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: 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!

Aummmmmmm...

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

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.