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Monday, April 14, 2014

Once Upon A Time In Pune & Other Stories By Manouso Manos in Atlanta

Goldie Locks & The Three Bears
The Power Seekers
Springtime In Atlanta
Hip Stories
Palm Sunday
Thoughts During a Three-Hour Headstand
Third Floor Observations  
The Difference Between Medicine and Poison
The Big Hinge
The 29-Minute Setubandha
Who Touched My Robe?
How A Mother Taught Her Son To Blow His Nose
Stairway To The Top of The Empire State Building
The Paris Headstand 
The 20-Minute Hippy
The Mirror Meditation

Manouso shared his wit and his wisdom with us during another Atlanta workshop hosted by Stillwater Yoga. He weaved stories into almost every lesson, which made what he taught memorable and engaging. Just for fun those of you who were able to make the Atlanta workshop take a minute to go through my short sample of titles above and see if they trigger your smriti (memory) of the story behind them and relate it to what was being taught.

It is mind-boggling to me how much information Manouso is able to convey in just three short days. I feel a lot of it has to do with this uncanny ability to seamlessly link and connect us to the material through these entertaining stories. Did I retain all of them?  Absolutely not. However, I do believe, my body got more than I think it did.

Manouso alluded to the possibility of the body and the "mind stuff" collaborating more than we have been led to believe. Directives don't always just come from the brain telling the body to do something - the body works on the brain as well. I'm the type of learner who learns by doing (whether that means what I'd call "marking out" the directions with my body or hitting keys on a keyboard with my fingers to figure out what I thought I heard.) Therefore, the body having an affect on the mind stuff makes sense to me.

I can't figure it out in my brain all the time. Like Manouso, if ADD (or for me ADHD) was a big thing when I was a kid, I would have been diagnosed with it for sure. Luckily, my mom put me in ballet class at the age of 4 or 5 and I stayed with it pretty much daily until I was 23. When I left it my life went way off balance for a couple of years until I found yoga. The physical aspect helps me unclutter my brain. When I think back on the workshop, or get into the asanas we worked on with Manouso, I hear his voice correcting our attempts, I see his demonstrations, I hear his stories and I'm able to get myself into a place of learning again.

I may not relate all the stories correctly. So, I welcome corrections.  However, for kicks let's give this a try:  Goldie Locks & The Three Bears as I remember was about getting to a place where we feel "just right".  This was after our beginning svastikasana (this one [of three other versions] was about stretching our inner heels away from each other and lining feet under knees, keeping front shin parallel to front wall) and our chanting, where he said something like, 'whatever this chant means to you let it help you find your inner being'.

He connected Goldie Locks & The Three Bears to the 'Seeking Power' story. Manouso related the first story to our asana practice and transitioned, if memory serves to the second story with the idea that we may say we come to yoga for other reasons, but we are really 'Seeking Power'.  If you think about it he's exactly right.  We want power over our mind, our body, our emotions, or over our bosses, enemies, our competitors, the list could go on and on. Historically, it was this mystical power of yogis that was perceived as a threat by others.
Yoga: The Art of Transformation is an art exhibit of yoga-themed artwork in various mediums. This was the overarching plot throughout Manouso's workshop and one I was glad he integrated into our lessons. Those of you who have not heard the fascinating segment: "Journey of Self with Yoga Master Iyengar: A Talk By Manouso that took place during the opening in San Francisco of the art exhibit that is touring the country and has spawned a beautiful book, please click here and here. 
'Springtime in Atlanta':  A story about the warnings Manouso received about coming to Atlanta in April with the pollen count so high. He taught us how as aspiring yogis, we can learn to overcome the pollen through a series, which he took us through.  It was a series that took patience and the ability (which he encouraged throughout the workshop) to forget everything we think we should be doing in an asana and listen as if it was the first time you were doing the pose. I didn't feel I had problem with the pollen, until after the series. The pressure I had felt normal until the series helped clear it and I got hints of a nicer normal.

'Hip Stories':  Began with a story about how tales about his hip issues have gone through the Iyengar Network like the game "Telephone" where the story begins with he has a congenital hip defect that BKS has helped keep him from surgery and ends with something crazy like he has an elephant-sized spur shaped like an orangutang. This began our three-day hip work lesson that was brilliantly designed layer by layer to wake up our hips like they've never been woken up before.

'Palm Sunday':  was told on the Saturday before the religious holiday, Palm Sunday and began our lesson on the inner shoulder. Not to be confused with an earlier lesson on lifting the inner shoulder blade. Palm Sunday was what ad people would call a witty mnemonic device more than a story to help us remember to slightly bend our thumbs to better push our palms flat in Prasarita Padottanasana, which enables us work the triceps inward and back, widen our elbows, and engage our armpit chest to create a specific action in the inner most shoulder area.  (Remember, feel free to correct me here)

'Thoughts During A 3-Hour Headstand': The inner shoulder lesson progressed into Salamba Sirsasana with the story about a man who was determined to find out what went through yogis' minds during 3-hours handstands.  If you've done a five minute headstand and tried to double that time what goes through your mind?  Now do the math and…well, the only thing you can think about is how to stay in headstand.

'Third-Floor Observations':  On Iyengars 95th birthday Geeta Iyengar, his daughter, held a workshop to teach Indian yoga teachers how to instruct on pranayama.  Manouso tried to get into the workshop, but was relegated to the third floor where he observed the workshop from a perspective that turned out to be better than he would have gotten in a crowded room on the first level. This story was the segue into a progressive lesson in supta pranayama. It also taught us to be happy with what presents itself it may turn out to serve you better than you think.

'The Difference Between Medicine & Poison':  This was a story about how much is too much.  The difference between something being a medicine or a poison is "amount".  Learning to be discriminating about what is being taught and how much to apply the action to your body comes with practice (abhyasa) and self-study (svadyaya).  The story came into play somewhere around our 20 something super-wide Utthita Trikonasanas to help understand our hips and knees.

'The Big Hinge':  Is a story about hearing BKS Iyengar refer to the ankle as a "hinge" for years until  around the time of Iyengar's 80th birthday celebration; and not just 20 Utthita Trikonasanas that we did, but more like an entire day of Utthita Trikonasana & Utthita Parsvakonasana, the idea of "filling the voids" in the arc of the ankle and the ankle being a hinge began to sink in deeper.  The story was coupled with a lot of walking to a studio door hinge and making sure we understood what a hinge was; along with many Utthita Trikonasana, Utthita Parsvakonasana, Utkatasana, and Malasana variations.

'The 29-minute Setubandha':  Taught us to be wary of trying to practice with BKS Iyengar.  Manouso gives us a laugh as he describes a time when he decided he was going to practice exactly what BKS Iyengar was practicing. He placed his mat perpendicular to the wall and set up for a Setubandha from Sarvangasana where the tips of his toes (like Iyengar's) would be touching the wall. After a successful Setubandha, Manouso waited and waited and waited….wondering when Iyengar was going to come out of it.  You guessed it:  29 minutes later.   This helped to curb the discomfort of getting into various versions of Setubandha Sarvangasana that Manouso demonstrated for us afterwards.  Yes, I still feel it.   

'Who Touched My Robe': Involved a religious reference to Jesus's robe (Can you make Jesus possessive? Seems like he wouldn't approve.) and the woman who touched his robe in blind faith that Jesus could heal her and he did. Manouso's story referred to the ever growing sensitivity and subtlety of parts of our body.  Manouso furthered this by comparing how we touch fabric with our hands - because our fingertips are the most sensitive part. "What if through yoga we could make other parts of our body as sensitive as our fingertips?" He asked us. It is this involution, this intense focus that gets us closer to having that happen.  So imagine, he continues what BKS Iyengar can access.

The final half of the workshop was a Q&A portion and an eye-opening lesson on everything from Autism to Lymes Disease. The 'Mother who taught her son to blow his nose' was a segue to answer a Kapalabhati and Bhastrika Pranayama question.  The 'Stairway to the top of the Empire State Building' and the 'Paris Headstand' referred to stories about how frighteningly brilliant Iyengar is -- at one time figuring out how he could (though he didn't) navigate the stairs to the Empire State Building by utilizing a single body part per 5 flights of stairs thus dissipating the load on the body, while at another directing Manouso in Pune to put a therapeutic student into a headstand that he put Manouso in 17 years before in Paris.  Manouso confirms that Iyengar remembers this AND what he had for breakfast today- at 95.

After questions on a hip issue from someone who was unable to make the whole workshop and someone who has no certified teachers in her area, came encouragement for svadyaya (self study) and abhyasa (practice) on our own. He added his '20-Minute Hippy' story about how he gets up and for 20 minutes works on his hips then proceeds to other yoga. It's worth it to him.  It's only 20 minutes out of his morning.  Besides, he says, "what else do I have to do?"  Meaning it's not so much time out of your day, out of your life to take care of yourself and study your body - your yoga.  He adds that it can transform you and your practice considerably.

He ended the workshop much like he began with a call to action to find our inner being. He explained how historically staring into a candle flame or into a mirror was part of the yoga practice.  A 'Mirror Meditation' done for a designated time over a long period of time removes the chatter and the masks and gets you closer to your true essence of who you really are - it's what the eight-limbs of Astanga Yoga are all about. It's 'Yoga: The Art of Transformation'.  He explains that the first three Sutras of Pananjali say it all.  It's very simple really but it takes a lifetime of dedication and practice  --and like Manouso says, "What else do we have to do?"

I would like to express my deep gratitude for Kathleen Pringle and Stillwater Yoga for hosting; and a sincere thank you, Manouso, for sharing your story and encouraging us to use yoga's transformational power to help us discover the true essence of our own.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Training The Restless Mind With Abhyāsa and Vairāgya

abhyāsa-vairāgyābhyam tannirodhah - Pantanjali Yoga Sutra 1.12

Vrtti comes from the Sanskrit root vrt which means to turn, revolve, rollover.  Iyengar students are well-versed in Patanjali's description of Yoga in the second Sutra of the Samadhi Pada: Yogah cittavrtti nirodah. BKS Iyengar translates this as "Yoga is the cessation of the movements or fluctuations of the consciousness."

In Light on Yoga, Iyengar explains that Yoga is an eight-limbed method to calm the mind and direct the energy into contructive pathways.
As a mighty river which when properly harnessed by dams and canals, creates a vast reservoir of water, prevents famine and provides abundant power for industry; so also the mind, when controlled, provides a reservoir of peace and generates abundant energy for human uplift.
In Gem For Women, Geeta Iyengar sites the opening sutra 1.12 that states that study or practice (abhyāsa) and absence of worldly desires (vairāgya) is the remedy Patanjali offers to control the fluctuations of the mind. She sites another Patanjali Yoga Sutra 1.14 sa tu dīrghakāla nairantarya satkārāsevito srdha bhūmih with the interpretation that "this rigourous practice has to be long-lasting, uninterrupted, and performed with dedication and respect; then alone the foundation or the ground is prepared."

It's important to note that Geeta also adds a bit from the poet Vyāsa: sukhārtinah kuto vidyā kuto vidyārthinasukham, which means "knowledge cannot be attained by those who are given to pleasures and pleasures are denied to those who study."  It made me laugh because it's so true.

However, without constant practice or abhyāsa we will not gain the power and peace that is promised. It's not an easy task.  Vrittis of the mind are incessant and unyielding even in their most positive state. When the vrittis empower our fears, our pains, or our desire for a specific outcome instead of our well-being then we can get really overwhelmed and out of control.

From conception to three years of age (click link) our brain develops and even though our synapses expand and then go through a "pruning" process they are still highly vulnerable to outside stimulus. Early programming sets up the filter through which we interpret our world. I don't know about you but that was along time ago for me. Using a childhood filter that we had no real control over developing can wreak havoc on our adult life.

All of which is good reason no matter if you are an aspiring yogi or an aspiring conscious human being to heed Patanjali's advice. He even offers us a simple exercise to abhyāsa by switching our negative thoughts or emotions into positive ones as stated in Patanjali's Sutra 2.33 Vitarka badhane pratipaksabhavanam.  Krishna also talks about the two imperatives to controlling the mind in the Bhagavad Gita. "Undoubtedly, the mind is restless and hard to control.  But it can be trained by constant practice (abhyāsa) and by freedom from desire (vairāgya)."

Vairāgya means absence of worldly desires --that means we can't get attached to an outcome. So, like one of my teachers, Kquvien DeWeese has been teaching in class, we want to practice with discipline (tapas) and self-study (svadyaya). If we practice with an expectation like about say getting up into Urdhva Mukha Vrksasana, it can put us into an overly energized (rajasic) state of vrittis that can get us overwhelmed or worse injured.

In Light on Yoga, Iyengar mentions that yoga is also "wisdom in work or skillful living amongst activities, harmony and moderation." Geeta in Gem for Woman explains "The key to success is in effort. Vairāgya  or absence of worldly desires can be achieved by controlling the senses, by carrying out one's duties without thought of reward and by acting with goodness and purity."  I will end this blog with her beautiful summation:

Constant practice and absence of worldly pursuits are interdependent on each other --they are like the wings of an eagle.  But successful flight can be achieved only with the coordination between both wings.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Why It's Important To Retreat Into The Wilderness

Concrete foundations may feel stable and secure but they shield us from our true nature. I remember  Adnan Sarhan, a Sufi Master I used to study with wrote about the significance of how a blade of grass will breakthrough cement to find the sun.  I thought I had a real appreciation for his words back then.  However, I spent weeks on his land in New Mexico and when I came home I made a point to walk outside everyday. I was connecting to nature, so I didn't have the deeper understanding that I have today.

Thanks to Alice Franklin.  She not only got me meditating again five or six years ago, this past weekend she took a group of us on our first retreat into the mountains.  It was a big reminder that connecting with nature is key to our well-being. Most of my generation grew up outdoors.  My siblings and I were outside so long it was tough for my mom to get us inside for dinner.  

My favorite pastime was playing house in the roots of the magnolia trees.  I created elaborate houses and played uninterrupted by myself for hours on end. With leaves and sticks I made beds, acorn shells became bowls, other natural treasures made the rest of my playhouse... and rocks were my people. Yes, I had a store-bought doll house, but the one outside was much more magical.  

Alice brought that back for me in a way I will never forget. Just two hours away from Atlanta, my meditation family and I were able to escape into a breathtaking wonderland where we could unplug and reconnect with the sun and the rain, the rocks and the trees, the leaves and the moss, the streams and the    creatures that live in and around it; and of course the mountains that stand as a testament to the power of  it all.

I've committed so many years of study to yoga, now I have to question: How can we really understand the yoga asana, Tadasana without experiencing the power of a mountain?  How can we understand Vrksasana without experiencing the energetic flow of a tree? There are so many yoga poses named after animals.  How can we claim to practice yoga asana without understanding the animals these poses are mimicking? I believe my learning has to expand outside the studio, off my mat and onto the natural ground from which yoga developed. While writing this blog, I discovered an interesting article: Yoga and Archetypes you might enjoy reading.  

Get away for 20 minutes, an hour, or a weekend. Go to the mountains or the woods whenever you can.  I'm not saying anything you haven't heard before. Commune with nature….La le la kumbaya.  I know, I know.  I'd be rolling my eyes too. Except for the fact, I just came back from an amazing retreat with a lot of gratitude.  I feel like that blade of grass that broke through to see the sun.  Now I know I have been covered with cement far too long.

Thanks Alice.  What a great gift you are. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Gaudi, Piccasso, and all who followed their passion.

Almost everyone has heard of Gaudi and Picasso, but have you heard about Jordi Bonet Armengol or Maqbool Fida Husain?

Sagrada Familia
Armengol is the son of one of Gaudi's long-standing aides. He's the guy who has made sure that Gaudi's work continues on the Sagrada Familia, a neo-Gothic cathedral begun in 1882 [Gaudi actually took over the project a year later] set in an ordinary neighborhood in Barcelona.

Gaudi died in 1926. The cathedral's construction continues with unbelievable dedication to Gaudi's vision with many great artists in their own right behind it all. And it won't be finished until 2026 or 2028 - almost 150 years after the project started.

Maqbool Fida Husain 
Mahãbhãrata Project 
Ganga Jamuna (Mahãbhãrata 12) 
1971 -Oil on canvas 
The Chester and Davida Herwitz Collection. 
Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts

MF Husain is one of the many artists around the world whose art has won much acclaim for its Picasso inspired overtones. Husain was deeply influenced by "Guernica" (1937) and its depiction
of the basest level of war.

The work that put him on the world's easel, "Mahabharata Project, Ganga Jamuna" is part of a series of 27 paintings made in 1971 for the São Paulo Bienal.

Interestingly, Picasso was also invited to exhibit alongside Husain. Husain's work is considered a homage to Picasso.  Based on the epic poem, Mahabharata, which is ten times longer than Homer's Iliad and the Odessey.  The poem is an arguably unrivaled heroic tale of the human predicament with its moral and ethical problems.

Husain, though very controversial in India during his lifetime [at one point Shiv Sena (Army of Shiva) party leader Bhagwan Goel offered a half-million rupee reward if someone would cut off one of Husain's arms] has become known as "India's Picasso".

Barcelona's Picasso Museum with its unique displays of Picasso's indefatigable explorations of a single subject along with a temporary exhibit titled 'Post-Picasso: Contemporary Reactions', curated by Michael FitzGerald with its superb depiction of the Post-Picasso effects on contemporary art worldwide

Minuscule View of Interior La Sagrada Familia

Gaudi Hanging Model
with Sandbags & String
---along with the momentous La Sagrada Familia and its Museum of Gaudi's multifaceted imagination which delved deeply into everything from innovative hanging models based on the theory of reversion of the catenary
to flourishes in the moulding or single candelabra, along with live present-day workers modeling the next stage of Gaudi's vision - I was altered. Altered by the dedication ---the internal need to explore, experiment, and create with little regard for public recognition or marketability.

In our Instagram-cut-and-paste world, while there will be and have been inspired works to come from it, it makes you wonder if we've lost something very important. The MEAM Gallery in Barcelona apparently believes we have as stated on placards at each level of the Gallery.

I hope not.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Getting To The Essence: Kathleen Pringle's Teacher Training For Intro I

Kathleen Pringle, owner of Stillwater Yoga in Atlanta offered another Teacher Training for teachers who are aspiring to go up for the Level I Assessment in the Iyengar Yoga System. The lessons were many and I cannot bring justice to all of them here, but I want to convey a core lesson that I hope will be of value to my readers.

The practitioners who came to the training were from local areas around Georgia, Nashville, and as far as Israel (after a recent move to the states). We brought our nerves and our courage to demonstrate what we thought we knew and learn about what we didn't know. Kathleen brought her ever-growing wisdom of how to experience, teach, and train, to help us become the safest and most effective yoga guides for our students.

Training never stops in Iyengar Yoga. Kathleen's more than 30 years experience, innumerable conventions and workshops with more Senior Teachers, along with ongoing trips to Pune, India are proof of that. However, it is through this kind of rigorous training that the true purpose of each pose is discovered.

In our training, Kathleen encouraged us from the beginning to ask ourselves questions like, why does this pose exist or why do we teach this pose before that one? The undercurrent of the training flowed according to Kathleen's acute understanding of how human's learn and how Iyengar wants his teachers to teach. We learn first by looking.  Our sense of sight is one of the strongest of the five senses. Therefore, we were asked to take or observe a Level I and Level I-II class. Regardless of whether we were observing or taking the class, Kathleen asked us to identify specific things that we experienced from the class. What observable actions did the teacher demonstrate that were effective? How were those observable actions articulated? What were the main instructions for the pose?  What were the corrections?  Did we feel they were clear, understandable, and effective?

She followed this session by allowing us to demonstrate a pose using observable actions and simple instructive points. The exercise is another basic part of the Iyengar Method and it is extremely difficult, especially if you have worked on countless articulations of a single action in a pose in your own practice. Your head begins to spin with vrttis (fluctuations) of all the different things you could say, your heartbeat quickens, you feel as if you are going to pass out --- but you take a deep breath and practice Patanjali's Sutra 11:33 Vitarkabadhane Pratipaksabhavanam, which encourages the Sadhaka (student) to cultivate the opposite disposition.

In order to cultivate the opposite temperament which will resist the current chaos in the mind, body and/or spirit, Patanjali suggests using the guidance of the Niyamas, the five personal precepts which are Soucha, santosa, tapas, svadhyaya, Isvarapranidhanai:  Purity, contentment, burning desire, self study, and surrender. It takes practice but it is like exercising any other muscle. If we do it and keep doing it, our ability to do it grows stronger.

It's a process. I definitely have struggled from the stress involved with this process, because of an overwhelming fear of not getting it right (see previous blog).* However, if we calm ourselves down enough, we can decide what we feel are the primary actions of the pose. We can choose what we want to show and what we feel needs to be articulated with words.

It's amazing how much clarity comes from this exercise.  Simplifying what we want to say and show - not only makes it easier on the student, it makes it easier on you as the teacher.  You know what you are asking for, so you know what actions to look for in your students.  If we start running our mouths our students get confused and we loose track of what we are actually teaching.

This is an invaluable lesson not only in yoga but in life. As a writer, I have rewritten and rewritten and rewritten and rewritten in order to unclutter my mind enough to figure what I am trying to say. I have often used poetry as a tool, because it requires you to take out all the unnecessary words and refine the necessary words in order to succinctly convey whatever feeling or expression you're trying to get across. My work with the Iyengar Method is similar and it is not only transforming my own practice and teaching, it is slowly transforming how I write, how I speak, even how I learn.

There will always be better choices of observable actions and words.  It is our work to keep refining these choices through training and through observation of the effectiveness of our teaching with our students.  Did they see the action I wanted them to observe?  Did they understand what actions I said I wanted them to do? How effective were my choices in creating a pose in my students that will give them the most benefits from that pose?  Was I able to put them in a place where they could learn and experience?  Or did I confuse and frustrate them, so the benefits of the pose were lost completely?

As teachers, we strive to thoroughly understand the pose we are teaching.  We want to know how to keep students safe in the pose and what modifications might need to be made in order for the student to maintain the basic actions of the pose. We work on our own practice to be able to show the final stage of the pose and how to teach it step-by-step, so our students can experience their progress. We examine the directional flow of the pose and how best to develop actions that will maintain that directional flow.  We also examine how wrong actions could be more injurous based on that directional flow.

When learning from more experienced teachers, Kathleen encourages us to Trust, Verify, and Observe what we learn. We trust that the teachers we are learning from have more experience with the pose than we do. We verify what we learn from them by experimenting on ourselves and we observe our experience in order to be able to share what we've learned with our students (it's also nice to give public credit for that learning to those wonderful teachers who were willing to share what they know).

We want to examine poses from bottom to top. What affects the proper alignment of the pose.  How can we help our students get into proper alignment, so they can benefit the most from each pose?  We have to understand the essence of each pose we are teaching. When we can get to the essence for ourselves, we are better equipped to help our students build a stronger, more stable foundation they can build on.


I would like to thank Nancy Mau & Anna Leo for letting us infiltrate your class with our pens and notebooks. Nancy, we all appreciated your time and advise during our demos and demonstrated practice. I also want to thank my cool training mates who taught me more than they know.  I hope to keep in touch, so we can continue sharing and learning. And of course, a very special thanks to Kathleen for her ongoing insight and inspiration.

If you are interested in the next Teacher Training or in the upcoming Workshop with Manouso Manos please visit for more information.

* I definitely struggle with perfectionism and performance anxiety.  In my efforts to get to the essence of my teaching and practice I am also getting to the essence of my own being. As I slowly delve into this aspect of myself I'm beginning to understand a lot of it comes from growing up with perfectionist for parents, and also being under a microscope for over twenty years where at various points in my youth I was put on a scale and weighed daily, had my neck, feet, and hips examined --even x-rayed to determine whether I was Grade A ballerina material (needless to say, I wasn't), which forced me to feel shame for not having all the right physical attributes for the art I loved. These were things I could do nothing about. My neck was not going to grow longer.  My left hip bone was not going to reform itself correctly.  My arches were not going to get higher. - etc.  Auditioning for companies or roles in a performance held similar shame when it appeared as if they would pick less technically skilled dancers mainly because they fit the body type.  Perfectionism was a way to control a situation I had no control over.  We hide behind many masks thinking it will protect us somehow. I'm grateful for the opportunity to recognize some of them and perhaps even get to take a few off for good, thanks to Iyengar Yoga and meditation. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My Iyengar Yoga: "Organic Farming Of The Self and Eradicating the Worm Within"

"Yoga does not look on greed, violence, sloth, excess, pride, lust, and fear as ineradicable forms of original sin that exist to wreck our happiness – or indeed on which to found our happiness. They are seen as natural, if unwelcome, manifestations of the human disposition and predicament that are to be solved, not suppressed or denied. Our flawed mechanisms of perception and thought are not a cause for grief (though they bring us grief), but an opportunity to evolve, for an internal evolution of consciousness that will also make possible in a sustainable form our aspirations toward what we call individual success and global progress."

"The whole educative thrust of yoga is to make things go right in our lives. But we all know that an apple that appears perfect on the outside can have been eaten away by an invisible worm on the inside. Yoga is not about appearances. It is about finding and eradicating the worm, so that the whole apple, from skin inward, can be perfect and a healthy one. That is why yoga, and indeed all spiritual philosophies, seems to harp on the negative -- grasping desires, weaknesses, faults, and imbalances. They are trying to catch the worm before it devours and corrupts the whole apple from inside. This is not a struggle between good and evil. It is natural for worms to eat apples. In yoga we simply do not want to be the apple that is rotted from inside. So yoga insists on examining, scientifically and without value judgment, what can go wrong, and why, and how to stop it. It is organic farming of the self -- for the Self."   ---BKS Iyengar, Light on Life

Sutra 11:34  Vitarkah himsadayah Krta Karita anumoditah lobha krodha mona purvaka mrdu madhya adhimatra duhkha ajnana anantaphala iti pratipaksabhavanam  - Uncertain knowledge giving rise to violence, whether done directly or indirectly, or condoned, is caused by greed, anger or delusion in mild, moderate or intense degree.  It results in endless pain and ignorance.  Through introspection comes the end of pain and ignorance.  --BKS Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali

As many Iyengar students know, in the books written by the Iyengars there is usually a section called, HINTS and CAUTIONS.  In Light on Yoga, this section goes on for almost ten pages to cover the hints and cautions needed for pranayama practice alone. Yoga is capable of shedding great light, which is why it can't be taken lightly.

Many people come to yoga for its physical benefits and needless to say there are many. But when as Iyengar says we "let the yoga do the yoga", our consciousness slowly begins to move from the outer most sheath of the body to the inner sheaths.  These sheaths are known as Koshas.  There are five Koshas:

Annamaya Kosha (physical body)
Pranamaya Kosha (energetic body)
Manamaya Kosha (mental body)
Vijnanamays Kosha (wisdom body)
Anandamaya Kosha (bliss body)

The people who leave yoga are those who may have hit an inner sheath and perhaps their own place of caution ---a glimpse of a possible worm inside themselves.  Instead of wanting to dig deeper and potentially clear it from their garden, they run away from it. I know. I have found myself running away on more than one occasion even though I always come back. Recently, I could even say I made myself sick with kidney and bladder issues as one of these lovely worms came to the surface in all its glory.

I know some people don't like Louise Hay and her ideas that we have some control over illness or disease.  However, it's interesting to note in her You Can Heal Your Life book she ascribes kidney problems to a sense of shame, failure, disappointment, and being over-critical and bladder problems to excess anxiety, fear of letting go, being pissed off, and incontinence to emotional overflow and years of controlling the emotions. If you look at the Chinese Five Element Theory: kidney problems (Yin Water Element) indicate excessive fear and anxiety and bladder problems (Yang Water Element) come from excess fear, anxiety, terror, frustration, inadequate courage.

I'm not opposed to Louise Hay and the Chinese Five Element Theory. I have worried myself sick. I figure I come by it honest.  My father is a marathon worrier.  So, I could blame it all on him and say  it's adhidaivika roga - or genetic disease with hereditary origin.  Although, it could also be considered adhyatmika roga - a self inflicted disease.  Iyengar explains in Light on the Sutras of Patanajali in his commentary on sutra 11:34 that disease, pain and distress come in three types 1) overindulgence in pleasure through desire 2) lust 3) pride. He continues saying that these can also come from non-deliberate habits and behaviors rising from imbalances of five elements --- I'm assuming we could probably draw parallels to the Chinese five Element Theory.

There are 20 Sanskrit words in Patanjali's Sutra 11:34. While studying Sutras 11:29-11:46, I'd have to come up against this long Sutra and like any good Southerner I'd turn the page. I'd think to myself, how am I ever going to get this one, it takes almost a half a page to write it. Then, low and behold I get the opportunity to truly understand it through a special "teachable moment".  Thank you Patanjali for yet another fallen oblation.

To clarify Sutra 11:34, Kquvien DeWeese encourages us to look at other interpretations. Mukunda Stiles interpreted the Sutra as "Negative thoughts and emotions are violent, in that they cause injury to yourself and others, regardless of whether they are performed by you, done by others or you permit them to be done. They arise from greed, anger, or delusion regardless of whether they arise from mild, moderate, or excessive emotional intensity.  They result in endless misery and ignorance. Therefore, when you consistently cultivate the opposite thoughts and emotions, the unwholesome tendencies are gradually destroyed."

We hear it all the time, "I think therefore I am." Cogito ergo sum as Rene Descartes put it.  How we think about ourself or others or what we believe have a lot of power and like my meditation teacher, Alice Franklin says, "We like to prove ourselves right". Patanjali's Sutra suggests a remedy:  When you have or experience a negative thought, belief, or emotion cultivate the opposite --cultivate the positive.
That (like every other aspect in the practice of yoga as Nancy Mau mentioned in class Saturday) takes faith, courage, mindfulness, concentration, and true vision:

Sutra 1:20 Sraddha Virya Smriti Smadhi Prajnapurvaka Itaresam.  "The concentration of the true spiritual aspirant is attained through faith, courage, mindfulness, concentration, and true vision." BKS Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali.  

Needless to say, I've still got a lot of work to do, but I'm going to keep at it.

I hope you will, too.



Thursday, January 30, 2014

When the Student is Ready the Teacher Will Come: The Power of Belief in Healing

There is scientific evidence of the therapeutic effects of yoga. It is said to be a healing art.  As many of you know anything healing usually involves trusting in something or someone outside of yourself.

The Yoga of Patanjali follows an Astanga or 8-limbed path. Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharna, Dhyana, Samadhi.  If you've read my other blogs, you know that Iyengar likens the Yama and Niyama to the two banks along side a river. The banks of the river are what keep the river flowing in the right direction.

These ten precepts like the 10 commandments, the Golden Rule or many other such things are guides to help us conduct ourselves in order to serve ourself and our community for the greater good -- and ultimately lead us to freedom from the pains of the body and mind. The tenth precept is Ishvarapranidhana, which is trusting in a force outside ourselves. 

The Yama and Niyama are disciplines for the most part that take sustained effort to uphold at first, but as time goes on they become a part of who we are. You might even say they make up a practice of who we were before our egos took hold.

However, when most of us come into yoga in the West, we start with Asana practice. The words Yama and Niyama might not even come into our vernacular for years of practice. We begin our yoga with our physical body and our ego (usually in high gear). One of my favorite quotes I read from Iyengar is when he talks about just letting the yoga do the yoga. No matter how we come to yoga or what type of yoga we practice, something wonderful still occurs.

We begin to know ourselves. If just to know what is stiff or what won't work like we want it to.  We are drawn inwards. No matter who the teacher is or what type of yoga practice. We are put in a position to face ourselves in a unique way. Like with any new endeavor, as time goes on and we continue whatever practice we are doing, we learn to trust ourselves. In yoga, we learn to believe in our ability to connect our mind with our body to move through and heal the pains, while creating a slew of what some might deem crazy pretzel positions.

It is this growing belief in ourself to connect our mind and body that leads to more sustained effort and total focus and absorption…which then leads us to another place: A place of surrender. A place where fragmented directives of how a pose should be performed soon dissolve into a blissful stillness that seems to keep evolving, ultimately connecting to what feels like something outside ourselves. It is in this state where deeper healing and evolution occur. Whether it is a "happening" in the brain or a spiritual phenomena we can debate forever.

It may seem hokey to some to consider a blissful surrender to something other than ourselves; but I figure we all once experienced a oneness like what is being suggested. We didn't even have to believe in it. It just existed:  in the womb.  If you consider all of the incredible transformations that happened there, it seems worth striving for at least.

Personally, I don't feel debating whether there is or isn't a spiritual force outside ourselves is what matters.  What matters is your belief in your own experience. Belief in what that experience does for you. Where that experience leads you. And how you evolve or "heal" as a result.