Monday, 28 January 2013

5% theory, 95% practice ?


5% theory, 95% practice is both one of my  favourite and least favourite expressions.

Some quote it as 1% theory, 99% practice but I only remember coming across the former in direct quote, in an interview and video with Sri K. pattabhi Jois ( sure the 1%-99% example is out there too I just don't have a source). .

It's wonderful because it gets us on the mat without too much fuss and bother. Inhale slowly, the arms go up, exhale slowly ,the arms go down, that's the practice right there ( Thanks to Mark Whitwell for that one). So we inhale up, exhale down (as a general rule), the gaze is here ( or at a handful of other points), we hold onto the seat of our pants and off we go.

A fixed breathing pattern, set gazing point(s), a fixed sequence of mostly basic postures to a set count... and that's plenty to be going on with.

Do that for a year and then get back to me (don't worry about where you are in a sequence or series just come back in a year and we'll talk).

Of course you could get into the nitty gritty of anatomy, dwell on the best ways to achieve a posture and then another and another ( I know I did ), going ever deeper into the poses while trying to remain safe (does all that come under the 5%, never sure).

You can go to your local gym yoga class for this of course and there are I'm sure some excellent teachers to be found teaching there and often with a lot of experience, fun too.

At some point you may question why your doing this practice, is it just for fitness? Crossfit might be a better option, Flexibility? Circus skills and/contortion might be interesting, or is it Stress reduction that concern's us, How about Mindfulness meditation, or a spar break.

What is Yoga such that I want to practice it six days a week and organise my life around it?

You could begin with the Bhagavad Gita, that has much to say about Yoga and in pretty poetry too. It's not enough of course just to enjoy the musicality and imagery of a poem, at some point we're going to want to understand it, there are commentaries, some better than others, different versions. We might find that much of the current texts authenticity is questioned and so seek out the core text. As with any great text and, it's certainly that, we can search out scholars, take course, discuss it with friends who share an interest in the text but more importantly, at some point, we reflect on the extent it fits with our own experience and self reflection.

The Gita is considered a summary of the Upanishads, these too would be worth exploring, again not just reading the pretty lines but studying the texts just as we would the great philosophical texts of our own tradition.

As we begin to focus more on our breathing and the 'holding on to the seat of our pants' bit ( the bandhas) we might ask ourselves why this focus on the breath, the bandhas.

This will lead us to explore the idea of Prana, the Ida, Pingala and Sushumna model and we find ourselves with the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and perhaps other Hatha Yoga texts, the Gheranda Samhita and Siva Samhita. Of course just reading the verses isn't enough, we're going to need to study them, seek out teachers and commentaries....

So now I understand the details, the whys and wherefores of the practice, a little more but at some point I may perhaps again ask why, why am I doing this six days a week, why am I fitting my life around this practice.

I don't have to of course, by now I'm fit and healthy, calmer, more disciplined, have a clearer focus and attention, it gets me through the day better, this  may well enough perhaps.

And It's plenty.

But I might wonder why this practice was developed in the first place, what was it designed to achieve. This will lead me to Patanjali and the Yoga Sutras. Here we will find the pattern of our practice laid out for us as well as the goal,. The aim is to achieve one pointedness, fixed attention, that we can with diligent practice attend to any object and then without an object. We can bring that attention to bare on the tatvas (which we will need to study separately) and find that the self does not reside in any of these places. In the end we will see in the text that the self is perhaps not what we perhaps assumed, we will discover the idea of Purusha.

That one samhadi, one Smayama is not enough, there are another twenty four to go, negotiating this is highly skilled lifetime(s) practice.

Of course just reading the sutras wont get us very far this is yet another difficult text. We will need  to study the text word by word, sutra by sutra. We will need to study Vyasa's commentary and commentaries on that commentary.....

Sooner or later we will realise that we need an understanding of Samkhya philosophy, which underlies all six of the Indian philosophical systems and on which the purusha model is based.

We will need teachers and commentaries and self reflection, we may need to look at the Philosophy of Mind and Self in our own intellectual tradition and the systems in which those philosophies arise and  in which our thinking has been formed, better to understand our point of departure.

Krishnamacharya, for example traveled all over India seeking out libraries, all the great teachers and scholars and  in all these texts and disciplines to debate and dicuss and reflect..

Of course we might end up taking a different journey into this altogether, we might begin with the sutras and end up at the Gita.....

And at each point (and we're still just scratching the surface of some core essential texts here) we come back perhaps to our own practice and consider to what extent it best suits us in our search for a better understanding of Yoga. At some point we may wish to focus more on our overcoming of rajas and tamas (something else we will need to study, at another point more focus on pranayama practice my seem appropriate. Some asana rather than others might become preferred, a greater focus on meditation and different approaches to meditation and developing skill in meditation.

Perhaps our asana practice itself will take on a more meditative quality or we will realise anew the value of the practice with which we began. Or Like Prashant Iyengar, for example, one asana, Trikonasana, may be all that is necessary to explore each limb of yoga.

And throughout all this we just get on with our practice, day in day out however it may change in subtle and/or significant ways.

Of course in our study of the Yoga Sutras we will also find that Patajali offers us a short cut. For the religiously inclined ,and we don't have to be religiously inclined, we can just fix our attention on the divine in our practice and perhaps not worry about all of the above.

Me, I'm still scratching the surface of the surface of all of the above, no rush.

5 comments:

  1. Love this! At this point I feel like I need to get back to practice (i'm unable to have a regular practice right now) and not worry about philosophy.. if I study philosophy right now it'll muck up my practice establishment attempt. But once I have a routine, perhaps some pondering would be needed. Timing and circumstances are important.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Yyogini, I hear you, I tend to think that my asana practice is my foundation ( ok, just heard kino in my head : ), can't read the philodophy if my practice doesn't feel somewhat settled. There is that tendency in Ashtanga sometimes to feel that you need to do all or nothing. Nice that more and more people seem to be mentioning the minimum practice SKPJ recommended, a handful of Surys and the last three postures. Establishing just that is a foundation in itself a place to rebuild the practice.
      great thing about Indian Philosophy...it always seems to come in nice bite size pieces.

      Delete
    2. Yyogini, if you have insufficient time to establish a practice, try to find just 15 minutes a day and do as Krishnamacharya suggests in the Yoga Makaranda and practice only Tadasana with your arms outstretched over your head. If you have never tried this, it is a grueling practice both physically and mentally. It is also very rejuvinating and provides an incredible stretch to the torso, chest and overall body. In this Tadasana you can practice slow steady breathing; practice keeping watch on your thoughts; practice dristi; practice mindfullness of the toes and feet, the legs. It is such an incredibly simple and deep practice.
      Try it. You can read the blurb about it and see a picture on page 142 and 143 of Makaranda, which Grim has posted here.

      Delete
  2. Great post, very inspirational. This is something I come back to over and over again in my own study and practice - what is the essence of yoga?

    --Nick

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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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