“You would also do well to remember that what I say and how you perceive what I say can be completely different depending upon your awareness of yourself and the level of skill you have attained.”
Miyamoto Musashi translated by Stephen F. Kaufman

The Martial Artist’s Book of Five Rings

First Steps in Yoga

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The idea for this post started with a specific question: “How to find a good Yoga teacher?”. I almost fell into the trap of trying to answer it. It’s an impossible and irrelevant question. It carried a false sense of importance, it is almost an impossible task and has the potential to completely turn you off from approaching Yoga. Instead I would like to offer some ideas that may support you as you take your first steps.

Freedom

Remember that you are always free to make a choice. It is your imperative moral responsibility to make choices. A great place to start is when you attend Yoga classes. Walk away from people who trample that freedom – especially people who claim to be Yoga teachers. Your choices will fuel your progress, good choices will lead you on, mistakes will lead you on too, as you strive for making better choices.

I once attended a class with Mark Whitwell who said one thing that really stuck with me “Don’t look for teachers, look for friends”. You may be challenged to re-frame what friendship is, but when you do, that is a great piece of advice.

Move More, Think Less

The best way to explore Yoga is to practice Yoga. Talking, thinking and reading about it are more likely to lead you into illusion then to teach you anything substantial. Yoga is about knowledge that is awakened in your body, and how that knowledge affects your mind. The only way of tapping into that knowledge is by moving your body.

You have too many options – so many studios, so many styles, so many teachers? Pick one and go. You have only one teacher in your neighborhood, but not sure if her teaching is relevant for you? Go and try.

Give it a chance

You can have all kinds of initial experiences. As a rule of thumb I would suggest that you give a new teacher a chance –  2 – 4 lessons should be enough to give you what you need to make a choice. First impressions are tricky, especially when you are just getting started.

Having said that, I again call upon your obligation to choose. If you feel a teacher is just not right for you, your body is upset, your mind is upset, your energy is disturbed… walk away. This can and is very likely to happen to you.

Listen to Your Body

Please, please, please be attentive to your body. There are too many stories of unjustified and unwarranted Yoga injuries. Stop when your body demands it, try again when you are rested. If you encounter your limitations (and your teacher hasn’t offered you a variation that is more accessible for you) check to see if there is something else you can try, a different approach, a bent knee, a softer shoulder … play around. You are responsible for your own body.

Breathing & Ego

Breathing should be integrated into the practice, without it you are blind in tight corners (which you are very likely to encounter). Ujjayi breathing is, to the best of my knowledge, the most intimate and reliable reference for your state of practice.

If your breath is steady and controlled you are doing fine. If your breath is unsteady, noisy and out of control you have overstepped your boundaries (even if you think you can do more) – stop and rest. If you hear a voice (inside) that is insisting and pushing you to keep going – take a good look at it – there’s a good chance it’s your ego – if it is be thankful. This is a great Yoga moment, stop and observe your ego, eventually it will settle. When it does you can resume your practice.

Beginnings & Endings

To appreciate endings you need to pay attention to beginnings, to have a point of reference. Try to arrive to class a few minutes before the class begins. Take time to arrive, to make yourself comfortable, choose a place in the space, organize your stuff (switch off your mobile phone). It can be a great idea to find a resting posture (lying down or seated) and to let your body settle. If your mind is occupied try engaging it softly and patiently, you may discover  this will enable it to settle a bit. You can observe your body (is anything hurting today, a place in your body you should care for when moving?), your natural breathing, your feelings, your thoughts, your overall energy, anything that comes to you.

When the lesson ends, hopefully your teacher will give you some time to let everything you’ve done sink in and settle (if not, take a few minutes to yourself). Try to recall how you felt when the lesson began, and see how you feel now. Revisit the things you noticed in the beginning, see what has changed. Hopefully you will find that the lesson had a positive affect on your system. Let that information assimilate and inform your choices.

Logistics

Wear comfortable loose-fitting (but not too loose) clothes in which you can move freely. If you are sensitive to head and cold try to dress in layers, keep the clothes you may need close to you.

Try to come on an empty stomach, refrain from eating at least an hour & half before the practice (if you’ve had a heavy meal – then 2-3 hours!).

Make time for your practice so that you are not counting the minutes (counting the minutes tends to veil your experience of presence). Account for the length of the lesson, 10 or 15 minutes for arriving and leaving, driving to and from the lesson and then add a few minutes more.

Make Mistakes

Make marvelous  mistakes. Leave teachers you ought to have stayed with, stay with teachers you are better off leaving. Stay attentive and vigilant, watch what drives your choices, try new approaches, remain free to choose, stay happy with your choices. Be serious, be playful… Yoga is your search. A teacher is a powerful symbol and, as the saying goes, your teacher will appear when you are ready. Practice, practice, practice.

You may also want to read Flavors in Yoga to get some background on qualities of different forms of Yoga.

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Samkhya – Evolvents & Evolutes

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evolvent = that which is produced and produces.
evolute = that which is produced and does not produce.

Cosmic Intelligence (Mahat)

Cosmic Intelligence (The “Great Principle”) is the capacity to expand, reveal and ascertain (here there is no ideation, relationship or identity). It is the first appearance of the universe, the order that fulfills the ultimate destiny of nature. It is cosmic evolution, will,or urge to satisfy a want that has been created by a disturbance of the perfect balance of nature.  It is classified as an evolvent.

Individuating Principle (Ahamkara)

“aham” = I, “kr” = to do/make/perform. It is responsible for the limitations, separation and variety that come out of harmony. It is the state of active consciousness in which the illuminating aspect “I” identifies itself with the total “this” – it forms the dualistic state of as yet un-manifest universe. It is a state of self-realization in the presence of the universal will that precedes any action. It too is classified as an evolvent.

Cosmic Mind (Manas)

“man” = to think. The principle of cognition. It is an evolute – it does not produce new forms of being (as opposed to Cosmic Intelligence which does).

Cosmic Intelligence, Individuating Principle & Cosmic Mind are not separated in time – they arise simultaneously. They are together the outcome of the unbalance of the 3 Gunas. They are discussed separately only for the purpose of understanding.

Abstract Sense Powers (Indriyas)

These are ten principles :

  • 5 Abstract Knowing Senses (Jnanendriyas – powers of cognition):  Hear, Feel, See, Taste, Smell.
  • 5 Working Senses (Karmendriyas – capacities for action): Express, Procreate, excrete, grasp, move.

All 10 arise simultaneously with Mind (Manas) and are classified as evolutes (do no produce new modes of being). They have no real existence without objects – eg. the power to hear could have no meaning without sound.  The moment these abstract sense powers manifest themselves, their correlated subtle elements come into being.

(Comment: there seems to be a correlation between the Indriyas and primary Nadi).

Subtle Elements ( Tanmatras)

“tad” = that, “matra” = an element/elementary matter. Translated as “That-ness”. These are the subtle elements of the sense powers: sound, touch, form, flavor and odor. They are the first conceivable division of matter, the subtlest form of actual matter, without magnitude and perceived only through particular mediating objects. They are evolvents – from them the universe comes forth, continues and finally disappears.

When there is a further restraining aspect of the Tamas Guna, the subtle elements produce an accretion of mass which forms the Sense-Particulars.

Sense-Particulars (Mahabhutas)

“bhu” = tu be, to come into being, to exist. These are the five differentiable forms of Cosmic Substance:

  • Ether – Akasa (“kas” = to appear) is the principle of vacuity. It has the special property of sound.
  • Air – Vayu (“va” = blow) is the principle of motion – it’s function is pressure or impact. It has the special property of touch and general quality of sound.
  • Fire – Tejas (“tij” = to be sharp) is the principle of luminosity – it’s function is expansion. It has the special property of form and general quality of touch and sound.
  • Water – Apas (“ap” = water) is the principle of liquidity – it’s function is contraction. It has the special property of flavor and general quality of form, touch and sound.
  • Earth – Prthivi is the principle of solidarity – it’s function is cohesion. It has the special property of odor and general quality of flavor, for, touch and sound.

Each Sense-Particular is conditioned and evolved from the one proceeding it. It has a distinguishing special property in addition to the general qualities it inherits from the others from which it is evolved:

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

With the manifestation of the Sense-Particulars the process of cosmic evolution comes to rest – therefore these are classified as evolutes (they are produced but do not produce). All manifestation in the phenomenal world are said to be modifications of these principles and not the creation of anything new.

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Samkhya – Spirit & Matter (3 Gunas)

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Cosmic Spirit (Purusa)

This is the animating principle of nature, that which breathes life into matter; the source of consciousness. It is the ultimate principle of intelligence that regulates, guides and directs the process of cosmic evolution. It accounts for the intelligent order of things – why there is a cosmos and not chaos. It is a background that gives us the feeling of persistence. It is the silent witness of nature.

Cosmic Matter (Prakrti)

Prakrti:  “pra” = before/first, “kr” = make/produce. Cosmic Matter is that which existed before anything was produced.  The primary source of all things, the original substance out of which all things have come and into which all things will eventually return.

The central argument used by the Samkhya system is that something cannot come out of nothing. Therefore the  material universe is traced back to a first cause – this is Cosmic Matter – it is merely a logical assumption for the sake of analysis. It is beyond the mind and can never be perceived by the mind (no more then a surgeon can see the soul). It can be understood through reason but can only be known through the practice of Yoga. Cosmic Matter evolves in a chain of cause & effect.

Cause & effect are only different states of the same thing separated by time (there is only a change of form, never of substance). The cause is un-evolved and the effect is evolved. Both are real. Nothing is new is created, all is a manifestation of what has already existed. According to Samkhya the eternal process of nature is without beginning or end.

The Gunas

Cosmic Substance consists of 3 constituents/powers called Gunas which explain the diversified objects of existence (the term means a single thread/strand of a chord): Sattva, Rajas & Tamas.

  • Sattva Guna is derived from “sat” = that which is real or existent. It is that power of nature that illuminates and reveals all manifestations. It is devoid of excitement and is the cause of equilibrium. It has no motion of its own and therefore incapable of action or reactions. It manifests itself as light.
  • Rajas Guna is derived from “ranj” – to be colored/affected/moved. It is the activating and exciting potency without which the other two constituents (Sattva, Tamas) could not manifest their inherent qualities. It’s function is to move things, overcome resistance, do work. I is responsible for all motion and change that goes on throughout nature.
  • Tamas Guna means darkness. Is it the power of nature that restrains, obstructs and envelops the other two constituents by counteracting the tendency of Rajas to do work and Sattva to reveal.  It is the restraining and binding potency of nature, the downward pull of the earth, the cause of mass, weight and inertia. It makes it possible for us to feel invisible air.

The Gunas are the roof of all change, the foundation of reality, the essence of all things. They were in a state of perfect balance before the manifestation of the objective world. When this equilibrium is disturbed the phenomenal world begins to make its appearance. The initial stress (that disturbed the equilibrium) in nature is the result of past action (karma).  In the process of nature they co-exist in everything, but one may predominate. They remain potentially ready to emerge as distinct aspects when the conditions for the next manifestations arise. Never are they non-existent nor is their power diminished or altered in any way.

Spirit (Purusa) and Cosmic Substance (Prakrti) are two aspects of a single thing. They are separated only for the purpose of analysis and because they do not have any separate existence. The formless Spirit cannot act by itself because it has no vehicle.  The Cosmic Substance can have no urge to action because it is inanimate. Through their union existence can manifest. Both are eternal realities, un-manifest, without beginning or end, all pervading and omnipotent.

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-08-09

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Eternal & Present

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The Shakuhachi is quickly becoming an integrated part of my yoga & meditation practice. Sometimes I play it before practicing, usually when I a feel unfocused. Other times I play it after I practice to get a sense of where I am. It is both a bridge from present to eternal and from eternal to present.

This morning I sat for a short meditation and then played the Shakuhachi. I have adopted the idea of Time as a focus of meditation – so when I am not floating around in it I am observing it. Today this idea also crossed over into my Shakuhachi playing. But, because Shakuhachi is an instrument of sound, and sound is a manifestation of Ether my focus changed accordingly.

As I played I first imagined a movement of sound-waves in space – so in a way my playing became a physical object. Then gradually that faded and I visited with longer tones, feeling their resonance in my lips, fingers and an overall bodily sensation. I recognized subtle variances in sound and in my ability to affect it (and it affect me).

I then had a notion that sound has two aspects – one is eternal and the other is present. One resonates of a continuous element and the other resonates of qualities that are always changing coming and going. When I finished playing I wondered if this could be related to ideas of harmony and melody. Harmony as an eternal truth that manifests through melody. All melodies have harmony, yet harmony continues to exist in silence.

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Samkhya – Introduction

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Samkhya is the oldest school of Hindu philosophy (placed around 6th century B.C.) and the first attempt to harmonize the philosophy of the Veda’s through reason. It it based on scientific principles of conservation, transformation and dissipation of energy.

It’s purpose is to provide knowledge which will forever remove the cause of misery and thereby release the soul from its bondage. It indicates three kinds of misery:  from intrinsic causes (such as disorders of the body & mind), extrinsic causes (such as other men or inanimate objects) and supernatural causes (such as the atmosphere or planets). The misery of the soul is said to be caused by its intimate association with the body. Bondage (of the soul to the body) is claimed to be purely an illusion caused by incorrect knowledge of the true nature of things. Therefore it is believed that discriminate knowledge will forever release the soul from all misery.

Samkhya deals exclusively with the empirical world which is governed by the rules of reason and can be known. It leaves the more transcendental speculations to other systems, maintaining that questions pertaining to the beginning of things are not conductive to enlightenment.

The phenomenal order of the universe is considered as a dynamic order, an eternal process of unfolding, without beginning or end. All has evolved from an Uncaused Cause – a postulated  absolute beginning which cannot be conceived by the intellect.

Samkhya postulates two ultimate realities (logical principles) – Spirit (Purusa) and Matter (Prakrti) to account for all experience.  A fundamental tenet of Samkhya is that creation is impossible, for something cannot come out of nothing. Change implies something to change; whatever is, always is, and whatever is not, never is.

Samkhya divides cosmic evolution into 25 categories grouped into four:

  1. Cosmic Spirit (Purusa) – that which is neither produced nor produces.
  2. Cosmic Substance (Prakrti) – that which is not produced but produces.
  3. 7 Evolvents – those which are produced and do produce.
  4. 16 Evolutes – those which are produced and do not produce.
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Face to Face

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Fred Wilson recently wrote about Face to Face Board Meetings. This prompted me to write about something I experienced about two years ago. It was a meeting in which I learned a lot about meetings – and after it I remember thinking, I wish I could share this experience with business people.

The meeting was a preparation for a performance – an improvised performance. you may be asking yourself why there is a preparation for an improvised performance? An improvised performance is built around an idea of an “agreement”. This agreement reflects the wishes of the performers and provides a containing energy. It can contain ideas like props to be used, metaphors, sequencing, timing… anything that supports that performers. It can be “tight” – everyone agrees to stick to the agreement (no matter what!), it can be loose – everyone agrees that the ideas of the agreement are there, but anything goes. An agreement can be as creative as the performance itself. But there has to be an agreement that everyone embraces – passionately.

This particular meeting went on for 4 or 5 hours. At the end of it we were pretty exhausted and the only thing that was nailed down was that everyone wanted to partake in this upcoming performance. By business standards this would have been a complete waste of time. 4 or 5 hours with nothing to show for it? Let me tell you what did happen during this meeting

  • We had not seen each other for some time and this meeting gave us a chance to spend time together, get a sense of where everyone was in their life, see each other and touch each other.
  • We ate and drank together.
  • We all had different ideas about what we wanted to do in this performance, we all got ample opportunity to share our ideas and let other connect with them (or not).
  • The performance was part of a larger event which already had a theme. We talked about this and let it connect with and affect our own thoughts, ideas and wishes.
  • We had an opportunity to feel excitement when other people connected to something we wanted to do, and we had an opportunity to feel disappointment when an idea did not resonate.
  • We ate and drank together.
  • We had time to let ideas (our own and others) penetrate us and then later resurface and make new connections.
  • We had time to let personal conversations mingle with the group conversation.
  • We made a list of props and tools we needed to execute some of our ideas so that we each had some followup work to do.
  • We grew tired and lapsed out of the conversation, rested, collected our energy and then moved back in.
  • We grew impatient and enjoyed being in the presence of people who can contain that impatience.
  • We ate and drank together.
  • We walked away feeling more together then when we started.

We were sitting in a coffee -shop, because we didn’t have a studio available to us. Had we been in a studio there would have been much more physical movement, we all think better when we have freedom to move our bodies. Mind has an amazing capacity to move quickly – sometimes so quick that it becomes erratic and disengaged from the present. Body tempers the mind. Body takes time to settle, to find it’s place in a chair. Body is a seat for mind, senses are instruments available to it. Body has a different rhythm then mind, it moves slower and stays longer. Most business meetings are not long enough to let the body arrive.

Board meetings are a unique and (purposefully) infrequent opportunity for a unique group of people who are not involved and caught up in the day-to-day realities of the business to provide a wider, perspective and hopefully useful guidance to people who navigate the business on a daily basis. Fred gave an example in his post of a board-meeting that began with a dinner – I believe this is the kind of space required for people to come together. I love the idea of Board Retreats. Fred also wrote a while back a nice post about building successful long term relationships – I believe that building the long term takes time in the short term, there are no shortcuts.

Improvisation is the closest form of art & expression I know to real-life. When you come as an audience to an improvised performance, you are actually walking in on the last part, for the performers the performance begins way before you got there. Almost everything we do in life is improvised – board meetings included.

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Dryed Tea Leaves

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The sun and air did their part in drying the tea-leaves I collected and hung 2 weeks ago. This morning I took them down and collected the leaves into jars. I had a hard time believing it when Andreea told me that it would be this way – but the aroma of the dried leaves is way more intense then the freshly picked leaves. She explained that when they have dried the leaves are made up of almost only their essential elements – those that give them fragrance. The leaves we have are sage, lemon verbena, spearmint, lemon grass & thyme-leaved savory. They are all very “airy” fragrances.

tealeaves

This was a very satisfying project 🙂 I should do more of this quality of work … makes me feel good.

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Vaisesika – Soul & Mind

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Soul (Atman)

Soul is a reality postulated from the universal experience of consciousness – the property of awareness attributed to all animate things.

As a general rule, consciousness is thought of in connection with the body – but the body cannot be it’s substance – it has already been shown that it is composed of the four Bhutas. Some thinkers maintain that when that these basic elements of nature combine and form a new thing – this new thing has special properties of its own – this may be true but does not apply to the body.

Think of it like this. Alcohol does not exist in the grain from which it is produced. But, once alcohol is produced intoxication is a property of every drop of alcohol as it is of the entire bottle. With the body this is not the case. Soul does not reside in all parts of the body (you can lose an arm but you won’t lose soul with it).

The body is a created thing and so must be made for a purpose of something other then itself (like an auto is made for the use of man, an automobile cannot drive itself). The mere existence of body, therefor implies the existence of something else – something to use it.

Soul is a permanent quality – without it memory would not be possible and neither could the feeling of self identity that we carry with us through life. From infancy to old age we pass through many physical (physiologists tell us that the cellular structure of the body is completely renewed every few years) and mental transitions yet we maintain a consistent sense of identity.

Consciousness inheres in Soul (Atman) as sound inheres in Ether (Akasa) – it is not essential to it – Soul can exist without the manifestation of consciousness. Consciousness only appears when Atman is in a special relationship with something.

Mind (Manas)

Manas is derived from “man” – to thing, believe, imagine, suppose or conjecture. It translates as Mind and is used in a wide sense – it applied to all mental powers – intellect, understanding, perception, sense, conscience and will.

This reality is postulated from the fact that we observe occasions that the all-pervading Soul does not perceive an object, even though the sense (which are the souls instrument of perception) are in contact with it. This indicates that something else is in play – something is mediating between the soul and the senses. This is Mind.

The existence of mind is evident from the fact that we can perceive only one thing at a time. If indeed the Soul is all-pervading it should be able to receive impressions from all the sense at once.

Soul can only perceive objects by the means of some instrument of perception  – such as the senses which reveal to it objects of the external world. What then accounts for perceptions of the internal world – ideas, thoughts and feelings?  Mind is this instrument.

Forgetting and remembering are also experiences that are beyond Soul. An object that has left the field of senses and perception can pass in and out of the realm of consciousness. This is another quality and evidence of the existence of Mind.

Soul (Atman) is the basis of all experience, while Mind (Manas) is only an instrument for experience.

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Flavors of Yoga

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I intend this post to be a first in a series which hopefully deals with the question “How to find a yoga teacher?”. To do this I believe some background is required. I believe a good place to start is with the different flavors of Yoga that are “on the market” – in this case when I say Yoga I am referring to the physical aspects of Yoga (since this is where you are most likely to start).

Yoga was resurrected during the early twentieth century by Krishnamacharya – and some mystery veils how he came to acquire his extensive knowledge. He had 3 prominent students each of which became associated with a “system of yoga”. Pattahbi Jois is the father of Ashtanga Yoga (a popular form in the west), Iyengar is the father of Iyengar Yoga (another popular form) and Desikachar (who is Krishnamacharya’s son) who taught/teaches a less popular “brand” that was known as Viniyoga. Of the three, Desikachar spent the most time studying with Krishnamacharya (Jois & Iyengar spent a relatively limited period of time under the tuition of Krishnamacharya) and is therefore closest to his teachings and considered his successor (being his son helped too!). A key quality of Krishnamacharya’s teaching was adapting a practice to the practitioner. I will expand on this point later, but one implication of this is that each of these three prominent teachers was introduced to Yoga in a way that was relevant to them. Inevitably, that selective process resonates through their own practice and systems of teaching.

My teachers and I are a part of the Viniyoga heritage.

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Physicality

Ashtanga yoga is well known for it’s intense physicality. It is composed of fixed sequences that are graded by difficulty.  The sequences are like a “dance” taught and practiced rather uniformly with an emphasis on the overall flow of the practice. It requires stamina, strength and flexibility. It is a very dynamic practice.

Iyengar is also considered physically intense. It uses a wide range of asana (postures). Much attention is placed on minute details and specifics of the postures. It’s focus is a more static practice – spending time in each posture.

Viniyoga is considered a soft yoga. This is a result of a core Viniyoga approach to physicality – to make the postures accessible to the practitioner. Viniyoga generally utilizes a smaller set of postures but uses many variations and modifications to adapt postures to the capabilities and needs of a practitioner. Viniyoga is therefore very useful in therapeutic situations in which limitations of the practitioner need to be taken into consideration. The intensity of a Viniyoga practice rests heavily on the combination of breath and asana. Viniyoga utilizes (depending on the practitioner) a combination of dynamic and static postures, generally a Viniyoga practice will take you (over months and years!) from a more dynamic practice to a more static practice (static is generally considered more intense then dynamic).

Accessibility

Unless you are a fit and flexible individual (like dancers or athletes) you will be hard-pressed to start with a classic Ashtanga Yoga practice. Inevitably some teachers have created variations on the system to make it more accessible to more practitioners, though strictly speaking it is not Ashtanga.

Iyengar is a system in which one can be a beginner and gradually evolve towards a more intense, full & classic practice. Yet, Iyengar teachers were taught and practice strictly classical variations of postures – paying attention to many minute details. For many people the classic postures are either inaccessible or irrelevant (not very useful). You can practice a variation that is not relevant for your body for many years with little to no progress.

Viniyoga is a starting place for everyone – because each individual is the starting point of the practice. A Viniyoga teacher will be able to guide you through variations of a posture to find one that is accessible and effective for you. In Viniyoga group practices you will see that different people are using different variations of the same postures – this is inherently built into the system.

Breathing

In Ashtanga breathing is a second priority to movement. The focus on flow and intensity of the movement usually leave little space for breathing. You may get very little or even no guidance on breathing (other then a reminder to do it) – it is usually a natural development of the practice. Because of the intense physicality of the practice – the breath is short and erratic.

In Iyengar Yoga breathing is given more emphasis but it is also secondary to the physicality of the Asana. Ultimately the use of breath depends on the preferences and priorities of the teacher.

In Viniyoga breathing is a dominant aspect of the practice. I was taught and believe that a practice is not Yoga unless there is a systemic use of breath. Breathing generally manifests in two areas of practice:

  1. It is used in ALL the physical practices (exceptions exists, and are usually a result of adapting a practice to an individual who cannot access breath – though this is very rare) – there is a specific and systemic relationship between movement, posture and breath. It takes time, practice and gradual development to master breath and movement.
  2. Pranayama – these are breathing practices that are executed in seated postures, usually applied at the end of a practice . Like postures, breathing practices have many variations and can be adapted to individual needs and capabilities.

The two form a subtle growth and development cycle –  physical practice prepares the body for Pranayama practices which in turn extend the breath and create more space and length for exploring physical postures in more depth.

Precision

Yoga can be practiced artfully with attention to detail. To the best of my knowledge all three systems of Yoga preach and practice precision, but they each have a different focus and as a result different effects on a practitioner.

Ashtanga places focus and attention on the precision of the overall flow of a practice. Precision in each and every posture is secondary to the continuous flow. Each posture is visited briefly, though numerous times (the overall sequence is repeated numerous times). If you are fit and able to contain the practice with ease (!) then you may have an opportunity to pay attention to more minute details of each posture. If not then you will be skimming lightly over the postures which are therefore not likely to develop much. You can get an overall improved sense of the flow, but unless you are really in great shape – specific postures will not be explored in depth – there simply isn’t much time, and in what little time there is you will be out of breath and unavailable for further exploration.

Iyengar places very much attention on details and precision of physical postures. There is relatively more time to spend in each posture in exploring subtle aspects. Generally Iyengar teachers will provide loads of information and tips on how to fine-tune your practice.

Viniyoga places much attention on precision in execution of breath, postures and the relationship between them. Precision is highly adapted to each individual. A Viniyoga teacher selectively brings attention to details that are relevant to and support the practitioner. Precision gradually grows as mind, body & breath adapt to the practice.

I think its useful to remember at this point that Yoga is ultimately a science of the mind and that precision needs to be measured in that context. You can obsessively practice many physical aspects of Yoga – with no or even detrimental effects on the mind. This is one of the key qualities and opportunities that Yoga creates in a physical practice – it can be used and abused.

Demonstration

Generally you will find much demonstration by teachers in Ashtanga and Iyengar classes. Ashtanga relies on you following the flow as demonstrated by the teacher – this means that most of the time at least part of your attention and your body will be involved in observing and following the teacher. In Iyengar, the ambition to do postures precisely in their classic form invites demonstration either by the teacher or by physically capable students (under guidance of the teacher).

You are less likely to see a Viniyoga teacher demonstrate postures. In Viniyoga the teacher will be trying to lead you to your limits not to hers. Learning by example is a powerful and effective tool, so in Viniyoga attention is placed on giving you the right example. A teacher may give examples by demonstrating with the assistance of students – not necessarily the most capable ones – but those whose limitations may best exemplify how to use variations to make a posture accessible.

31 Flavors

There are many more flavors and brands of Yoga. Sivananda comes to mind as a system that places emphasis on ritual. Bikram Yoga invites you to practice in steaming sauna conditions. Kundalini will promise to awaken your primordial energy. You can do Yoga naked. You can stand around with a bunch of people and laugh your head – and they call that Yoga too.

It is up to you to make a conscious choice of what you want to bring into your life, your heart, your body & your mind. More on that soon.

You may also want to read about taking your first steps in Yoga

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Sincerity

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A while ago I watched a documentary called “Unwinking Gaze” (you can find some youtube clips) which gives an intimate perspective into the Dalai Lama and his close circle of advisors. The movie is offered as a means for every viewer to assess the sincerity of the Dalai Lama’s dealing with China (as a counter to the accusations of insincerity made by the Chinese). My overall impression of the movie was disappointment. I wished it had penetrated deeper. I also, to my great surprise, felt that the Dalai Lama, as presented in this movie was indeed dishonest and insincere. It took me until this morning (a few months) to let that first impression settle and for something else to appear. I have never met or spoken with the Dalai Lama and I have not invested effort in researching Tibet nor in expressing an opinion in the matter, so the following is nothing more then an echo of my own introspection.

At one point in the movie the Dalai Lama says that his cause is not to liberate Tibet from China. He believes that Tibet can benefit greatly from being a part of China (he gives an example – roads and infrastructures – that would develop better and faster it Tibet is a part of China). He even goes so far as saying he is willing to become a Chinese citizen. That is where my heart clenched. I felt that to be a defiant and manipulative claim. How can the Dalai Lama who embodies spiritual development and preachers human rights that are a prerequisite for spiritual practice & growth possibly become a willing member of a regime (communist China) that opposes those very values? It appeared to be an empty, irrelevant and insulting proposal (definitely got my sympathies on the side of the Chinese).

This morning it came to me that the Dalai Lama is simply being only as sincere as he can be. I believe this is also the reason that at some points in the movie he requested that the camera be turned off. I believe he knows that Tibet is not going to be freed, not any time soon, not in his life time for sure. Yet he seems to be working relentlessly for that cause (a sign of a true warrior). He cannot share this with Tibetans (some of which are on the brink of violence), he cannot share this with the West (who completely associate his existence with the Tibetan cause), he cannot share this with the media (who would have a picnic) and he most definitely cannot share this with the Chinese (who already know this, but maybe think he doesn’t). He balances a delicate balance between so many forces – so much so that it is almost impossible to even separate them into internal and external forces. Who is friend and who is enemy?

The Chinese perspective is rightfully that the Dalai Lama is not sincere with them – and I also trust they know why. The Dalai Lama, I believe, is not fighting for the freedom of Tibet, he is fighting for the freedom of the Chinese & Tibet, and the Chinese are not handing out citizenship to freedom fighters.

The Dalai Lama cannot state the truth (aside: truth can be known but not stated), but he can and is acting on it. This is a difficult lesson I have been struggling to learn over the past years – and probably the source of my friction with the movie . Tibet will be free when freeing it is no longer required. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is on an impossible mission – he is relentlessly touring the world to reach each and every one of us. Tibet is just an excuse, it’s a great excuse because it touches so many people and inspires them to move closer and act, act with spirit. The Dalai Lama is using Tibet & the Chinese to teach us, knowing that when we’ve spent enough time deliberating Tibet we will eventually encounter ourselves. It is a remarkable, brave and inspiring sacrifice.

One of the responsibilities of a teacher in an eastern teacher-student relationship is to expose the student to knowledge at a time and in a way that is most beneficial for the student. Sincerity, like many other things, must be delivered in effective and right measures. The Dalai Lama, I believe, is being an exceptional teacher to a huge class (one that stretches way beyond those who practice Buddhism).

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The Best of the Not So Good

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This is for Hebrew speakers – context and humor will get lost in translation. It really had me going … Enjoy 🙂

mediocre

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Vaisesika – Ether, Time, Space

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Ether (Akasa)

The fifth eternal reality is Akasa – derived from the root “kas” ~ to be visible, appear, to shine, to be brilliant. It is that in which things appear – Ether. It accounts for the universal phenomenon of sound which is a special quality not associated with the other four elements. Sounds can be produced in any of them, but the absence of sound does not produce any alteration in their essential nature. Therefore we can postulate another reality – one in which sounds can inhere (like touch in air).

Sound is an objective phenomenon because it can be witnesses by several persons as being something apart from themselves. Ether is also demonstrated through the other Paramanus – they are all pure points (anus) and they require some medium in which they unite to produce new forms. An all pervading continuum is an absolute logical necessity for manifestation – Ether is assumed to be that medium.

Ether is of infinite magnitude (and therefor motionless), has no parts, indestrcutible and eternal. Like the Paramanus it cannot be perceived. However is has a special property – sound – which is perceived by a special sense of hearing.

Ether, together with the 4 Paramanus – earth, water, fire & air are called in Sanskrit “Bhutas” – that which has become – the ultimate essence of nature.

Time (Kala)

Kala is said to come from the root “kal” – to calculate or enumerate – it is translated as “time”. It is a reality that arises from the notional ideas of present, past and future – produced by the continual coming and going of all manifest phenomena in the objective world of sensible matter. This is caused by an outside force – otherwise there would be no reason for mutual relations such as seasonal changes and other periodic cycles.

This force cannot be Ether because these changes do not produce sound – if it were, the universe would be in a constant roar. It is a reality because we cannot conceive it to be dependent on anything for its existence.

Space (Dik)

The word Dik is derived from the root “dis” – to point out, show, exhibit. It is a direction, region or cardinal point – it gives rise to the notions of east, west, sough and north. The necessity for this reality arises from the fact that all things are seen to have an orderly relationship in the course of their movement – they hold a relative position.

Time cannot be this force because it operates in the opposite direction to Space. Time creates a unified affect, while Space must hold everything apart in order for things to have positional relationship with one another.

We tend to confuse Space with Ether. We think of Ether as a space in which things manifest. A good example to tell that two apart is to think of a chandelier and the room in which it hangs. The room provides the space – Ether and the chain which hold the chandelier suspended in the room is Space – the positional force. Space holds all things that manifest themselves in Ether.

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Vaisesika – Paramanus

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The first four Eternal Realities: Earth, Water, Fire & Air are together considered Paramanus – which are the ultimate elements out of which they are composed:  anu ~ that beyond which there can be no division, parama ~ superlative. Paramanu is the smallest possible division of matter or that whole which has no parts. By definition they are without parts, which means they were not produced, cannot be destroyed (since destruction involves separation of parts), and are therefor eternal. For the same reason they have no magnitude, do not occupy space and have no inside or outside. They can only be conceived by the mind.

We do not doubt the actual existence of sensible matter of the objective world. The fact that it is something apart from ourselves is proved from the fact that it does not yield to our influence as do ideas and thoughts of the mental world which we can call into being and banish at our will. If, then, the sensible world exists, it must be made of Paramanus, which are the logical ultimates of all things.

The emptiness of matter has been proved by scientists employing western methods. They have been able to show that a block of marble contains more space than solid substance. It has been established that all mass is composed of atoms in which the distance between the nucleus and other constituents are proportionately the same as the planets of our solar system. If all sensible matter did not contain empty space, we could not accept the axiom that the Universe is pervaded by some cosmic force or power (whatever you choose to call it).

If science has shown us that matter is merely an extension of the invisible, a question arises, how can something of magnitude be produced from something without magnitude?

From Nothing to Something

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.

If at least two points (anus) associate themselves along a common axis the resultant effect is a line which is defined as a series of related positions – in Sanskrit “Dvyanuka”.

To produce thickness (necessary for creation of all visible phenomena having magnitude), it is necessary for at least 3 lines to associate themselves in such a manner that they will combine to form an integral whole – in Sanskrit “Tryanuka”. To produce this form, 3 lines must remain apart and relate themselves on different plants so as not form a more extended line. They produce an independent unit, operating as a separate system with its own sphere of influence apart from the individual points (anus) from which it is made. Thus we have all visible forms known to us in the objective world, varying only in the degree of intensity of the association (forming anything from vaporous clouds or glittering diamonds).

So in the last analysis, everything is but an appearance of an intangible reality; that appearance is the magnitude called mass, which is only a means of measurement and not an actual reality.

Special Properties

The Paramanus are beyond the range of perception, their existence is known only by the manifestation of their inherent attributes. Some attributes are common to all Paramanus (for example: when they come together to produce forms of the objective world they are all impenetrable) – but these General Qualities do not enable us to isolate and comprehend the ultimate variables out of which all things are produced (the diversity of which assures us that there must be several types of ultimate Paramanus).

There are differentiating attributes which enable us to distinguish between different Paramanus. These attributes are so closely related with their substances – that their removal means absence of substance – if you remove wetness from water, there is no water. These are called Special Properties (Visesas) and it is by them that the Paramanus must be qualified. There are 4 such attributes: Odor, Flavor, Form & Touch. An examination of the objective world will clearly show us that there are certain forms of matter that are closely related to these special properties (removal of fragrance from perfume destroys it). These substances are Earth (Prthivi), Water (Apana), Fire (Tejas) & Air (Vayu). They are an objective manifestation of their underlying Paramanus.

Accordingly the Paramanus can be classified as:

  1. The Paramanus which originate odor.
  2. The Paramanus which originate flavor.
  3. The Paramanus which originate form.
  4. The Paramanus which originate touch.

Matter & Senses

The four substances are described in the sutras from gross to subtle:

  1. Earth has odor, flavor, form & touch.
  2. Water has flavor, form & touch.
  3. Fire has form & touch.
  4. Air has touch.

These four categories of matter make themselves know to us by means of special senses which must be made from the same essential ingredients (artificial pressure on the optic nerve produces light). We know that each sense is capable of perceiving only one of the Special Properties, for example the eye can see only forms, ever smell odors or taste flavors. Since nothing can be found that is composed by anything besides these four basic realities they are considered the foundation and the ultimate constituents of all things in the objective world of sensible matter.

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-08-02

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Powered by Twitter Tools.

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Vaisesika – Introduction

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The term Vaisesika is derived from the Sanskrit word “visesa” – which means the characteristics that distinguish a particular thing from all other things.  As a system of philosophy it teaches that knowledge of nature is obtained by knowing the distinguishing properties that distinguish 9 eternal realities: earth, water, fire, air, ether, time, space, soul and mind.

When we have knowledge of the distinguishing characteristics of reality, objects of perception will no longer awaken within us the feeling of attraction or aversion which is the source of all misery. This liberation from suffering cannot be attained by only the cessation of pain because the memory (Samskara) of past pains and the ever-present potential of future pains. This potentiality  is an echo of consequences of past actions in the soul. It can be neutralized by practicing Yoga. But the prime requisite is claimed to be an intellectual insight into the true nature of reality.

The founder of Vaisesika was known, amongst other names, as Kanada: kana ~ atom, ad ~ eat = atom-eater. He was given this name because he resolved reality to it’s smallest possible division – “anu” in Sanskrit, commonly translated as “atom”.

Vaisesika accepts the universe as it is found in space, changing in time, displaying a medley of sounds, colors and forms of the phenomenal world. By the process of reason it organized this chaotic mass into a coherent and intelligible whole, and exhibits a system that sets forth the cosmic plan which shows the interrelation of all its parts into a synthetic whole, operating with such perfection that its very conception is spiritually exhilirating.

The principal question of the Vaisesika is “What are the basic realities of nature?”. There is no desire to indulge in intellectual speculation about the origin of things, but only to seek out the means of philosophical insight.

Vaisesika contains references to the laws which have served as the means of all ancient knowledge of the composition and transformation of substances, the action of forces on moving bodies, sciences dealing with heat, light, sound, electricity and magnetism. Even ethics, sociology and psychology are intimated.

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Nyaya – Preventing Error

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Discussion

Discussion is the adoption of one of two opposing sides. What is adopted is analyzed in the form of the five members and defended by the aid of any of the means of right knowledge, while its opposite is assailed by confutation, without deviation from the established tenets.

Controversy (Polemics)

Controversy is aimed at victory, it is the defense or attack of a proposition.

A polemist is on who engages in an argument for the sole purpose of victory. He has no desire to gain further knowledge of Truth, and therefore, will employ any device (usually of negative character) of debate in order to win.

Frequently the students will encounter objectionable personalities who have not attained true knowledge but who are overcome with their intellectual attainments in the field of philosophical thoughts. These people violate all rules of propriety, having no consideration for the beliefs of another. Under such circumstances the student is urged to make use of these devices in order to protect his growing mind in the same way that nature uses thorns on some plants to safeguard the growth of its fruits.

Fallacies of Reason

Fallacies of reason are the erratic, the contradictory, the equal to the question, the unproved and the mistimed:

  • The erratic is defined as the reason which leads to more conclusions than one.
  • The contradictory is defined as the reason whicih opposes what is to be esablished.
  • Equal to the question is defined as the reason which provokes the very question for the solution of which it was employed.
  • The unproved is defined as the reason which stands in need of proof, in the same way as the proposition does.
  • The mistimed is defined as the reason which is adduced when the time is passwed in which it might hold good.

Equivocation

Equivocation is the opposition offered to a proposition by the assumption of an alternative meaning. These are (2) playing upon words, (2) generalizations nd (3) metaphors.

Futility

Futility consists of offering objections founded on mere similarity or dissimilarity. The reply is said to be futile if it does not take into consideration the universal connection between the middle term and the major term. There are 24 kinds of futility.

Disagreement in Principle

There is no purpose in arguing with one who reveals his utter lack of understanding of the subject of investigation; therefore one is privileged to stop the argument. There are 22 occasions of disagreement.

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Nyaya – Doubt to Confutation

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Doubt

Doubt is a conflicting judgment about the precise character of an object. It must not be confused with error which is false knowledge. Doubt is incomplete knowledge which serves as the incentive for investigation. False knowledge may produce conviction which puts the mind to sleep by removing all desire for further knowledge.

Purpose

Purpose serves at the motive behind all action which may be to attain something or avoid something. Until there is purpose, there can be no successful action. The text goes on to list 5 kinds of doubt

A Familiar Example

A familiar example is the thing about which an ordinary man and an expert entertain the same opinion. Such an example can be used as an example in the process of reasoning from the known to the unknown.

Established Tenet

Established tenet is a dogma resting on the authority of a certain school, hypothesis or implication.  The text goes on to list 4 kinds of dogma.

The Members

The members are the logical steps used to establish the object of knowledge:

  1. Proposition – enunciation of the object of knowledge:  This hill is fiery
  2. Reason – a vehicle of inference used to prove the proposition: Because it is smokey
  3. Example – an object of perception: Whatever is smoky is fiery, as a kitchen
  4. Application – consists of comparison: So this hill is smoky
  5. Conclusion – convergence of the previous 4 means toward the same object & right knowledge: Therefore, this hill is fiery

The text goes on with a detailed explanation of the inner workings and qualification of these 5 members. I believe they form the rules & foundations for a Indian philosophical art of debate I’ve heard mentioned in my studies.

Confutation

Confutation is reasoning which reveals the character by showing absurdity of all contrary characters.

Ascertainment

Ascertainment is the determination of the object by means of opposite views after a first impression which creates doubt. The sequence of investigation is as follows: first impression, doubt, opposite views, application of the rules of reason, determination of the object, ascertainment, knowledge of reality.

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Remembering to Look

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As we stepped out the door to go for a walk in the village, something called me back and I took the camera along. This is what Elkosh looked liked today.

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Eat Real Eat Local

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While this is a Canadian production it touches a global truth too… enjoy 🙂

Hellmann’s – It’s Time for Real from CRUSH on Vimeo.

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