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.