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.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


As I tried to write this blog post last night I couldn't figure out what the three paths of yoga were or where I could find them. I read and reread the first twelve chapters of the Gita to no avail. I obviously skipped over the commentary because upon looking back at it, it clearly told me that the Bhagavad-Gita is divided into three sets of 6 chapters each dealing with a different path of yoga. The first six chapters or yogas as they are called represent action. The next six are known as Bhakti and deal with devotion. The final six, known as Jnana, deal with intellect. Each of these paths is a means of reaching towards the divine in an attempt to reach an ultimate consciousness or union with God. 

I find myself to resonate most with Jnana Yoga or the pursuit of the divine through intellect. So much of my spiritual journey since arriving at Baylor has been an intellectual pursuit. My introduction to philosophy, to the cave, and to Plato and Aristotle diverted me off the path that I had arrived here on and showed to me that other ideas exist. I could no longer put God in a box or even conceptualize anything resembling the old man with a flowing white beard imagery that I had been presented my whole life. As I delved deeper into my studies I began to find traces of the divine in everything. In music and art, in a well written line and a well spoken sentence, in suffering and pain, I began to see something greater behind all of it. I could no longer claim that any particular group had a monopoly on truth, that seemed an ignorant approach. I have much too logical and analytical of a mind to just accept that a singular path works for all people. I have not yet read fully the chapters dealing with Jnana however I sense that I will pull a great deal of wisdom from them. 

I'm Back

I never would have imagined in the beginning of the semester that after having not done yoga for over two weeks I would long for it. Even after several classes the thought of longing for physical yoga practice did not seem like it would be in the cards. I have however been doing exactly that. Before I had surgery I had been in the habit of doing several poses on almost a daily basis and then just as soon as it started it seemed as if my new found practice had been taken away. During that time I started to see how the practice of yoga had an effect on my daily life. For instance when my mind is going a million directions in the same instant and I've decided I need to concentrate I usually will spend five minutes doing a shoulder stand and emerge from it centered and ready to conquer whatever I need to do. That was something that I had been doing almost everyday and for two weeks I couldn't do that or most anything else. 

Thankfully that period is over now and I'm back. I have slowly been easing my way back in to my yoga practice, avoiding things they may pull at my stitches. I can do shoulder stand and have been practicing some variations that I found in Light on Yoga such as Salamba Sarvangasana II & Niralamba Sarvangasana I & II. These poses add a whole new degree of difficulty. Salamba Sarvangasana really stretched out my hands and my wrists (which I probably should do more of in other poses) and Niralamba Sarvangasana II has really been testing my balance and shoulder/neck strength. 

A problem I have come across is stretching the tops of my feet. I cannot sit in Hero's Pose comfortably for instance. My feet just don't like to bend at all. Any suggestions on what I can do to work on those? 

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Gita

Picture the battle that stands before Prince Arjuna. With both sides ready to raise arms and fight, Arjuna lays his weapons down. He cannot stand to watch father, brother, teacher, and son fight and kill each other. Lord Krishna then convinces the prince to go into battle by discussing Wisdom and Action. I chose to look at Arjuna's dilemma in an allegorical sense. It seems as if the actual physical battle is not between men at all but rather a single man's battle between ignorance and enlightenment, between what he has known as truth and what he is being shown as truth. As Arjuna surveys the battle field from his chariot he sees people he knows, people he would not want to see die and says he'd rather be killed than any of their blood be shed. Think of this in another light. Arjuna has a fundamental decision to make. He can continue in a path of ignorance or enter the path of wisdom and correct knowledge. He can leave his life the way it is or choose to pursue something different. The battle then becomes one inside himself; one where he wants to choose to lie down and do nothing rather than deal with the presentation of a new path. He thinks it better to be overcome with ignorance than to accept knowledge. The imagery of his kinsmen to me represent a connection to the past; a connection to a previous way of life and a previous way of thinking. The battle than becomes one aimed at resorting to this old way of doing life or pursuing the path of the new one.

I very well could have missed the mark on my interpretation and think I may have but let's go with it for a minute. These chapters remind me of that point in my university career where new ideas, new paths emerged and conflicted heavily with what I had been taught to be true. I can remember sitting in World Cultures III as a sophomore contemplating the nature of God and watching the towers of knowledge I had built for myself crumble at the feet of  Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor and Unamuno's San Manuel Bueno. These were not particularly easy ideas to wrestle with and sent me down an increasingly difficult path.  At times I wanted to lay down (and still do) and let my old convictions consume me but always someone wiser would point me back to the path of wisdom in the same way Lord Krishna does with Arjuna.

At this juncture between correct and incorrect knowledge, between ignorance and enlightenment the deciding factor becomes  self knowledge. Krishna speaks of freeing the self from desire, of finding happiness in the self, and being content with nothing but the self. These things create a union between the individual and the divine, between the temporal and the everlasting. The goal of man should be to abide within his Self and be satisfied. Until one reaches this point  the battle continues to rage.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Waking Pt. 2 and 3


                The story picks up in part two with Matt headed back home to Duluth. Home, Matt didn’t know what that meant anymore. Everything had changed. The last time he had been home his sister and his father had been alive, he had been able to walk up the stairs to his room, and he was just a normal thirteen year old boy with thirteen year old problems. He had been dealt a different hand and now he had to learn how to live with it. His rehabilitation pertained to more than just his body; he had to relearn his identity. The boy travelling home from his Aunt’s house who got went into the accident had been long gone and replaced with one who had suffered immensely.
                During this time several different potential role models came into his life. None of them had a life that Matt wanted to emulate. They each seemed to represent different limitations to him. One man had children for instance, but had had them before he became a paraplegic. Another one found his new life in wheelchair sports but that didn’t seem to interest Matt.  He needed to find his own way. For any non-paraplegic this is difficult so imagine how difficult it would be with the added problem of having no feeling below your chest. Being a teenage boy is difficult enough. As he grew up Matt seemed to deal well with his problems. He had friends and girlfriends and went out.
                The conflict of his journey picks up. He has to reclaim the connection between his mind and his body that the accident separated him from.  He has to address the silence and the darkness that has overtaken the bottom half of his body. He uses this intricate analogy of darkness, light, and silence to illustrate his feeling of loss. He began to question the therapist’s insistence on his arms and his wheelchair being compensation for the darkness that pervaded his lower half. He didn’t want to ignore the darkness but to live with it, work with it.
For a while he worked against the silence in his lower half. He ignored as best he could the fact that his legs didn’t work. He describes these years as “an attempt to live a normal life despite the traumatic rupture I experienced between my mind and body.” (p.143) How does one live a normal life without the use of their legs? He just ignored his whole lower half. That’s pretty significant. Imagine the mental strain that would require to, in his words, work against the silence. As he did he describes his outlook on the world as becoming increasingly negative.  How couldn’t it? This negative view of the world brought him to a place unfamiliar to him. The happy kid who always had a smile on his face had been replaced with a cynical college student. He couldn’t ignore the silence any longer.
As I read these metaphors, these images of light and darkness and that feeling of silence took on meaning for me. I’m not a paraplegic and have no similar problem but feel as if we all might have these spots of darkness or silence that we hide away and pretend don’t exist. Reading this in the midst of the beginning of my own yoga journey while concurrently being introduced to the Yoga Sutras paints these problems as the vritti of memory. Darkness and silence exists in areas of my own memory keep me from seeing my true self in the same way that Matt’s inability to accept his condition kept him from seeing his true self. It’s hard to describe what I felt while reading this section. I felt sympathetic to Matt’s condition and it forced me to look at aspects of my own life where I may have been holding myself back or allowing darkness to pervade. This section didn’t necessarily inspire me but rather pointed me towards my own shortcomings that I’ve ignored. It wasn’t particularly comfortable but helpful.

Yoga, Bodies, and Baby Boys

                The previous section ends with the line “It is the time for yoga.” Matt has begun his yoga journey. He has found the alternate path that will lead him to once again experience the mind body connection. He finally has found a way to experience the sensations in his body that he has been missing out on. As he begins doing yoga he gains self-confidence. One of the first problems he has to address is how to get from his chair to the floor. He uses a blue velvet chair in his living room that sat just lower than his chair but low enough for him to use it to transfer from his wheelchair to the floor. This small victory does wonders for him. He’s out of the wheel chair, on the floor, and in a position to experience the mind body connection that had been eluding him since he was thirteen. He makes a particularly poignant statement at this point. “Finding the floor and a way back is healing. It may sound too simple, too easy to lift a damaged heart. But most of our shackles are invisible.” That last line haunted me for days. Most of our shackles are invisible. What does that mean? The things that hold us back usually cannot be pointed out by anyone except ourselves. The fluctuations in our own minds keep us from reaching our own potentials or seeing our own selves as we truly are.
                Matt’s journey has brought him to yoga but not without setbacks. Yoga does not prove to be an instant cure all for him but rather a life style that has odd ways of teaching him lessons. While working on one of the few poses he could do, dandasana, he hurts something in his neck and his body goes numb. Unexpectedly this injury plays into his healing story. The metal rod in his back is removed. Once he recovered and began his yoga practice again he broke his femur doing padmasana. He had been trying to push his body too far too soon and the violence of the encounter taught him a hard lesson. For eighteen months he couldn’t practice yoga. He had only been practicing for a short time and now had to take a year and half break. This however, taught him the importance of nonviolence in his practice; to not push himself beyond his means but rather patiently work towards achievements. As I was reading this section of the book we had just become doing shoulder stands and headstands in our practice. One day at home I decided that a five minute shoulder stand would be no problem and so I set a timer and held that shoulder stand five minutes. Five minutes happened to be about a minute and half longer than I had held that pose ever and I sure felt it the next day. I had bowling class the next day and could barely swing my arm. My story isn’t as intense as Matt’s but I still somewhat understand what he felt.
                As his Yoga practice took shape his personal life did as well. The poses he practice helped reconnect his mind to his body. He could feel his confidence increase as he got deeper into poses. Yoga helped him see glimpses of his true self and realize his true desires. He got married and had twin boys. Life has not been without its suffering however. One of his boys died in the womb. Nothing in life can prepare someone for something so horrible. His yoga practice allowed him to view this in a better light. “There are moments in life when it becomes necessary to do something more, when strength is no longer the question, but only what needs to be done.” (244) His journey into yoga allows him to view life and death in a new light. Since the accident death has been a specter hanging over his head while life hung by the wayside. He began to see the two as existing concurrently. As we live we move towards death.
                Rather than taking the lessons he learned from his journey and keeping them to himself, Matthew, as did the characters in How Yoga Works, directed his compassion towards others. He teaches classes for disabled people and continually tells his story about how Yoga restored his whole self. His story inspires and tugs at the heart strings. His memoir proved difficult to put down and at times shined a bright light deep into my own soul causing me to evaluate my own life. This book proved to be a perfect entrance into how much the practice of yoga can change the life of an individual. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Waking Pt. 1

Part One Trauma and Separation 
“Death and trauma reach through one’s life with stunning swiftness”

In 1978 thirteen year old Matthew Sanford began his healing journey. In a car accident that took the lives of his sister and father Matthew breaks his back and goes into a coma. His mother and brother survive with small injuries. After three and half days Matt wakes up and his journey begins. At the age of thirteen he is confronted with the fact that he will never walk again shortly after waking. He describes this as more than just bodily injury; his sense of living was under attack. How does anyone deal with something like this, let alone a thirteen year old? “I could not control what was going to happen, but I could control how I perceived my situation” (12) At this point he began on a path to healing; he began telling himself healing stories. His remaining family needed him to live and so despite the suffering he had and would continue to endure he had to press forward.
                Matt had lost the connection he had with his body. The injuries he had sustained could not be fixed but only dealt with. The hospital he had been taken to in Iowa could not properly deal with his injuries and upon recommendation of one of Matt’s nurses his mother demanded he be moved to a hospital more equipped with dealing with these injuries. The move itself would be risky and could prove fatal in his current state but they moved him anyways so he could find better care. Death looms over his family and over himself and although he acknowledges it he avoids it. As Matt describes it this accident did not happen to just him and not just to his family but to a connected group of people, a community. People come together to support his recovery; his mother, brother, aunt, his father’s friend, and his sister’s boyfriend.
During this time Matt has a great deal of time to contemplate his life up until this point and then his life as it stands. In a particularly poignant chapter Matt asks “Which family were we?” referring to a deeper eternal question. “…which family were we? An average one from small cities who happened into some bad luck; or were we never average and always headed down that embankment?”   And then on a more personal level “… has my life been a preparation for itself?” He starts to unravel this basic human desire to connect the randomness that defines our condition. He sees these events from the past several years of his life as a form a foreshadowing to this event. A friend of his brother’s had a dream their family would be in an accident, Matt commented ironically on being paraplegic that he’d rather be dead less than a month before the accident, and his sister became wrapped up in this stanza from a poem:

Remember me,
As I do you,
With all tenderness
Which it is possible for one

These seemingly random events added up to something. But conversely had the accident not occurred they would mean nothing. The pattern of thinking that he brought up at this point affected me. I’ve often thought of the events in my own life and have really wanted to make sense of them by believing they point towards something greater. It makes dealing with the situations life presents easier but at the same time could it be true? Could the events of today be preparing us for later events in our lives? For Matt decisions that he made growing up and while dealing with his new life in a wheelchair molded his path. His actions even as a young kid set him apart. He tells a story of how his mother would rub his back as a child and he would reach back and rub hers back. A traditional path to healing would not be in the cards for Matt because he did not fit that mold and could not journey down that path.
                The details of Matt’s suffering as they apply more aggressive forms of treatment are haunting. As he describes the feeling of receiving his first full body plaster cast my mind goes blank. I cannot begin to imagine the pain that he might be feeling in that moment. I cannot fathom his suffering. Through this experience Matt learns how to disconnect from his body and bring his mind to another place. Learning how to dissociate himself from the pain becomes key as he continues through his healing story. Each day he has to be introduced again to his broken body, one he does not know and cannot get used to. At the end of this section he gets introduced to his first wheelchair and can barely sit in it. His “giant leap forward” out of the bed and into the chair feels anticlimactic and discomforting. This isn’t his body he feels. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

One more thing....

.... There was an interesting article in the New York Times yesterday about Yoga. I put the link below if you are interested.

and there was another interesting one today:


I practice yoga most days. I'm fairly certain that had I not been injured earlier this semester I would not have chosen to do yoga as much as I do. It just happened to be one of the only means of physical activity I can still do. I'm really glad I've been set down this path though. I've began to notice subtle changes in my thinking, my actions, and my interactions with others. I've also been spending a greater amount of time reflecting. When in a resting pose or upside down for several minutes I tend to think through the day that has passed and interactions I've had. On several occasions after coming out of head stand or shoulder stand I've had moments of clarity where the vrittis seem stilled, if only for a moment. For instance this Wednesday I came home after a long day of class and meetings feeling frustrated and worn out. I spent some time being angry and my mind was racing with negative thoughts. Rather than continue to let everything fester I realized I had a tool to deal with these fluctuations. I stood on my head and then stood on my shoulders before laying in shavasana. After coming out of the poses my mind was calmed and I gained some clarity on the situations that had frustrated me. I decided to change my mindset for the following day and ended up having one of the best days of the semester. Thanks yoga. 

This coming week however I won't be able to do anything. I'm a little frustrated by that already. I don't know how to not do anything. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Upside Down

In the first several weeks of class Dr. Schultz would mention how we are doing particular poses in preparation for headstand (sirsasana) and shoulder stand (sarvangasana). I remember thinking that those days were far far away and that more than likely those poses wouldn't be something I could do. Thankfully I underestimated myself or perhaps overestimated the difficulty of the poses. I have done sarvangasana most days since we learned it on Tuesday and have done several sirsasanas. I've been doing sarvangasana without the blankets supporting the shoulders as it is described in BKS Iyengar's Light on Yoga. It feels great and I leave the pose much more energized than when I entered it. I'm still iffy on sirsasana. Because I'm doing it myself I have very little idea if I'm doing it correctly. Is my body actually vertical? Am I too close to the wall? Do I even need the wall? I'm not confident in the pose yet. 

I've hit this point in my own practice where I can't decide whether or not to stick only to the poses I've been taught or to venture into unknown territory with Light on Yoga and other resources as a guide. We've learned more than enough poses in class to keep me occupied but I'm still curious. I'm also having trouble figuring out how long I'm supposed to hold certain poses and how many times I should do them in a given sequence. All in all however my practice has been going well. I feel the effects of yoga more and more each day. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

That's All She Wrote

I finished How Yoga Works a little earlier this evening and have been trying to craft some sort of impression from it. I enjoyed reading the book. It was much easier than the heavy political texts my other classes require. Yes the book was cheesy, yes it wasn't always well written, and yes the book seemed to contain some anachronisms however I think it teaches useful lessons. The book does not need to be perfect because the yoga journey is not perfect. As I understand it, yoga is not about perfection but rather the pursuit of perfection. It is about realizing your true nature and seeing unlimited potential in yourself and others. How Yoga Works does a great job of illustrating these ideas. 

For me a particularly poignant moment came late in the book when the Sergeant decided that the orphaned boys could no longer live out on the streets but must be given a permanent shelter. The compassion of that single individual led not only to a home for these children but also to the creation of a school that would better serve the community. The community focus of the book as a whole opened my eyes to the potential that yoga practice has on changing entire groups of people rather than simply an individual. 

Overall impression: The writing of the book did nothing to dazzle or impress me but I think that a lot of the content has planted good seeds in me and has changed how I view yoga. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011


In order to prepare for more advanced poses I figured I should work on some areas that I am particularly weak in. My main focus this week has been on poses that stretch the ankles and tops of the feet like Virasana.   My right ankle and foot in particular leaves these poses much more sore than the left. In addition to these poses I have been doing some calf mashing to better get into Gomukhasana. I still can't do the pose but that's fine because I'm getting closer. That's what it's all about right? 

I've been making it a point, even on days when I don't have time for a full practice, to spend time in legs up the wall or half lotus and bring my focus inward. As a result I've found my attitudes towards different aspects of my life starting to change. Take failure for instance, as I sit and think about my day and reflect on my yoga practice rather than get frustrated with what I can't do or what I have done incorrectly I'm beginning to see these experiences as teaching moments. I'm interested to see how this attitude will begin playing out in my day to day life.

Monday, September 19, 2011


The five afflictions which disturb the equilibrium of consciousness are: ignorance or lack of wisdom, ego, pride of the ego or the sense of 'I', attachment to pleasure, aversion to pain, fear of death and clinging to life. 2.03
 Finding examples of the Kleshas in How Yoga Works is not at all a difficult task. I would like however to discuss my favorite episode of the book thus far and how it relates. Way back in chapter 23 there is this incident with a pig. The pig has made its way onto the front porch of the police station and neither the corporal nor the sergeant has the strength or wit to lure the pig away. In a frenzy they approach the Captain and say "PIG!" Being the boss he went out and took care of business. He bent down, picked up the sizable beast and placed it somewhere else. Beaming with pride he slapped the dust off his hands, threw his foot up the railing and tied his shoe. I did it, I did what no one else could do his body language must have elicited. From here Ms. Friday chastises him for his actions. His pride has taken a good action and tainted it. I couldn't help but think how often we might do this in our own lives. What proverbial pig have we moved lately and how have we acted afterwards? Did we complete the action as a service to others or mainly for ourselves?

The connection between the Keshas is made quite evident further along in the story. Early in the story it is evident that the Sergeant is an alcoholic. We later learn that the Captain at some point had been too. Each man began drinking as a way to avoid their pain. The Captain had lost his wife, his daughter, and his will to move forward. To him alcohol became an escape from reality but at some point that escape turned into an attachment to pleasure. This path also led the Captain to a life outside of any type of healthy community. With the loss of his wife and daughter his actions had no direction but himself. He habitually planted the seeds of his ego, of his aversion to pain, and his attachment to pleasure. In the latest section we read he finds just how difficult it can be to dig out the bad seeds and begin planting new ones. As yoga is continually passed on to the individuals in the community of the jail and their families a definite reduction of these Kleshas is seen. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mental Yoga

My yoga practice hit a bump this weekend when an old (and I thought healed) injury decided to resurface. Unable to physically practice on either Saturday or Sunday I decided to press inward. I practiced the breathing exercises we had done in class and did some Savassana. Pain prevented me from doing much else. I did however have the opportunity to practice something that I had gleaned from Waking. Matthew Sanford, while in the hospital learned to mentally dissociate himself from pain and since reading that I have kind of been wanting to try that but had not the opportunity, until now.  At the apex of my discomfort, somewhere around the end of Saturday nights football game the pain I felt became to much to stand and I needed that distance Matthew found. I turned my thoughts inward, focused on my breath, rolled my shoulders back, stood up tall, and did yoga. For a short time my thoughts moved away from the pain. When I could no longer stand tall and my shoulders drooped I continued to focus my attention on my breath and the feeling of the much appreciated rain on the back of my neck. 

Before I went out and hurt myself on Friday I had the opportunity to have a great philosophical/theological conversation with a University Chaplain. We discussed at length different paths an individual can take to find God and how at the heart of each of them is some sort of inward journey. As a man with a Doctorate in all things God as well as pastoral experience I felt as if I could view the points he made as correct knowledge. He said to me that at the heart of any authentic faith the individual, in order to know God, must first know themselves. To those who view yoga as something contrary to the Christian message he pointed me towards the long standing tradition of body prayer, where individuals seem to end up in positions that look strangely like yoga. His perspectives and affirmations encouraged me to continue on the path that yoga has set me on. A bit of correct knowledge has gone a long way.  

Monday, September 12, 2011

Faust Arp

"Truly, every part of our lives is suffering" says Sutra ii 15c. We glimpse into the suffering of both the Captain and the Sergeant in this section. The Captain lost both his wife and his daughter and his hope in the Yoga that his Uncle taught him became hidden from him. The Sergeant's child meanwhile suffered a severe burn from a fire and the Sergeant turned once again to alcohol. Yoga becomes a means for both of these men to overcome the suffering that permeates their lives. To quote Matthew Sanford in his book Waking "Death and trauma reach through one's life with stunning swiftness." Both of these fictional men's lives are testament to that. 

The sutras however do not just explain life but further explain how to deal with it. In this latest reading assignment from How Yoga Works we see the Captain and Sergeant struggling with detachment from desires.  We also see the Captain seeking to restrain the fluctuations of his mind through practice as Sutras 1.12-1.16 suggest. The characters of How Yoga Works find ways to apply the words of the Master's short book. Reading about their application of the sutras allows me as a reader to seek out ways to apply them to my own life. Regardless of how ridiculous or dramatized the actions of the characters may be (think drunken Sergeant at night) their ability to use the Sutras and the physical practice of yoga to create and restore balance and harmony in their own lives provides me with a feeling of hope. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Yoga, pass it on

Depending on the day, I have been doing my asana practice either before bed or after I wake up. This week I have been focusing primarily on Virabhadrasana I and II, Downward Dog, Utthita Trikonasana, and the set of poses that derive from Tadasana. I am trying to gain the flexibility and strength needed to practice Virabhadrasana III, half moon pose, and Eagle pose correctly. I have been trying to practice correctly whether it be making sure my arms are straight or my pelvis is facing forward or whether the center of my back foot lines up with my heal in Virabhadrasana II. I find myself getting better at these poses but still have work to do. 

Yoga has begun to consume my days, whether in my thoughts or my actions. The practice of yoga has definitely extended beyond the physical to the point where I'm having conversations with people about what it might mean to detach from painful memories and what that might look like. The practice of yoga has given me a new lens through which to evaluate my life and my decisions. 

On a different note, while standing at church today I couldn't help but realize my feet moved into Tadasana, my shoulders came back, I engaged my quadriceps and lifted my chest and just like that I was doing yoga in church. I also have been doing certain poses to stretch out my shoulders, arms, and hamstrings before I go climbing. It has been great. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Memory Upgrade

Now yoga begins. A three word sentence kicks off the yoga sutras. Three words with so many possible meanings. They continue: Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. Just as much ambiguity but more words. As the first chapter evolves things start becoming more specific and categorized. As for fluctuations of the mind (vritti in Sanskrit) the sutras say five exist.  They are: correct knowledge, incorrect knowledge, delusion, sleep, and memory. If I had to pick one that I have the most trouble with I'd have to go with memory. Sutra 1.11 says: memory is where things once experienced are not allowed to completely slip away. Upon reading the five vrittis this one immediately stuck out to me. I have a very selective memory and it seems the majority of experiences that I recall in a given day prove to be negative fluctuations. Sometimes I sit and make present pleasant past experiences but often times previous painful events come forth into the present, having obvious mind altering effects. 

The style of the sutras so far is very much question response. After reading the part on memory my question would be how do we keep the past past and the present present? How does one avoid painful or disruptive fluctuations of memory? 

The Bends

Forward bends and I haven't been getting along well this week. I'm beginning to think that my body was not made to do poses like Padangusthasana. My body simply does not yet bend like that. I'd love to make my body into a straight line and grab my big toes but it just isn't in the cards right now. I've been trying to better prepare my body for these forward bending poses by trying to get deeper into poses I can do such as downward dog and supta padangusthasana. 

As far as other practices go, I feel as if my downward dog gets better every time I do it. I'm also able to get deeper into triangle pose and the second warrior pose than I was before. My body seems to be loosening up quite a bit, especially my hamstrings.

My biggest problem has been remembering exactly how to do the poses we do in class. But then I remembered that the Internet exists. I started looking at the poses we have been doing on It's definitely helped me begin to learn the Sanskrit names of the poses as well as refresh my memory on how to do them correctly. Your practice must be done correctly, for then a firm foundation is laid. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Practice Takes Time

Your practice must be done correctly, 
for then a firm foundation is laid. 

You must cultivate your practice,
Over an extended period of time.

Thus far How Yoga Works has been an intriguing look into the world of yoga. Much like the Captain I believed yoga to be a largely physical practice. However as the Captain spends more time with yoga and with his teacher he learns that the physical practice represents only half of what yoga is, and probably the easier half at that. The two quotes above from the yoga sutras have stuck with me since I read them. In fact I wrote them on the white board that adorns my wall. Each morning and evening I look at them and think of the day ahead or the day behind. Everything in life seems like practice for something else, but am I doing it correctly? Something as simple as interacting with others is definite practice for later interactions but am I doing it correctly? As they say knowing is half the battle and then you must cultivate your practice, over an extended period of time.

In the course of the book four months have elapsed thus far and the captain has progressed but not without some hurdles to overcome. Reading this whilst being new to yoga makes me wonder what obstacles will arise in my own journey aside from my inability to touch my head to the floor. The Captain did yoga out of compassion for the Corporal and the Sergeant but who will I do it for. If we do something just to help ourselves, it will never work. (p.20) How then should I direct my compassion? Who should it be directed towards? Who am I doing this for? Before I can move to far forward a few of these questions will need an answer. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Reflection on Day One

8/23/2011 Today was a tough day. I awoke at 7 after a long sad night looking forward to a day that ran non-stop from 8-5. I had found out on Monday night that a friend of mine from high school had died and I had yet to come to terms with it. By 8 am I was inside the Bear Habitat getting food ready, at 9 I was driving the disability shuttle around campus and at 11 I started 6 straight hours of class. I was pretty set to not have to think about the information I had learned the previous night. The mental strain of keeping something like that repressed made me tired and lethargy seemed to characterize my moments alone throughout the day. With 4.5 hours of class down, yoga honestly was the last thing I wanted to do. About midway through class, during a variation of mountain pose, I shut my eyes. Images of my lost friend crept into my consciousness and as fleeting of a moment as it was I felt connected to him again. I felt connected to him forever. As the poses continued and my body loosened up I could feel the weights that had so quickly accumulated on my soul begin to dissipate bringing me to a place where I could effectively deal with my own grief. It made a believer out of me. One yoga class brought me to a level of inward peace that I would have never imagined could have come on a day like today.

Throughout the week I continued doing poses for about fifteen minutes a day either in after I woke up or before I went to bed. The time for me has become a moment to decompress, to leave remove the fluctuations of my mind. Yoga has began creeping into my everyday life. "Let your feet be like leaves," resonates through my mind whenever I stand still. When stressed I've began pushing my shoulders together, making my torso long and my chest big and have felt better by doing so. It almost feels like as I move into a pose my outlook on a given situation changes slightly, in a positive manner. I'm intrigued and interested in where this journey may lead. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Yoga for Dudes

Crux (noun): something that torments by its puzzling nature; a perplexing difficulty; a critical, decisive, or pivotal point.

I'm Dan and I'm going to be blogging about my new life as a yogi. I did yoga once a week for most of my freshman year and continued certain practices up until now. As both a runner and a rock climber I have noticed a benefit from doing certain balance poses and I use certain other poses as a means to stretch out my arms, trunk, and shoulders. Yoga for me has thus far been a physical endeavor and I have yet to approach it in a philosophical manner. This brings me to my first reason for taking the class, to explore my inner self. Having spent the past 3 years existing in the complex, dynamic, and liminal space between childhood and the remainder of life has left me uncertain of who I am but has set me on a path to find that person. This class for me acts as part of the search. I don't expect to reach enlightenment nor unlock the secrets of the universe. I do however hope to find out characteristics of my self that I have previously been unaware of. Through outward expressions of balance, strength, and flexibility I hope to bring order to the chaos of my soul as I journey from this liminal state of young adulthood to the future.