Aum Versus Om

Little word with a big sound.Is it possible to turn my yoga class into a battlefield?

Sure!  Why not?  After all, as a writer, we have absolute power.  Don’t let it go to your head, however.

So, what’s the story?

The story is one of Aum.  Or Om, depending on who you listen to.

I’ve been doing this long enough to notice that some people like saying “Oh-mmm” as if it were two sounds.

Then there’s the peeps who enjoy saying it as if it were more sounds.  At least three.  Maybe five.  Maybe ten.

According to the guy at the bottom of this post, you should try and say every possible vowel sound.  Sweet.

According to many of the masters, including BKS, you should hear three.

Then again, according to my teacher, it’s alright to stick the “AU” together into an “O” sound.

Who’s right?

Everyone is “right” in the sense that each person is doing it the way THEY want.  If there was some great social cause in which the sound of AUM made a difference, then we could have a more logical discussion.  Since there are no external, quantifiable objectives, then this becomes a discussion about BEHAVIOR.

Part of the issue is that people like changing things, sometimes simply to have fun or be different.  This lends itself to something linguists call linquistic drift.

Let’s check out history.  Let’s look at videos of the old people saying it.  Let’s visit all around the world and compare.  Collect lots of data, find out that it is said many different ways.  And then what?

Look at the impact of what it DOES.  Are there bona fide physical implications about this “word” and how it’s pronounced?  (Disclaimer, there are, but that’s another column.)

How does it impact the preferences of the person arguing the issue?  Fact is, if it’s important to them, no matter what the reason (for now) then that’s a factor.

Finally, how does this impact every possible combination of people?  Starting with that one person, to that person’s partner and family, to that person’s neighborhood, to their country, and to humanity as a whole.  How does this behavior impact each of those different configurations of “peopleness?”

There you have it.  A way to answer OM versus AUM.  Personally I’m going for what this guy says below.  But getting the “right” answer to the question?  It’s the same process for AUM as it would be for capital punishment, or trading off democracy for autocracy.

That’s what science is all about.  Consistency of methods in understanding the universe around us.  And that concludes today’s practice.

AaaaaUuuuuuMmmmmm…..

 

 

This excerpt from Bill Moyers site  (bottom of that page)
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Well, that’s what people are doing all over the place. That’s what people are doing all over the place, dying for metaphors. And when you really realize the sound Aum, the sound of the mystery of the Word everywhere, then you don’t have to go out and die for anything, because it’s right there all around, and just sit still and see it and experience it and know it.
BILL MOYERS: Explain “Aum.” That’s the first time you’ve used that.
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Well, “Aum” is a word that, what can I say, represents to our ears that sound of the energy of the universe, of which all things are manifestations. And “Aum”, it’s a wonderful word, it’s written A-U-M. You start in the back of the mouth, Ah, and then, Ooh, you fill the mouth, and M-m-m, closes it, the mouth. And when you have pronounced this properly, all vowel sounds are in that pronunciation: “Aum”. And consonants are regarded simply as interruptions of “Aum”, and all words are thus fragments of “Aum”, as all images are fragments of the form of forms, of which all things are just reflections. And so “Aum” is a symbol, a symbolic sound, that puts you in touch with that throbbing being that is the universe.
And when you hear some of these Tibetan monks that are over here from the Rgyud Stod monastery outside of Lhasa, when they sing the “Aum,” you know what it means, all right That’s the zoom of being in the world. And to be in touch with that and to get the sense of that, that is the peak experience of all. “Ab-ooh-mm.” The birth, the coming into being, and the solution to the cycle of that. And it’s just called the four-element syllable. What is the fourth element? “Ah-ooh-mm,” and the silence out of which it comes, back into which it goes, and which underlies it.
Now, my life is the “Ah-ooh-mm,” but there is a silence that underlies it, and that is what we would call the immortal. This is the mortal, and that’s the immortal, and there wouldn’t be this if there weren’t that.
BILL MOYERS: The meaning is essentially wordless.
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Yes. Well, words are always qualifications and limitations.
BILL MOYERS: And yet, Joe, all we puny human beings are left with is this miserable language, beautiful though it is, that falls short of trying to describe…
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: That’s right And that’s why it’s a peak experience to break past all that every now and then, to realize “oh, ah,” I think so.

 

Yoga and Active Asana

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Getting into yoga means different things to everyone.  For most Americans, it means going into a hot room with lots of other beautiful people, moving about rather quickly.  Women in yoga pants, men without shirts, and lots of sweat.

For others, it can mean slow quiet movements, focusing on precise tuning of each muscle and muscle group so that internal stresses are in balance.  Sweat is optional, endurance and concentration are not.

However, if we go to what the original yoga master said about “sitting postures” it reads something like this:

I think...

And it made me realize something.

If I want to go for a long walk, or even a run…

Or if I want to jump rope, or do some crunches…

… I can still meet this definition of an asana.

Breathing?  Heart rate?  Concentration?

That’s right.  Up to a certain point, I can be doing all these crazy “aerobic” exercises and still be doing yoga.  Why not?

True confessions.  Let’s face it.  I’m a self-pusher.  I’m not happy unless I go a little bit harder, a little bit further, every time I exercise.  So after a while I’m not doing yoga anymore – I’m running, or jumping, or crunching.  And I’m probably grunting, breathing hard, and sweating.  Definitely sweating.

That’s not the point.  Even these non-sitting non-peaceful postures can themselves be yoga.  In point of fact, no single exact posture is called out by the ancient yoga masters.  Nada.

Everything we are doing today is an add-on invention.  And that’s a good thing.

So if you come up with an asana that works for you, use it.  Work it.  Own it.

As long as you can do it with precision, concentration, and peace, it’s yoga.

Enjoy it while you can, because the more you enjoy it, the longer you can enjoy it.

It’s time for me to jump some rope.

 

Aum Diaries 3

Aum… Aum… Aum…

What is it about this sound?  Is it supposed to be AUM or Ohmmmm?

Looks like a 30 with eyebrow problems.I’m a big believer in the A-U-M variety.

In fact, who cares what sound you make  Just make something.  It sounds good no matter how you say it.

I’m going through BKS Iynegar’s book called Light on Yoga.

In his AUM section there’s a story at the end, one of those zennish type stories.  It goes like this:

Taking as a bow the great weapon of the Upanisad, one should put upon it an arrow sharpened by meditation.  Stretching it with a thought directed to the essence of That, penetrate the Imperishable as the ark, my friend.  The mystic syllable AUM is the bow.  The arrow is the Self (Atma).  Brahman is the target.  By the undistracted man is It penetrated.  One should come to be in It, as the arrow in the mark.

Any ideas, class?

So, I’m not exactly sure what it’s all supposed to mean, but it sounds cool and I’m going to let it stand.  Love to hear your opinions.

Now go make some noise.

Aum.

 

 

 

Aum Diaries 2

Aum… Aum… Aum…

Have you tried a yoga class where they make you do an AUM?

Or does it go Ohmmmm?

Looks like a 30 with eyebrow problems.I’m a big believer in the A-U-M variety.

Maybe someday there will be a war over how to pronounce it.

At the moment, I’m not going to care..  It sounds good no matter how you say it.

I’m going through BKS Iynegar’s book called Light on Yoga.

In his AUM section there’s all sorts of triads that the three letters are supposed to represent.  That’s nice, and I’m not going to make a big deal out of it.

But there’s also something big that each triad represents.  You can go to the last post for the triads.  Here I’m just jotting down the big stuff.  Here’s the triads:

  1. speech, mind, and breath, or
  2. length, breadth and depth, or
  3. absence of desire, fear, and anger, or
  4. masculine, feminine, and neuter, or
  5. sattva, rajas, and tamas, or
  6. past, present, and future, or
  7. teachings of mother, father, and Guru,
  8. or asana, pranayama, and pratyahara, or
  9. Creator, Maintainer, and Destroyer, or
  10. the mantra Tat Twam Asi meaning “That Thou Art”

Now, here’s the big stuff:

  1. All Conscious States, (very similar to number 9)
  2. Living Spirit,
  3. Divinity,
  4. Perfect (Hu)Man
  5. Creation
  6. Gunatitas
  7. Creator,
  8. Self Knowledge,
  9. Samadhi, (very similar to number 1)
  10. Brahman,
  11. Realization of Self Divinity

That seems like quite a bit to load onto a single sound, doesn’t it?

It’s still just a sound.

Let’s focus.

Aum.

 

 

 

 

Aum Diaries

Aum… Aum… Aum…

Have you tried a yoga class where they make you do an AUM?

Maybe your teacher does OM instead?

Looks like a 30 with eyebrow problems.Does it feel weird?

It did for me as well.  I got over it.

There’s this guy, BKS Iynegar, who wrote this book, called Light on Yoga.  He was kind of cool, and the book is kind of cool.  But this isn’t about him.  It’s about what he says about Aum.

His AUM section starts out saying that in order to unlock the divinity within yourself you need concentration.  Totally agree.  Here’s a quote from page 49 in my version.  “To achieve this concentration, what is recommended is eka-tattva-abhyasa or study of the single element that pervades all…”  I like this.  He finishes the paragraph saying that the sadhaka concentrates upon AUM, which is his symbol, to achieve ekagrata.

Now, I’m not sure of all the intricacies here, but basically it’s saying AUM is important.

Page 50 starts off by saying AUM and the latin word OMNI have the same root.  I don’t know if it’s true, but it sounds good.  He says that both words mean omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence.  I’ll buy that.

My favorite part is this, a dissection of the how the word is pronounced.

It has three syllables, namely A, U, and M.

They can symbolize all sorts of things, like:

  1. Waking state, Dream state, and Dreamless states, or
  2. speech, mind, and breath, or
  3. length, breadth and depth, or
  4. absence of desire, fear, and anger, or
  5. masculine, feminine, and neuter, or
  6. sattva, rajas, and tamas, or
  7. past, present, and future, or
  8. teachings of mother, father, and Guru,
  9. or asana, pranayama, and pratyahara, or
  10. Creator, Maintainer, and Destroyer, or
  11. the mantra Tat Twam Asi meaning “That Thou Art”

That seems like quite a bit to load onto a single sound, doesn’t it?

Maybe it’s just a sound.

Let’s focus.

Aum.

 

 

 

 

Learning Yoga From Dad

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Other than modified tree pose, he’s never done yoga.

So HOW could he teach me?

First off, Dad was born in 1929, and he’s got a long list of maladies, any one of which could kill him.  Tomorrow.

But he’s pushing himself, living as if he’ll make it to 90.

He might.

He also tries new things to improve his body.  This means being able to go to the potty more easily.  But it’s his goal, and who am I to quibble?

He’s probably in this mess because of medical advice from 50 years ago for his bad back: Rest, avoid exercise, wear a brace, and take pills.  He did all that.

Today, doctors would probably recommend continuous exercise, working through pain, and avoiding pills is a better way to live.

However, the most important thing of all that I’ve learnt is incredible.

I was with Dad through all of this latest battle, starting with a broken vertebrae (L2), the ER, Hospice House, then a recovery room, and finally back home.  There were two times when nurses told me, this is it.  If he’d died, they would have said it was his time.

Except it wasn’t.  First off, I was able to be there and help him stave off poor medical practices.  Not malpractice, only poor quality.  Second, I was there as cheerleader, boosting morale, encouraging his WILL TO LIVE.  I gave him traditional football game locker room pep talks.

I could see the young athlete come alive.  He was a two-year all state football player in his day.  He was ripped.

That’s the key.  The will to live.

The greatest yogi of the 20th century was Tirumalai Krishnamacharya.  If you do yoga today, he probably invented it.  If he didn’t, you can bet your bippy he influenced it.

Many times, the guy who invents something doesn’t get to cash in on the great idea.  Same was true for TK.  He was dirt poor most of the time.  As advertising, he’d put on demonstrations of stopping his heart.

What?  Impossible!  How?

That’s what we say, knowing modern medicine.

But modern medicine also said my Dad was finished.  And then Dad applied his willpower.

That’s what TK did with his heart.  Willpower.

Both TK and my Dad have shown me that yoga can help us harness our own willpower as a way to become one with every part of our bodies.  Not only the voluntary nervous system, but even the autonomic nervous system that influences our heart.  All of it.  Our WHOLE body.

And that’s how Dad taught me about my own yoga.

  1. Push yourself.
  2. Set your own, small, goals.
  3. Adhere to it as a better way to live.
  4. Willpower is an integral part of our practice.

Thanks Dad.  Love, your son.

Aum…

 

A Tale of Two Yogas

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My wife and I attend a small studio up the street.  She has deep knowledge of musculature.  The poses are gentle, our progress slow, in a cozy, comfortable environment.

Across the street is a bustling studio with 4 large rooms, the coolest one being 30 degrees centigrade (85F).  Some classes go up as high as 40C (105F).  That’s hot.

When I say bustling, I mean bustling.  Not like wearing a bustle, but like being super busy.  Which is pretty good for our small town.  There’s over 15 classes a day!  And the classes have all the latest trends, bikram, barre, and whatever.

Not only that, but the classes are an hour long.  Perfect for scheduling into your busy day.

Meanwhile, in our little space, you spend the first half hour getting warmed up, the next getting into the practice, and another one figuring it all out and cooling down.

Cooling down.  That’s important.  You can’t do that in heat.  In order to listen to your body properly, you have to let it speak to you.  That’s not going to happen in an extreme environment.  Your body is working to keep you cool, and that throws all your inner workings out of wack.  Sure, you feel better, for the moment, but what did you learn?

A good yoga class is a true class.  You will come away with a nugget of knowledge, a new insight into yourself.

The trend towards fast, hot, trendy yoga is surely a money maker for the studio.  But what does it lead towards?

Students who want hotter, faster, trendier solutions to their problems.

The ultimate?

I see a drive-thru studio that offers a quick yoga drink and a semi-mystic experience while you sit in your car.  Perhaps like the drive-in diners of the 1950s.  Scantily clad roller skating yogis will bring everything to you and your friends as you sit in the comfort of your SUV.

Or you could slow down, and get to know yourself.  Not trendy, not hot, not even hard.  Just right.  Just perfect.

But if you’re planning to make it to 70, 80, or 90, you’ll appreciate it.

Otherwise, you’ll be taking plenty of pills.

Ommm.

 

Forgotten Warriors

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Living things behave, because life encompasses everything we do.

A forgotten war hero of WWII

From hugging a newborn to burying Dad.  There’s no good reason to pretend economic behavior is different from psychological behavior.  Not one.  Life isn’t about religion, it’s not about being political.  All these categories are made up so it’s easier for us to apply for grants.

One way to illustrate this is to draw connections between things that seem so different that any similarities must be the work of a crazy man.

Did someone call for a crazy man?  That’s me.

Consider two warriors, different, but similar.

Warrior One.  This is the name of a yoga asana, and my exhibit number one.  The greatest evangelist of yoga in the 20th century was Tirumalai Krishnamacharya.  He spawned a bunch of other yogis, including one who should be more famous, Indra Devi.

The problem with TK is that he wasn’t good at tooting his own horn.  Another problem was that his famous students were better at marketing.  As a result, their names are well-known and TK is forgotten.  That’s too bad.  He made more sense than any of his students.

Warrior Two, also a known asana, and exhibit two.  But in this case, the exhibit has nothing to do with yoga.  Bear with me.  Or more accurately, HellCat with me.  This was an aircraft that fought most of the air battles in the Pacific.  It was produced in the greatest numbers, brought down the most enemy aircraft, and saved the most pilots.  It was an incredible warrior.

Chances are you never heard of the HellCat.  And that’s because newer, prettier aircraft came along and took the final bows.  No one stood up to help us remember the aircraft, the pilots, and even the workers (many of whom were women) who built the HellCat.  It is a forgotten warrior.

Here’s the connection.  Very different disciplines; yoga is selfish, designed to free us from our perception of bodily weakness and develop strength, while the other belongs to the discipline of war.  The first gave us a teacher of great teachers, the other gave us a machine that defended us from those who wanted to impose their will upon ours.

Both worked hard, tirelessly, without concern for their own celebrity or accumulation of wealth.  TK didn’t do it himself, and he wouldn’t let those around him do any marketing either.  The HellCat, as a machine, didn’t have a choice, but the legions of people surrounding it did.  And they chose to let the HellCat have its day, and later, its rest.

As a student of behavior, I’m not arguing that these warriors were good or bad, or even that their impacts were good or bad.  That’s ancient history.

As a student of behavior, what I argue is that we don’t let them be forgotten.

For what they have given us is priceless.

 

Folding Yoga

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Yoga and me get along great.  I’m into that whole 8 limbs thing, and the 10-ish commandments called yamas and niyamas.

Most of us get hooked through the asana part of yoga, that’s limb number 3.  The asanas are called poses or postures.  Their purpose is to get us to feel better, avoid future pain, and focus on ourselves so that we can look upon the universe with greater honesty.

It’s crazy, but true.  The more better you see inside, the more better you see outside.

Yeah, yeah, yoga is great and I feel all warm and fuzzy.  But is all a bed of lotus flowers?

Not always.  For me, the best flavor of yoga practice has the name of Iyengar, BKS.  He popularized a very precise and intense form of practice that emphasizes deep understanding.  I’m into understanding stuff, so it works out pretty good.  It turns out he was also fond of experiments and learning, and so am I.  I call him BKS because Iyengar is a caste designation, not a name.

His teacher was also his brother in law, and that guy was awesome.  He could slow his heart enough so people thought it stopped.  He taught every student differently.  He earned 8 doctoral degrees.  That was T Krishnamachurya.  I’ll call him TK.

Here’s my problem.

TK was big on getting things precise and using whatever he could find to help his students learn.  BKS took this one level further, and introduced the brick (blocks), standardized mats (I think), chairs, and, my personal least favorite – the blanket.

The blanket sounds great, but it’s kind of flaccid and floppy and fringy and dusty, at times.  It never sits exactly the way it’s supposed to, and when I touch it there’s suddenly ripples and wrinkles that magically appear.

Of course, a BKS trained instructor tells us the blankets must all be folded in a precise way for the asana.  Look at the instructor and follow her example.

I freak out, but try not to show any emotion.  Inside, I’m frustrated.  Every time I touch a blanket it turns into a bed cover.  The folds have to be in the right place.  The fringe has to be pointing the right way.  The segments have to be even.  The folding pattern has to be done in the right order.

Aaaargh!

I know, that’s not a yoga mantra.  But it’s part of my yoga vocab.

I usually solve the problem by waiting for my instructor to fix it for me.  She’s almost always patient and understanding.  I once explained that I’m folding deficient in fabrics, just ask my wife.  But the instructor just gave me “the look.”

It’s funny, because I’m good at origami.  But there’s something about that dang blanket.

Namaskar.

 

 

 

 

Pain is a Pain, can be a Gain

Being a pain in the butt is hardly a compliment.  But it may be a back-handed compliment in that it’s the unwelcome relative to what is best about our lives, living.

Our Western cultures have been oriented towards denying, reducing, even eliminating pain.  Eastern cultures tend to embrace pain, much as we sometimes have to embrace that relative we have to see over the holidays.

Nothing embodies emotional pain more than family, especially dysfunctional families.

Problem here is that we are going to talk about pain that’s not emotional.  No, this is pain that hits us below the belt.  Above the belt.  Right at the belt.  Remove your belt, just in case.

In broadest possible terms, pain can be good or bad.  In either case, pain is a way that your body “talks” to your “self.”  Do you think that dogs can feel pain?  If you do, then you have to also agree that dogs have a sense of self.  I believe dogs know themselves.  I only wish they had the sense to upgrade their owners on occasion.

Good pain tells you if you’re doing too much, pushing too hard, eating too much pasta.  That last only pertains to industrial pasta.  Homemade pasta is never painful.

Good pains include itching, in moderation.  I’m not sure what itching means.  My latest theory is that it’s the little bugs living on your skin asking to move somewhere else.  Every time you scratch those buggers get a ride to another piece of real estate.

Pain also comes in different forms, that apply to both good and bad pain.  Here’s some of the ways I suggest we describe them: acute, chronic, diffuse, specific, permanent, sporadic, rhythmic, shared by others, something only I feel, and finally, those that can be found versus impossible to find.

I know this is a lot, but pain covers a lot of area (ha!).  As a yogi, we have to embrace pain as part of living, appreciate it, and understand the good versus bad pains.  If our movements produce bad pain, stop!  Perhaps see a doctor.  If our movements produce good pain, also stop.  Rest.  Repeat.

As the US Marines are fond of saying, pain is weakness leaving the body.  Who knew that Marines were yogis?  They are.  Don’t mess with the Marines.

So, embrace your pain.  Understand it, and listen to your body.  It makes you a better yogi.  It makes you a better student of behavior.  And it makes you a better person.

Tusok

By the way, sorry about all the bad puns.  They sort of happened.  Hope they weren’t too painful.