Regular readers know I work with austistic kids. This was a nice article on the benefits of Yoga and approaches to presenting Yoga to children, especially children on the spectrum, and the challenges of teaching Yoga in schools. Good stuff. I’ll say this, however, I face most of those challenges with regular classes; some people do well with a visual cue, others don’t like the chant or religion. What the article didn’t address is getting a reluctant child to simply exercise.
There was some waffling on my part about the schedule for the last week of July as it’s Benton County Fair week and my kiddo is quite active in 4H. (If you go, check out the Llamas!) As it turns out, classes will be held as usual through July.
▪ Mon. Aug. 11th – Men’s Yoga – canceled
▪ Wed. Aug. 13th – Senior Men’s Yoga – canceled
▪ Mon. Sept 1st – Men’s Yoga – canceled
A book that has influenced my practice and understanding of Yoga is The Cosmic Serpent. I’ve elaborated on it in the past in class. Several of you have expressed interest in it, or it led to discussion after class. I finally reviewed it for the website.
Jeremy Narby is an anthropologist who enters the rainforest with the explicit goal to understand how the natives know what they know about the various plants from the Amazon. It is a story of how he can’t quiet accept what he learns. Even as he is confronted with proof, his rational, western trained approach can’t accept it.
I really enjoyed the following article on how a Yoga mat can undermine your practice. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not giving up the mat. But the simple graphics in this article are very helpful in showing how the grip can make us lazy, allowing us to press outward, rather than engaging the flexors and the adductors inward in many of our standing postures.
Reducing our dependency on the stickiness of mat will increase proprioception and enable muscles to work in a more balanced way. It teaches us to become more mindful or our body movement and limitations. We’ll keep working with drawing our energy and action inward in while in poses.
See you in class!
The Cosmic Serpent
DNA and the Origins of Knowledge
by Jeremy Narby, Peguin Putman, 1998
Jeremy Narby is a western educated anthropologist who entered the Amazon with the desire to protect indigenous rights. His goal was to facilitate a sort of materializing of a non-material culture, so that their knowledge of the plants was being monetized in their favor rather than for the sole benefit of giant chemical companies. And, in doing so, protect the rain forest and the human cultures it supports.
In his first interactions with the Ashaninca peoples from the Pichis Valley in the Peruvian Amazon he would ask, “How did you learn all this?” in reference to plants they use for their concoctions. They would say ‘the plants told us.’ He could not accept this simple answer at face value. It had to be a metaphor. Plants don’t speak.
What he found out, however, was that it was not a metaphor. The Ashaninca were being literal. As Narby tried to understand what they were telling him, he kept running into aspects of their knowledge base that simply did not make sense through his lens, that of an academic. It was, he says, “almost despite myself” that he began to study with shamans to understand how they acquire knowledge.
At first he listens and observes how they learn. “I was continually struck by their profound practicality. They did not talk of doing things; they did them.” “People were suspicious of abstract concepts. When an idea seemed really bad, they would say dismissively, “Es pura teoría” [“That’s pure theory”]. The two words that cropped up over and over in conversations were práctica and táctica, “practices” and “tactics” – no doubt because they are requirements for living in the rain forest.”
These observations and discussions weren’t enough. To more completely open to what he was attempting to absorb, he tried the ayahuasca, the powerful psychedelic brew made from of a combination of various plants known to the natives. This was met with mixed results. While he did have visions associated with this type of activity, what his journey really requires is to disengage from the intellect to understand. The book is, in large part, a story of his being unable to do this.
But it’s a fascinating read as he explains the process of having to adjust his focus from a purely rational point of view to what he calls a de-focalized gaze, which allows one to truly see what has been there all along. In Yoga we use the dṛṣṭi, a focus on one point, as a means for developing concentration. But I find when I am truly focused I see much more, my awareness becomes exponential. In those states, I would suggest, it is indeed a de-focalized gaze we experience.
Narby calls this subtle play between a highly focused and de-focalized gaze a paradox. And his examination of this paradox leads him to question the ways we learn and turns his sense of understanding upside down. He states, “It’s almost as if we have to suspend belief, to really see.”
Though he did not intend to set out on a Yogic journey, his story unfolds as one.
The more he hears their explanations the more he doubts what they are saying. And yet, using modern science, he can identify over 30 chemical compounds in one particular mix. As he explains how the various plants offset the properties of others to facilitate the hallucinations, he effectively debunks the notion that it would be possible to arrive at the concoction through simple trial and error. So, the notion that the plants told them of their properties becomes more viable.
Outside of the hallucinogenic properties of the ayahuasca, particularly mind blowing is when Narby compares cultures across continents and across the ages, finding countless references to the double helix of DNA. The commonalities between the representations he finds over and over again suggests that “primitive” cultures have long known of these basic build blocks. But we have dismissed their stories as mythology.
Though he finds this supporting evidence, Narby still can’t believe it. Even though he has learned to de-focalize his gaze (in Yoga we might call this pure awareness,) he appears to return to the highly focalized gaze of the academic, searching for answers through facts he can verify, rather than experience.
In short, this is a story of a western man seeking to understand the nuance of an experiential culture. He succeeds! But it’s a familiar theme, the explorer gains understanding of the indigenous culture he came to study, yet succumbs to the curse of the western man; the inability to surrender the ego, and the need for the intellect to be engaged over what pure awareness can offer.
Of Gods and Men
Directed by: Xavier Beauvois, 2011
I had written down the title Of Gods and Men as it was recommended to me, though I can’t recall who did or the context. They were right however; this movie has lingered with me since I watched it. It drew me in with the passages they quote1 and the silence.
It is the story of Christian Monks in Algeria. They live in harmony with the Muslim community they serve until Civil War breaks out. Even as their peaceful life is threatened by Islamic fundamentalists, their leader declines protection from the government.
In the process the Monks are divided as to flee or remain in Algeria. They eventually choose to remain despite the unlikelihood of peace and certainty of more violence. It is not a happy ending. Continue reading
Happy New Year!
We’ve missed a few classes the last few weeks due to appointments, snow and the way holidays fell this year, but we’ll be back to the regular schedule this week: Men’s Yoga, Mondays at 5:30pm and Senior Men’s Yoga, Wednesdays at 2:30pm. Both at the Willamette Wellness Center. Looking forward to welcoming in the New Year.
You may have heard me mention The Living Matrix in class in the past. One of my favorite quotes (usually when I’m asking you to smile) is “When we make an emotional shift… from frustration to joy… 1,400 biochemical changes instantly go off in the body.” I’ve reviewed it on the blog. The quick description; scientists are examining different healing modalities and attempting to explain how they work. What the movie doesn’t address are the criticisms of the methods. Many consider this “fringe” science. John Block and I met for coffee after he had watched it and we had a knock down, drag out fight. Not really, it was an enjoyable discussion. If you’re interested in watching it, I’m happy to loan my copy. Coffee is optional.
How do you know Yoga is working?
In our yoga classes we practice asana, physical postures. The posture practice, though, is just the beginning of Yoga. Yoga is a rich and deep philosophy, distilled into 196 verses in a book called The Yoga Sutras. I have studied the Yoga Sutras with Chase Bossart, in the tradition of Krishnamacharya one of the more influential and well-respected “fathers” of modern Yoga.
Yoga is a linage system. Chase was one of TKV Desikachar’s last private students. Desikachar, is Krishnamacharya’s son. We are fortunate to be close to the source. In this article, Chase relates how Desikachar responded to the following question “How do you know your Yoga is working?” Desikachar responded quite simply. Chase fleshes it out a bit more. You might find it interesting.
See you in class!
A recent article in the Orlando Sentinel focused on Dr. Jay Van Gerpen, a neurologist who specializes in gait. He’s working with Parkinson’s patients on a study to help them stay on their feet and retain brain health. Van Gerpen uses a simple tool, a laser device attached to walkers or canes that shoots a red laser beam in front of the person walking.
The theory is that visual cues can help Parkinson’s patients walk without freezing. A telling sign of Parkinson’s is when gait and movement become imbalanced or halting. When patients focus on stepping over the line, they access the visual part of the brain, which bypasses the motor output area that isn’t working.
The old saying “there are many ways to skin a cat, ” proves true. The laser provides a work-around. The end result, a higher level of functionality. One user stated; “When I wasn’t able to move as much, I noticed my brain was much worse,” Puckett said. “With the laser I can move, get around, and am definitely able to concentrate better.”
Now, regular readers will know I invariably tie these kind of news articles into the practice of Yoga. Yep, here it is: when we practice moving from one posture into another, we are challenging the neural pathways, as well as stretching our tendons and joints, and maintaining muscle strength and tone. We work with balance and we move with both symmetry and asymmetry. As Jason Wallis, owner of Fitness Over Fifty says, “It’s good to keep the body guessing.”
So, as our society has become increasingly sedentary it’s important to remember; simple activity, like walking, is a great offense to maintain health and functional fitness. Exercise improves or maintains circulation, ie: blood flow, which helps keep our tissues healthy, and keeps our systems active, challenged and in use. In this example, we use an external tool (the laser) to maintain health when one part of system stops working properly. Ingenious, really.
The Orlando Sentinel’s Marni Jameson has written several articles on Parkinson’s you can find a sub-category here. The link to this article has many photos and a short video. It’s informative and worth the time.
Some Housekeeping and Good News!
First, I’ve mentioned this after some classes, but it bares repeating. This year marks the first summer where classes haven’t dropped off. There is now a large enough group of guys that even if the most regular can’t make it, we’ll still have 4-5 guys on Mondays. Senior Men has a smaller group, but is very committed. I appreciate all of you, those who’ve been with me since the beginning and those who have joined recently.
Second, we will have class Monday evening on Veterans Day, FOF is open. And, we will have class as usual the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. If you haven’t been for a while, we’d love to see you! Men’s Yoga – Mondays at 5:30pm and Senior Men’s Yoga – Wednesdays at 2:30pm.
As you know, I’ve been reading deeper into Totlec traditions. I enjoyed Don Miguel Ruiz’s popular book The Four Agreements and am familiar with the authors related to Carlos Castaneda. But I wanted more background on the origin of the Toltec concept of intent.
One of the books I tracked down and have been reading from in class is The Gospel of the Toltecs. I’ve reviewed it here.
I find that the Toltec philosophy of intent parallels the Yogic focus of concentration. One of my favorite passages from the book: “Do not allow the scattered ashes and the crossroads to give you orders.” In other words, do not allow a past failure or the simple presence of a new choice to distract you. We clear away the clutter to attain the correct perspective. It’s often easier to talk about these concepts than to effect change. But that is why we practice!
Paul Grilley on Anatomy
I first came across Paul Grilley at Kripalu, where I got my certification. They used a section from his video Anatomy for Yoga during our training. Grilley is committed to helping people understand how their body works and why forcing the body into an “ideal” of the pose can cause injury. His contention is that we don’t often allow for skeletal variation and misunderstand tension and compression as expressed in poses.
Grilley recently responded to an article written by William Broad who has been examining injuries from Yoga both to Men and Women for several years. Broad has been criticized for generalizations and inaccuracies. However, I like how Grilley drills down simply in his response.
As Yoga instructors, we often say “listen to your body” or “back off as needed.” But this explains why pushing will actually do more harm than good, if we’re working against what the body can do.
The Gospel of the Toltecs
The Life and Teachings of Quetzalcoatl
by Frank Diaz, Bear & Company, 2002
Ce Acatl Toplatzin is the human incarnation of the Toltec deity Quetzalcoatl. His story contains many familiar themes: he’s chosen for leadership at an early age; he trains for and fulfills his duties becoming the leader he is destined to be. He becomes careless, leaving room for his adversaries to undermine his authority, eventually contributing to his downfall.
In his fall from grace he leaves the Toltec homeland, Tula and wanders. Eventually he finds a new home, and a new people; disciples hear his words and practice his teachings, until the time where he makes the choice to leave his human form. He descends first to the underworld before rising to the heavens. After four years he returns in human form. This is the story of Quetzalcoatl laid out in the “The Gospel of the Toltecs, The Life and Teachings of Quetzalcoatl,” by Frank Diaz. Continue reading
Hey, everyone… The Willamette Wellness Center/FOF is closed on Labor Day (Mon., Sept. 2nd). However, I’ve booked the room for Wednesday, September 4th at 5:30pm. I’ll need 3-4 solid commitments to go ahead and offer the class.
PS: This poll feature is new to me. Post that you voted?
I started my meditation journal in April with the intention of blogging regularly. Here it is the middle of July, and I’ve yet to post again. Status update: the meditation is going well and I’m journaling after each session with pen and paper. And because I’m retentive and keep track of this sort of thing, I can report I’m meditating, on average, a little more than four days a week.
For comparison, in the past five years I’ve:
- Meditated 45 days in row, during which time I absorbed the worst news of my life, and yet was amazingly stable. However, it abruptly stopped.
- Dabbled many times with the intention to meditate regularly, never lasting more than a week or two.
- Meditated every day for a year straight. But at the end I was exhausted. And done.
- Meditated daily for a month as part of a workplace challenge, and yep, it dropped off too.
This time appears to be different. There’s an ease to sitting down that hasn’t been there before. I have no idea what drew me to meditate for 45 days straight, all I can say is that something propelled me to do it, knowing there was a reason I would need to be grounded.
When I set out to meditate this time, it was with the intention to make it a lifetime habit. The goal? To meditate four to five days a week. As I examine the success, so far… some of the answers to why it’s working now appear to lie in the year of meditation.
A year in review.
February, 2011. I sort of fell into the goal of meditating every day for a year. At first, I was attempting to hold space for another, when in reality I hoping they would return to me. And that led to feeling sucker punched, again, by the brevity of relationship. While the genesis of the intention began from confusion and even self-loathing for making the same mistakes, there were five crucial phases.
At the beginning of my year of meditation, I saw my acupuncturist for a series of treatments. Previously, he had recommended Emotional Freedom Technic (EFT), and I had prepared for this series by doing EFT daily for several weeks. EFT borrows from Chinese medicine and combines tapping certain points along our energy meridians, rapid eye movement and vocal affirmations. It’s really quite simple. And ever so effective… if you can get over the hump and believe that it works.
Because I had been doing the vocalizations, at one point early in my year of meditation, when emotions came up, rather than repress them, I spoke aloud a version of the affirmation I had been working with, and began to sob.
Vocalization is an important part of practice and is often overlooked. It does not have to be the “ohm.” It can be a mantra, a phrase you repeat over and over. You can chant a sacred text. But in this instance, because I have chanted the Sutras and because I was working with vocal affirmations, I was comfortable with my voice, and the end result was an incredible cleansing.
After this initial experience, I simply completed my meditation as I normally would have, and from then on when a similar thought arose, I gave it voice. The emotions I was working with were released without the drama of resistance. And that led into a new phase.
I have faith.
At about two and half months, I began to identify as having faith. This was, at first, an odd sensation. It didn’t seem to have the same qualities that I associate with religious faith. There was no doctrine involved, no need to be right and no need to be heard. For the last five years or so, I have identified as an agnostic leaning towards Buddhism. This sense of faith wasn’t an unrealistic one, derived from a desperate longing. It was simply the feeling that things would work out, absent the need for any particular definition or outcome.
There was a true sense of calm and peace.
It was later, in that place of faith, at day 128, I forgot to meditate one day. Besides work, my daughter and the classes I teach, this had been a largely solitary endeavor. I had dinner with an old friend, the kind of friend who simply knows you. I forgot completely about meditating. When I awoke the next morning and realized I had missed a day, there was an instant flash of disappointment. But it vanished as quickly as it arose. I rested that night, I slept well for the first time in weeks. I was social, so many of the things I had been processing found a receptive listener.
The next day, I simply meditated morning and night. And I continued on, undefeated.
It lost its effectiveness.
In my solitude, I was reading many sources: Alberto Villoldo’s book on shamanistic traditions and chiropractor-turned-new-age-healer Eric Pearl’s book on the Reconnection. Rather than strictly doing my usual seated meditation, One Thousand Hands Buddha in the qi gong tradition, I added from other traditions. And, I also wasn’t rising early enough to meditate in the morning and ended up more and more often meditating in the evening.
Eric Pearl asks, what element are you calling in, when you ask for protection? He proposes that you are introducing fear. I am not sure I felt fear, but I did bring in extra elements and became distracted. I was bored and I was frustrated and I was angry that I was slogging through my meditation, alone.
It became a chore.
It was becoming a chore and at day 300 or so, I didn’t meditate on purpose. What a relief to give myself that permission. The next day, I meditated morning and evening, and finished with a recommitment to practicing One Thousand Hands Buddha, unadorned of any excess. And, I made more of an effort to practice in the morning.
February, 2012. I completed the year, and that was it. Gave myself a few days off and tried to resume it with a goal of 3-4 times a week. At best, it was infrequent. I didn’t want to do the chore anymore. And, I met a wonderful woman who became my girlfriend. Things were good.
The Here and Now.
In April, 2013, my current relationship began to succumb to the stress of prolonged uncertainty. Why is it always about relationship? I began to meditate again as I have in the past; attempting to hold space while waiting for someone else. But then I began doing it for me, not for anyone else. And that’s when I began to see clearly.
Here it is, the middle of July. Since April I have, in some manner, revisited each of those phases:
- The vocalization, allowing the emotion to surface and be spoken out loud.
- I’ve yet to sustain that feeling of faith, but being content with moments where I’ve been close to it.
- Remaining true to the form. Don’t complicate it or become distracted.
- Not making it chore by giving myself permission to not be perfect.
One of my favorite Yoga instructors often says “It’s not Yoga perfect, it’s Yoga practice.” And I think that’s the final key to sustaining this practice. I don’t make it a chore, because I don’t have to do it every day. In this reiteration of meditation, I’ve taken ownership over my behaviors and choices. I’m focusing on being social and well as solitary, and finding a better balance. It’s leading rather slowly and sometimes painfully to acceptance. The end result though, is action rather than reaction. More grace, even in the face of uncertainty.