Tag Archives: Yoga Sutras

Samskara and the Witness: Yoga’s Value in the Time of Trump.

Samskaras are impressions that form our unconscious thoughts and actions.

Bramacharya is the tempering of excess.

 

I have a failing dog whose cries sound like a bird that has newly taken residence in my yard. He falls and the puppy runs in to tell me. Is it him or a bird? I jump up now when I hear the bird. I am confused and it’s corrupting my concentration. My impressions are nervous and exhausting. I recognize that something must change. My choices challenge me.

 

Obstruction of justice, Russia, agenda, fake news, collusion, credibility and incompetence represent the concepts that frame America this day of June 8th. James Comey, former FBI Director will be heard. The moon will be full. The pundits will interpret and Americans will take sides.

 

Here in Nashville, the city is teaming with tourists for Bonaroo and CMA week. Music fills the air. The town is charged with love for our hockey team the Nashville Predators who will compete for the Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh tonight. They are my clients. Music is much of my moving life. I am not entirely distracted by politics today.  I throw my thrown gardener’s back into the mix. I am in pain so I’m already irritated. Just these things create a background for my impressions of the news today. This is a molecule of what informs my consciousness. The rest is my history. And yours.

 

I remember saluting the flag with pride. I remember a country that made me feel safe. I remember a mannered country even if it was only the surface. I remember feeling the grownups in charge would take care of me. But then I was raised kindly in a safe and privileged place by two grownups who are together 64 years today. I have an impression. I am loved and I love easily. I was raised by people who took care of those weaker or less fortunate. I believe in entitlements which I think is a horrible word for helping those less advantaged. I have traveled and felt the sameness of folks from different worlds. I embraced the alternative world of yoga and shunned the status quo as a young adult. It was a time that embraced that.

 

I know to listen to the opinions of people who think differently than I do because I am aware that my impressions color my views.  I admit to rage over what I perceive as deeply cynical or naïve views. I can barely stand to watch Fox news though my husband insists we do to understand what we’re dealing with. But I see obnoxious. And I know those people see MSNBC, CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS and the newspapers that once had the greatest gravitas the same way and worse.

 

How do we witness objectively? How do we begin to lose our impressions and be an unbiased jury?

 

We listen to the words out of people’s mouths without interpreters. We come from kindness to embrace all living creatures and this earth. We look for credible evidence which means it can be proved. We choose to withhold absolute opinion. If we’re lucky we feel what feels right according to the rules of right and wrong we learned at home, at worship houses, at school.  If we had none of that we look for something to trust. Something of love. Something of light.

 

In yoga we breathe gently with consciousness in rhythm with movement. We hold our attention to the sensations of the moments. We try to lift the cloud by being patient. We hone awareness. When confronted with truthful feelings we examine them. It’s not foolproof but it’s what yoga offers.

 

My impression is that both the words liberal and conservative are good in context. Liberal when it means generous. Conservative when restraint is called for to reign in incorrect generosity. That concept is covered in modern yoga as bramacharya.  Modern yoga philosophy recognizes the other factors that allow us to recognize bramacharya in our own lives.

 

This is not a tutorial on yoga. It is to say that yoga is needed more than ever in these days of confusion. When right and wrong is no longer absolute, when facts are called fake, when robots are manipulating our impressions for gain, it is imperative that we find a way home.

 

Author’s note: this is truly a blog post written quickly and as ….. an impression. :()

 

 

 

 

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Sanders, Trump and Yoga

There is a murmur in the corner of the not so tiny yoga community about the state of affairs of yoga.

Bitchin Yoga always weighs in as vigorous claims interest her. For her, what was once surprising is not now. Age teaches. The state is adrift at the surface which is why she’s keen on learning high wire skills. Beneath the surface not much has changed.

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Consider this in terms of this election year. An unsettling season of ferocity seems normal these days. What once seemed weird or alternative or unlikely now seems a solution as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump rise in the polls. Judgment of some kinds ceases as the Status Quo fails to deliver. Unconventional organizers ascend and division is clear.

The time is right for the once strange of yoga to increase in popularity, attract developers and further divide in these days of radical unrest and financial uncertainty.

Yoga practitioners with a pre-modern yoga history had little to distract us from the practice as it wasn’t tied to livelihood or even solutions to specific social problems. Modern yogis have a different experience to reckon with. Survival is paramount and so is unleashed creativity if they want to stay in what has become the game.

 

Yoga isn’t fringe anymore and “mindfulness” has pierced the commercial world. Yoga class as a *“mindful” exercise isn’t necessarily entirely different from a yoga classes twenty five years ago but as an increasing component of the public domain, it is presented differently. Now it is subject to regulations enforced by an outside source. That changes the flavor of things. The outside source used to be the first and second limb of yoga.

 

Before blogging there was a book on the state of yoga in America. Hearkening back to the chapter I wrote for that book, I still think that the first limbs of yoga are the key to the state of yoga and most things in America right now. Attraction or willful rebellion to those guiding principles of ethical restraints as well as the interpretation of those principles shapes the character of our choices. We are flailing wildly perhaps not realizing we are looking for direction. But we look for structure nonetheless.

 

To put it simply, the first limb describes the social offenses to avoid if one wants a peaceful life. The second limb describes the components of that life. In short, if you are doing the right thing you will sleep at night and want to take the next breath in the morning. But what is the right thing if not an opinion these days?

 

Look at the followers of Trump and Sanders and a yogi will notice that what looks like non-violence, honesty, lack of greed or gluttony and overstepping one’s power is not the same for everyone. Perception comes from individual experience of life. In fact there are a disturbing amount of stories of power abuse in yoga studios though the owners seem clueless. How interesting that a major goal of yoga is to break through this veil of perception to see truth.

 

What truth is has become one of the paramount questions of our time. Politicians tell their truths. It is different for each of them. They inform and influence the greater group. The group has shared truths. Some things become evident and absolute but often the case is not closed. This is the state of the yoga studio and teacher as well.

 

Discontentment’s fire fuels us and the West becomes a Wild West again. We will survive at all costs. We will sling guns where we want. We will break boundaries in relationship to all things whether it is sex, drugs, rules, racism and yes yoga. Political incorrectness has become correct. Survival comes first. When you open doors it is interesting to see who and how we choose to walk through them.

 

Is the yoga being taught now working? I’m sure it is working for some students because the interest in walking through a door that advertises illumination is to want that. So if the student keeps walking in and the teacher is at least conveying that yoga is the practice of self awareness or discipline or kindness then some yoga is being taught. Perhaps it is enough if the student recognizes there is work to do and because we are hard working people we can embrace that. We are the work we have to do. Perhaps that is the surface we want to scrape.

 

As for the financial survival of the teachers it is like other businesses today. The price of everything except salaries is going up. Perhaps that’s why so many teachers use yoga as their hobby or second business. Still, more people are putting hard earned cash into teacher training that won’t pay them back in much more than a brief education. There must be some pay off for them. That says to me their yoga experience has got them hooked, hopefully on more than ego. That’s not a bad thing.

 

It is a long time since I had a studio. I was lucky to be part of our local ballet company and my rent was cheap. I did not hire or fire. There were no Groupons and for that, there was no competition. We had punch cards and an honor system and a yoga family that lasted longer than the average attrition rate now. I am grateful beyond measure for that beautiful experience. I cannot say I know the state of yoga now but I know one thing for sure. It is a changing status while beneath the surface the seed of yoga is not.

 

*This is noted because I don’t like the use of the non- word mindfulness when thoughtful worked just fine. I used it here because it is part of yoga culture now.

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Simply Complicated

I can’t remember where I read this mother’s account of her son’s last words: “It was all so simple. “ He was referring to life.

 

I stopped reading though her account had just begun. For the profundity of his finding in that moment took me aback where in another time it might have just seemed another hackneyed observation. And also, because I am a mother of sons.

 

But that statement indicates that there is no reason to worry. It disrobes the drama that is worry. It implies that everything is O.K. while these days it definitely feels like everything is certainly not going to be O.K.

 

It’s simple, eh? We are here to love and be loved. That is simple and beautiful enough. But I have rarely heard of a human life unfolding seamlessly.

Cheekwood optic fiber cotton candy Bruce Monroe by Rob Lindsay

Despite a desire to love and be loved or because of it, when someone doesn’t treat us well a worm of doubt assures us we are not worthy and the bad feelings get paid forward in future relationships.

 

Evolution as actualization begins at birth. In spite of the immense beauty that surrounds and buoys us, it is discomfort by way of desire or avoidance that keeps us moving.

 

Beyond that, we do not live to love only. We live to survive and survival comes first. In a system that demands we compete to survive love can get lost in the shuffle. And the shuffle has gone beyond our inside circle. Our connectivity is both support and pain.

 

Memory says that things are not O.K. We wrestle the future. We enter the news and become part of the stories that shock us. Acts unspeakable and not understandable are committed by people who are like us in most ways. Mutation happens within our tribes. We are tribal. In small ways and large, people act badly. Equilibrium abides because in small ways and large, we also act kindly.

 

We extend a helping hand to nations beyond ours but our service is a form of dominance and the seeds that spawn the grain are tainted. Our produce is a reflection of corporate power. If we enjoy the agricultural that created a Honeycrisp apple we can’t be surprised that technology also brought forth monster seeds. It comes at once. A revolution of technology followed a revolution of industry and fostered worldwide revolutions of disgruntled reactionaries who keep our hair raised and our fear at code red.

 

Nothing is simple. Or is it?

 

Spirit guides point me to a commonplace hearkening I’d become deaf to. Turn the other cheek is not so different from love your enemy or even love no matter what. No matter the circumstances, the human is urged to act alone as an act of rebellion. Defy fear. Do not hate. Love despite all. The act of loving oneself and one’s testy neighbor is revolutionary. That is the telling of non-reacting that is yoga washed in Buddhism.

 

In this midnight awakening it seems true and possibly simple. If we only loved from the first consciousness there would be no fear. Without harm or threat of harm things would be less complicated. But we messy human beings came wired for fear. We come with internal landmines that might or might not be active.

 

 

The wrestle with demons is the fable of heroism, the story of good v. evil we crave. If it is not in our own lives we seek it in stories of others. Perhaps that is what was and is so simple; To know our own nature and abide calmly in it.

 

 

 

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How Do We Labor: A Yoga Labor Day Muse

How Do We Labor? A Yoga Labor Day Muse

How Do We Labor? A Yoga Labor Day Muse

 A noteworthy section (the Eight Limbs) of a major yoga text, The Yoga Sutras, offers specific components of a worthy life. We yoga teachers wear the heck out of it because it’s a tidy template; relatable, easy to apply to asana and by extension behavior off the mat.

 

Herein is advice to keep fire, the manifestation of desire, under one’s feet. One is also advised that contentment is essential. Beyond that, keep your sunny side up and your eyes open is what I’ve extrapolated from the word cleanliness.

Ascetics wrote this body of work which I reinterpret for our times; times of “it’s all good”, which it is not. People like to pretend.

It’s tidy that the author or authors thought to group fire/desire, contentment, positivity with reflection and tied them together with the suggestion of surrendering to a higher power. I mean when you try your damndest and this life still acts like a bag full of cats it’s nice to have that to fall back on.

 

And it was never going to be easy in a world in which everyone’s and everything’s survival depends on eating someone or something else. The map points to a rough road. Wouldn’t you agree?

 

There’s a warning watch list of qualifications, of things not to do in order to make those components of a happy life possible. The list is called Just Don’t Do It. I made that up. They called it Restraints. It’s also known as the first limb of yoga. Number one: Don’t be an ass and you won’t feel guilty. If you don’t feel guilty you’ll have more energy toward positive things, like keeping your sunny side up while you bust your butt in happy endeavors that satisfy you. That’s in the second limb. Keep climbing. You can be an ass by being a mean, stealing, jealous, arrogant hoarder or any of the above. So it’s easy to be an ass at least once a week if not once a day or an hour.

 

In a country where kindness has one leg out the window and common courtesy is standing on the ledge, where the population suffers from epidemic attention deficiency it’s tempting to be an ass as it’s practically become acceptable but it’s also tempting to ‘give it up to God’ as a vacation from effort.

 

I’m reminded of a car I steered clear of because the bumper sticker said that Jesus was driving. Poor Jesus comes back and the best job available for someone of a certain age is to chauffer a guy who’d rather take the back seat. Yes Jesus, my friends and I are having big birthdays. We get it.

 

I saw the show Sunday Morning today. It is Labor Day weekend so there were three separate segments on employees in this country. One pointed out that only three out of ten people like their jobs. A second revealed that if you take your entire tiny handful of vacation days, 15% of your employers will think you’re a slacker and 10% will overlook you for a promotion. No problem, most of you don’t have the money to go on vacation anyway.

 

The third was like baby bear’s bed; just right. A bit of socialism in a company goes a long way. When the employees are treated like worthy individuals of a shared community, productivity goes up and happiness reigns for all.

 

This is the best we can offer in a shared experience of humanity that is an ongoing experiment in survival. What does it take to treat someone like a worthy individual if you are not the boss? What does it take for happiness created to translate to personal happiness?

 

Here’s a radical concept of authenticity: Manners might be the answer. Manners are not superficial but I think quite the opposite. Manners say that I see you beyond your facades and treat you as I would have you treat me. Manners are my restraint; as I don’t honk my horn at you or flip you the bird, as I do not put my cell phone on your dining room table, as I honor the acceptance of your invitation by showing up as planned. Manners mean I have reflected. Manners mean I understand Namaste.

 

There is no template but the vastness of everyday life. In this life where we cut and eat someone or something to stay alive even a silent thank you for that in the presence of ourselves might be the beginning of a labor of love on a planet where:

“We’re all just walking each other home”

                                                                                                                                ~ Ram Dass – author of Be Here Now

                                                                   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dog Shit, the Gita and the Circle of Like

‘There is no reality except the one contained within us. That is why so many people live such an unreal life. They take the images outside them for reality and never allow the world within to assert itself.’ – Hermann Hesse

A while back a social media savvy friend advised me to “like” my own posts because it raised my profile or visibility or something.  At the time I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be more visible and I wasn’t sure I didn’t feel stupid praising my own and every declaration in the media but I gave it a shot anyway and found a certain and unexpected sense of gratification upon clicking “like”. More significantly I felt a sense of closure that appeared to come from feeling appreciated. My approval had more merit than I had realized.

Sweet Emily, my social media guru came by today to help me create a Facebook page for bitchin yoga. I clicked the “like” button when the page went up and nothing happened. Emily said;

“Hmmm, I don’t think you can like yourself”.

What! That is unacceptable.

I had grown accustomed to myself.

I’ve been taking notes and taking note for most of my life, a small notebook usually in my pocket or purse since my teens. My comments have given me immense satisfaction; for no eyes other than mine.

I don’t know why I was recently reminded of a note I made a lifetime ago on a hot day outside my third floor walk- up by the East River in Manhattan.  But it came on the heels of feeling lousy that some pieces I’d posted recently on Elephant Journal hadn’t gotten much attention.

Taking out the garbage on that Manhattan morning I’d been assaulted at the foot of the stairs by wet summer heat and a fly covered sweating baggy of dog shit perched on the lid of the garbage can. New York City law obliged you to clean up after your dog but in that moment I noted that the terrible offence of baking plastic covered dog shit tossed in my way was far worse than something left unadorned on the tired patch of grass beside it.

It was nothing much; a moment, a remark in a worn red leather notebook but I thought it was funny and I enjoyed it. What if I had published that observation and no one got it? Or thought I was insane or weird?  What then of my satisfaction? What of the satisfaction of a lifetime of commentary?

I considered the verses on Karma yoga in the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, that are an admonition to do the work suited to one’s essential nature without attachment to the results. In a new world where one is measured by virtual visibility and the barometer of one’s importance is called status and determined by numbers it is easy to be uneasy.

Writings and posts liked or commented on gives instant pleasure but liking them oneself gives what Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras describes as santosa or contentment. And contentment absolutely trumps pleasure’s fleeting vanity. It took some experience to understand that in the context of internet interaction but the lesson is learned.

Bitchin yoga declares itself content and contented.  The circle is complete but wide enough to embrace you. Welcome.

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Entwined; Eight Limbs and Us.

Blogging is good for those recluses who need interaction to retard intellectual apathy. Well, it’s good for me, anyway……..sometimes.

This is a thank you to a cyber soul named “David” whose heart is one of many hearts that make writing into the ether rewarding.  His latest thoughtful response to a bitchin’ rant instigated my response which was the absolute surety that Thoreau hid out at Walden to prevent himself from becoming an asshole as assholes are born of society and rarely alone. I’ll add this link as a footnote to that as it points to genetics and oxytocin as markers for social behavior.

And that inspires this take on the Yoga Sutra’s eight limbs which are known as the system of astanga yoga. Yoga practice which incorporates these limbs is sometimes referred to as kriya yoga.

The eight limbs go from the gross to the subtle from the surface to make a deeper pile; they interface like yarn on the knitting needle; knit one, pearl two, one step forward and backtrack, pick up and thread and go again to weave a cloak that covers all. The threads are only elements on their own and by relationship become whole: This is the action and interaction called kriya.

Yama is ethical observances. This first limb deals with relationship to others. Don’t be an asshole.  It begs the question: Am I an asshole?

Niyama is personal observances. This second limb deals with relationship to ourself. Respect yourself. It begs the question: Who am I and what am I doing?

 Asana is physical practice. It deals with relationship to others in the template of body organization and effort. Relationship through adversity becomes clear. It begs the question: Do I see this body as a cooperative or do I see starving slaves and gluttonous lords? What serves what and who serves who?

Pranayama is the control of breath. The fourth limb is relationship between our life force and THE force. It begs the question: am I part of this energy (as breath) or am I separate? Do I receive energy like oil on water or wind on water? Do I return it enlivened or exhausted?

Pratyahara, the fifth, is relationship of the senses through absorption. It begs the question: Am I absorbed or spaced out?

Dharana,the sixth, is the action of absorption with intention. It is concentration. It begs the question: Can I pay attention?  Can I direct my mind to this task or do I lack the fire, the desire, the discipline?

Dhyana, the seventh, is the relationship of the body to the senses, to the mind and to the present. We are committed, clear, calm, steady and strong. We are receivers. This is meditation.

Samadhi,the eighth limb, is the absorption of the self into the whole. There are no questions. Some call it bliss.

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There are laments about the yoga community. I have read ample examples of ill winded posturing and spoken about them, too. Lately the topic is what are we wearing and who we are buying it from. How we  are  further defined by sex and politics and certifications and styles is ever present.  There is much to rail against and thankfully there are those who take up the mantle. Apathy is mine too often.  I love to be pleasantly surprised by something.   I look to the torch carriers to hold the light that can’t go out. We are too many in the dark.

But I wonder if the vast landscape of humanity is not telling enough. Why are we surprised? Aren’t people who do yoga just people doing yoga? That is not the same thing as a yogi who holds a job and buys a house and has kids. And who says a yogi is pure, anyway?

If yoga becomes a discipline for the masses why wouldn’t we expect it to come with a pair of pants and a matching tank top! But isn’t it better that watered down yoga washes over us than to not know it at all?  Yoga used to be the domain of the wanderers. All things come with a price. But there are ways around it. There are choices.

Don’t be surprised by the choices people make. We do not want control as much as we want convenience. If a factory that makes yoga props or clothing employs children we will say, but how do I know who is employed by the other factories? How do I know that this is any better? If a yoga studio is suspicious but it is in my neighborhood, it is the lesser evil to stay close to home anyway. And if there is a coffee shop nearby, even better. It’s so easy. It’s so convenient. I’m so busy.

And we are so expansive. How can we condone anything evil when there is also so much that is positive? We must take into account the good things and forgive the bad.  God forbid we take a stand! That is rigid. We are flexible.

Who has the strength to go against the tide? See what we want: Order. Look at the outlaws and rebel Occupiers making up language and laws and code. Watch the enforcement, the first step, order.  Yoga for the masses meant codes too. Read the basic code of restraints and observances. We have always been the same. Restrain us. We run rampant with desire.

But if all yoga classes were a forum of discussion for the codes and ethics there would still be disagreements. All would interpret in isolation of self. This is a self serving society. This yoga is not exempt but part of it. Don’t you see? It’s been integrated, conditioned and reclaimed.

If we believe we need to be beautiful to be lovable why does it stop at yoga’s door? If we believe we need to be successful, why would it stop at yoga’s door?  If we believe we have to be sexy why would it stop at yoga’s door, if we believe we can get away with something anywhere, why would that thinking stop at yoga’s door.

I was naive once. I thought it stopped at yoga’s door because yoga was pristine and therefore those who handled it were accountable to be worthy.  And they are; if it’s convenient. There are choices but they are harder and harder to make.

Yogis are not drop outs. Yogis are goal oriented like everyone else. Yogis want to be admired like everyone else. Yogis want to make money. Yoga does not exist in a bubble. Look at the environment and look at your yoga. Isn’t there commonality?

This country’s leaders have made it easy to be self serving by example. You do what you want and fall upon your knees at the public viewings claiming your human weaknesses before God, repenting, telling how God forgives all. And if God forgives, we must follow his lead.  Now we may regularly lie, steal, whore, whatever because we know we are just mortal and that God and our fellow mortals in his image love us anyway.

Light bearers and bards, keep talking.  There are people who hear you. They may or may not be yogis. But that does not matter. We are all the same.

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