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….

Yoga: Abusive Teachers

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Yesterday my daughter tried out one of those “yoga” classes at XX Fitness.

She came back upset, even crying.

She’d gotten there a minute late, as she’s brand new to the place.  The “teacher” called her out for it.  When she didn’t understand his snide comment, he made another challenging her intelligence.

My daughter found a spot in the middle of the crowd class, hoping to be left alone to try and get a good workout.  Yet the teacher found her to be someone who needed special attention.

He chided her about her difficulty in getting into the contortions he was telling the regulars to assume.  He didn’t demonstrate, he didn’t guide   She’s not new to yoga, in fact she’s had some world-class yogi’s training her.  She knows what deep yoga is all about.  This class was nothing like that.

Summing it all up, he told everyone to put their legs up the wall, even though quite a few people were in the center of the room.  Then he played terrible tunes during savasana, talking to them the whole while.

We managed to settle her down a bit once she was home, but the experience unsettled her.  The next morning I pointed out that abusive males can appear any time, any where, and that if she had a weaker character he could have used her insecurity to prey on her.  As it was, we expect our yoga class to be a place of safety, a refuge from the normal crap of civilization.

Unity in Diversity. Unity against Evil.

I urged her to say something, anything, to anyone.  I don’t know if she did, or will.  So i’m telling you, my internet friends.  There are bad men everywhere, even in yoga class.  Don’t stand for it.  The other women in that class did nothing to help my daughter, nor did the other men.  Travesties like this will continue as long as the rest of us put up with bullies.

That’s not yoga.  That’s life.  And it won’t change unless we fight.

Yoga Boot Camp

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Sometimes I fantasize about leading a yoga class. To be clear, I don’t really want to, because there’s too many people to deal with. And all those problems!

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Yet, every now and then, I imaging leading a class.  And my style of teaching is more like a traditional drill instructor. Maybe something like this:

“You are now in yoga boot camp!” I say.

“None of that spiritual nonsense for you lazy, good for nothing boys! (FYI, it’s a class of all adult men.) Give me a tadasana, for the love of mike, not a single one of you are doing it right. If you’re not sweating in 2 minutes, you’re doing it wrong. Stand there anyway, I’ll correct you later.

For those of you who don’t understand, we’re going to start with an AUM. This isn’t for you spiritual types, this is you shaking loose those things in your head that help you balance. You want to balance, don’t you?

I am not going to sit you on my knee and explain harmonics, musical vibrations, and resonant cavities. This is not physics class. You will give me an AUM, you will make it loud, you will make it proud, and there will be three of them. Understand?

“Then do it!”  Yes, that’s what I would say.

Anyway, imagine a whole class like that. Of course it would settle down quickly. A strenuous but short vinyassa sequence, followed by a couple of intense Iyengar style holds. Then a quick “master class” on a particular pose, followed by a few inversions, sarvangasana, possibly a restorative pose if we have time, then savasana (mandatory). We finish up with another 3 AUMs and that’s it.

Hurry, registration ends soon! Look forward to seeing you there. Remember, this is hard hitting yoga that doesn’t shy away from 8 limbs or anything else. This is yoga for the Iron Man.

See you there…
… in my dreams!

AUM