Monday, November 21, 2011

Yoga from the Inside Out pt 4

In Chapters 7 & 8 Christina begins with a question that I have been asking myself and that is how should yoga be practiced? I have several friends who teach yoga classes at the SLC and have no interest in anything other than the physical aspect of yoga. I also have friends that are reluctant to try yoga because they believe it represents evil eastern philosophical thought. I’ve had trouble addressing both these groups of people. I believe that yoga can be a great workout but I also believe it is about balance and was never meant as a strictly physical practice. Yoga practice is a lifestyle more so than a workout. I can’t imagine simply going through the poses without any sort of focus other than achieving some unrealistic outward appearance. As far as physical practice is concerned yoga isn’t the best for getting in shape. An article from the NYT about a month ago showed evidence that yoga practice decreases the metabolism in the long term thus achieving an overall lower caloric burn than other more traditional forms of exercise. At the same time though who am I to call people out on their motivations for doing something? I couldn’t personally practice yoga without a philosophical backing but if others can more power to them.

From there Christina begins discussing the importance of having some sort of spiritual leader in your life to accompany your yoga practice. This seems like it may be a difficult task seeing as yoga gurus are not too common here in Waco, Texas.  I feel like I have people in my life that I wouldn’t necessarily call my spiritual leader but who help me through spiritual issues nonetheless. Would these individuals suffice? I think they do. They serve their purpose in guiding me along the path towards God. An individual spiritual leader coupled with the encouragement and companionship found in community can help any individual move forward on his journey towards God. Community in many religions and society is the backbone of life. In our society the focus is so much on individuality that we lose the importance of community. We instead try to go through life alone believing that we can do everything for ourselves and I believe we can but we shouldn’t. Think of how much time, effort, and energy is saved when you allow someone to help you. Also think of how great of an effect some couraging words from a friend can be. Yoga as Patanjali describes in the sutras is to be practiced together in community. View yoga as a lifestyle and then it to should be practiced in community. Christina describes her community as a way for to reinforce her commitment to the study of yoga as well as a way to disengage from the sleeping world and move towards her true self.

As a whole this book was interesting and contained a great deal of information that resonated with me. At times I felt as if Christina focused a little too much on body image. I understand where she’s coming from and know that I’m probably not the intended audience for this book but it still was a little much. Her insights on yoga and yoga practice however challenged me and caused me to ask better questions.

Yoga from the Inside Out pt. 3

This section of the book, chapters 5 & 6 had some great insight and wisdom but lost me at a few points. At this point in the book I’m realizing that as much as this book is about learning how yoga works from the inside out it also seems to be a way for Christina to air her own issues. Her issues with food continually arise and at times catch me off guard. At one point in chapter 5 she talks about how an open heart leads an individual to feel compassion for others and in the very next paragraph she’s talking about making peace with the body by not overeating and counting calories. I realize that she is making a point and then relating it back to a place that’s familiar but for me it is distracting. Just an issue I’m having thus far with the book.

Christina quotes the spiritual leader Arnaud Desjardins saying “that every single being has intrinsic dignity and nobility.” As I dwelled on this comment I could not help but think how opposite that is in western thought. Many western schools of theological thought contend that the individual is depraved by nature but here we have an eastern perspective of the self as inherently good.  Our western perspective, as Christina describes, leads us to believe we are flawed beings. This idea that we are flawed then permeates our being and leads us to image consciousness. This basic idea has seemed to shape our society and it needs to be dealt with before we can hope to be whole again. One way to do this is to honor “what is.” Christina describes a process where we become objective to ourselves and provide honest feedback. We need to stop identifying with what society tells us we should be and instead look inside and strive towards our true self and true identity.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Yoga from the Inside Out Pt. 2

The third and fourth chapters of Yoga from the Inside Out present the idea of kaya sadhana or the cultivation of the body as a means of transformation. Many schools of thought view the body as something that needs to be overcome as a means for the individual to transcend. I never quite understood this. Why would we exist in a body that serves only as a hindrance to our fulfillment of our spiritual apex? Granted I don’t claim to understand the mysteries of the universe so maybe God has some reasoning for that. However I choose to believe in the body as a means to transformation and now I have a Sanskrit phrase for it! In order to bring the body to the place where it can transform the individual needs to pacify the war within and really cultivate unity between mind and body as well as between the internal self and external self. Christina says alignment on many levels is the key to union between the mind and the body. It seems like the correctly guided internal struggle should be between an individual’s motivation and their behavior. When Christina discusses this I could not help but think of two things. The first is Matthew Sanford in Waking. His struggle was with reconnecting his mind with his body and finding union and peace between the two. It took him a great deal of time, effort, and fighting with both his mind and body to eventually realize union. The second thing I think of is the enneagram which is, in simple terms, a piece of ancient wisdom that classifies people into a group identified by a number 1 through 9 that identifies not their personality or behavior but rather their motivations behind both personality and behavior. People who use the enneagram assert that the individual needs to practice self-observation in order to figure out areas within their lives that seem out of alignment and need fixed. This seems to go along perfectly with what Christina writes about. Unbiased self-observation helps the individual realign just as a teacher might realign a yoga student in a pose.
“When we are even slightly out of alignment with our chosen path there is unnecessary suffering”
The quote above comes from the end of chapter four and I’m choosing to write about it because it impacted me. If read incorrectly as I did at first, the statement seems to say that we are on some predestined path with a sort of Calvinistic undertone. As I thought more about it I realized that we are all on a path towards a specific goal and that goal is the loss of self with union in the divine. All people have a unique and specific path but when we begin to move off of our chosen path we move further away from our true self and this can cause suffering. As we take steps away from discovering our true nature, from the light, we inevitably move into darkness and set ourselves up for pain that could have been otherwise avoided. The practice of yoga then comes in handy because it seems to keep our pursuit of the light and our meandering towards the darkness in a sort of balance and I’m starting to realize that most everything in life is about balance. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Yoga from the Inside Out pt.1

Before we can find peace among nations, we have to find peace inside that small nation which is our own being. BKS Iyengar
Unless people learn to differentiate between the essentials and non-essentials, peace will always elude them. BKS Iyengar
The first two chapters of Yoga from the Inside Out by Christina Sell have suprisingly resonated with me quite a bit. The focus of the chapters is largely on body image and the war that many people find themselves in between this idealized self perpetuated by the media and the true self that serves as a mirror image to the divine. Typically it seems our culture equates body image issues strictly to women but I assure you that is not always the case. Growing up I was a little on the heavy side and this continues to impact my life. Being over weight in middle school lends itself to all sorts of teasing especially when you find yourself in a more athletic crowd. After hearing the voices of people commenting on my weight for so long I began to believe them and as a result set myself down a path that was physically healthy but psychologically taxing. I changed my diet and began running excessively. Physically I became quite healthy and by my sophmore year of high school I was one of the top distance runners in my school, had grown considerably, and weighed less than I did in 6th grade. I could never shake body image issues. Christina describes this as a war with constant everyday battles that distract the individual from the pursuit of their true self and the divine.

Christina writes about the impact our society has had on body image and I think her analysis is spot on. Society and the media dictate not only what an ideal self might look like but also what an ideal man or woman should be, how they should act, and how they should interact. I could not help but question what an ideal man or woman would look or act like in accordance to our true self. Upon asking this question I realized that if we were in tune with our true self all along none of this would matter and life would simply be. If the true self is in union with the divine what use would body image be at all? Does God look in a mirror and think this is what God should look like? I doubt it. But how does one dissociate from these pressures and tune them out completely? Side note: Every question I seem to present in regards to yoga seems to have an answer that has been outlined by previous people. For instance the answer to that last question is practice. The sutras in chapter 1.14 say practice for then a firm foundation is laid. The trouble then becomes taking all this wisdom that has been left for us and applying it further than simply reading it. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

El Fin

I went to Dallas on Friday to celebrate a friend's birthday and ended up meeting a fellow yogi and discussing yoga practice. She practiced Bikrum yoga and based on everything she described I never want to try it. Practicing Yoga in a hot room with a bunch of sweaty people? No thanks. To make it worse they don't even use props! She described their routine as being 26 moves that they repeat twice and they do the same 26 moves every time they practice. I guess different things work for different people.

As for actual yoga practice my headstand has been getting better. I can get into the pose fairly easily and my balance has been improving. Maybe I'll venture away from the wall sometime soon? I've begun holding my shoulder stand for six to seven minutes and go straight into halasana after it. I can't hold that pose very long because I am hamstring challenged. I've been doing a good deal of typing/ sitting at a computer this week and so I've been doing poses to stretch my mid and lower back and my hands and wrists. It's sad to think that the class is drawing to a close but thankfully I'll have the opportunity to continue practicing yoga next semester in Rest and Relaxation! 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Hare Krishna

I am the Oblation, the sacrifice and the worship.... I am the father of the universe and its mother; I am its Nourisher and its Grandfather; I am knowable and the pure; I am Om; and I am the sacred scriptures. I am the Goal, the Sustainer, the Lord, the Witness, the Home, the Shelter, the Lover and the Origin; I am Life and Death.... I am death and immortality; I am being and not being. (Bhagavad Gita Chapter 8 Life Everlasting)  
I am the Seed of all being, O Arjuna! No creature moving or unmoving can live without me. (Bhagavad Gita Chapter 10 The Divine Manifestations) 
I am the Omniscient self that abides in the playground of Matter; knowledge of Matter and of the all-knowing Self is wisdom. (Bhagavad Gita Chapter 13 Spirit and Matter
What is God? What characteristics does God have? How do we know God? Lord Krishna, in the Gita, gives me some answers fairly directly. He tells Arjuna directly what he is and what he is not. I am death and immortality. I am the seed of all being. These particular lines sum up well what Krishna is. In him everything is found. In him the cycle of life continues until one becomes one with him. The ultimate goal of a human being should be to become one with Krishna, one with the define. In order to do this Krishna advocates knowing yourself purely and fully.

The divine portrait painted in the Gita was like a refreshing fall breeze to me. I don't know that I currently have any understanding of divinity. Having grown up first Catholic and later Evangelical my sense of the divine prior to college had been whatever my church had taught. God to me had been an old man with a flowing white beard (much like Gandalf) with a staff of some sort. As I've progressed on my own journey I've begun to see everything as a manifestation of the divine. Before reading the Gita I couldn't really put words to the idea of divinity. I like in Chapter 8 when Krishna says I am the goal, life's purpose is to reach the divine. He not only gives purpose but also knowledge. I've searching for an interpretation of God that valued knowledge. Krishna refers to himself as the ultimate self, making him a product of an individual finding the pure light within him/herself. Krishna gives life and sustains it. My former portrait of a God so often took it away and cast away those who did not believe in him. In Krishna their seems to be unlimited mercy and unlimited grace. Underlying all human experience Krishna seems to acknowledge that mistakes are made in life and that it takes time and practice  to achieve the pure self that is one with him. What a great notion. A view of God that sees his mercy and grace as not only limited but freely given. Upon death in Hinduism an individual has another shot at life, another chance to reach towards union with Krishna. I like the idea of this. I like that the human condition is acknowledged and that practical applications are provided to reach past it. I still don't have a view of what the divine might be but this book has been formative in the journey.

Sleepless Nights

6 a.m. Saturday morning, I found myself standing in the lobby of the new Social Work building at the corner of 8th and Washington waiting to greet important individuals who would be involved in the homecoming parade. As I stood my shoulders drooped, my eyes fought to stay open, and continuous yawns escaped my lips. I hadn't slept since I had woke up at 11 a.m. Friday morning and started to feel its effects inside this warm building. With University Regents, former Texas Governors, and even a Hollywood director about to enter the building I had to find a way to appear awake. Of course we know where this story is going, I did some yoga. Standing at the top of the stairs, in a suit, I put my feet together, stood up tall, rolled my shoulders back creating a lift in my chest and stood in Tadasana after several minutes I felt slightly more energized, not to mention taller. As the guests arrived I smiled and greeted them warmly. My colleague on the other hand, a non practitioner of yoga, could barely stand and had to excuse himself. Yoga works.

As far as practice this week, I'm still getting back into the physical aspects of yoga, trying to keep it easy. Most practice days I do shoulder stand, halasana, and head stand while adding in things such as the Warrior sequence and attempts at lotus. Because of my lack of activity for the past several weeks my legs are especially tight with the tops of my feet being extraordinarily tight.