Thursday, December 31, 2009

Setting a Goal

"Styana: A person suffering from languor has no goal, no path to follow and no enthusiasm. His mind and intellect become dull due to inactivity and their faculties rust. Constant flow keeps a mountain stream pure, but water in a ditch stagnates and nothing good can flourish in it. A listless person is like a living corpse for he can concentrate on nothing."
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, 35th paragraph of the Introduction.

Complacency. Just doing what you are supposed to do. Unexamined experience. Trapped. Without an object for the imagination, we might loll around waiting forever.

A goal can change your world. Even a rediculous one. Reach. It can be a career goal, relationship goal, a creative goal, or maybe a Yogic Goal.

Lacking direction, a dull sensibility, languishing in languor is a block to personally growing through Yoga. Maybe we are "too busy" to address this. There is always a choice. We can always stir the pot. When everything has settled to the bottom in a cooking pot on the stove, it may congeal together and eventually become homogenously charred. So even if there were originally different components making an interesting mix, if left neglected you might end up with a mess. The same might be true for a neglected personality. We can't always expect others to keep us moving, the spoon might not reach down deep enough to keep it interesting.

Set a course. Fly. You don't even have to change a lot to others--or maybe you do. I can't speak for others, I just know that I have more work to do.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009


"Vyadhi: It will be noticed that the very first obstacle is ill-health or sickness. To the yogi his body is the prime instrument of attainment. If his vehicle breaks down, the traveller cannot go far. If the body is broken by ill-health, the aspirant can achieve little. Physical health is important for mental development, as normally the mind functions through the nervous system. When the body is sick or the nervous system is affected, the mind becomes restless or dull and inert and concentration or meditation become impossible."
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, 34th paragraph of the Introduction.

Sickness can be seen as an obstacle or distraction to Yoga. And Yoga can also be the medicine for Body, Mind and Spirit.

"Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured."
-B.K.S. Iyengar

The thing is that we all bring our imperfections to Yoga. I see Yoga as welcoming what is. Yoga is a spiritual methodology for working with Obstacles. So here is an obstacle: Sickness.

Mr. Iyengar had sickness as a child that he brought to Yoga. And he was able to overcome it through dedication to his Practice.

My Yoga revealed a sickness I didn't even know I had. My heart was totally denied. The world I experienced up to the time I started to get to know the Chicago Yoga Community didn't include the heart in important decisions. My heart was tuned out. It was hidden. I knew fear. I knew ruthless survival. I knew competition. Even though my life was comfortable, somehow my attitude was mostly geared toward getting what I want according to what I had learned from others, like I was trying to get the best deal out of a situation, or something. I hadn't encountered heart joy or richness until I learned to know myself through Yoga.

I said at the time that I went to yoga to get a "hot body." I thought my boyfriend might appreciate my body more. I didn't know of myself as much more than that. I was a hungry body with needs and desires.

Now I wonder how I can expand my contribution to wellness. It's not just about my body and possessions, it's more about my heart, humanity and compassionate connections.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Surveying the Terrain

"To win a battle, a general surveys the terrain and the enemy and plans counter-measures. In a similar way the Yogi plans the conquest of the Self."
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, 33rd paragraph of the Introduction.

For the next nine paragraphs of the Introduction, we will be surveying "the enemy". This enemy is the group of distractions and obstacles that lead us away from, or block us from Yoga.

I do think that it's good to look at the dark side of a light-filled practice. Let's fearlessly consider what we might be up against. It might be empowering to look at the potential dangers we could encounter along the way. It also offers respect for the practice when we open ourselves up to see these things.

I recently read about someone considering the benefit of positive thinking. And I think that it is good to maintain a positive attitude, but not at the expense of seeing things clearly. I was raised by a positive thinker. I think I might have some of those genes. But there are times to be real and to hear things without pasting a hopeful or desperate smile on the moment. Try to just listen. Try to just perceive, without controlling or changing anything. And then later, when there is understanding, plan your move and do it. Who is perfect? Who does not have challenges in life and on the yoga mat? The person who pretends perfection creates more pain, repression and shame rather than a more perfect world. Who wants to be perfect, anyway?

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Monday, December 28, 2009

A Yogic Challenge

"There are, however, four more distractions: (1) dukha - pain or misery, (2) daurmansya - despair, (3) angamejayatva - unsteadiness of the body and (4) svasa-prasvasa - unsteady respiration."
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, 32nd paragraph of the Introduction.

Somehow, the language is clarified for me here. Pain or misery, despair, unsteadiness of the body, and unsteady respiration are distractions to the practice of Yoga. I also look at these concepts to see where I might be off the mark.

Pain is not Yoga. If I am in pain I am distracted. How can I work to alleviate the pain? Often people come to Yoga because of one pain or another, and Yoga helps them. But sometimes we can be attached to pain and unknowingly perpetuate it.

Despair is not Yoga. Despair=Loss of Hope. Hopelessness is a distraction away from Yoga, and I don't think that I can afford this drain on my resources. I am so inspired when I see people doing yoga; it lights up my day. I am totally happy and absorbed into my immediate experience most of the time during my practice. But I am not a stranger to what I call my "cloak of sadness". It is a dispirited state where I am lost. The good thing about a cloak is that it comes off. Maybe I can dodge it like a gloomy cloud. But it sneakily finds its way around me more that I'd like to admit. It is a distraction, and rather than seeing shortcomings as being so important, maybe I can just see thinking about it for what it is: distraction. It fragments my personal strength when I am fooled by the Joker of Despair.

Unsteadiness of the body is not Yoga. How can I cultivate steadiness? Or maybe I can find the steadiness that is beneath my wavering.

Unsteady respiration is not Yoga. I must study my breath to understand this one. In a way I get it, but knowing the breath seems different from the way I was taught to "know" things. This knowledge is so different from memorization. It's like following the very current of life with my minds eye.

These four enthralling distractions are related to our tendency to cling to our lives (Abhinivesa). Pain can cause worry about deterioration of the body, so we can get stuck in that. Despair is another form of quicksand, feeding on itself, not wanting to let go. A person might wonder: Am I ever going to live my dreams? Physical and respiratory unsteadiness are other sinkholes of fear to be looking out for. How can we step forward confidently in a world that appears/feels imperfect? Ahh, quite a challenge! A Yogic Challenge.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Distractions and Obstacles

"The distractions and obstacles (Chitta Viksepa) which hinder the aspirant's practice of Yoga are:
1. Vyadhi - sickness which disturbs the physical equilibrium
2. Styana - languor or lack of mental disposition for work
3. Samsaya - doubt or indecision
4. Pramada - indifference or insensibility
5. Alyasya - laziness
6. Avirati - sensuality, the rousing of desire when sensory objects possess the mind
7. Bhranti Darsana - false or invalid knowledge, or illusion
8. Alabdha Bhumikatva - failure to attain continuity of thought or concentration so that reality cannot be seen
9. Anavasthitattva - instability in holding on to concentration which has been attained after long practice."
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, 31st paragraph of the Introduction.

I check off eight of these for sure. At one time or another I have experienced plenty of distractions and obstacles, let me tell you. I sure will! The nineth one I'm not totally sure about, but I can relate with the concept.

The path of Yoga contains obstacles. It is true. It's not always pleasant and easy. When we are first learning Yoga we might do it in a way that keeps ourselves engaged, even entertained or soothed. Maybe at first it is fun, challenging or gentle. But at some point we will want to consider what might get in the way, preventing us from going further. I am all for fun, all for challenging, and all for gentle! These practices have their time and place. For sure! Yeah!

I just know that I gain increased confidence, strength, opening in my body and mind as I stay with the practice and overcome obstacles that show up. Yoga takes time. Yoga is worthwhile.

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Reflective Beauty

"As a breeze ruffles the surface of a lake and distorts the images reflected therein, so also the chitta vrtti disturb the peace of mind. The still waters of a lake reflect the beauty around it. When the mind is still, the beauty of the Self is seen reflected in it. The yogi stills his mind by constant study and by freeing himself from desires. The eight stages of Yoga teach him the way."
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, 30th paragraph of the Introduction.

Mental noise (chitta vrtti) distracts us from seeing the beauty naturally inherent in the life situation. Merely turning away from the noise might not be adequate, denial or turning to a fantasy of peace can be counterproductive. I think peace is possible, even inevitable depending on your timeline... But doing "spiritual" things and imagining peace can lead someone away from reality instead of towards it. It depends on the person. I definitely benefit from meditation, but don't resonate with over-the-top spiritual language. One time, really early in the morning, a teacher asked a class I was taking to imagine blue light lifting the spine or something--it just didn't connect for me. A person can also get a bit lost in a spiritual high. I ask myself: do I want to make a nice life here? The answer is yes--and not only in my fantasy of myself but somehow registering in the content of what I do in my days. And certainly I have so much to be thankful for that is a real part of my life, right now.

Is peace connected with a person's earthly life, or is peace only existing in the imaginary realm? I think peace is something we can bring to the world. But, I am wondering if some people believe that peace is only a nice concept. If this is true--that peace is only an idea--then it makes sense that if we want to experience peace that we will have to get away from here, even escape. Ahhh, spiritual escapism...

I feel certain that in the long run this approach to peace will cause more disturbance in the mind--chitta vrtti.

Maybe a person's life, imperfect as it may be, can provide a little dock to walk out on and catch a glimpse (or more) of this reflective peace of mind. It can be a work in progress, and as a person's yoga practice and understanding grows stronger, so might the pathway get sturdier and the vision clarify.

Yours in yoga,

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Matrix of Life

"Patanjali enumerates five causes of chitta vrtti creating pain (klesa). These are:
1. Avidya (ignorance or nescience); (2) asmita (the feeling of individuality which limits a person and distinguishes him from a group and which may be physical, mental, intellectual or emotional); (3) raga (attachment or passion); (4) dvesa (aversion or revulsion) and (5) abhinivesa (love or thirst for life, the instinctive clinging to worldly life and bodily enjoyment and the fear that one may be cut off from all this by death). These causes of pain remain submerged in the mind of the sadhaka (the aspirant seeker). They are like icebergs barely showing their heads in the polar seas. So long as they are not studiously controlled and eradicated, there can be no peace. The yogi learns to forget the past and takes no thought for the morrow. He lives in the eternal present.
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, 29th paragraph of the Introduction.

In saying that the klesas are like mostly-submerged icebergs in the psyche Mr. Iyengar, I think, is letting us know that these are ongoing challenges, and an individual might not be able to see the full extent of it since they are mostly hidden. So it doesn't sound like yoga works by getting rid of these afflictions totally. But it might work by giving us a better perspective, and free us from being victims of our situation. The klesas are a natural part of the structure of our reality, even if they also create pain.


Avidya is spiritual ignorance. And when I imagine Avidya as a mostly-submerged iceberg, I see that it is unlikely that someone like me might fully irradicate this one. It makes sense because we have learned since we were born that our bodies are ours. We live in the world of forms. As we become more and more competent in the world, we think that this is what we are. A person might loose a sense of themself as having a connection with spirit as they have bills to pay and kids to raise. It is an ongoing process. Someone can have a spiritual insight and an awareness on one day, and have a total loss of hope on another.


We are individuated beings. The fact that we have different bodies, preferences, and emotional responses can lead to lonliness. In a spiritual sense we are deeply connected, but our earthly expressions can trick us into feeling sadly separate.


I am strongly attracted to certain people and things, meaning there will be some people and things that I don't give enough attention to. I will be limited and possibly trapped by my preferences.


There are also experiences that I want to avoid at all costs, but this does not mean that I can. And it distorts my vision when I am repelled by something strongly; it might affect how I react when I come across it again. It could keep me from a deeper level of understanding when I choose not to engage in a situation.


In clinging to life I might live under a veil of fear, never just livin'.

These five klesas are five aspects of how we are connected to this life experience, they are intrinsic to it. They are natural effects of being alive in the way that we are. They define our connection to the matrix of life experience:

1. Spiritual ignorance helps us find our way around the physical world, but bites us later when we have lost hope.

2. Experiencing ourselves as individuals allows for an infinitely creative experience, but also is lonely.

3. Attraction keeps the experience moving, but then we might get stuck and attached, even trapped by passion.

4. Aversion helps us to avoid a potentially dangerous experience, but can also lock us in patterns of fear.

5. Love of life can make it all so precious, but it can also make us greedy misers in an effort to hold on, which in the end seems impossible.

When presented with an outline of these challenges that are connected to the experience of living I am quiet (for now...).

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Lingering Flavors of Memory

"In his Yoga Sutras Patanjali lists five classes of chitta vrtti (causes for the modification of the mind) which create pleasure and pain. The fifth one is:
Smrti (memory, the holding fast of the impressions of objects that one has experienced). There are people who live in their past experiences, even though the past is beyond recall. Their sad or happy memories keep them chained to the past and they cannot break their fetters."
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, 28th paragraph of the Introduction.

There are people who live in their past experiences, even though the past is beyond recall.

Wow. Let that sink in... Even though we might forget (either temporarily or permanently) specific events from the past, emotional resonances or semi-conscious impressions from the past can affect how we move through the world, presently. In a sense one could say that people might be living in an emotional soup created by the lingering flavors and afterimages of past experiences.

I have a sense that that the things that I avoid doing have a tinge of discomfort based on my past experience. I get hits of fear from some of the strangest things, and would probably make a really interesting patient for the right psychotherapist (or maybe I am just really interesting to me--which is okay. I am the only one who can do the work of healing for me.)

The observation that Mr. Iyengar explains rings true in my experience. I don't know why I was so afraid to kick up into handstand at the wall for so many years. There must have been a connection with my past here even though I can't pinpoint the exact origin. I really felt as though I was about to get lost in the abyss, so great and irrational seemed my fear about going up. And I don't know why that fear has, for the most part, dissipated, at least when I'm at the wall. There is a good morsel of fear I access when I find myself balancing for an instant when I kick up in the center of the room, though! So it remains as an exciting pose in my practice.

The turning point came just a couple months ago when a friend/ Yoga Teacher taught in a class I attended. As I watched her demonstration, my body seemed to agree. That's the best I can explain it. After that I put my hands down and went up easily. Since then there have been a couple times that my older fearful sense of the pose showed up, but I have been able to choose to shift my attention away from the inappropriate emotional excess and just swing the leg and bottom half of my torso up. People think I'm a pretty cool cucumber, but I'm just really good at hiding it. This little internal shift is huge--even if others who know me can't really appreciate it because they don't know me like I know myself. I know my emotional intensity and gentleness like nobody else can.

I'd like to learn from this example of moving through what seemed to be an impenetrable boundary in my yoga practice, and be able to swing into action where I choose to instead of getting sucked into emotional/physiological reactions stemming from fear. I am aiming to break my fetters.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009


"In his Yoga Sutras Patanjali lists five classes of chitta vrtti (causes for the modification of the mind) which create pleasure and pain. The fourth one is:
Nidra (sleep), where there is the absence of ideas and experiences. When a man is sleeping soundly, he does not recall his name, family or status, his knowledge or wisdom, or even his own existence. When a man forgets himself in sleep, he wakes up refreshed. But, if a disturbing thought creeps into his mind when he is dropping off, he will not rest properly."
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, 27th paragraph of the Introduction.

When I was in grade school I learned from somewhere that it was possible to learn things during sleep--like a subliminal programming. So when I was trying to memorize the Presidents of the United States, I read their names into my tape recorder, and then I played the tape into my headphones when I went to bed. I hated memorizing things just to memorize them, it seemed like a mechanical and boring activity. But if info was linked to interesting ideas, I enjoyed the task of remembering. So maybe if the names of the Presidents had been linked to something interesting about them, I probably would have aced the test. But the assignment was to memorize the names, and I took the instructions literally. It was a torturous assignment because I didn't make it interesting in a way that would have led to success. Anyway, my experiment didn't work perfectly, and I also studied in the waking state, too. I think my grade was probably barely adequate for this little ordeal. But I really thought that the idea of learning during sleep was cool.

In the above excerpt Mr. Iyengar talks about a restful sleep where a person forgets everything, and wakes up refreshed.

Hmmm. This is a department that could be tweaked in my house.

Listening to public radio all night began for me several months before Barack Obama was elected as the US President. It just seemed like there was news all night. And then when the economic news became a priority, the radio would report the news from all over the world as it was happening. I guess I was a news junky. I still fall asleep to the radio a couple nights a week, but I sleep much better in the quiet. I am more rested upon waking.

The news is often filled with horrific images. I don't like to think about what I am putting into my semi-sleeping consciousness sometimes by listening to this news that can be so violent. News about horrible rapes and violent attacks really is not the best thing to be hearing during sleep. Sometimes I wake up having had derivative dreams on the war front or something. When I rest like this I am not really letting go to allow for the full benefit of sleep.

I think I will do some work on this. I'd like to create a sleep sanctuary where I can rest peacefully.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Fancy or Imagination

"In his Yoga Sutras Patanjali lists five classes of chitta vrtti (causes for the modification of the mind) which create pleasure and pain. The third one is:
Vikalpa (fancy or imagination, resting merely on verbal expression without any factual basis). A beggar may feel happy when he imagines himself spending millions. A rich miser, on the other hand, may starve himself in the belief that he is poor."
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, 26th paragraph of the Introduction.

What do you believe yourself to be?

I am an astronaut or a movie star...

Really I am just me, and I happen to be really into Yoga, and I am blessed that I can spend time teaching and practicing it.

Fancy or imagination has given me so much pleasure in this life. When I enjoy a book, movie or a story told by someone else my faculties of imagining must be engaged to vicariously experience other possibilities. And before I had any training or conscious intentions about teaching yoga, I would think about how I might lead a class. And I don't think that I am the teacher I had in my minds eye at the time, but it did give me emotional fuel to say yes to opportunities to learn more. So I guess this was really a dream--one that came true.

But when imagination does not line up with forseeable reality sometimes we might do best by understanding that it is just mental enjoyment, rather than confusing it for something that needs to happen. Let's say I was in love with someone, and they were unable to return this love in the way I wanted. Well, if I was really stuck in the sensibilities of my own mind, this could be an absolutely devastating situation. After all, according to me we should be together because I love this person. My imagination is holding the story for what "should" be happening when what is actually true is different from my fancy. Clearly, this puts me into conflict. And what is it best to believe: my minds story or evidence in the world? I guess it's obvious, but it is really hard to let go of something that I believed in. Woulda' been nice...

Another example of Vikalpa: A lonely person feels happy when she imagines herself to be in love.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Mistaken View

"In his Yoga Sutras Patanjali lists five classes of chitta vrtti (causes for the modification of the mind) which create pleasure and pain. The second one is:
Viparyaya (a mistaken view which is observed to be such after study). A faulty medical diagnosis based on wrong hypotheses, or the formerly held theory in astronomy that the Sun rotates round the Earth, are examples of viparyaya."
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, 25th paragraph of the Introduction.

I like to think that Mr. Iyengar's examples of Viparyaya are a poetic template for this modification of mind.

A faulty medical diagnosis based on wrong hypotheses

This first example shows how dangerous a faulty view might be. An incorrect medical diagnosis can either leave a real problem untreated, or it could lead to an unnecessary or harmful procedure. And when it is discovered that the diagnosis was incorrect, the doctor might feel guilty, or responsible for causing a patient undue suffering. Or perhaps feeling incompetent might also result from this situation. The doctor or patient might doubt future diagnoses. This can obviously cause mental distress.

And it seems like if we are doing things based on false hypotheses, that we are so lost. And isn't that so...

If we are sometimes acting based on faulty notions, it also means that we do not understand what we are doing. And maybe we can only see later that we were doing something based in false ideas. So are we, simply by merit of the human condition, condemned to hurt one another on order to learn that our thoughts are not always correct? Maybe so...

the formerly held theory in astronomy that the Sun rotates round the Earth

This example shows this concept as simply a matter of evolution. People once saw our experience as being the center of everything, worthy perhaps of having the light of the sun serve us. And now we see ourselves as being part of a larger solar system where planets travel around the sun. We depend on the sun with its light.

I can also see this applying metaphorically to the growth of an individual. When we are younger we are the center of attention, and as we age we might start to see that we are part of a larger social system. This leap in understanding might facilitate a desire to help out on a larger scale. Instead of being concerned only with the food that goes in our own mouths, maybe we start to care about whether others are being fed, too. Maybe it used to be that I was only concerned about my own happiness and safety, and now I also care about the happiness and safety of others as I see how connected we all are. My safety and happiness is related to your safety and happiness.

May you be safe and happy.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Standards or Ideals

"In his Yoga Sutras Patanjali lists five classes of chitta vrtti (causes for the modification of the mind) which create pleasure and pain. The first one is:
Pramana (a standard or ideal), by which things or values are measured by the mind or known, which men accept upon (a) direct evidence such as perception (pratyaksa), (b) inference (anumana) and (c) testimony or the word of an acceptable authority when the source of knowledge has been checked as reliable and trustworthy (agama).
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, 24th paragraph of the Introduction.

Thinking that things are a certain way--having expectations--is a source of movement in the mind that creates pleasure and pain. Generally, when things meet our expectations we like them, and when they don't fit the way we think they should we don't like that.

We have standards and ideals for what life should look like from moment to moment: Pramana.

direct evidence such as perception (pratyaksa)

I went to a restaurant, and I ordered something. It was delicious! My senses were directly delighted. From this direct experience, I discovered that I liked that menu item or maybe I decide that "I love that restaurant!" From now on I am in a different relationship with this place: it is either going to meet my expectations and make me proud when I introduce others to it, or it is going to disappoint me by changing something. I no longer am percieving directly, I am more in relationship with my mind or ego than with the present moment. I think I know this place. My mind percieves it differently now that I rely on it being a certain way.

inference (anumana)

My mind might also form an impression that skews my understanding of the world through inference. In this case I might assume that I know something that I don't know directly. Maybe my Yoga Teacher walks right by me without saying hello or smiling, and I tell myself that she doesn't like me. I have inferred by seeing nonverbal cues that she has judged my presense to be not desireable. But this might not be correct. She might have just heard some bad news, or just needs to take care of something--it could have nothing to do with me. But if I hold on to this impression it might affect my future actions. It could cut me off from experiencing a good relationship with this person if I don't continue to get to know them. We tend to be quick to judge, and this skews perceptions. The mind may begin to prefer certain safer relationships, and the world becomes inappropriately small.

testimony or the word of an acceptable authority when the source of knowledge has been checked as reliable and trustworthy (agama)

I'm tempted to call this one "trusting books" even though the source of this kind of mental modification is wider than books. This happens when we take the words of another person as our own belief without having experienced or understood something for ourself. This also colors a persons viewpoint.

One time a friend of mine told me that a man--a Yoga Teacher--she had been intimate with wasn't trustworthy. Then I started to see him more around my professional life in the Yoga Studio. At first my perceptions were definitely different than they would have been had I not trusted my friends perceptions. I kind of wanted to avoid this one. Finally I started to see for myself that this was actually a nice guy to me. But it took some work to get there. And I can't speak to what happened between those two, I can only discover what is for me.

I think that it can be hard to know when a source is reliable and trustworthy, but I can find out for myself what I can.

Examining this class of chitta vrtti, Pramana, helped me get a sense of how my evaluation in a moment might become an invisible player in how I move through the world going forward. And, regardless of the source (direct, inferred, or learned from another source) of the internal standard or ideal it makes sense to be awake to this operation of consciousness.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Yoga Fountain

"This path of Yoga is the fountain for the other three paths. It brings calmness and tranquility and prepares the mind for absolute unqualified self-surrender to God, in which all these four paths merge into one."
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, 23rd paragraph of the Introduction.

Yoga inspires the paths of Karma, Bhakti and Jnana. Yoga builds physical strength and integrity, supporting the path of Action=Karma. The Path of Yoga cultivates emotional fortitude, allowing for the path of Love and Devotion=Bhakti. And the practice of Yoga helps a person develop keen intelligence for the Intellectual path=Jnana.

So in traversing along the blessed Path of Yoga, we have an opportunity to bite into the triple-decker decadence of the other three Paths: Karma, Bhakti and Jnana. These paths join together into a royal path, which makes me think about the Earl of Sandwich (or maybe it's just time for lunch), largely because of the mental magic of free association, and I'm feeling undisciplined because it is Saturday: my day off from teaching Yoga, except for next week 'cause I'm subbing a class next Saturday.

Anyway, we've hit the G-word again: God.

As for Yoga cultivating Peace and Tranquility: it seems self-evident to me as someone who walks the path of Yoga that this is true. Yoga is something someone has to apply themself to and do it to really get it. Nobody can just read or hear about Yoga and come away with more than a surface understanding of the subject. Yoga must be experienced. Your cells teach you about yoga more than the mind does.

My sense of it is that to walk a path of true integration in life that we also must question the habits of mind. The mind, when left to it's own tendencies formed through attempting to find a path through life that avoids unpleasant feelings like fear has an extremely biased viewpoint, and would prefer to avoid future discomfort at all costs. So the mind, when it tries to protect one from the pain of the past, limits the possibilities for the future, lobbing off vast aspects of experience that might work now. For example, what if someone (I wonder who (??)) had a badly failed relationship, and they (could be me (!)) feel like they made a BIG ASS of themself, with a lot of emotional intensity around those memories... Well, someone like that might be so afraid to enter into another situation where this might happen AGAIN, that they stay away from opportunities to try again. Well, obviously this isn't the healthiest attitude because maybe a new relationship could work now based on all the wisdom earned through those past experiences. But to do that someone has to be able to process those old bad feelings, and ignore those incorrect boundaries that they unwittingly put up. The mind might protect someone into a small stagnant experience of life, when a little courage to go beyond the mind might yield experiential riches beyond that persons imagination.

And in doing this a person is trusting a larger aspect of life than their own understanding at that time. could be interpreted as trusting a higher power or personal god, but I don't know that it's necessary to label it as such. Moving on is another way to see it.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

There's no place like Home

This is a Guest Muse by Jan Tranen.

Some days, I walk into yoga class feeling like the Tin Woodsman from the Wizard of Oz because the Wicked Witch of Happenstance has rusted my hinges into place. Thankfully, with the first “om”, my jaw unlocks. With the first downward-facing dog, my hips and shoulders begin to open. A backbend, and I breathe. Ahhhhhhhhhh.

As my body is lubricated by asana, yogini Brooks playfully encourages my spirit to emerge and meet the others in the room, who are releasing their inner cowardly lion, scarecrow and Dorothy selves. Now that we are closer to our humanity, Brooks reads us a poem by Mary Oliver to remind us that we are all part of the bigger natural world. Brooks, the Good Witch of the Yoga Circle, reminds us there’s no place like home. In our bodies, there is a world.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Yoga: Physical or Spiritual?

"It is generally believed that Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga are entirely distinct, different and opposed to each other, that the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali deal with Spiritual discipline and that the Hatha Yoga Pradipika of Swatmarama deals solely with physical discipline. It is not so, for Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga complement each other and form a single approach towards Liberation. As a mountaineer needs ladders, ropes and crampons as well as physical fitness and discipline to climb the icy peaks of the Himalayas, so does the Yoga aspirant need the knowledge and discipline of the Hatha Yoga of Swatmarama to reach the heights of Raja Yoga dealt with by Patanjali.
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, 22nd paragraph of the Introduction.

Yoga: Physical or Spiritual?

There are as many paths to Yoga as there are people on the planet. So I recognize that what has worked for me might be experienced differently by someone else.

For me, the spiritual aspects of Yoga are essential. And a Spiritual Education has helped me through confusing experiences on and around my Yoga Mat.

About ten years ago (!) my mind and emotions were totally insnared in the yoga I was doing at the time. I was confused about why it was just so powerful. So I started finding books to help me understand. I wanted to find context for the intensity. I knew that Yoga was feeding me like nothing I had ever known before, but it seemed to contradict some notions I had held about myself until then. I, like many others, had thought that the mind and intellect were the most important things. If this was so then why was this experience of Yoga, grounded in the body, so fulfilling (I wondered at the time)? In fact, I remember feeling fearful and ashamed as I picked up my first issue of Yoga Journal magazine off the rack of the Borders bookstore on Michigan Avenue. I felt like I was buying pornography or something--it just seemed so body-based. I was an Artist and a lover of Ideas; I just wasn't ready to admit that I was also a BODY.

Several years ago I was confused about how much emotion I felt towards one of my Yoga Teachers in particular, but I also felt kind of loving toward all of them I practiced with. On I just happened to come across (as these things go) The Tree of Yoga, by B.K.S. Iyengar! This book really set me straight. It is a great primer of Yoga Philosophy. I think it saved me. There is a part of the book where it describes the relationship between teacher and student as intense, similar to the relationship with a spouse, or between parent and child. Reading this book let me know that I wasn't alone! Yoga is intense!

I think that I might be like a baby bird who has been lucky enough to be fed the partially digested info from Mr. Iyengar through his books--like a just-hatched birdie gets the freshly-upchucked nutriment from the belly of its mama.

In the above excerpt from Light on Yoga, Mr. Iyengar mentions the importance of physical and spiritual instruction, and how they can work well together. Physically, good instruction is clearly helpful as it can help us to move into and out of the poses safely. But, (guess what?) there is also a Internal Psychic Terrain that people who have gone there can also teach about and help with, and it can be accessed through the body.

Yoga includes the inner and outer world.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Force or Determined Effort

"Swatmarama, the author of Hatha Yoga Pradipika (hatha=force or determined effort) called the same path Hatha Yoga because it demanded rigorous discipline."
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, 21st paragraph of the Introduction.

Hatha=Force or Determined Effort

Have we forgotten (or maybe we never knew) what Hatha Yoga is? It is Force-ful. It is Intense. We seem to want life to be light and pleasant, without conflict. This is what our culture teaches us.

From the time we were little kids we were taught to sit still and quietly in little desks. Sit still, be quiet, listen to what is told to you, and do it. This process doesn't support creative thinking, and isn't a good model for learning to take action.

Once we have been processed into working drones, TV watchers, and passive consumers, our education is considered successful. The lightness and passivity that this education cultivates--a pleasant demeanor--is a poor substitute for vitality, intensity and caring! Life can be rough, and the obligation most of us seem to feel to put a smile on a hurt is contradictory.

Yoga is for people who are ready to think as individuals. It is for people who are committed to feeling, experiencing, caring and doing the right thing. Yogis take responsibility for what they are doing.

How can a person be awakened from the anaesthetic sleep of complacency?

Yoga technique and discipline is a way to voyage forward into positive change. In yoga practice there is an opportunity, and even an invitation to learn your body, sensations and emotions. And to set up a plan of regular practice is key. If you only practice yoga when you feel like it, then you will only know yourself within the subset of those parameters. It is important to have the discipline and fortitude to hit the mat according to plan rather than relying on a whim. This takes Determined Effort; this is Hatha Yoga.

It is not an easy path, but it offers satisfaction. Yoga asks us to consider all aspects of ourselves, not just the parts that we like or choose. Everything. And in this quest towards understanding, we have the potential to be empowered, integrated, compassionate and peaceful.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mastery of the Self

"He who has conquered the mind is a Raja Yogi. The word raja means a king. The expression Raja Yoga implies a complete mastery of the Self. Though Patanjali explains the ways to control the mind, he nowhere states in his aphorisms that this science is Raja Yoga, but calls it Ashtanga Yoga or the eight stages (limbs) of Yoga. As it implies complete mastery of the self one may call it the science of Raja Yoga."
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, twentieth paragraph of the Introduction.

A King claims and directs the use of the resources in his territory or Kingdom. Similarly, a Raja Yogi owns the energies of his or her life and directs them towards intended purposes.

A good king knows the terrain of the kingdom. A dedicated Yogi knows the terrain of the body, mind and spirit.

Seeing the Yogi as a King of the resources of the self is an empowering image. A Yogi is not a passive bystander in life, but someone who is active and takes charge.

The Raja Yogi conquers the aspects of mind that prevent him or her from reigning consciously over all aspects of life.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Conquering Mind

"Mind is the king of the senses. One who has conquered his mind, senses, passions, thought and reason is a king among men. He is fit for Raja Yoga, the royal union with the Universal Spirit. He has Inner Light."
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, nineteenth paragraph of the Introduction.

Mind is King when she rules over, and manages well the ministers of sight, hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling.

How can one conquer the Mind when she is King? My mind tells me stories about the world based on the info brought in by the sense organs. This is why the Mind thinks that she is right: her info is pure. But she is not always right. So the King must be conquered!

When someone has conquered the Mind, and her Sense Ministries, as well as her Passions, Thoughts, and Reasoning this person is a King among other People.

So Mind can only rule a small district: the senses. But when Mind is conquered, she is fit for Raja Yoga, or Royal Yoga! This is yoga or union with spirit--a much larger territory.

Let's be suspicious of Mind. Mind thinks that she is King. She is deluded. King is something larger than the wants, needs, and reasoning of an individual person.

Truth is bigger than one Mind.

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Happy Birthday, Mr. Iyengar!

I can't begin to express my gratitude adequately to this man who has made what I do possible with his life's work. The healing resource of Yoga has been made available to so many more people (like me) because of his teaching and writing on the wisdom of Yoga.

Read more at YogaDork.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Road to Happiness

"Happy is the man who knows how to distinguish the real from the unreal, the eternal from the transient and the good from the pleasant by his discrimination and wisdom. Twice blessed is he who knows true love and can love all God's creatures. He who works selflessly for the welfare of others with love in his heart is thrice blessed. But the man who combines within his mortal frame knowledge, love and selfless service is holy and becomes a place of pilgrimage, like the confluence of the rivers Ganga, Saraswati and Jamuna. Those who meet him become calm and purified."
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, eighteenth paragraph of the Introduction.

Distinguishing the Real from the Unreal

Distinguishing the real from the unreal might sound simple at first, but it's not as easy as it seems. What is real? Is what I think real? No... I don't think so. When I take a photograph of a person is the picture the person? Of course not! But the mind takes impressions similarly, and it's easy to think you know someone when you don't. My mind is helpful if I allow it to be, but when I buy into my own stories more than asking questions or taking a fresh look I am living in the past. Living in the past is not living in reality--my impressions are false when I am using old information.

Distinguishing the Eternal from the Transient

In earth time it seems like everything is transient. Loss has been the great lesson in my life. "Forever" in human terms seems to be a lie. What is eternal? What we are, spiritually, might be. When we mistake transient things, and try to make them eternal, disappointment is sure to follow. Things end. Faith in an ongoing spiritual adventure here on earth, is a helpful attitude. Things change, but as long as there is an experience to be had, I'll be there for that.

Distinguishing the Good from the Pleasant

This evokes a great question! How is good different from pleasant? When an experience is pleasant we often say it is "good". Good food. Good sex. Good book. Good movie. But, are these things really good, or are they merely pleasant--a "good" way to pass the time? I think that it depends on the situation. Food can taste good, and not be helpful for health and wellbeing. So this food was actually pleasant, rather than good. And perhaps there is a time for pleasant food and a time for good food, too, but it is essential to know what it is for you!

"Happy is the man who knows how to distinguish the real from the unreal, the eternal from the transient and the good from the pleasant by his discrimination and wisdom."
-B.K.S. Iyengar (from the above excerpt)

This is such a humbling task to do these things! But happiness is the result of a keen level of discernment! Happiness doesn't come from constant immersion in pleasurable distraction. Happiness comes from truly understanding.

I buy into it. The more I unearth the truth in me and around me, including realities evoking unpleasant and painful emotions, I am happier! I see what is going on better in myself and others. We are loveable people! And in seeing that, I feel happier.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Margas... Different from Margaritas!

"There are different paths (margas) by which a man travels to his Maker. The active man finds realisation through Karma Marga, in which a man realises his own divinity through work and duty. The emotional man finds it through Bhakti Marga, where there is realisation through devotion to the love of a personal God. The intellectual man pursues Jnana Marga, where realisation comes through knowledge. The meditative or reflective man follows Yoga Marga, and realises his own divinity through control of the mind."
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, seventeenth paragraph of the Introduction.

So margas ARE more than just an affectionate term for "margaritas" but we still might get "drunk" along the way!

When I read this paragraph I feel like I recognize myself at the end: Ah! I am the reflective one (as recently recognized by a blogging friend), so yoga IS the right path for me. Go figure...

Even though I AM reflective which would indicate that Yoga Marga is right for me, I also lead a life of action in the world so Karma Marga also applies. And, God KNOWS, I can be ruled by my emotions (especially love) so sign me up for Bhakti Marga! And, yes (!), I do like the life of the MIND so Jnana Marga, too!

Maybe I can just have one of those HuMonGouS multi-flavored monstrosities at one of those Mexican restaurants, famous for their dangerous concoctions! Just give me a Marga-rita!

But really...

The Margas are PATHS that someone takes as they LIVE their LIFE! Perhaps it is like a way paved with different colored stones, depending on where we are at a given time. Surely, everyone is active in life! And who hasn't been brought to their knees with emotions? Haven't we all been turned on by thoughts? This would indicate an Intellectual Path. Also, we have the capacity to be reflective... Yeah, Yoga!

Ahem. (I think I'll have another...)

Okay, there is also a reminder of where we are all going: "to our Maker." We are on our way to Death. It appears to be True.

In consideration of our common end point, perhaps we should take seriously the paths we are on right now. And if I am ruled by my emotions, I can offer this toward my own interpretation of the divine--walking my Bhakti Marga. When I am doing my work in the world, I can offer it in service to the best I can perceive in that moment--stepping for Karma Marga. When I am in thought can I use this gift towards Jnana Marga? And when I am practicing Yoga, can I fully devote myself to this process, and standing tall on my Yoga Marga?

I think I'll cancel my drink order. This is enough. I do not require further intoxication. My love of this life is enough.

With love,

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Profound Meditation

"By profound meditation, the knower, the knowledge and the known become one. The seer, the sight and the seen have no separate existence from each other. It is like a great musician becoming one with his instrument and the music that comes from it. Then, the yogi stands in his own nature and realizes his self (Atman), the part of the Supreme Soul within himself."
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, sixteenth paragraph of the Introduction.

What are the conditions for "profound meditation"? Concentration and openness are two aspects that stand out when I ask myself this question. The example of the "great musician" who is able to communicate authentically through the sound is noted above. The musician has become one with the instrument (something physically tangable) and he or she has become one with the music (something heard, yet ineffable). So in profound meditation it can be said that a person is one with physical reality as a person has been taught to experience it, and also one with an aspect of experience that is intangable yet able to be experienced.

I think of gifted musicians as being the most disciplined people. They seem to love what they do, and to love spending time with their instrument. The fingers of a great guitar player seem to move so effortlesly and skillfully. In a moment it can appear easy, but it might have taken years or a lifetime to get to this point of harmony and connection with the instrument and the sound.

I think that the same could be said for a person's life situation. To be in harmony and connection with life, we need to be disciplined: to really love what we do. As individuals we need to care enough and put in the time required to know ourselves effortlessly--like a great musician knows their instrument!

In this way who we are, reality as it is, and what we already know can become integrated, and we can live as happy, fulfilled, unique, creative, curious, and beautiful beings! I believe that this is what we are.

Be well.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Soul and God

"Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi take the yogi into the innermost recesses of his soul. The yogi does not look heavenward to find God. He knows that HE is within, being known as the Antaratma (the Inner Self). The last three stages keep him in harmony with himself and his Maker. These stages are called antaratma sadhana, the quest of the soul."
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, fifteenth paragraph of the Introduction.

When I read the word "God" in something like this, I translate it to mean almost a question. I don't believe that I can hold the concept that god represents for me. The concept of god covers the things I can't control and don't understand. God holds the mystery for me.

So when Mr. Iyengar says, "The yogi does not look heavenward to find God," I find myself resonating with this because "heaven" creates the image of a place that is somewhere other than here, and if God is in this heaven then I am in a place that doesn't have mystery, and I just don't buy that.

Dharana=concentration, Dhyana=meditation, and Samadhi=transcendence/bliss: these three aspects of the yogic process take the yogi "into the deepest recesses of his soul." Wow, the SOUL! It's one of those words... What can I do with this?

I think that my soul is part of the mystery of my life experience. My soul seeks individual expression through my life. Spiritually, I also think that there is a larger mystery than the soul that drives my existence. My soul has a color/flavor/essence. The larger mystery contains me, personally and everything and everybody else and things that don't exist in the world I know. The world is bigger than what I as an individual can understand alone.

So through Yoga, I can come to more deeply understand myself, and experience a connection with a sense of the great mystery that we are all a part of!

Sending love!

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Inspired by 'Light on Yoga'

Earlier this year I wrote a series of posts inspired by the first fourteen paragraphs of the Introduction to Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar. I started the project because every time I read the intro I thought that every paragraph just seemed so dense and powerful! The word "introduction" didn't seem to accurately describe the contents of that section to me; it seemed more like a treatise on the subject. So I thought that it might be fun to dig in and look at each paragraph and do a post about it. I continued through until paragraph fourteen, and then took a break from the project. Here are the links to those posts:

Posts inspired by the Introduction of Light on Yoga:

Paragraph 1 Defining Yoga
Paragraph 2 Where Yoga comes from
Paragraph 3 Who is a Yogi?
Paragraph 4 Bhagavad Gita: the most important authority on yoga philosophy
Paragraph 5 Different facets of yoga
Paragraph 6 Yoga by action
Paragraph 7 Skillful living
Paragraph 8 (part 2) Toward clarity
Paragraph 9 'chitta vrtti nirodhah'
Paragraph 10 The word vrtti
Paragraph 11 Controlling the mind
Paragraph 12 The right means
Paragraph 13 The outward quests
Paragraph 14 The inward quests

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Thanks, Roseanne!

Roseanne of the blog, it's all yoga, baby and a former editor for Ascent Magazine included Yogic Muse in her "top 15 yoga blog posts" for 2009. I am honored that this blog made the cut! Check out the good reads!

Thanks, Roseanne!

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Friday, December 4, 2009


This is a Guest Muse by A. Quinn


   I was floating
      on a raft
       In space ~
     and time
         A plane called earth.

          There I was
            Di s co nnec te d
             from all I was
              And all I was becoming

              I just
               didn't know.
         Just didn't know


          Still, I stood.   Erect as I could seem.
            ~s-h-a-k-i-n-g-deep inside
                        my weary bones wondering trying
                                desperately to
                            s e e

         A newer world if there could be...

         I'll find my hands I'll plant my feet
                 on this special spot
          Somewhere   here this   elemental lot
                 I fight to seek my-self
                         So long-gone
                               like feelings
                                    in a dream...

              Somehow one day that mat it
                     spoke to me
                         in  v o l u m e s ~~~
                There were
                  waves of sound and sight
    of thought and light

Pleading that I stay and see
      Begging me to witness and believe
               That all they say is true.

     I would one day find me
             and in me

"Wintertime ~ 2004" is a sketch of a challenging time that yielded profound change in my life. I didn't know why I was going to Brooks' lovely class when I began, I only knew that it was bringing me some type of peace. Peace - even momentary peace - was a gift I was seeking earnestly at that time, whether I knew it or not.

This writing is about not only the feeling that brought me to yoga, but the vast world that yoga continues to open up inside of me.

A. Quinn

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sensation Teacher

The teaching in a Yoga Class comes from many places. Instructions from the teacher is an obvious place that the teaching comes from. Also your experience plays a part. What have you learned about the pose up to now? Does that learning apply to this moment of practice? Abstract teaching comes from the sensory feedback your body is giving you about your body in this posture. What can the raw information, in the form of sensation, (that your body gives you) teach?

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Human Husk, Remembered...

I wrote this article for Cakewalk Magazine in 2000. It was about the same time as my burgeoning yoga practice was deeply affecting my conscious experience (I wasn't teaching then.). And at the same time, it was just the first glimmer of major changes to come. It is over nine years later so it's cool to see that a lot has changed since then--in my thinking and in my general regard for my experience and the world. For me, this piece of writing is influenced a bit by what I was learning in yoga at the time: particularly the illustration I drew (shown above in the magazine layout). It was experiencing myself more fully than I ever had before with yoga coupled with sitting to watch lots of movies with my budding film critic boyfriend as well as sitting at desk jobs, and sitting to enjoy wonderful meals with the same boyfriend that helped me to see that the back-body is mostly ignored in everyday social activities. It is also permeated by other interests like art, technology and science fiction.

Maybe it was my first Yogic Muse. I gave the article to my yoga teacher at the time, wondering what he would think about it. After I handed it over I remember totally freezing, overwhelmed with feeling--I couldn't speak. My hand jerked back to my side. I think I was just so surprised that I was actually doing that. So I emailed him later telling him that I would really like to hear what he thought about it. About a week later, I remember asking in person if he had read it, and he had. He said something about how he thought it was interesting that I might question who could be inside the human form--or something like that...

Here it is--just for fun! Warning: I talk about alien life forms... So it's not your ordinary Muse.

Human Husk:
a proposal

It looks like the body but it's empty inside. It is the "Human Husk" a prosthetic machine that would allow aliens to experience taste, smell, sound, and touch the way a human body does. They don't have to be aliens actually; the idea here is that someone, any being, could enter the apparatus and feel, see, and navigate with a body of a totally different shape. I have no clear idea about the technology required for such a device; it doesn't seem important. Any creature can put on this thing and see as a person does: through two eyes about five feet off the ground. You know the experience.

When I first had this idea it was coupled with a fantasy that is best described as a episode of "Nova" from the future. It would be about how Human Husk technology has improved the experience of aliens by allowing them to feel what it is like on Earth as a human being.

For example, let's say the temperature on their home planet is much hotter than it is on Earth. A warm balmy day for us might feel uncomfortably cold to aliens. The problem is solved with senses filtered by he human husk; it would now be the perfect temperature for them too.

An important feature of the Human Husk is that it alters the mind's perception of body shape. If there are aliens out there, I think it is likely that they would have a different body shape than ours. Let's say the alien's body is one foot tall with a hard carapace like a lobster. This creature would not be tall enough to see the paintings at a gallery or to reach the card reader to pay for a ride on the subway. Its exterior would be way too hard to enjoy a soft bed. What kind of hospitality can we provide without the Human Husk?

By extension we could also use the Human Husk ourselves to see what it would be like to have a different body. What might it be like to be obese or gaunt, tall or short? A modified Human Husk could be constructed to feel what it would be like to have four arms. Or, this technology could be used to experience what it would be like to have a dog's body with a dog husk. It could be a new form of entertainment that would take role-playing to the next level.

I envision the Human Husk looking like the front half of a hollowed-out body, like a human envelope open in the back. The subject would have all of the frontal exterior experience of a body with none of the interior or dorsal: no feeling of wind across the back, no sitting on buttocks, no churning kidneys. To use virtual reality lingo, the subject would be "immersed." But rather than a VR experience, the subject would have a real experience, only through a machine. The immediate environment would be sensed through a tingling, sensor-coated enclosure. The only sensory information the subject would have access to would be provided through the apparatus. For this reason, the experience would be abstract, without groundwork in organic substance. It would be an art experience, and a cybernetic one.

Perhaps the interior of the shell would be lined like a plush carpet of sea anemone fingers. When a creature donned the device, the fingers would engage, extending and honing in on the analogous points of the user's body. The tips would instantly anesthetize the skin, gliding in and attaching themselves to the being's neural map, deadening the natural senses at the same time providing direct access to those of the husk.

From an entreprenurial standpoint the Human Husk would likely be used to modify bodies in ways that would make it easier to buy and enjoy products. This was not my original intent, but in order to get funding for a project of this scale, one would likely have to get backing from profit-pursuing interests.

The Human Husk, rather than being a new product proposal, actually delivers a mindset that is not so uncommon. Artists, for example, are sometimes expected to act as sensory shells momentarily removed from feeling, observers on the edge (a mental feat that simulates the Human Husk without the husk apparatus). From this perspective distant sensations can be perceived and remembered, and later presented or reinterpreted to convey meaning. The goal here is to have brought back some nugget of experience so vital that it mainlines into the viewer with great intensity.

What is it like to receive sensations from a machine? Are they shallower or more intense? How can we test the verity of the experience? It's sad but true that the machine is only considered successful if subjects begin purchasing the sponsor's products.

Originally printed in Cakewalk Magazine, Issue No. 4, Summer/Fall 2000

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Helpful Structures

I strive to keep myself lined up and balanced, and at the same time I want to be free and flexible...

How can I be free without chucking structure?

The freedom piece is about the fluidity of mind. To be helpful, I can probably do best by learning and building structure in my life, not as a prison, but as a refuge, and a control center-a place where more structure and ideas can find their feet.

With the freedom to think creatively and build structure there must also be the process of distruction. There are times when the old structures must be taken down to make room for the newly inspired plans.

So there are times when the old structure must be chucked. So I must discern what supports me and what holds me back from expressing my best self in a community of selves.

I want to build helpful structures, and dismantle ones that no longer serve.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Random Act of Yoga

I visited my Mother today. She seemed to enjoy our time together. We haven't had as much time together as some mothers and daughters because of her schizophrenia. For well over thirty years she has lived in places where she has special activities and is supervised. We were separated when I was only a few years old, and have lived in different states since then.

Today we went around to some different places, and then stopped at Whole Foods for some soup. I had a deliciously spiced pumpkin-cashew hot soup, and she chose a cold vegan bean soup. We ate in the well-populated seating area of the store. After we had finished our soup she asked me, after wondering aloud if it was appropriate right after eating (...), if I would do headstand for her. At first I thought about her request, and then I responded that right after eating isn't the best time for headstand. And then I considered her request further. There were a lot of people sitting all around us at Whole Foods, but--so what! My Mother almost never asks me for anything. So I put my wind-breaker jacket down on the cement floor between our table and the next, and I got a small stack of napkins from the dispenser. I looked my Mom in the eye. I got down on my knees at the Whole Foods. I put my forearms down on the jacket with the napkin stack on the floor in the arc created by my interlaced hands, and put my head there. I went up into headstand. I stayed there a little while. I came down.

After a pause I lifted my head up, and picked up the jacket and napkins which had been a coushion for my head against the hard floor. When I sat down again we shared a conspiratorial look and smile that was priceless. It was fun.

When it was over my Mother said that when I was doing headstand everybody relaxed and got quieter. She also heard a man say that he would definitely come back to this store again. And according to my Mom, people were talking to one another from the heart. Isn't that a nice thought!

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Georgia Gratitude

I enjoy Georgia. The view into the backyard of my Aunt and Uncle's house is so nice on a sunny holiday day like today.

I talked on the phone with my Mother, and we made plans to get together tomorrow. I am grateful for this. I am glad to be in Georgia.

I did yoga before eating anything today, and that's just the best! It helped me to clear the holding in my body that I was interpreting as resistance to change.

It's best to just go with the flow, appreciating the things I encounter along the way, looking for and appreciating the blessings that this experience of life offers. Amazing.

When I feel the resistance/tightness in my body, I know that I have the tools that can free me from this discomfort, yogic tools!

My Uncle is in bed with a difficult recovery from surgery; it is a post-surgical infection. He feels cold. I feel for him. He is a warm and wonderful man. I pray for his body to heal from this difficulty soon. Be well, Uncle Allan! You have been a blessing in my life ever since I can remember. I appreciate your curiosity, cheerfulness, and your presence in my life. My life would not have been as great if you had not been in it. Thank you for you. Please get better soon.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Theater in the Rump

Since the workshop at the Yoga Circle last weekend with Manouso Manos, my upper thighs--and even up into the lower pelvic region including the lower butt and pelvic floor--are like a theater in the round where the upper thigh bone is the stage and all of the muscles surrounding the bone are the audience. (So yes, there are really two small theaters--one on the right side and one on the left.) This is a highly interactive theatrical experience where the audience--the muscles, skin and other tissue all around the stage--affects the performance happening at the upper thigh bone. Even the position of the genitalia makes a difference!

I don't think I can accurately describe how I was aware of the hips before, I can only seem to speak about how it feels right now. Today it feels like there is so much to work with to affect the position of the upper portion of the thigh bones. My memory of the old perception is that it was thin and somewhat intellectual. But now the thighs feel thick with power, substance and potential. I can do a lot to affect the position of my hips.

On Saturday Manouso said that we were going to do Parsvottanasana about eighteen times--on both sides! (A rough version of the pose is shown in the picture above, except we did it in the workshop with our fingers touching the ground.) And on about the sixteenth time, my experience opened into a radically wider perception of my hips, starting on the left side. The left foot was back and the right was forward. The action was led by the top of the left thigh bone going back. And at a certain point my perception widened from working with a smaller distinct area in the center of the thigh, to an awareness that spread all the way into my pelvis.

After that class I felt like I was all butt and thighs. And even today I feel like I'm walking around with a lot more understanding of the region around my thighs and up into my pelvis. It's kind of fun to walk around like this.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009


The word came to me in a dream. Yoga teacher friends--a couple--were getting into a car with me. The woman of the pair was already in the back seat of the car on the far side, behind the driver. The man was walking towards the car and said something that I couldn't hear at first, but tried to. Then he got into the passenger side of the back seat with her, and I was in the passenger seat in the front. I don't know who was driving (God?). Somehow it was the man of the couple who told me that the gal (I don't want to name names, but they are significant to me) had written down a word that was in my blog that she didn't understand. The word was "abeyance" (I saw it in my mind's eye in the dream hand written in pencil on a yellowish torn-off paper scrap resting on a brown wood table or dresser.). I enthusiastically replied like I thought I was the smartest kid in class that I thought it had something to do with letting go of shame. This is of course not the actual definition, but it might be significant to the interpretation of this dream...

The meaning of "abeyance" from the dictionary on my iPhone:
1.temporary inactivity, cessation, or suspension: Let\'s hold that problem in abeyance for a while.

There's a spiritual notion that a person's life can change in an instant. Like a person can have an awareness that SUDDENLY changes everything. It might be represented by a beam of light through the clouds, or the parting of the Red Sea (or more crassly by taking a sip of your favorite big name soft drink, if the commercials are to be believed...).

The day before I had this dream I had just written a post on this blog about resistance. I have been praying in every way I have encountered over the last several years for help with this block of my resistance to life. I have prayed with yoga, meditation, tears, desperation, service, this blog, in ritual processes, in the sweat lodge, with a psychic healer a while back, in nature, and with my breath and all the cells of my being in all the ways that came along. Oh yeah, there was also the 10 day silent Vipassana meditation retreat... I'm sure there's more like all the different retreats I've taken, and group work processes where I had opportunities to relive and heal traumatic memories, repressed or conscious. And all these things have helped in one way or another: I know myself a HELL of a lot better than I used to... But I wonder if I also fell in love with my problem. I got to know it so well I may have inadvertently made a secure bed for JUST the two of us: me and My Problem.

But, I like the sound of that definition: Let's hold that problem in abeyance for a while.

Yes, let's.

Is it kind of goofy to trust an interpretation of a dream? Maybe. But I'm willing to see if I can live without the resistance. The word "abeyance" is a bit ominous because it is a "temporary cessation" which in dream speak could mean that I have a window of opportunity to take action. Obviously, my lifespan describes some parameters... And maybe if I can trust life enough I can find a lasting freedom from the strictures of my wounded heart.

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Friday, November 20, 2009


Guest Muse by Andyogini:

"I say beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes."
-Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I love yoga for all the usual worthy reasons, and I love yoga for some frivolous ones, too.
I am entitled to shop at Lululemon and carry their cool bags.
Toting my pink yoga mat seems to disperse what I call my Senior Cloak of Invisibility.
I find I can reach my right hand all the way around to the left side of my head and thus trim my hair more evenly.
I can get a lot closer to my feet to tend to my toenails.


I never thought Yoga could be for me. Stretching was just that—a stretch. I thought it was for ancient Indian gentleman and supple young women with Gumby-like ligaments. I was lured into a class once by an acquaintance. It was full of ladies who all seemed to be showing off and showing me up! (And, turning me off.)

Years later, I had the great good luck to encounter Brooks’ class. There I realized it didn’t matter how far I could bend or how long I could balance. I embraced my yoga and did what I could and it was enough. My yoga was my yoga and my classmates’ yoga was their yoga. We’re individuals on our own journeys, yet we’re traveling together. I wish the best for my yoga mates and for me, and that is part of my practice, too.

Thanks Brooks!


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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Knowing My Resistance

I have been in silent protest of life for most of mine, and now I see the dim outlines toward another way of being. It has to do with knowing my resistance, which has become such an intrinsic part of my experience that I confuse it for “me” most of the time. My resistance, when I identify with it, keeps me stuck in a silent “no”. “I won’t do it,” “I don’t want to,” or “I don’t have to,” my resistance says. When I’m in this kind of space I am a slouching “no”-monster.

And, I have been in conflict with the world for a long time. "No" is a part of the truth of my experience. I don’t like a lot of what I see. How can anyone look around and be at peace when people are so mean to one another. Crime rates, murders, suicides, abuse, pollution, species-extinctions are at all-time highs. Pretending that I am happy with everything in the world around me is just that—pretending (or even lying).

I am looking for intermediary steps between "no" as a general attitude, and "yes" as a fierce agenda. The ruthless yes-sayers can really hurt those of us who experience conflict with a world that seems unjust. It’s just not tasty medicine. Plastering a happy face on a devastating moment is absolutely brutal.

What if I could navigate this harsh territory by simply living the best life I can live? So instead of the slouching “no” monster, I can be the compassionate yogi. The one who listens, understands, and takes action. So instead of my silence being a quiet expression, I allow my voice to speak my truth and my hands to start to pick up the mess. Instead of feeling paralyzed by the “NO” alarm that is going off inside of me, I’ll start to take the steps that I can. So instead of being a stuck “no”-saying wounded android, I can instead be an alive creative person doing something that moves the world in a direction that I can start to agree with. Instead of silently disagreeing, I am stepping forward to speak with my actions. I am doing things in synch with who I know myself to be instead of what the others told me to do.

In knowing my resistance I just might be able to separate from my identification with it just enough to do something good instead of merely shrinking back into a reactive "no".

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Cold. Rain is falling.
Alone in my loneliness.
I am full of lies.

(So if I believe that I'm alone in my loneliness when others are also alone, I am out of synch with the truth.)

Alone and lonely,
I have lots of company.
Let's break through our shells.

I like illusion.
Solitude is my drama.
Just leave me alone.

I want to reach out.
Comfortable in solitude.
I think I'll stay here.

Large crowd of loners,
Each one thinking she's alone.
Paralyzed and sad.

Programmed to believe
Others have things figured out
We are in a trance.

Inspired by Dr. Jay's post.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Handstand is so Cool

This post is dedicated to RB and others (like me) who have been stymied at one time or another when trying to kick up into this intriguing pose.

Handstand is so cool.

A while ago I wrote about how it made me really pissed.

For myself, I don't think I can own handstand. These days I can do it more often than not. It seems to be easier, but I wonder if it's just because I'm not taking it as seriously as I used to. I really love the handstand and find it incredibly empowering, and mysterious, too. Like a rare bird that you know where it usually lives, but it might not be there on some days. I suspect that my relationship with this pose will also continue to change.

There was a time when a yoga teacher friend was watching my handstand struggle. She shared that it looked like I just had a long way to go with my tall body--I had a lot to kick up. But while this assessment is technically true in that I am tall, I don't totally buy into it. Sometimes my handstand is very easy. When it is easy I still am kicking up the same amount of me so there is something different about the times I can easily do it and times I can't; I don't change my height, body mass or weight. So even though I have a lot to kick up, it's not my height that makes the pose easy or hard for me.

The obvious answer is practice. When I am practicing my handstand every day--sometimes several times a day in between classes--I am much more likely to nail it when I am asked to do it in a class I am taking. But, even within the last few months there have been times where I have had performance anxiety when asked to do it in a class. Even if I pop into one right before class, I sometimes have failed to do it with ease when asked to do it later during the class.

And like RB, once I'm up I tend to be solid.

When I have had difficulty with the pose, I usually think that it has to do with something psychological--like I am afraid to be strong and selfsufficient. True. I can fake it pretty good but I have fear. I actually think that I've nailed it right here.

But there is also something about my abdominal connection. When I swing my leg up where my "leg" includes my low belly--that helps. Or sometimes, when I kick I think of bringing my navel back towards the wall behind me--that really helps. It's almost like I can get disjointed around my mid-section. My back can feel weak when I try to kick up with just my legs below the buttocks, but when I include my low belly to navel in my kick it works much better.

After years of practice, my body continues to stabilize, strengthen, and open in new ways so I'm just excited to continue. It's cool to see where yoga practice takes my body and mind over time.

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