“One of my goals in life is to do the slowest Primary Series anywhere… rather than the quickest”. Richard Freeman

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Am I missing something very vital in my lifelong Yoga practice?

The Temptation of St Anthony, by H. Bosch
One of the pleasures of blogging is to go off on a stream of consciousness , thinking out loud as it were, coming back to a post later to see to what extent we still agree or disagree with that which we've written and how we might think it anew, This is just such a post.

A status update by Ramaswami yesterday gave me pause.

"If I practice asanas alone all my life and expect everything mentioned in Yoga texts to happen to me, then how come Yogis of yesteryears like Sri Krishnamacharya studied, practised and taught other yogangas like Pranayama, chanting, meditation, texts and others in addition to those exquisite yoga postures? Am I missing something very vital in my lifelong Yoga practice?" Ramaswami

I know many never get around to reading the Yoga Sutras or any other yoga text. For many yoga offers the promise of health and fitness, perhaps a greater sense of well being and yoga as asana, as purely exercise, can deliver.

That in itself is enough to recommend the practice.

But what are the expectations we might find in the Yoga Sutras and other yoga texts that are not perhaps fulfilled by asana alone.

Yoga offers...

clarity and focus,
heightened powers of concentration,
peace and tranquillity,
dispassion,
liberation from the tyranny of desires,
freedom (with a small f),

...for some this might signify happiness.

Yoga also claims to offer...

awareness of what is
...and what is not,
understanding,
knowledge of self
and/or god.
perhaps union with god (depending on your reading).
Freedom (large F)

Quite a list, no wonder Ramaswami suggests asana is not enough.

Yoga is wilful one pointed concentration.

Asana can help develop concentration, most importantly perhaps, it develops self discipline, we focus on the breath, the bandhas (depending on our style of practice), the posture, perhaps the finer points of alignment and we concentrate on all this for an hour to two hours every day (perhaps twice a day).

It improves concentration but it isn't necessarily one pointed concentration, there's a lot going on in asana as we shift our attention from breath to bandha to alignment, refocusing, bringing one or the other back online all the time.

Pranayama has many benefits but there is less to think about, we stay in the same posture and can focus on just the breath, the bandhas, perhaps a mantra.

In pratyahara there is even less distractions as we withdraw the senses.

All this on the ground of our work the yama's and niyama's

It's in the meditation limbs however that we really get down to business, to working on one pointedness.

The asana has calmed our agitation, the pranayama our lethargy, we are peacefully alert.

We no longer worry about the posture, about the breath, about bandhas we merely bring our attention back to the object of our concentration practice, a simple mantra, an image, an icon. In other traditions a flame, a pebble, our heartbeat, inhalation, perhaps our exhalation, our 'third eye'....

The mind is frivolous, questions jump into our heads, we make a pact with ourselves to explore them at another time perhaps in our studies of the texts where such questions may have been raised before, perhaps with a teacher, we put the questions under erasure and continue to sit quietly renewing our focus again and again.

Our human lineage

Some argue that as Westerners we are not ready for the meditation practices, that it is an exclusively 'Eastern practice', that we are best left to asana, like children. The well established western Vipasasana, Zen and Buddhist communities have perhaps finally silenced that argument, quietly getting on with their practice, just sitting.

The tradition of Christian mysticism has received renewed interest of late, Thomas Merton comes to mind, the Desert Fathers, for me, despite being myself agnostic, it was Meister Eckhart.

"A man may go into the field and say his prayer and be aware of God, or he may be in Church and be aware of God; but if he is more aware of Him because he is in a quiet place, that is his own deficiency and not due to God, Who is alike present in all things and places, and is willing to give Himself everywhere so far as lies in Him... He knows God rightly who knows Him everywhere".
Meister Eckhart (c.1260 - c.1327)

To retain focus and concentration amidst the cacophony of modernity just as well as upon a pastoral hillside, to attain clarity whether concerning God or an Idea, was appealing to a young philosophy student.

Ekhart was a yogi.

"That which a man acquires by contemplation he should spend in love". also by Ekhart

In our tradition we refer to meditation as contemplation but I'm reminded of the last wedding I attended where the Reverend called on the congregation to take a moment of silent prayer of quiet reflection.

On 9/11 we didn't need to be asked.

Prayer and reflection, meditation practices, have always been a part of our culture as surely every other culture, it's in our nature, we reflect, we grow silent.

Perhaps in our hectic modern lifestyles our moments of silence, of reflection, aren't as sustained or as consistent as they used to be, ...as disciplined. We're out of practice somewhat but meditation remains a birthright, our tradition, our...human lineage.

Krishnamacharya taught asana and pranayama, philosophy, meditative practices, he taught these limbs of yoga all his life, to beginners in yoga as well those more experienced. He taught them to women as well as to men and to those from the west as well as his native India.

To repeat Ramaswami

"...then how come Yogis of yesteryears like Sri Krishnamacharya studied, practised and taught other yogangas like Pranayama, chanting, meditation, texts and others in addition to those exquisite yoga postures?


...Am I missing something very vital in my lifelong Yoga practice?"

14 comments:

  1. Forgive me if I'm missing the point of the Ramaswami quote but, the limbs (angas) are interconnected right?

    So, you take a nibble of the one that you fancy, and you can't help but digest them all in the fullness of time.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Like a holograph: in any bit of one resides all of the others. I think Freeman might have drawn that analogy, using the idea of Indra's net.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I saw this and did not look at Ramaswami's page just yet...

    I think what we might be missing is that we get lost in procedures, limbs. Not that they are not helfpul, they are, but to a point. Once healthy, once breathing well, once concentration improved, then why not "jump" to the state of yoga...

    Take for example Ramana Maharshi, an enlightened master of last century, he barely spoke, he was in a state of yoga since the age of 16.

    He says we can take the 8 limbs of yoga as a ladder, but ultimately we can fly into it. There is no ladder other than for whoever needs it, AND only until when they do not need it anymore.

    Eckart Tolle is perhaps the best exponent the teachings of Maharshi for us westernenrs (us who cannot really meditate 8 hours a day in lotus positions like the EAst does)...

    And it all boils down to being fully present, to the now.

    I wrote a post last week on it... Tolle is having a profound influence on me when it comes to the state of yoga. I recommend watching the Oprha free webcasts on the "New Earth"

    It is the full contentment and appreciation of this moment as it is, as sacred and its practice that ultimate brings us to this moment and hence stops the "projections of the mind", which is the goal established in the yoga sutras, which by the way starts with the word "NOW"...(sutra 1.1.)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Of course, interconnected and interrelated but unfortunately that doesn't mean that working on my pranayama is going to make my kandasana any deeper or one fully bound in pasasana. Nor will it get you through the week with your yamas and niyamas intact and while it might help to improve your focus and especially your self discipline I still think you have to bang away at one pointed meditation year after year, you may as well get started right away.

    Surely you have to work at all the limbs individually and together, integrate them, that's the practice...... or at least it was.

    Things might have been different of course, Pattabhi Jois might have made different choices in his encounter with the West, could have gone either way. Manju, remember, still teaches adapted asana, pranayama, chanting, meditation from the beginning, just as his father did and just as his father was no doubt taught by K. and in a western context too. If family politics had been different.....

    ReplyDelete
  5. Is it perhaps fair to say they we often have now a 'pick'n'mix' approach to our 'spiritual paths'. Rejecting perhaps the religion and spiritual culture we were born into and not wanting to appropriate another clearly defined religion, we pick and choose amongst the different traditions. Buddhist Ethics from here, yoga asana from there, a dash of Zen, some Vipassana perhaps a sprinkle of Jung. What's interesting is that it seems to work for us, perhaps that's how all the religious traditions came about, taking from here, taking from there.

    I'm reminded though of the Italian concept of cooking where they talk of ingredients 'marrying well' (what' s the expression again in italian?), that the ingredients, elements of the dish are from the same soil or same area.

    There's a sense where the yoga sutras gives us an interrelated, interconnected range of techniques that perhaps marry well, either way it's how Krishnamacharya appears to have cooked.

    ReplyDelete
  6. "Of course, interconnected and interrelated but unfortunately that doesn't mean that working on my pranayama is going to make my kandasana any deeper or one fully bound in pasasana."

    Only time & practice of differing proportions will address that, just how relevant are the physical achievements really. Guruji would constantly refer to it as being an internal practice; that FAR more fascinating.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Sorry, terribly phrased. I was/am in a hurry. (Custard is getting cold)

    ;o)

    ReplyDelete
  8. "...just how relevant are the physical achievements really".

    they're seemingly becoming less relevant every day Steve, sometimes I think I continue my asana practice merely as an exercise in self discipline. Still enjoy the asana but it's quickly becoming the least significant limb to me currently and less of a surprise that it only gets a couple of sutras.

    Starting to look back at the yamas and niyamas more and more...

    cold custard on such a day as this, nothing wrong with that...... you managed to score custard out there, result.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I like the cooking analogy very much. It is good to learn of course, but at some point we must see to the right mix of ingredients that makes us become aware, each of us, individually... suspect that is the whole thing behind us being our own gurus..

    I agree with what you say on asana (after a while, after healthy, after the body is well), becomes less important, I ALSO AGREE WITH THE YAMAS AND NIYAMAS being where it is at... it is the stuff of superpowers, being content is equal to enlightenment, to accepting life as it comes in now... telling the truth means our word is law... and so on... big aha moments over here!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Asaana's is 2nd grade meditation is PHD, a truth seeker must complete the entire academics in order to achieve desired result, people who spend say 20 years on asanas, they are studying 2nd grade for 20 years well their priority may be to have a healthy body, but in reality how healthy you are you are not your body.

    Thats the reason Guru is important not just Asana guru but a Sadhana guru who can guide us through various levels and impart right wisdom.

    Finally its very complicated to make people in the west believe that they are not their bodies just the idea itself will not be appreciated here.

    Thanks.
    Surya.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I think Manju Jois puts it nicely here:

    "Unfortunately Ashtanga yoga is becoming like a circus; it’s like a competition. It’s like “Oh, I can
    do this.” “Can you do that?” Hatha yoga is not for competition. It’s not a competition. It’s something you do for yourself. Look, asana is asana! You can put your leg anywhere you want. The whole point is to stay supple, healthy and strong, to let the
    prana flow…to prepare for meditation.

    And if I can put my leg behind my head
    and you can’t, it doesn’t mean you’re
    inferior to me. Actually the person who is very limber, looking so flexible in their asanas may not be doing yoga at all. The person who is trying, who is putting in the effort, may be closer to yoga practice."

    from : http://www.ashtangayogashala.com.au/storage/documents/Manju_Jois.pdf

    ReplyDelete
  12. Sadly Surya, even Phd's seem rushed these days, churning em out. Straight from your degree into your Ma then start you talking about your Mphil so it'll lead on into your Phd, used to be you'd take a couple of years in between each stage, even stretch your actual phd out for eight -ten years resulting in something of value. Something else that put me off academia.
    Reading an article at the back of Aranya's commentary on the yoga sutras today about working with the tatvas, I think for the first time I really understood the benefit of a guru, not an asana teacher but someone who's really walked the path, feel like running off to Kapil Math or standing outside Ramaswami's doorway every morning for a year or two.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I know this article Anon, excellent interview, Manju is being very candid there, thank you for the reminder. It's important to remember I think that this approach to yoga is very VERY new thirty years old maybe, as manju says it wasn't how he was taught or by implication his father. Does Manju have kids, are they teaching yet?

    ReplyDelete
  14. lol: standing outside Ramaswami's doorway every morning for a year or two

    Manju does have kids and I think they are into gymnastics. I read somewhere that he's been teaching them mantras and fun stuff...

    ReplyDelete

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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta
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