Pitfalls Part One

You’d think, wouldn’t you, that the sheer volume of practitioners these days would be having more of an impact on the social dialogue. You’d think with all of these OMs that the larger fabric of politics, legislation and commerce would be more explicitly conscious of history and future aims. This series of posts is my observation of where our golden hearts and brilliant ideas go to stagnate and eventually die. There are a couple of notes on what I perceive to be the “poison pills” of spiritual rhetoric.

Also note that for some reason comments, while I can see them from within WP, are not posting publicly. You aren’t being censored, at least not on purpose, winky face.

Beware of falling standards

Beware of falling standards

“The Burning Man Paradox”

[N.B. I’m picking on Burning Man even though I like it and believe in it, and love so many people that love it. Bear with me, here]

Most visionaries have a utopia in mind, either in the past or in their visions, or as in the Burning Man festival, a specific temporary time period. If only things were that way, the argument goes, our grief would be less and our consciousness more elevated.

I’ve never had the pleasure of attending the festival, primarily due to a creeping horror of dry skin. But I’ve watched many friends come and go over the years. Usually there is a community frisson immediately after their return, especially in the case of my yoga teaching colleagues. It’s very much like when people return from retreat or from study. You can feel the magical charge coming off of them. Sometimes the ideas are more compelling, better articulated; it’s a groovy transmission of feeling, and it’s always temporary.

While I know that fits and starts of charitable projects, microloans, creative collaboration have indeed been born out of crucibles like BM, the primary yearning in the participants appears to be to get back to Burning Man the following year. It’s not as explicit as the individuated journey undertaken by the meditator or yogi [cf Remski, “the internalizing arts”] but it’s still so segregated and rarefied [and literally privileged] that IME it disconnects more than it connects. Any concepts of any worth are so hothoused by utopian thinking that implementing them almost always requires some sort of fantastic or violent shift: destroying current government, forced liquid acid consumption u.s.w. [they get weirder, but you get the idea]. I can totally get why you’d feel like those measures are what would be required given the intensity of preparation and experience required to undertake these deep “retreat” or “festival” experiences. I’ve been the person coming back from Maui all high on lilikoi and Ram Dass and thinking that I was making sense and just headed further down the rabbit hole.

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L.O.S. Weeks 66 through 70

I have been making small ballpoint pen notes in the program as I progress, usually just underlining new poses or bracketing sequences of interest.  Sometimes I’ve put some exclamation points or smiley or sad faces depending on what he’s thrown into the mix.  This section has “WATERLOO!!” scrawled at the top and some big black underlining of Mayurasana, Padma Mayurasana, Nakrasana and of course, my personal Kryptonite:  handstand into backbend.  It’s like he just unloaded all of the stuff that’s just frickin impossible into one section.  I was actually having an OK and more or less edifying time with Weeks 61 through 65 which, while handbalance-heavy, were doable [dropbacks against the wall and so on] and without too much preamble my water-wings have been removed and I’m in the deep end.

the inevitable enticing romance of spring…I am a sucker

So then I have to go back to the beginning and remember when e.g. Vrksasana was impossible.  When running was impossible.  When wall balls and Headstand were impossible.  It was just over a year ago I started my classes at the gym and [duh] 66 weeks ago [probably a little more if you insert illness/crisis/travel time] that I started Project Light on Sjanz.  And every single day was impossible until it was done.  Then it was not just possible but obvious.

Mental focus on the present moment is critical to make sure you’re paying attention and are not burdened with anxiety or projection.  However, the context and emotional memory for your endeavours extends through time, and no matter how advanced or adept you become a little part of your brain should stay tethered to the place you were in when you started.  Maybe it’s just a thin thread, but those seeds of beginning still grow in you.   You do not have a finite amount of beginnings in you, so don’t make the common error of thinking that once you have achieved a few “firsts” that you run out.

Gotta jet, I hear Robs through the baby monitor running through all the words he knows, checking to see that on this sunny spring day his knowledge still abides.  “Hannah’s nose.  Mummy’s nose.  Baby’s nose.  Daddy’s nose.  Cat’s nose.  Car.  Airplane in the sky.  Boats in the water.  Toe on foot” u.s.w.  That probably means he’s ready for more input…

Government as practice

How to leap into the thorny nest of brain static I’ve been accreting through the blog posting drought?  Why, go stomping right into the heart of darkness, of course.  The heart of darkness being the recent ad for the BC Jobs Plan, an expensive and instantaneously self-refuting piece of nonsense that makes all the hair on my arms stand up every time its stupid iphone dominoes come rolling into the living room.

Premise: that you, Joe or Josephine Labourer, should check out this program regarding your future employment

there’s my guy!

Corollary:  that this is a government program

How the program is marketed:  that British Columbia, through the miracle of Low Taxes and Reduced Government Spending, is so wicked awesome that our white iphone domino will stop all of these threateningly dusky black iphone dominos spilling over from the wretched East

My take away:  So I, Josephine Labourer, should check out this program that you’ve created that BY YOUR OWN PROMOTIONAL ADMISSION you have underfunded and likely understaffed and have no intention of generating revenue for?  And that you spent millions of dollars to promote?  It doesn’t seem like you can organize a ham sandwich, much less a jobs program.

My second take away:  But of course that’s what they WANT me to think because as long as I don’t think the government can do anything right, the more my voting apathy will increase and the more I will turn to the even less effective and even more corrupt corporate system [or libertarianism which is just corporatism in fancy clothes] as my only alternative.   Fie, I say.

It’s really, really hard for me to live in this province and still continue to advocate paying taxes and supporting structural change through government, because there is an extremely high douchebag content as one winds through the warrens of power; they’re hidden in there, entrenched, and the paranoia and resentment is not entirely unfounded.  Trouble is, right now our alternative is the even less accountable and even more morbidly corrupt corporations.  It’s annoying to have to compromise shiny romantic virtues for the grubby, repeated whittling away at the status quo that constitutes politics.  I can definitely see why people don’t bother, especially young people, especially hippies.

Hey, things being grubby and repeated reminds me:  The twins are twenty months.  Today I wanted to spot clean the poor blue Ikea cloth sofa that has been saturated with juice and various other more compromising fluids, also vacuum the cat’s room.  Robert refers to all vacuum- or extraction-type devices as Robots and demands to be involved in their processes, up to and including turning them on and off and unplugging them from the wall.  I have an involved wall socket strategy but today’s needs were very specific and over the course of the cleaning R unplugged the vacuum four [4] times, necessitating much baby-gate vaulting, and then between the two of them they turned the upholstery cleaner off seven [7] times.  After the third or fourth turn-off turn-on episode a deep weariness set in on my part [I can’t speak for any weariness on their part although they are now napping so maybe they got it too] and I was all like, I can’t believe how boring and tedious this is, why can’t they just leave it alone for two seconds and let me finish cleaning this poor couch?

Hey, things being boring and tedious reminds me:  During one of my recent classes, in Savasana, the neighbouring room’s students were preparing to go in for their practice.  In full voice in the hallway I can hear two students discussing their recent experiences, and one asked the other if they had ever taken my class.  Student 1 said something about really liking what I had to say, etc., quite complimentary in a neutral sort of way.  Student 2 said, “Yeah, I took her class once.  It was so boring”.

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L.O.S. Weeks 36 through 44

“Ramakrishna said that our attempts to go to Brahman and report back what it’s like are like sending a salt doll – a doll made out of salt – to the bottom of the ocean to determine its depth.  On the way, the doll will totally dissolve, and there will be nobody left to report back.”

    – Ram Dass, from Paths to God, recalling Ramakrishna’s endeavour to describe samadhi to his students

stay under as long as you can

In plain talk, we’re pretty far down the rabbit hole at this point, people.  I haven’t been able to transcribe all of the asanas for each section, nor have I been entirely clear on what specifically is transpiring in my own experience as the weeks progress, and now that I’m approaching the year anniversary of Project LOS, if I were to try to describe the full transition I wouldn’t even know where to start.  I figure having the asanas written is not so important cause if you’re reading this you probably have the book and you can look it up yourself, plus while the project remains firmly anchored in the physical body the effects are becoming less tangible, less anatomical, less intellectual even:  the shifts seem to be manifesting as dreams [which are often nightmares at this point, womp womp, requiring a steady meditative hand during the days] and flashes of people or situations in one day that manifest or show themselves in the next 48 or 72 hours.  The structural changes in the Week 36-40 series hinge around Vatyanasana and Akarna Dhanurasana, addressing iliopsoas and quadratus lumborum among others, and then BKS has been good enough to bestow Urdhva Dhanurasana on us as the final pose before rest, plus some Uddhiyana Bandha practice which will get your motor running.  It’s good spinal therapy.  Then in weeks 40 through 44 he says just “consolidate” the poses up to this point, which I’m not sure what that means in this context but I just kept doing the previous weeks’ sequence…

…and then yesterday I completed the first time all the way through the Week 45-50 sequence with all the trimmings and had my little blown yet again by the sophistication and cumulative construction of the program.  The sequences are lasting for longer chunks of time and building physical stamina in Urdhva by way of 6 repetitions; pranayam is increasing in length and volatility.  Note to any of you practicing this along with me, or who want to start it:  do not skip Nadi Shodana.

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L.O.S. Up to Week 30, and the end of Course One

A couple of technical notes from the last couple of LOS weeks:

I was initially puzzled by the early inclusion of lotus, virasana, full Gomukhasana arms and similar tight binds of extreme shoulder or knee flexing that seem to elude the gen-pop. I’ve never really had problems with them in my own body, but as a teacher I rarely include them in a beginner or even a mixed level class, because it’s just too demoralizing..it separates practitioners instead of unifying them, or it becomes a tedious technical exegesis that doesn’t always reflect the needs of a post-work sweat followed by peace and quiet.

Because of my work teaching the good folks at my gym, I’ve been following Kelly Starret’s video/blog series, MobilityWOD. For those of you not familiar with the lingo, a WOD is a “workout of the day” and mobility refers specifically to joint and tissue movement, something often lacking in the tight strong bodies of athletes. So a couple of side notes:

– the more athletic fortitude I gain, the less patience I have for what I would term conventional alignment instruction; my internal sensitivity is reduced somewhat (although the LOS practice does help me regain it). I hold the pose for the requisite time but I do less tinkering around and futzing with subtlety. I just let it work on me.
– the more athletic fortitude I gain, the more I see that the tight binds and lotuses in Iyengar’s program are *mobility drills*: they fix e.g. The hand and elbow in the case of Gomukhasana or the foot and knee in the case of Lotus and then the relevant torso joint, shoulder and hip, MUST open. Or, open and re-stabilize with more relevance to the core, as in the case of the recently introduced Urdhva Padmasana and Pindasana in both headstand and shoulder stand.

K-Star would have an athlete under his tutelage take a hold of a vertical pole with her hand overhead and in the back plane, then hold the elbow with the free hand, so as to stabilize the two less relevant and more mobile joints, to open and then restabilize the shoulder. Much easier for the stiff and strong, but if a vertical pole is not available, I’m impressed at the biomechanical resourcefulness of Iyengar’s sequencing…and again, marveling at the consistency that different body-models maintain, even across time and out of context.

App: Seconds Pro, also good for Tabata stuff

And subjective emo notes:

I LOVE THIS PRACTICE. I am so infatuated with Sirsasana that I’m sending it inappropriate text messages. And it’s important to remember during the close of Course One that it was not always thus, in fact, the vast majority of the initial days were a gruesome demoralizing slog. You gotta stick with it. The body works slowly, its vibration is slow, you gotta just show up and do the work. Now that I am more physically able on multiple levels, I’m getting greedy (ironically): I am less patient with myself and with others, I am more in a hurry to skip ahead to other shapes. And I have messed with the program here and there, inserting some thigh stretches occasionally, and what might be charitably termed an Anusaresque hip opening sequence, but other than that trying to remain as consistent and accurate as possible.

At the end of Course One BK finally offers Surya Namaskar, since he’s been prepping the constituent poses as long holds for weeks. He also gives a little three-day sampler plate that synthesizes and re-sequences the asanas shown to date, and I went full iNerd and used my circuit training timer app to generate accurate timing of all the poses, as given by the man himself. He claims that this course will restore and bring balance to body and mind and so far I can confirm his findings.

Current events: My plan to insinuate myself into the One Yoga For The People community was effective and I will be teaching at 7:30 pm on Fridays starting this week, throughout the rest of the summer.  On Monday I was interviewed on The Yoga Voice podcast, created and sustained by my buddy Stacey, and a brilliant concept, so check those interviews out, and mine should be posted in a little while.

L.O.S. Weeks 20 through 25 Which Is More Than One Sequence But I Am Behind In Posting

So far in this blog feature I’ve focussed on the physical effects of the Iyengar program work, primarily because that was where I felt that I needed the most diligent effort and the most subtle attention. Since the recent weeks have gone even heavier on Headstands and Shoulderstands I suppose it’s no surprise that my brain should be feeling the effects.

I’ve been having more insights, both of the spontaneous “received” sort and also a lot of lumbering awkward contemplation. It’s like doing pushups for your brain. Def. helps with kid-related and sleep-deprivation folly, although the twins are now sleeping more or less through the night. And frankly after the emphasis of the last few years on the “heart” [insert question marks and tone quotes and funny, querulous faces here] I am taking solace in the body and yes, in the mind. Hell, maybe a lack of logical inquiry on these subjects is how my whole Anusara Certification experience went off the rails in the first place.

It’s actually THESE guys’ fault.

Here’s what I’m thinking now, after observing all the behaviour around me: John’s choices, the yoga community at large, the Anusara community specifically, this city, my family, you name it: it is the rhetoric* behind the practice of yoga, its argument, that I conflict with when I conflict at all. I have realized I have no beef with any one technique but I often object to the whys and wherefores. For example, I enjoy the METHOD of Vipassana. I object to being told that the purpose of practicing Vipassana meditation is to eliminate constant sowing of karmic, desirous seeds. I enjoy the METHOD of Anusara. I object to being told that firming my leg muscles is explicitly connected to my commitment as a student. Und so weiter.  [Buddhism vs. life is suffering, the Yoga Sutras vs. the extraction of pure consciousness from matter, &c.] Since I have low self-esteem and a lot of guilt, fear and shame, any technique that uses the eradication of the self as its rhetorical thrust is going to diminish me further and break my heart. Not everybody has that psychological context for their practice and so different rhetoric of different methods will resonate in a shifting kontextual kaleidoscope of ways. Perhaps this is more coherent way of framing my objection to the teaching technique of theming that I brusquely threw aside in the post below.

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Light on Sjanz – Get Free – Up To Week 19

I held off on week 19-21 because I was still slow to get an uninterrupted five minute Sirsasana, or, well, it was erratic. Stupid scoliosis. My policy with Sirsasana has been to use a wall within reach, not because I can’t hold it in the middle of the room, but because the stress and exertion that holding it in the middle of the room causes overwork and desensitizes me to the point that I can’t really feel the work that is supposed to be taking place anyway. Maybe that’s a parable for all of this: that just execution, while sometimes the only way to remedy inertia, can mask the work that swims and lurks below.

I work out.

And what’s funny about this little one-sided dialogue [not a monologue, exactly; more like a halfalogue] between me and BK is that I actually started craving omitting the standing poses and just focussing on the Sirsasana and Sarvangasana cycles. Crossfit and my very first proper run [well, jog/lurch] is no doubt contributing to that. So I’d been holding off and holding off and trying to be disciplined and you know me, letter of the law until complete rebellion/nervous breakdown…and voila, weeks 19-21 begin with and focus on a Sirsasana/Sarvangasana cycle, then there’s abs, backbends, Chaturanga [from the ground d’oh], forward folds very reminiscent of an abbreviated Primary Series. I hadn’t even looked and here Iyengar had my hearts’ desire written down in advance. COINCIDENCE??!?! The inexorable logic of body, perhaps? Going to the gym first for what looks like a punishing rowing series, then a mysterious lift I’ve never done before, and then I’ll try this new adventure [if my limbs are still attached].

UPDATE: Went to try to find a less cryptic pic for this post and there are very few Sexy Yoga Skinny Pinup shots of Parsvaika Pada Sirsasana. It’s all just scanned shots of BKSI looking pissed and upside down. I leave the conclusions of this note as an exercise for the reader.

Okay, fine.

I think I’m giving myself a sore throat from not writing or speaking about this stuff, so here it is.

– I was not at all surprised to hear/read about John’s behaviour, although I had not experienced any of it first hand.

– It’s bad logic to conflate a person, a hatha yoga method, a company, a brand, another teacher, and your experience of the class or workshop.  Admittedly, it’s hard to parse out the different bits, but it’s just bad logic is all.  I apologize if I have done this, I’m pretty sure I have, but I tried not to.

– It’s also bad logic to theme*[see update below], and maybe this is where the trouble started:  Qualities of heart may be demonstrated in the physical body but they may not be.  Similarly, dedication to community or love should not be used as sticks to beat business decisions and legal trademarking decisions into otherwise good-faith teachers.  I apologize for doing this, on any level.

yes, this is an old picture

– I am a fully dues-paid Anusara Inspired™©® teacher right now, although I plan to let my license expire at the end of this year, because as anybody who knows me or reads this blog knows I have been over the Anusara Yoga organization for a while now, after having been so disenchanted by way of the certification process that I knew I did not have a home there.  I’m actually sort of surprised that this should need restating.  But I also do not see the urgency in resignation, as my Inspired license does not demand anything from me that I find compromising, and I am endeavouring to not fuel the bad logic mentioned above in conflating the tools and training with The Man.  Maybe if I was certified it would be different, I can’t speak to that.

– I’m not sure you will notice that many differences between my teaching before the Anusaga and now.  I don’t chant the Invocation right now because it puts memories of training with John in my body and I don’t want that.  But there’s nothing wrong with the Invocation.  It’s a modern Western melody for a solid old mantra.  I choose the way I teach because I am watching to see what works, for me and for you.  Anything that doesn’t work will be discarded.  Anything that works will be retained.  Brands are irrelevant.  Legalese is irrelevant.  People think I’m upset about John and I’m not [see above].

– I chose to study this method for a reason and many of those reasons still stand, even though I am leaving the *organization*.  As M said, “Anusara was the closest thing to what you do” and so maybe it’s just time to do what I do.  It spoke to very essential and deep places in me that I still believe and have felt since I was a child, and therefore I remain basically bemused at the drama that surrounds it.  Mind you, I have had time to cultivate the emotional space away from the organization, see above.

Any questions?

UPDATE:  This was unclear.  An idea, concept, unifying vision or focus for class is great.  I mean explicitly linking the physical body and its capacity for action to the most grand purposes of practicing yoga.  I think we all know when theming is good it’s great; but when it’s faulty it is tedious at best and abusive at worst.

UPDATE II:  I resigned my Anusara Inspired status on May 30, 2012.

L.O.S. Weeks 8 through, um, 15 it looks like: Under Construction

Poses added since the last time I wrote about this which was ages ago:  Urdhva Prasarita Padasana a.k.a. abs, Paripurna Navasana and Ardha Navasana.  Jatara Parivartanasana*.  Padanguthasana, Padahastasana and Uttanasana.  Salamba Sirsasana.  Makrasana/Salabasana, Bhujangasana, Dhanurasana.  And all kinds of spice on the Sarvangasana form:  Supta Konasana, Parsva Halasana, and Eka Pada Sarvangasana, most of which I don’t get to cause either I lose my alignment or the kids need something.  Mahamudra, Janu Sirsasana, Dandasana and Paschimottanasana.

This is very bad science because I’ve also been adding OTHER things to my physical practice, notably Crossfit, which has been tremendous in its power, simplicity and punishing intensity.  Of course I’m doing like the training-wheels/water-wings forms of everything, whereas normal looking people walk in while I’m purple and panting and do what I’m doing times a million, but there it is; I’ve never done most of this stuff before and quite frankly it’s good for your soul to be taught, sometimes.  So it’s hard to know how much of my recent wellness is due to B.K. or due to his energetic inheritance by way of CF [there are dowels!  but not for whacking].  But I didn’t quit!  It’s just not having the dramatic intensity of growth it did at the beginning, because, well, that’s nature and math for you.

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An old draft that I’m defibrillating and posting even though it might no longer be relevant

Previous title: “Gang of three” or “The scale of modern practice”

*insert appropriate pithy epigram here*

Another great Teacher Intensive weekend has come and gone and, as all fruitful studies should, it answered some questions and then asked a whole host of others. One of the portions I found the most powerful was our round-table discussion on when and if political material should ever be included in class. As expected, the responses ran the gamut from “good Lord, no, are you kidding? that’s the most inappopriate soapboxing/proselytizing misuse of your teaching energy, ever” to “I love hearing it in class and it connects me to the higher purposes of practice”. And also as expected, the responses to teaching technique have a great deal to do with the context of the class and studentship. I mean, the C word is the one that just keeps deluging me lately: it’s like an even shorter of that excellent Facebook bit that started showing up and going viral a few years ago: “Everything is changing. Everything is connected. Pay attention”.

Since I seem to have garnered the reputation for being so political, even though my own political studies are ham-handed and infantile at best, I thought I’d use this post as a way of explaining why I’ve been drawn to political concepts in recent years and how, if at all, they might harmonize with practice.

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