Yoga: Eight is Enough

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AUM…

So here’s the post that this post is based upon.

To recap.  This guy, Patanjali, suggested we live our lives according to an eight part plan.

He called this plan Yoga.

Aummmmmmm...

Through the years, many people have worked to turn his plan into “holy” text, and him into some kind of deity.

He was no deity.  And his plan is exactly that, a plan.

In my humble opinion, it’s a pretty good plan.

By following his plan, one can find their life centered, peaceful, and relatively uncluttered by conflict, anger, or anxiety.

He’s not the first one to come up with such ideas.  But he was the first to be so darned organized about it.

I realize this now because, according to Patanjali’s plan, I’ve been doing yoga since my late teens.

Back then I’d discovered religion.  Not just any religion, all religion.  And I worked at understanding their commonalities and strengths.  It was cool.

It was also the era of books like “I’m OK and You’re OK.”  Self-help books that also offered life plans for happiness and success.  I read those as well.

Now that I understand the essence of what Patanjali was writing, I see him for what he was.  Another self-help writer.

So, without further ado, here are the eight limbs of yoga presented in modern self-help terms, in my favorite order.

  1. Samādhi: This is the top of his plan.  Call it self-realization or inspiration.  It basically means you accept yourself as part of the great infinite universe, and allow yourself the freedom to influence your own fate.  You’re in charge.  I like starting here because it’s the grand culmination of everything else Patanjali suggests.
  2. Dhyāna: This part of yoga means meditation, or at least being thoughtful.  Think about one thing.  Think about many things.  Think about all things.  It’s OK to meditate in any way you want.  The point is to be able to think, calmly, peacefully, and productively.  Some people truly freak out about meditating.  Don’t.
  3. Dhāraṇā:  Concentration.  This is the part that worries some people regarding meditation.  That’s not what Patanjali was telling us.  For this part of yoga, he’s encouraging us to focus on whatever it is that concerns us.  Family?  Pain in my hip?  Global warming?  Doesn’t matter.  Whatever it is that worries you, or makes you happy, focus on that.  Study it.  Compare it.  Don’t get possessive!
  4. Pratyāhāra:  Did I mention not getting possessive?  That’s what this one is all about.  Chill.  Don’t sweat it.  Back off.  Watch yourself watching.  In the end it’s not about you.  If you can’t do anything about it, then worry less.  If you can, then be patient and spend your energy wisely.
  5. Yama:  These next two items are great, because they correspond to the judeo-christian commandments.  Every religion has do’s and don’ts.  These are the DOs.
  6. Niyama:  The “Ni” means no.  These are the DON’Ts of yoga.
  7. Āsana:  Here’s the exercise part which is how we in the West think of yoga.  You see it’s far down on my list, but that’s not because it’s not important.  It’s rather more a foundation element.  And it doesn’t mean crazy dancer-like postures.  You can run.  You can row.  You can jump or bicycle.  They aren’t as efficient as traditional poses, but they are still your asanas.  Own them.
  8. Prānāyāma:  This is the ultimate foundation of all yoga.  Patanjali is reminding us, that at the bottom of all things, no matter what’s bothering us or what the situation is, JUST BREATH.  Isn’t that great advice?

There you have it.  Ancient wisdom in modern terms.  Patanjali’s 8 point plan in modern parlance.

I recommend it.  I’ve been using it for decades now, and feel great!

AUM.

 

 

 

 

Yoga: Beyond Religion

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I started a yoga class for exercise in 2006 and have been hooked ever since.

Along the way I started learning more about the mythologies that many people associate with this discipline, and used to ignore them.  After all, I was getting what I came for.

An incredibly complete and efficient way to exercise and stay healthy.

Aummmmmmm...

 

But, as usual, my curiosity got the better of me.

I learned more about yoga.  Where it came from, how it’s been interpreted over the years, and who the big players have been.

What I learned will have to be a whole other post.  For today, I’ll tell you what I learned in a nutshell.

Yoga isn’t about exercise.  Far from it.  The guy who invented yoga had far bigger ambitions.

His name was Patanjali.  Whether he was one guy or three guys is not relevant here.

What’s important is that he took an established word, yoga, and used it to create a whole new lifestyle plan.

That’s right.  Yoga isn’t about asana.  It’s about living your life so that YOU are relaxed, balanced, and able to make good decisions without causing too much trouble.

Sound familiar?  That’s because lots of guys came up with similar plans around this time.  Confucius.  Socrates and Plato.  Buddha.  Jesus.  Guys like that.

Except Patanjali was going for something even greater than these other blokes.  He wanted to set out a life plan for everyone that incorporated any religion.

That’s why yoga looks semi-religious to some people.  But it’s not.

It’s beyond religion.  It’s a META-religion.

That’s right.  Patanjali recommends studying your own religion as much as you want.  That’s one eighth of the secret.

Exercise?  That’s one eighth.  Breathing?  That’s one eighth.

In fact, now I know Patanjali was trying to free mankind from being servants of any one religion.

Yes.  Patanjali was trying to teach people to let religion serve them, not the other way around.  So even religion should only be one eighth of a person’s life.

So now I think of his eight parts of yoga in very different terms.

Want to hear them?

Stay tuned!

 

Yoga: Poked Slapped and Kicked

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It took me years to get used to the idea that someone would come around and “adjust” my while I was trying to perfect my down dog or my half moon.

It didn’t hurt that some instructors were absolutely refined young women with a touch as gentle as a breeze.  I’m just the kind of guy that doesn’t like it that much.

I’ve gotten over it.

In fact, I’ve gotten to the point where I still don’t like it, but I appreciate it.  That guiding hand helps me refine my pose and understand the fine muscles that normally get ignored in daily life.

Along the way I’d heard stories about teachers from the old country (India) where such adjustments weren’t so gentle.  When a teacher wanted you to pay attention to between your lower shoulder blades, you could get a very sharp poke from a finger.

Or if your leg was turning out in tree pose, a healthy slap from the teacher reminds you to level the hips and push through the heel with your outer thigh while bringing the inner upper thigh up and in.

In a recent interview, I heard about one of the great Masters (BKS Iyengar himself) who kicked his disciple in the back while she was in headstand.  She remained poised and steady, and he congratulated her on finally “getting it.”

Why?  Why this brutality?  Why do some of these experts cause pain, while the nice teachers are gentle?

In the light of #MeToo, and with a little bit of psychology, there are other reasons it makes sense to guide students with an iron hand.

First off, it makes an impression – sometimes literally.  There is no ambiguity as to where the teacher is drawing your attention.  If it gets you off balance, that tells you that you’re not grounded enough either.  Even in a handstand you should be able to hold your position, even if guruji kicks you.  And you remember better.

Secondly, in the light of the so many complaints emerging from women who have been “man-handled” through the years, it removes another kind of ambiguity.

A light touch is often associated with attraction, arousal, and ultimately seduction.  If the situation involves a male teacher and a female student, the opportunity for drawing the wrong conclusion is high.

On the other hand, even if the most handsome teacher in the world slaps you on the back, or pokes you with a sharp finger right in your thigh, there’s less chance you’ll think it’s some kind of foreplay.

Do it right and feel your eyeballs vibrate!

So, if you’re caressing your students, think about the impression you’re leaving on them.

And if you’re on the receiving end of a sharp comment, appreciate it for what it means.  The teacher wants you to remember and get better.  No extra strings attached.

AUM….

Silly Hair

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.
In general, women are smarter than men.
There are times, both now and ago,
When it’s just not quite so,
And it’s our hair that’s the problem.

I heard it said long ago, by my very smart wife no less, that a hair that is cut or plucked from the body comes back thicker and blacker.

The situation happened to be one in which arguing or even a discussion was extremely contrary to the moment.  So nothing was said.

Over the years I’ve heard this comment from quite a few more ladies, usually younger ladies.  And I’ve continued to think to myself that this was quite silly.

After all, how does the body know a single hair has been cut?  If it’s plucked, the body might know, but so what?  Why should it bother making it thicker or darker?

What about hair that falls out all the time?  I know a lot about this because I’m about 50% hair.  Thanks Dad.

Perhaps it’s simply us getting older?  Maybe the follicles would be doing that no matter what.  Simply because there is a relationship between cutting a hair and it getting blacker or thicker doesn’t mean that’s the reason for it.  That’s called correlation versus causation.

Here’s a good article that argues against what people think.

Then why do smart women continue to think such things?

What other silly things to smart people consider to be true?

Why can’t we tell the difference in this supposedly super sciency age of ours?

I have some ideas, but it’s more fun to let the questions run free and see what you think.

Now, go get a haircut.

 

Eye on Philosophy

A very nice summary of great optical illusions includes the little gem above.

Here’s what it says:

The Skye Blue Café Wall Illusion
This illusion, created by the artist Victoria Skye, was one of the top entries in the 2017 Best Illusion of the Year Contest. Believe it or not, the horizontal lines are all perfectly parallel. To prove this to yourself, just squint at the image or look at it from the side.
Notice that, even after you’re completely convinced that the lines are parallel, the illusion continues to work. Perception is largely involuntary—and in many ways is walled off from our abstract knowledge of the world.

So what’s the big deal? you may say. This is supposed to be a site about behavior. What does tricking our eyes and our brains have to do with that?

Quite a lot, in fact.

As an extension of our brain, the eyes do quite a bit of “thinking” at every level.  Starting with the rods and cones, then to the retina itself, the optic nerve, and finally all the optically specialized neurons in the brain.  Quite a bit happens in between the source and our internal model of that source.

This simple picture of horizontal lines shows us that our brains are getting in the way of Reality.  Did you notice the big R?

It means we’re thinking about our thinking.  That’s philosophy.

And we do philosophy in order to understand ourselves so that we can be better at what we do.

So the next time your eyes tell you one thing and Reality tells you another, don’t be so hasty to believe your eyes.  Just think about it.

No digital manipulation required... just your brain.

 

Lightness Illusion

This one comes from master illusion-maker Akiyoshi Kitaoka (@AkiyoshiKitaoka).  In trying to make sense of the video, the visual system acts as if the gray square is being moved out of shadow into bright light, and then into dark shadow. For the square to look that shade in bright light, it would have to be quite dark—so the perpetual system infers that it is. Conversely, for the square to look that shade in dark shadow, it would have to be very light—so the perceptual system infers that, instead.