass through Tamas and Sattva. If you’ve ever experienced a period of hyper-activity then you may have noticed that eventually you will probably end up in either sleep (Tamas) or a special kind of stillness, often just gazing at something in a kind of meditative trance (Sattva).

Depression (Tamas) can last days, weeks, months and years. Hyper-activity (Rajas) usually lasts minutes, or hours, very rarely more then that. It if does last longer it will go through periods of rest which can be Tamasic or Sattvic. Still, Rajas can be a dominant quality in people through out life – and for many people it is.

There is no tool for measuring Gunas. They can be observed on subtle and gross levels. We may say that sleep is dominated by Tamas, yet who has not experienced a Rajasic night of sleeplessness and agitation? Gunas also need to be observed in context: for an athlete, running a race may be a Rajasic experience; for a person who is ill, getting out of bed may be a Rajasic experience.

Gunas are not Good or Bad

There is a tendency to fall into a trap of simplifying and judging the Gunas: Tamas is bad, Rajas is good, Sattva is the best. This is a common mistake and a source of much misapprehension. Tamas cannot be good bad any more then ether can be good or bad. Gunas are qualities and life is an ever changing balance of their relationship.

Gunas can be functional or dysfunctional. Sattva is a meditative quality but if it was always dominant and unaffected by Rajas & Tamas there wouldn’t be life. Rajas is a functional quality in our waking ours, but if it were not for Tamas we would not be able to sleep at night. Tamas can be a burden when it prevents us from moving, but it can be a lifesaver when we need to stop.

The Gunas & I

One of the most useful realizations I had in observing Gunas in my life is that they are bigger then me – I am playing in their playground and everything I perceive, feel an do is under their influence. It’s useless and hopeless to pretend to be meditative when a storm is upon you.

guna_sattva

guna_rajas

I recall a story about a person who went kayaking. He got caught in a stormy current and fought to get free. He drowned, died and was shortly afterward released from the current further down the stream. An experienced person would have known that your best chance of surviving is to surrender to the current and let it carry you through.

There are times when I sit down to meditate (Sattva) and immediately notice that my mind is all over the place (Rajas). At times like this it is almost useless for me to choose a focus for meditation, as I am not likely to stay with it for a long time. The best meditation practice for me at times like this is to ride out the storm in my mind. When I do this there is chance I may end up in a peaceful place.

The Gunas & You & I

The Gunas connect us all. We may experience the Gunas differently as individuals but we are all swimming in the same ocean, we are all lifted up and dropped down by it’s currents and waves.  We are in this together you & I.

guna_connect

Posted in Models & Metaphors, Yoga, Yoga Philosophy | You are welcome to read 3 comments and to add yours

Kinetic Sculpture

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Saw this on Andy’s blog – very cool 🙂

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

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-09-06

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  • RT wanna bet? @SaraJChipps: My little sister is way cooler than yours. #
  • 13:31 #
  • RT how wonderful 🙂 @erangalperin: if you like cats + piano, well… 🙂 http://bit.ly/2FfXW #catcerto #
  • "We make a living by what we get. But we make a life by what we give" (Norman MacEwan) #
  • Just joined a twibe. Visit http://twibes.com/yoga to join #
  • if you are shopping for "yoga clothes" you're looking in the wrong place #
  • Hello @JangalaRetreat – thank you 🙂 you've been on my mind for the past few hours, letting my thoughts collect, will write you soon #
  • increasing frequency of firefox crashes is turning from frustrating into a welcome experience, karma sweeping away web-pages I don't need 2c #
  • choosing a #Yoga mode of practice that is right for you and your energy: http://twurl.nl/nqebsi #
  • according to the #Yoga Sutra – meditation is a gradual process: http://twurl.nl/q4ti31 #
  • RT @JangalaRetreat: "My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness." The Dalai Lama #
  • here in the north of Israel if feels like summer is already coming to an end, days are getting cool & breezy… delightful! #
  • @t I choose power of will over empathy, the latter can cloud perception: http://twurl.nl/p6m1db in reply to t #
  • "meditation is recognized more by the beauty of the discoveries we make than rather by the number of facts we know" Desikachar #
  • simple postures allow you to go deeper, and deep is where you find things you can take off the mat: http://twurl.nl/oso1jj #yoga #asana #
  • i can't believe Leonard Cohen's manager doesn't want me to photograph his Israel concert 🙂 http://twurl.nl/euurum #
  • @fredwilson re: health care is not medical care, confusing the two is great for medical not so great for health #
  • I love to be reminded that everyone (absolutely everyone!) knows good: http://twurl.nl/hvxl2s #
  • “No posture makes us more concerned about others. This is worth meditating on” Desikachar #
  • how to recognize a yoga teacher? there are no preconditions! http://twurl.nl/8p44f8 #
  • an honest presentation: http://twurl.nl/h415sb #
  • getting lots of email offers to execute the wills of rich people who have died… is there a plague no one told me about? #
  • Meditating on Sabbath: http://twurl.nl/icg0fp #
  • beauty and beauty in the beast – watch all the way through 🙂 ♫ http://blip.fm/~cwb5s #

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Meditating on Sabbath

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We have new neighbors – they moved into the house next to ours – they are religious Jews.  They moved in this week, and from the day they moved in, their house emanated noises of a hectic family: children running & playing, a constant hum of a washing machine, babies crying, children yelling, parents yelling back, dog barking, etc. Today is Sabbath and their house is dead-silent – a welcome change.

The Hebrew word “Shabat” can be translated as a break or recess. From what I know about Judaism, there are many subtle manifestation of this idea – for example: time is allocated for prayer three times a day, time is allocated for short prayer around meals. I believe it requires a caring and attentive practice to create a balanced application of this wonderful and simple idea of taking a break from the daily flow of life to rest and observe (and pray, if that is your inclination). The duality of rest and work flows through our life on many levels:

  • We rest & shower after intense activity.
  • We are active during the day and sleep during the night.
  • We travel out in summer and stay in during winter.
  • We are playful in childhood (when life begins), contained in adult life and meditative as we near an end of life.

This morning as I was preparing coffee and looking out the window at the silent house next-door, meditation came to mind. It feels to me as if their house and family are in a meditative space. It also feels to me like an extreme shift – from a violent week to a peaceful weekend. It’s reminds me of people who come to Yoga classes, they claim to experience peace and integration but before they’ve left the studio they are already on their phones in agitated conversation (I wonder what these people are like when they get behind a steering wheel after a Yoga practice!).

We need to find a healthy combination of meditative practice & involved life. There can be no single formula to do this  – it is unique to our individual cycles of life. When a meditative quality is missing from our living-cycles there can be a sense of emptiness – as if something is missing. From that perspective we look at meditation as if it were some kind of sacred or elevated practice – we expect it to carry us into the light. This is an illusion caused by it’s absence. Meditation is a quality, a meditative practice is intended to introduce that quality into our lives. An effective meditation practice can cast a new light on all of our actions. It can change the way we view ourselves and communicate with others. It can change the way we move and breathe. It can change the way we sense and perceive. It can change meditation itself and our outlook on life.

Being meditative is not how long you can sit, how many words you know in Sanskrit or your philosophical knowledge.  It is about your capacity to love and your ability to communicate with your loved ones.

After thought: Sabbath carries a mathematical property – it is one-seventh of the week. Maybe this is a hint about a healthy meditative balance? Maybe it carries a prescription that one-seventh of our time should be allocated to meditation? Is your practice like this?

Posted in Meditation, Yoga, Yoga & Life | You are welcome to add your comment

Having a Price

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How to recognize a Yoga teacher?

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Following is a paraphrasing of text from “What are we seeking?” By TKV Desikachar:

If you are seeking for help from a Yoga teacher then they should meet you on your own ground, as you are. A teacher should adapt the teachings so they reach you.

There are no preconditions

No preconditions means that a teachers accepts you as you are, with your personality, views and culture.

No preconditions means that there is no standard method. How can a teacher help you by forcing a uniform model on you? Is this a sign of respect to you?

No preconditions means that a teacher accepts your situation however difficult it may be and regardless of any differences between you.

No preconditions means that there is always hope – a living force which tells you that things are never blocked. A teacher will remind you that by embracing things as they are, hope will arise and bring about change.

No preconditions means that a teachers accepts you as you are and doesn’t tell you that you are wrong only because your opinions differ.

Comment: a relationship is a mutual experience, no preconditions applies to both sides. Come with an open heart to a teacher that greets you with an open heart.

Posted in Getting Started, Yoga, Yoga & Life | You are welcome to read 1 comment and to add yours

People know Good

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The book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance opens with this:

And what is good, Phaedrus,
And what is not good –
Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?

A couple days ago I picked up Andreea from work, she had just treated a couple to a massage. She was happy and filled with energy and said she had a great time and that the couple enjoyed them-selves. This isn’t the first time, I’ve seen her like this before, I’ve seen people leaving her after a treatment and I’ve heard her praised by others. Andreea belongs to a rare breed of professionals who are a league apart from most of the people in her field – she was gifted with opportunities to study with inspiring teachers carrying quality teachings, and in very intimate settings over a substantial period of time. I have experienced the touch of both her & her teachers and it is a world apart from most of the “spa” treatments on the market.

Almost everyone who has experienced her touch can tell the difference and usually expresses it. As we were driving home I thought about this and a smile came to my face. It reminded me that people, all people, know quality when they experience it. Quality is indeed a universal thing, it transcends culture & words – everyone knows it and recognizes it instantly – and it is distinct from everything else.

We cannot create Good, it is a relationship we can choose to enter with whatever we experience. We can nurture conditions that enable us to experience it. When people make time to come to a special place and treat themselves to a therapeutic treatment they can create these conditions. When Andreea meets them in kind spirit – Good makes an appearance.

Being reminded of this gives me hope.

You may want to also read Yoga for a Murky Mind

Posted in Expanding, inside, Quality | You are welcome to read 1 comment and to add yours

Twisted Learning

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My lower-back and shoulders carry and give voice to many of my fears and frustrations. My shoulders get stiff and my lower back becomes sensitive (if I am not careful with it, sensitivity becomes pain). The past few days have been like this and I’ve been practicing accordingly. I try to practice twice a day:

  1. In the mornings I practice mostly lying on my back. This anchors the center of my body and allows me to work gradually on mobility, strength and flexibility with relatively low-weight-bearing postures. The core posture is a lying twist.
  2. In the evenings my practice varies – but generally it’s focused on standing postured working towards a seated posture.

Both practices including a Pranayama breathing practice and a short meditation.

This post is dedicated to the lying twist to demonstrate the vast potential of subtle variations and attention to detail that can be applied in a single asana.

The Core Posture

I will be focusing on a basic core posture – where (1) the arms are opened to the sides; (2) the knees folded close to the chest and placed on the floor; (3) the head is rotated to the side opposite of the knees.

twist_core

If you try the core posture directly you may find yourself experiencing some limitations such as (1) knees that do not reach the floor; (2) one knee is on the floor while the other floats in the air; (3) the arm opposite the knees cannot reach the floor; (4) the shoulder opposite the knees cannot reach the floor; (5) the knees move away from the chest to a more open position.  A gradual exploration of the posture may shed more light on it for you.

twist_core_escapes

Moving into the posture

Finding an accessible &  comfortable starting point is always useful in approaching our limitations in asana. In this case lying on your side will do the trick – arms & knees are placed  one on top of the other and the head is rested on the floor facing the same direction as the entire body.

twist_start

From this position we will use Ujjayi breath to grow into the posture. With every inhale start opening up – the top arm reaching away from the body and lengthening. The head follows the arm – you can do this with open eyes and keep your gaze on the moving hand. Go as far as your breath will take you and your body will allow. The first time you do this don’t go beyond 90 degrees. As you exhale bring everything back to the starting position. Repeat this numerous time, going a bit further every time. Take as long as you need.

twist-open1twist-open2twist-open3twist-open4

Every time you feel a limitation, slow down and come to a stop. Try to find what is limiting you. If it’s a physical limitation try to identify a place in your body where you feel the most stretch or a pain. If it’s a limitation of mind – such as fear or insecurity about moving on – try to see what is the source of the inhibition.  Don’t automatically extend beyond your limitations, revisit them once or twice more and see if something changes.

Staying in the posture

If, after numerous movements your arm reaches the floor or close to it then you can stop moving, stay in the position you’ve reached and focus on your breathing. If you arm is in the air, keep it active, stretching away from the body, don’t let it go limp. You may find that breathing is enough to keep you moving around the place you’ve stopped. As your inhale to the chest the arm and shoulder may rise and as you exhale they may sink back down. It may find it’s way to settle on the ground and it may not!

twist_stay

You may also find it useful to place the second arm (the one on the side of the knees) on the knees to keep them fixed on the floor.

twist_handonknee

Then you can turn your attention to harnessing the range of movement created by the breath. As you inhale try to hold your position (this may cause some tension to build in your body), as you exhale try to embrace the sinking movement and relax “into” the space created by the exhale. You may find that with each breath your posture opens up and expands. Stay active, the outstretched arm should remain active and focused on length – all the way to the tips of your fingers. Try to maintain a quality breathing pattern – locational or directional breathing and a quality sound of ujjayi. An active breath keeps the posture moving &  active  on a subtle level.

Coming out of the posture gradually

We will use the movement of the breath to start moving out of the posture. As you inhale and your chest begins to expand, allow your arm and shoulder to rise from the floor.  As you exhale allow it so sink back down (it doesn’t have to reach all the way to the floor).  With each breath extend the range of movement allowing the arm to rise further up until finally it goes beyond 90 degrees and you come all the way back to the starting position.

twist_close

From there  you can roll back to a centered lying position. Stay here a few breaths, observe sensations that may come to you, see if you notice any differences between the two sides of your body. When you are ready you can begin this entire sequence on the other side of the body.

twist_end

Coming out of the posture directly

If you feel up to it then you can come out of the posture in directly. Using an inhale, simultaneously twist your head back to and raise your knees back to a center position. As you exhale bring your arms back alongside your body.

If you’ve been following this practice then you’ve spent some time working on one side and since this is an asymmetrical posture it is recommended that you do the same on both sides.

Expanding through our limitations

I’ve been told that people with a handicap in one of their senses often compensate by developing enhanced sensitivity in other senses. For example a blind person may develop refined hearing to compensate for his lack of sight. I believe that physical limitations (which we all have) can facilitate similar development in our practice. If we embrace our limitations and work with them, they may lead us to a refined practice.

I’ve extensively studied and practiced many forms of lying twists over the years. But now, thanks to my sensitive lower back I can breath better in a twist, I have more range within the posture and it is more accessible to me then ever before. I discovered these qualities by gently shifting my consciousness from trying to “fix” my lower back to  working within the limitations it imposes on me. I am looking forward to applying what I’ve learned to other forms of twisting, lying & standing, and other asana as well. Finally this brings into interesting light obstacles and frustrations which are what got me started in the first place.

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time” T.S. Eliot

Posted in Basic Movement, Yoga | You are welcome to read 1 comment and to add yours

Yoga Sutra – Chapter 1 Sutra 17

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“Discernment follows the form of reasoning, reflection, joy & unity”
Translation by Paul Harvey

The process of meditations is a gradual movement from distraction toward containment. You can experience this on a gross level in a short meditation and you can experience this on a more subtle level over years of meditation.

When you start off meditating (assuming you are not in a monastery or a retreat) the mind is occupied with everything and anything, this is the nature of mind.

meditation01Then gradually ( = waiting patiently & softly, without expectation, without judgment) the mind settles a bit and releases some of its preoccupations. The first thoughts to go are the “easier” ones, those that stay are more immanent and can take a bit more waiting.

meditation02

When the mind is settled it is able to start focusing on one object. At first the mind may still dance around and the relationship with the object comes and goes.

meditation03

With some practice the mind is able to hold an object steadily and for a longer period of time.

meditation04

Eventually subject-object duality ceases to cloud perception.

meditation05

Practice tips:

  • asana and pranayama practice shorten the time it takes to make this journey.
  • a simple and supportive object to place your attention is on your seated position.
  • a caring teacher can give you a supportive meditation focus, choosing a focus for yourself indulges your mind (like a kid will go for candy).
  • one effective meditation practice will carry you through years of practice, don’t change it like you change socks.
Posted in Meditation, Models & Metaphors, Yoga, Yoga Sutra, Yoga Texts | You are welcome to read 5 comments and to add yours

CATcerto

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In what do you believe? Enjoy 🙂

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

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-08-30

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What is Arjuna’s Problem?

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The Bhagvad Gita is a famous Hindu text. I studied the first 3rd of the text on retreat and I’ve read two translations. There is something that captivated me when I first encountered the text, though now I have less space and need for it, though it does call out to me. So over the past week I’ve been revisiting some of my notes and I came across two ideas that shimmered for me and I though to share. One is the cultural setting of the text and the other is a curious perspective about it. But, for the uninitiated, a brief orientation.

What’s the Story?

The Bhagvad Gita is a long poem and actually a part of an even longer poem called the Mahabharata.  The Bhagvad Gita begins with a description of a battle that is about to take place. The story that led up to it is not unlike a modern soap-opera:

  • There’s a blind king Dhritarashtra who has 100 sons called the Kauravas.
  • The king has a brother Pandu who has 5 sons called the Pandavas.
  • The Kauravas are a feisty bunch and they managed to cheat the Pandavas out of their rightful inheritance of land… which brings us to the war.
  • Due to the familial relations between the king and his brother, there are friends, teachers & pupils on both sides of the battlefield.
  • Arjuna is one of the five Pandavas and is said to be the greatest warrior alive – master of the bow and arrow.
  • Arjuna was required to choose between Krishna (God incarnated) and Krishna’s army.
  • Arjuna chose Krishna.
  • Krishna’s army is on the side of the Kauravas.

And so our story begins.

Cultural Setting

The historical setting  begins with the Vedas – the oldest written texts and roots of all Indian philosophy. This cultural branch of human spiritual development seems to have been very practical – and so it was focused on spiritual pursuit within the settings of family life. The Vedas were off-limits to ordinary people and remained in the hands of poet-priests – who provided guidance on how life should be lived (the Vedas are dominated by carefully prescribed rituals).

The Vedas were followed by the Upanishads – which rebelled against the domination of priests and rituals – this was a period of “power to the people”. God was said to be “within” and therefore available to all. Practitioners were considered heretics, they broke away from the caste system (and their families) and lived in hiding in forests.

Then came Buddhism which brought priest-like patterns back into the picture. Buddhism claimed that enlightenment was achieved under monastic conditions – and not in the typical settings of the Indian family values.

This brings us to the period of the Bhagvad Gita – which comes to rescue family-values. It is a call to arms to reinforce the position that a pursuit of spiritual enlightenment goes hand in hand with full family-life. You can work, get married, have kids and still achieve enlightenment. It is literally a call to action – about living a full life – about pursuing your Dharma. It is tainted with the cultural needs of its time – when it suggests “better to follow your Dharma badly then someone else’s good” – it lays the foundations for social control – manifested in India as the caste system.

Arjuna’s Depression

At the beginning of the story Arjuna asks Krishna (God incarnated, acting as Arjuna’s charioteer) to take him to the middle of the battlefield. Once there he rises to stand and looks to the enemy lines. There he sees his uncles, cousins, friends and teachers. He then collapses back into his seat in despondency and depression saying to Krishna that he cannot fight this war. The greatest warrior alive gets depressed at the outset of the greatest war in history.

The Bhagavad Gita documents the ensuing dialog in which Krishna teaches Arjuna’s the true nature of reality. Simply put – Krishna explains to Arjuna that his own misapprehensions are blinding him. His opposing cousins and uncles are already dead, because that is the nature of things and of their choices. Krishna says to Arjuna that it is his nature and fate (Dharma) to fight this war – and that he must not let his fleeting human nature blind him from his course – “You are a warrior – go and fight your war”.

I recall the first question that Paul set out for us to contemplate when we began studying the Bhagavad Gita – which to this day I feel paints in a simple and relevant light: “What is it that prompted Arjuna in the first place to ask Krishna to take him out into the battlefield knowing in advance what he will find there?”.

I have a feeling that if you peel enough layers from the question, it boils down to the question Vedanta attempts to answer: “What causes the initial disturbance from which all reality manifests?”. I take solace in an answer provided by Samkhya philosophy – which says “Don’t ask – because it doesn’t really matter, all that matters is that we are here now and we are clear about how ‘here now’ works”. I don’t know about you, for me “being here now” is a full-life-job.

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Krishna takes advantage of Arjuna’s predicament to teach him spiritual teachings. Simply put – Krishna explains to Arjuna that his own misapprehensions are blinding him. His opposing cousins and uncles are already dead, because that is the nature of things and of their choices. Krishna says to Arjuna that it is his nature and fate (Dharma) to fight this war – and that he must not let his fleeting human nature blind him from his course – “You are a warrior – go and fight your war”.

I recall the first question that Paul (my teacher) set out for us to contemplate when we began studying the Bhagavad Gita – and with it I will leave you to your own contemplation. What is it that prompted Arjuna in the first place to ask Krishna to take him out into the battlefield knowing in advance what he will find there?

Posted in Yoga, Yoga & Life, Yoga Philosophy | You are welcome to read 5 comments and to add yours

Student & Teacher

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The following is an excerpt from “What are we Seeking” by TKV Desikachar & Martyn Neal.

What are the qualities of a good student?

A good student is one who is inquisitive and is searching….
A good student will have pertinent questions… and this will bring out the best in the teacher… It is up to him to learn about all the aspects of himself through the teacher.

Patience is a must. Patience is where we do not change track, irrespective of whether something happens or not, after our efforts. Patience is [also] one of the most precious qualities a teacher should have.

A good student manifests his trust in the teacher. Trust and confidence develop gradually in the relationship…

Respect and faith are essential qualities because they help a student to find his center. This is a mysterious effect of the correct relationship: the divine aspect in the teacher will reveal the divine aspect in the student.

What are the qualifies of a good teacher?

A teacher is someone who can recognize the potentials in a person and aid him in developing them. A potential is a predisposition which may not develop if certain elements are lacking… We in India believe that there is some sort of continuity and that the potentials of any person are influenced by past actions… Some things need to be done to open the way for their [potentials] development… [the teacher] will help the student learn how to use the right techniques, in the appropriate manner and at the right rhythm. He will adapt the teaching in order to respect temperament, age, health, way of life and all other factors, in such a way that the least possible conflict is caused, both to the student and his environment.

The teacher must meditate on the student in order to discover his positive features and to find the best way of removing the obstacles which prevent their development. The primary concern should be for the well-being of the student above all other considerations, and if the teacher does not have the necessary resources he should advise him [the student] to go elsewhere, in order to get the best out of the gifts which God has given to him. This means being open, humble and realistic.

Observation is one of the foremost requirements for teaching. If a teacher is just distributing technical information without observing the people who are receiving it, he will fall short of the real goal. Teaching should be like meditation, where the teacher’s focus is on the student.

A good teacher encourages independence. Dependency, loss of freedom on the part of the student, is undesirable. It is a negative result and avoiding it is a constant challenge to any teacher… Unfortunately, there are teachers who seemingly prefer that their students remain dependent.

Mutual respect is indispensable in the student teacher relationship. Without respect it is impossible for a teacher to help a student in his quest. This means taking full into account his beliefs, ideas and possibilities, understanding his lifestyle, family situation, and so on – on factor whatsoever should be rejected …Without this approach we can make mistakes. Being faced with a problem is like being in a maze; the mind creates a labyrinth around the problem and one of the worst things that a teacher can do is to take the student by the hand and show him the exit… sometimes the student is very happy in his labyrinth.

… A teacher should always look after his own personal discipline … The efforts he makes to evolve, and to see more clearly, are the best preparation for his teaching and a mark of respect for the students.

A teacher should also be accessible, able to listen to the student’s problems with an understanding ear… a teacher should know how to facilitate communication and this will inspire confidence.

[A teacher] should be an example. However, his example should not go beyond his true capacities. No one can learn from a teacher who over-stretches himself.

Continuity of learning is the basis of teaching, and any teacher who loses the will to learn, loses at the same time the capacity to teach … the guarantee of the depth of his teaching is the desire to learn, to constantly search beyond what has already been understood.

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Posted in Getting Started, Yoga, Yoga & Life | You are welcome to read 3 comments and to add yours

Where can I get WordPress?

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There are two ways for you to use WordPress. To appreciate the differences we need to get acquainted with  two terms: Domain & Hosting.

What is  a Domain?

A domain is a reserved name on the internet. For example “iamronen.com” is a domain that I have reserved for myself. It’s really just that – a reserved name that appears in the “yellow pages” of the internet. A domain is not a web-site! If we want to create a website we first need a place to put the web-site. Essentially what you need is a web-server – a computer that can run the WordPress application with all of your posts & pages. This brings us to Hosting.

What is a Hosting?

Hosting is the term used to describe a storage space for web-sites on the internet. The simplest way to think of it is as computer that you rent for your web-site. You maybe asking yourself “Why do you need to rent a computer, why can’t I simply have my web-site on my home computer?”. The truth is that you can, but you would run into some problems such as:

  • Connectivity – you would have to make sure that your computer is on and functional at all times, because you don’t know when people may be visiting your website, this could be at any time.
  • Bandwidth – your home internet connection has a limited capacity, you can only send & receive a limited amount of information to and from the internet. Remember when you chose your internet connection speed – it was 1.5MB or 2.5 or something like that?  That number indicates how much information you can transfer at any given time and it’s fairly limited. Your internet site may attract lots of visitors and some of them may not be able to get through because of your limited internet connection.
  • Security – all of your website visitors will be accessing your computer and that could lead to some security issues – such as (1) exposing all of your private information to the world; (2) allowing people to place damaging software – such as viruses on your computer
  • Backup – if your computer malfunctions, your site will not be available (it will offline) and if you lost any information (people are not too good at making backups!) you may also lose the information that is required to run your website including all of your web-pages.

Hosting takes care of all of this for you. The word “hosting” comes from the idea that your web-server computer is hosted in a place called a data-center. These data-centers are designed to ensure that your web-server is always connected to the internet, that it’s connection is fast enough to handle all of your visitors, that your web-server is secured, backed up and even protected from electricity failures.

What is Shared Hosting?

Most web-sites, especially personal web-sites that are just starting out don’t really need an entire computer (which can be prohibitively expensive) to operate. They probably use only a fraction of the capabilities of a web-server. So along came some ingenuous people and companies and invented Shared Hosting. What they do is magically transform a single powerful web-server computer into smaller virtual computers – which are just right for most web-sites and much more affordable. It’s kind of like renting an office-space in a large office-building. You don’t need an entire building to run your business, a one or two room office is more then enough.

WordPress.com

The simplest & fastest way to get started with WordPress is at WordPress.com. This is hosting service dedicated to WordPress. They offer a basic service that is free of charge and what you get is:

  • An automatic, secured and updated (WordPress releases new version 3 or 4 times a year) installation of WordPress.
  • A domain name of your choice at WordPress. For example: myname.WordPress.com.
  • A (limited) set of themes-  visual designs (we’ll talk more about later in this series)  for you to choose for your blog.

This service imposes some limitations to what you can do with your WordPress. Matt Mullenweg (the lead WordPress developer) once described it as living in an apartment complex – you have to be considerate of your neighbors. It’s very easy to get started – all you have to do is write your content – everything else is automatically taken care of by the team at WordPress.com. You can check out the free features here and the premium (paid) features here.

WordPress.org – Self Hosting

Remember we mentioned that WordPress is open-source and free for you to use? WordPress.org is where you go to get it. But getting it is the easy part and unless you are technically proficient in computer and internet technologies – you will probably need help to pursue this option.

You will need to get your own domain, find a hosting service, install WordPress, install & customize a theme, install & activate plugins, etc. If you encountered a few words in that last sentence that you don’t recognize, that’s OK, it just means you’re going to need help. If you are inclined to do it – you may try to tackle these issues on your own. There are many resources online on how to do this, you will need patience and perseverance.

There are many people who can help you create your self-hosted WordPress installation, I am one of them. You can find others here, or on freelance sites such as Guru, oDesk, or you can search the internet for WordPress freelancers.

Next up in the series – laying the foundations for your WordPress web-site.

Posted in outside, Tech Stuff, Wordpress | You are welcome to read 1 comment and to add yours

My Business Model

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This is a business model I have started using in the WordPress projects I do. I try to apply it to other things as well.

Like-Hearted People

I am getting involved in projects with people who are involved in some kind of personal spiritual practice. This indicates to me that there is a good chance that these people share some of my core beliefs.

  1. They live as if their actions have consequences and they are aware of and care about those consequences.
  2. They are conscious of their intentions and their intentions are meticulously selected and constantly refined.
  3. Their intentions go beyond themselves – their work is dedicated to others.
  4. Their work touches other people – they are sensitive to individual predispositions and preferences.
  5. They have faith in what they do and in the people with whom they work.

This connects me with people who are caring, sensitive, curious, passionate and trusting.

A Simple Objective

I don’t enjoy doing complex things, so I do simple things. If there are complicated needs I break them down into small things and choose one as a starting point. The rest are set aside for a later time. A project starts when we can embrace a simple and shared objective – something that can be stated in one or two sentences without any technical terms. A good objective brings a smile to everyone’s face and a general feeling of lightness.

No Schedule

There is no project schedule, though due to their simplicity projects are relatively short. Time is not an issue. The most precious resource I allocate to a project is my caring attention. It is a limited resource so I treat it with care. The people I work with naturally recognize this because they do the same in their work. A project receives a limited share of my attention.

Pricing

I do not have and do not give set fees. Payment is up to the people I work with. I have faith in their perception of value and  their ability to translate that into money. Whatever the payment, it is offered and received with a smile and an open heart.

Success

A successful project is an enjoyable project. This is pretty much guaranteed when working with like-hearted people.

Posted in AltEco, Business, outside, Wordpress | You are welcome to add your comment

What can I do with WordPress?

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Well the simple answer would be almost everything, which to some extent is true. But there is one thing WordPress does really well, and the closer you to stick to that the more you will enjoy using WordPress and the better it can serve you. WordPress is wonderful at creating Blogs.

Time

Blog is short for Web-Log – you can think of it as an online diary. A core idea around which blogs operate is Time. The most basic Blog is like a list of diary entries – where the most recent entries are displayed first. In a way its like newspapers and magazines where time is a reference – what you are reading pertains to the time it was written. Some things, like news, are tightly bound to time – yesterdays news is almost not relevant for today. Some things are less bound to time, such as articles in a fashion magazine – they last longer then the news, but they also fade with the passing of seasons.

So a Blog is one specific kind of website where the pages are presented in reverse chronological order – the newest & latest entries are always presented first. WordPress is an exceptional tool for creating Blogs.

Do I Want a Blog?

This is key question and now is a good time to ask it (before we delve into the specifics of WordPress).  A few years ago it was fashionable to create web-sites as a kind of “online business card” – and there still are many websites that have a few pages that rarely (if ever) change. Blogs are not like that and not intended for that kind of web-site.

When you create a blog you open yourself up to the force of time. This force can support you and it can weigh you down. A blog is great if you want to create a continuous and fresh presence – it has tools to support you in doing this (we’ll talk about some of those tools a bit later). One thing a blog does not have is a motivation to create – that has to come from you.  A blog works when you keep it alive, you write consistently, you write well and you write from your heart. If that sounds like something you want to do then a blog is just the thing for you. So, do you want a blog? If so, read on.

Posts

A Post in WordPress is the equivalent of an entry in your diary.  In slightly more technical terms, a Post is a web-page with a time-stamp on it. When you publish a post it is given a time-stamp that indicates when it was published. This places in a relationship with all the other posts in your blog.  Posts that were published after it will appear before it (remember – the most recent posts are displayed first). Posts that were published before it will appear after it.

Most of your web–pages will be posts. A post can contain almost anything you want: text, images, video, audio, etc. You can publish as many posts as you want. Just remember – posts will always be displayed in reverse chronological order!

Pages

A Page is exactly the same as post except for one thing – it is not given a time stamp. Pages are used to display information that is static and doesn’t change often. Here are some example of pages:

  • An “About” page that provides general information about you and what your blog is about.
  • A “Contact” page that contains a contact-form visitors can use to leave you a message.
  • On this site I maintain a “Reading” page where I keep an updated list of the books I am currently reading (and books I’ve read in the past).

Pages are usually made  available to visitors at  all times. You don’t want them to mix with your posts, because they would quickly disappear from view.

Categories

Categories can be used to group posts together – like sections of a newspaper. This is helpful to readers who want to go directly to one topic instead of sifting through everything to find what they’re looking for. With WordPress you can create as many categories as you want (though it may be prudent not to over do it so visitors to your web-site don’t get lost). You can then assign a post to more then one category. This is one of the perks of technology – you can find a relevant article in more then one section of the newspaper.

You don’t need to decide in advance whether or not you want to use categories or what your categories will be. You can create and modify categories as you go. For example, you may, after writing for some time, recognize a recurring theme and you may want to bring that them to the attention of your readers. All you need to do is create a new category, and then add that category to the relevant posts. WordPress will automatically display the new theme to your visitors.

Comments

Comments facilitate a dialogue between you and your visitors.  WordPress makes it simple for visitors to comment on your posts & pages. Comments are usually displayed at the end of every post or page in what is called a comment thread. Each comment is added to the end of the thread – so a conversation can develop around your posts. You can decide whether or not comments are allowed (you can open some posts to comments, and close others), who is allowed to comment, you can review comments before they are published and you can also partake in the conversation by adding your own comments.

Trackbacks

Links are so common on the internet you hardly notice them. A link is something that points to a page on the web – links are usually intertwined with content and given an emphasis (such as a different color or an underline) to get your attention. For example – this is a link to my Reading page.

But there is more to links then meets the eye. Lets have a look at a sample scenario:  a visitor who reads your blog comes across an interesting post; this visitor also has a blog of her own and she writes a post on her blog about your post – and she includes in it a link to your post. This link symbolizes a relationship between you and her, it means you have something in common, something she cares about enough to write about and share with other people through her blog.

When this happens, wouldn’t you like to know about it? It’s not unlike a comment, only it’s not created on your blog. WordPress takes care of this too – it’s called Track-backs. In many cases WordPress can automatically identify when someone creates a link back to your blog and make a note of it. It can also display this information inside your comments – so when someone reads your post and then reads through the comments, they may benefit from reading what someone else wrote about it.

Track-backs also work the other way around. When you write a post and link to another person’s web-site you can also send them a track-back to let them know about it. It’s pleasant, polite and you never know who you will find on the other end of the line.

Comments & Track-backs are a doorway to connecting and socializing with visitors to your blog and with other people and their blogs.

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Yoga Sutra – Chapter 1 Sutra 20

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“For others Faith precedes firmness, remembrance, integration and insight”
Translation by Paul Harvey

This sutra describes a kind of positive feedback loop which is rooted in and nourishes faith:

  • Faith leads to resolve, a focused quality of energy.
  • Resolve acts as marker, it highlights the things that need to be done – right action.
  • Right actions leads to attention.
  • Attention to insight.
  • Insight nourishes faith.

YS1-20-Faith

There is another, less functional feedback loop that feeds on and breeds doubt:

  • Doubt leads to heaviness and lethargy, a dispersed quality of energy.
  • Heaviness breeds forgetfulness (of remembering of wrong things).
  • Forgetfulness leads to distraction.
  • Distraction to confusion.
  • Confusion increases doubt.

YS1-20-DoubtDoubt is the fire that consumes wisdom.

Posted in Yoga, Yoga Philosophy, Yoga Sutra, Yoga Texts | You are welcome to add your comment

Viloma Ujjayi

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Viloma Ujjayi is in a way an “opposite” technique to Anuloma Ujjayi.

The breathing cycle in Viloma Ujjayi is:

  1. Inhale through the left nostril (closing the right nostril by applying pressure to the thumb).
  2. Exhale with both nostrils open using Ujjayi (throat control).
  3. Inhale through the right nostril (closing the left nostril by applying pressure to your ring finger).
  4. Exhale with both nostrils open using Ujjayi (throat control).

IMPORTANT: never use two breath control techniques at the same time. In this case when you exhale using Ujjayi, both nostrils are open; when you inhale using nostril control you release the Ujjayi – DO NOT use Ujjayi when using nostril control. This is true for all Pranayama techniques. Ujjayi and nostril control both act as valves to affect the flow of breath – only use one at any given time.

If your practice includes holds then add them where necessary. Like Anuloma Ujjayi –  one round of breathing is made up of two breaths. When practicing, you should always do an even number of breaths – so that the practice remains symmetrical (unless you’ve been given specific instructions by a qualified teacher).

Here is a practice to get acquainted with Viloma Ujjayi. It begins and ends with regular Ujjayi breathing and in the middle the technique is changed to Viloma Ujjayi. Find yourself a comfortable seated position and do the following practice sequence :

1   –   0   –   1   –   0   (x4 – Ujjayi)

1   –   0   –   1   –   0   (x4 – Viloma Ujjayi)

1   –   0   – 1.5 –   0   (x4 – Viloma Ujjayi)

1   –   0   –   1   –   0   (x4 – Ujjayi)

Posted in Breath, Pranayama, Yoga | You are welcome to add your comment