ashtanga

Asteya

littleRudra.jpg

Last time on Yoga Blog: Satya, well it was the guns but last yama was stay, broke down the lies we tell ourselves and truth flowed into our lives. Felling the hidden fortifications we constructed around our true-self. Satya, truthfulness. Refresh yourself and reread the last post if you wish and then continue your journey towards Yoga. “Atha Yoganusasanam.”

Third yama!

Asteya! Don’t Steal. Non-stealing. Nothing too fancy with this one in the translating department. Steya can stand for theft, robbery, or anything that can be stolen. As with ahimsa, the “a” reminds to not do or non, non-stealing. Postpone your pilfering and pause your piracy. One engaged in non-stealing will receive wealth in return. “Asteyapratisthayam sarvaratnopasthanam.”

Theft, breaking into a home and stealing jewels and a TV but it is not limited to the action of taking tangible objects from another person. Stealing ideas, time, peace, and opportunity are all things that may get stolen. There are even laws in place to protect such things like copyrights and trademarks. But, beyond logos and characters, if a noisy person or someone who constantly asks questions disrupts a learning experience they steal from those around them. Stealing the opportunity to learn for themselves and others. Stealing the time for contemplation and reflection. Stealing the opportunity to think for themselves.

And, still there is more to be stolen.

The appropriate intention intended for a device, object, person can be neglected and thus their use stricken from them. Looted by caging it a “safe” place. Money has a purpose. It is not be be hoarded and sat on in a dark cave. It wants to keep you well. It wants to help make life better for everyone. If its ability to do so is smothered under the weight of greed; thirteen dwarves and a burglar will liberate it in due time. That art you work on wants to be seen by the world. It wants to lighten someone's day. It wants to speak with others. The vacant lot wants to be played on. It has no need for the no trespassing sign. It wants use. It wants to welcome. Each and every thing has a proper use and wants an opportunity to serve its purpose. Do not rob that opportunity. Let purpose prosper.

Review: Opportunity appears everywhere give it a chance. Be true to your ideas or give credit where credit is due. Robbing and looting is bad.

So Robin Hood* and Aladdin** are bad people? Much like the burglar with the precious ring they play their part. Like the hero Arjuna they too are truthful to themselves, satya. The prince’s taxes stole from those who had nothing to give. That money kept for the greed of a king’s ideals. What other choice was there but to give it back to those in need. A stolen loaf of bread to fight back the mornings hunger. To offer to the starving so good will can continue to be passed from human to human. Oxygen must be swiped from the air to stay standing against hate. Fruit must be plucked from their mother to spread and grow a new.  

Establish yourself in non-stealing and live an anxiety free life. Worries flutter away like a dried leaf in the breeze. Using what you have and sharing when you can. Provide not take. Establish not prevent. Grow, become, prosper.


*I’m pretty sure the real Prince John got a worse rap than he deserved. He took over a kingdom from a brother that campaigned in a war that cost a heavy sum. Therefor he had limited choices. Taxing the people so King Richard could play in his silly war and become a hero probably seemed reasonable to him.


**Disney’s Aladdin, I have not read the proper One Thousand and One Nights and don’t know if there is a thief character.   


***Just a note. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali from Swami Satchidananda rests near me when I write these brief glimpses into living.


The Three Gunas and Me

Almost to the end of practice. Breathing. Setting up for my nonexistent meditation practice. Then rest which I love and hate. Baddha padmasana to Yoga mudra. Sometimes the ones Manju showed me to padmasana. Hand forms chin mudra. Chin mudra, connecting myself with the true-self. Control over the gunas: sattva, rajas, and tamas —

A brief description of the gunas if you’re not quite sure of them. I’ll start with just translating guna. In English it’s merit, quality, virtue. Our habits. It’s the thread keeping our personal mala together. They’re the aspects of us that in varying degrees create our personality. Each of us containing all three no matter how much we tell ourselves we’re missing one or don’t need one. We attach ourselves or define our lives around the ones we seek. The ones we have aversion to tell us deep secrets if we can just brake past our own blindness. Then it gets deeper.

Sattva, सत्त्व, goblin. Ha! I’m not kidding but that’s not the sattva I’ll be talking about here. I do love though that it can mean goblin, demon, and monster. Sattva is the guna of balance, harmony, goodness. Sure sounds good. That’s all I need, right? Peacefulness, creativity, positivity. I can get attached to that. Come to me balance. Set your roots here.

Rajas the guna of hot. Moving towards action and having passion behind it. Something to get that ego behind. The drive that keeps us an individual. That since the world center around us and that’s how it should be. Sometimes good. Sometimes bad. Sometimes neither.

Cold? Don’t want to move today? Tamas, the guna of down. Darkness rolls in. Chaos disillusions and we fall into inactivity. The imbalances show through the widening cracks and I can’t decide if the laziness, anger, or anxiety make me dull.

These are our three gunas. Our hot, cold, and just right. Then we rest just a bit too long and the family of bears devourer us in that comfy bed.

I sit in padmasana, hands in chin mudra, and the brain works. My gunas I’m attached to are Sattva and Tamas. I strive for harmony. Strive so much I don’t think about how I am trying to achieve it. Usually ends up thinking of others far over myself. If I do what I think they want peace will stay. I have to listen though. What I assume is helpful is sometimes just me not listening correctly. Not really listening for what would really help.

I cower behind false positivity because I think that’s what others want to see. Not showing feeling and locking it deep inside. So deep I can’t see it. Forgetting that I feel. That my feelings matter and won’t get in the way of peace. This is not balance. Not harmony. I am imbalanced. It slides me into inactivity because I don’t know what to do with myself. I don’t know myself. Anxiety rolls over the darkness inside me that hides all I need to pay attention. I want nothing. I do nothing.

Then the past that shapes us. I grew up in South Florida. Heat and humidity abound. My father’s hot temper. So passionate that his passions blinded him to the happenings around him. Maybe he used them as an escape from the things around him. Self absorbed to occupy the mind from trouble. I built a tolerance to Rajas. Heat don’t bother me. Passions leads towards bad habits. Yet my ego stays strong blinding me to the true needs of others that I thought I was providing for.

I have no control. I don’t know myself let alone a true-self. Seeing this is a start. I guess I’m figuring out who I am. Reaching total loss of control means the only change from there is a bit of the opposite. Control of the gunas. They make up who we are. We view ourselves truthfully and don’t hide from what’s inside. Life is scary, I know, but it can continue and get better.   


Yamas: Satya

Last time on Yoga Blog: We learned Ashtanga means “eight limbs” and yoga is not just moving and twisting. The first of those eight limbs is yama and the first yama is ahimsa. Which means non-harming. Feel free to reread the ahimsa post or read it for the first time. You could also find a copy of “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” and start your journey to Yoga now. “Atha Yoganusasanam.”

On to the second yama.

Satya! Truthfulness. The truth, actual, genuine, honesty are all translations of satya. I love looking up the meanings to Sanskrit words. Many times one word can be used in so many contexts. Different but wholly related. I am by no means a learned person of Sanskrit so take what I’m saying with a grain of salt but satya can also have the meanings of reality, dogma, oath, promise. All words with a need for truth in their meanings. Most of them dealing with a certain truth you have to uphold in yourself. Be true to yourself, to your nature. This is about to get a bit personal, just a warning. I thought I was a truthful person. I learned not to tell lies but in doing so taught myself to not speak. Holding back on words and just making sounds that could be an agreement just to get out of having to engage in a conversation and hopefully making the person feel good about what they just said. Definitely not showing my true feelings. I fill myself with these feelings that I would never allow freedom. Giving so many people a false reading that I agree with them. Making people think I heard or understood them when all I wanted was to not engage and dwell in my dark ball of repression. Lying to them with silence and a head nod. Throwing out the occasional false “Yup.” All lies, mostly to myself. And where has it gotten me? To a point that I have forgotten myself. I speak no lies but don’t know my truths. Depression arose. Society became frightful. Imagination wavers. I have lost myself trying to please others. Then learn that trying to please everyone but myself does not work and if I am happy most likely the people I care about would be happy as well. But who am I? Somewhere beneath the stacks of untold truths I must be. No more lies. They bring ruin and collapse. Lies are weak and full of cracks. Building a life atop such an unstable surface is destined to crumble. The root system of satya can grow true life. One of unclouded meaning and happiness. Enough happiness to spread amongst the world.

Lying is not just telling work you’re sick when you’re not. Lying is a mask that can be used to hide behind and die behind alone. Not that satya gives us permission to go forth and ritacuel all we see with truth. It is to be a glowing pilar that can be visited when a friend needs some perspective. An employee that can be trusted with the keys. A different opinion that can take time to listen, understand where the other is coming from, and continue the conversation.

Reality is actual. An oath should keep you honest. A promise is only taken when you can keep it’s truths. Don’t lie and everything you say will be true.     

We need to be true to ourselves. Even if it means killing loved ones in war, says the Bhagavad Gita. It is a great section of a great tale. Eighteen chapters of satya.

You’ll need satya. Satya is what you need.

Speak truths when it is called for. Think truths to learn. Be your true-self or work on it and try to find it. It’s not always easy. But there are others around to help if you are willing to let some of your truth free. Be well, stay true, see you next time on Yoga blog and the yamas continue.


Next Time: Asteya


Yamas: Ahimsa

Ashtanga Yoga: one eighth asana(the positions we put the body in) and not necessarily series one through six. What? Clap, get up and dance Yoga is not just an Indian workout. It’s a special way to live. We’ll get to asana, don’t worry, it’s number three of this eight branched path. Ashtanga translates to “eight limbs” or “eight components.” Ashta or eight. Anga or limb. Got that? Nice, keep following now. If asana is the third what’s the first? What’s the second? Whoa, slowly slowly. Start with the first limb, Yama. Our moral duty to existence, Yama. Yama, a practice achievable by everyone. Status, creed, class, time, physical ability, place does not factor into one’s ability to accomplish the Yamas. Yes, Yama”s.” There are five of them according to Patanjali. Five restraints. Our ability to rein ourselves in. Control, going back to how nature wants us, good humans. Morals you could call them. Those things we all have and should not be blind to. Law built into existence to keep things from crumbling apart. Ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, aparigraha: the five Yamas. Start at the beginning. Smile, these are great.

Ahimsa!

Non-harming, don’t harm. The word ahimsa breaks down into “Himsa” which means harm; violence; kill, and “a” which stands for not. Hences not violence, not harm, not kill or non-violence. Still with me? Feel free to go back. It’s okay.

Ahimsa teaches not to harm others, animals, Earth, yourself. No harm through action and thought. Murder harms but this philosophy should be contemplated on deeper. Effort must be put forth on contemplation and understanding of what it means.

Non-harming? Don’t kill got that.

But I live in the cold wilds of the north and sometimes must hunt to have food.

Good, don’t let yourself starve if you can help it. Respect that which helps you survive. No violence but care. Are your actions truly justified? Think, don’t lie to yourself, Satya — we’ll get to that later. Yoga knows you must live and to live certain actions must be taken. Only through living can the cycle of suffering end. Live and learn. Live and learn. Next life different actions can be taken. Same goes with thought. Those cruel words in your head did they pop up from unjustified prejudices or does anger, rajastic and tamasic gunas, need control. Hatful thought burns away at the body just like drinking cola at every meal. A slow steady destruction that can be stopped. Always time to help yourself.

Help? Yeah, help. Helping is not harming. In fact it is the opposite. Ahimsa: to help, protect, keep safe. Yes, cause no harm and help those in need. The struggle of life is real but with help that weight becomes lighter. Everyone carries this burden. Not one single person but all existence has the weight of existing pressing down on them. All help distribute the weight evenly. No criticism for what might have happened my shoulder is here to bare some of the weight. Their shoulder is here. Its shoulder is here. Her shoulder is here. His shoulder is here. We are all here.

Ahimsa, keep us safe.


Next time: Satya   


Manju Jois: Day 5 Nonattachment’s For The Monks

Yes, yes great drive. Should have taken a shower before I went. Got to eat Manju’s lunch today, idli and cilantro chutney, and practice was great. Thinking of myself though...not happening in a good way.

As much as some people have tried to push onto me I am not a monk. I am not a buddha. I am not Jesus. I am just me and I struggle with that. All the talking about nonattachment and lose one’s ego affects my vision of myself. You want nonattachment well the easiest thing for me to forget about is me. What do I matter in the grand scheme. People suffer in this world and I’m able to drive to Florida for a yoga workshop. Fuck me. This gets enforced in me with a feeling leaked into the “yoga” world that the ego needs shattering. What if I never had one(I’m sure I do have one don’t get me wrong). What am I shattering with no ego?

I shatter any remaining awareness of my needs. My self crumbles along with my self-esteem, self-worth, confidence. Leaving me to think of others before myself. Which makes my want to put other’s needs in front of mine superficial. Probably just feeding their hungry ego. And everyone’s empty at the end.

I am not a monk. I may have made a good one but not in this life. I have been awarded with the opportunity to spare some devotion for myself. I bet monks even do things to stay happy. Am I? Fuck life right. Life is not easy.

I am not a buddha. I may have made a good one...I’m just kidding. I wouldn’t know the first place to start. I thought it would be kindness but as life goes on I learn that I don’t know the difference between “correct” kindness and facade kindness.

I am not Jesus. I may look similar to how the west depicts the maybe historical maybe not middle eastern figure but I don’t have the confidence to start revolution. You could nail be to a stake for pain does remind me I’m alive.

People loose so many powerful words in the western world. Loose these words without thinking of their effects. Words like forget yourself, be nonattachment, “puff out your kidneys,” or much worse phrases. Some of us take these to heart. A teacher said them they must have meaning behind them. I bring the words into my life. I dig myself into a nice deep hole. Dark to shield my vision. Dark, beginning to forget which way is up. Their is that bright star in the sky that passes over top and reveals the exit. Thankful I do yoga and wish I was some kind of ninja. I may be able to plant my hands and feet on the sides of these dirty walls and climb from this hole. Then plop an outhouse over it and shit in it while thinking of myself and how I can be happy. Through finding myself happiness I show others that it’s possible. Go back to being an example and not a self-prescribed servant. Easy to say.

I am Shiva but we’re all Shiva.

Manju Jois: Day 4 I Can’t Eat

Manju Jois: Day 4 I Can’t Eat

Day 3 ended with an eggplant dish and the same goes for Day 4. I love eggplant. Raw or under cooked it’s horrible. When some lovely person cooks it right this meaty vegetable becomes a divine dish of the gods. I’m not eating them at the moment. I have been plagued with hives for a few years now and finally have taken action in a serious way to see if it is food casing them. So I’m avoiding the foods recommended not to eat if one has a histamine intolerance. Eggplant’s right there. One of my favorite things to eat. Tomatoes are on the list. So much has tomato in it. Spinach, avocado, cashew, citrus. These are the things I eat though.

Shit.

I now know a small sliver off what someone with a real food allergy has to go though. I’m sorry. I know a sorry does help much but not being able to just shovel food in my mouth is trying. I can’t imagine what it must be to worry that something you eat might kill you. I enjoy eating. Even more these days because I eat so much more. Meaning variety.

Manju talked about eating and it was refreshing. No dogma behind it just to listen to what your body tells you. It might be hard for someone who grew up eating meat to force themselves to stop immediately when they start yoga.

Remind me to write a blog on what yoga is one day.

They don’t have to. They can continue eating how they feel they need to. It may change and Manju says when the body tells you that a change should happen then that is when a change can happen. Listen. Much like the way he teaches assisting. Be aware of the student be aware of what the asana is asking. Move the student in the direction the asana brings them. A state towards relax. As relaxed as one can be twisted up in some posture. The spine moves in a way that’s healthful. The posture should feel grounded. Pain free.

It’s been a good workshop. No, it’s been a comfortable workshop. Don’t know if it’s the people, the teachers, the space but the vibe is so relaxed I feel comfortable in kapotasana. Today I more or less grabbed my heels on my own. Shit the bed man. Shit the bed. It’s so chill that I have to describe it using the word “chill.” I don’t like using that word. Some how I built up a resistance to the words “cool” and “chill” during my high school years. That’s probably a story for my therapist and I. If nothing else I hope I can retain this and bring it into my own classes. The vibe I leak out into them is not always the best for learning and relaxing. That might just be me thinking that though. Over-thinking.

I want to have fun in my classes. I am scared though. Scared that if I loosen up I will lose something. I can’t think of what that something might be. I try to think of it real hard though so I can legitimize my thought. That’s not working so maybe try to be truer to yourself and feel freedom in your class. Sorry talking to myself there for a second.

Have a great day. I think writing these “blogs” a little shorter is better for everyone.

Manju Jois: Day 3 My Embarrassment Comes Off As Humble

I got a good night of sleep and decided to go into 3rd series after 2nd. The beginning of 3rd has many fancy leg behind the head postures. For that matter 2nd is fun to watch. For that matter its fun to watch anyone do asana. People manipulating their body into mudra. Trying to heal themselves. Trying to keep themselves healthy. Great stuff. And when someone does some mixed feat of strength and flexibility, wow.

I do get a little embarrassed when someone comes up to me and says, “Your practice. Inspiring. You’re so good. I could feel the energy from it.” I nervous chuckle and say thank you or make some excuse like I’ve just had time on my side. Not to say that I don’t appreciate the compliment but I wish I could own it a little better. Or not. Would that then come off as cocky and send a wrong message. I don’t know what I’m doing. So many people I meet seem to know what they’re doing. All I can do is jump around and throw a leg over my head from time to time. Then I don’t really talk to people and worry that I come off as an asshole or send of to much of a mysterious vibe. There’s not much mystery here.

Then the psychologist talks with me about how great it was to practice beside me. She tells me such nice things that I have to hold back tears. Then I feel bad that I didn’t notice her at all. I don’t notice much other than my practice when it goes well. I guess I feel a kind of energy in the room. At least I can tell if it is a calm, up, down, or serious feeling in the atmosphere. Perhaps I’m not as aware of practice as I think I am. I do know that I need to be less serious.

“Why so serious?”

I have no good answer for that. That’s a lie I do. So serious because I have found out that less people interact with you when your serious. I think I fear interaction a bit. Yet I crave it. So much good gains come from it. So much.

Less bird on the way home today. Hope your day was well. And your puppies learn and behave.

Manju Jois: Day 2 You My Bird Buddy

Stayed up way too late. I was tired. Thought I would go to sleep but then I’m wide awake. I decided to watch a show. Not a good thing before bed. Oh boy. Ah, whatever. I can sleep when I’m dead.

Beautiful morning in the glory that is South Florida in January. Coming back home...what a mental chore. I’m filled with memories and nostalgia. I wonder why I’m not here. And that feeling is quickly changed by people filling the streets. Pastel walls of struggling to move flesh. Blind to what happens around them. Blind to what happens to Florida. Why are these people driving giant pick-ups that aren’t for work. Why are you so unconscious to those around you. Why does your pale polo-shirt drive me mad. My own bias. My own bias. We’re all ignorant in our own special way. I should have eaten more yesterday.

Another day another practice. I brought myself through second today and it was smooth despite it being not a great breath day. Tomorrow will be different. Maybe worse maybe better. I’ll have to wait and see. I’m not quite sure I let second series work its magic on me completely. This opening up I resist. I’m strong, my leg wants to go behind my head most days, and I can work on the breath moving me from asana to asana. The deep emotional work of second becomes the trail. I’m supposed to ball up those feelings and pushed deep inside.

Maybe I’m over analyzing. Maybe I want problems so I try to find them. Maybe I’m not as relaxed I let on. Maybe I am.

New stuff! At the last breathing exercises of practice I am told I’m skipping some things. What? After baddha padmasana Yoga mudra Manju(his helper mostly) adds a few more seated breathing tasks. Interlace fingers, palms pushing away flat, and straight arms over head. Ten breath. Arms stay but fold. Relax hands. Ten breath. Sit up. Hands come to dhyana mudra. Ten breath. Continue as “normal.”

Interesting, I hope I can remember to ask what these new breathing task are all about. My default is to just listen and do without asking why. Is this a struggle for others? I see the benefit to both and I see the destruction that not asking why could bring. If I follow a bad person blindly there’s no benefit to this until I learn to see. When sight is never granted my blind faith will spread the teacher’s ill faith. What harm can a question bring? It takes time? I have time.

Practice was nice. I don’t think there has been a time I didn’t enjoy practice after I finished. “After” being the key word. Colon, space, close parenthesis.

Break time. Eat an apple and take myself for a shoeless stroll through the empty city with a full parking-lot. Where are all the people?

Today’s assisting lesson begins with dandasana and a nice massage and ends with janu sirsasana and no hands. Manju’s all about the person in the asana being relaxed as much as possible. And his assists do this. I would say that someone a teacher doesn’t know may feel odd or worse when the teacher trots over and rubs their trapezius. It does feel nice though and the teacher can simply ask the student how they feel about that. A teacher should ask the student if pushing, pulling, rubbing, hands-on is okay always. I know I don’t but I am getting better at it.

Neck relaxing and into Pashimattanasana.

A bit of a confidence buster today. The assist for all these sitting postures are more or less what I do in my own classes. I always have a worry that I don’t know what I’m doing. Or worse that I haven’t learned or retained any knowledge. There it is. Ground the student. Move in the direction of the asana. Don’t over do it. Not all asanas need physical assistance and props are fine. Plus the added reminder of the teacher should not be hurting themself by assisting. Got to keep that in mind.

I don’t remember if I was told to not assist physically in janu sirsasana B or if I came up with that on my own. Either way this is a great posture to not touch a student. The heel of the foot is already in a sensitive area and you could have been helping them on less sensitive forward folds before B. Same goes for C. The student has been folding for eight asanas prior. If their head is not down yet help them next class. Let the heel do its healing on its own. Let the student work on finding comfort on their own. A teacher will not always be around. Teachers come and go but practice stays. The more comfortable practice is the easier it is to want to do it.

Practice contains more than just asana. A student needs morals, pranayama, mediation. All together making up Yoga. Chant to bring words into your spirit. Mudra to connect to a higher self. Pranayama to face death. Asana to live. We all do Yoga. I may go about it different than you but we’re the same.

The drive home. Along the Indian River intracoastal and full of bird friends. The turkey vulture I saw yesterday soars in the same spot today. The ibis flock grew. The sandhill found a friend. Of course a pelican or two. The whole drive a solitary vulture would fly by from time to time. I like to think it was the same one just traveling down the road with me.

Manju Jois: Teaching Primary(1st) Series Day 1

Some of you may know that I’m in my hometown participating in two Yoga workshops. My hometown is the once beautiful Palm City, FL but I will not be getting to much into that. The workshops are two five day trainings on how to teach and assist. The first five days are focused on the Primary Series of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and second on Second Series. Makes sense so far. One Yoga Planet in Fort Pierce hosts the workshop. They have a second location in Vero but I will probably not be heading to that one. Margarida, the owner?, brings Manju Jois down to our little piece south Florida once a year for a few weeks of training. This year the first week was Mysore with Manju. I had to skip that. I can’t pull off three weeks away from home these days. The next to the the assist workshops.

With that quick preamble done, Day 1 of the workshop is complete and thought I would do a short recap.

It’s about a half hour drive to the studio and I wasn’t looking forward to it. Better said, the way I thought I had to drive to get there I was not looking forward to. A road full of traffic and traffic lights or the highway. I was wrong. Maybe the holiday of the great Dr. King had a little to do with it and also my mother enlightening me about another road to take but the drive was great. Only a short trip up US 1 then onto the back roads that bring me to the intercoastal waterway road, Indian River Drive. A slow speed limit but no lights and no traffic. Hoping that stands true tomorrow. We’ll see. I miss the water. I miss the saltwater. Growing up here I told myself and others that I hated it but now looking back it was a grand time. Special.

So with this great way to start a workshop, a pleasant drive with the temperature in the 60’s and tunes turned up loud, day one begins. The little, I’m sure “historical,” downtown is as sparse as an abandoned mining town. The free parking that won’t get you towed is in the multi-level cement garage just a block or so down from the studio. Easy walk through this empty village. And I’m not to early to find the studio still lock. The door opens with ease.

Tall ceiling, large colorful not my taste but some interesting paintings cover the walls, warm, and a super friendly greeter. Students wait on their mats while others arrive and pick out their spot before I can remember what I supposed to do when I come to a studio.

Sign my life away on the waiver. Sign in on the workshop attendance sheet. Spin in circles. Put my shit in a cubby. Spin in circles. Wonder if I should ask for a toilet or look around for one. I spot the sign. Shorts replace pants and I join the rest of the eager beavers on the mats. I take in the wall art. My eye lids shut and I sit quiet and rest. I have had a couple long nights before this day. Not as used to that as I used to be.

What!

Everyone’s standing. I might have fallen asleep. Opening mantra. Here we go. Call and response. Of course. Oh. One word at a time. That’s a bit confusing. I’ve only done that twice before.

“Om.”

Let’s workshop! Wait. Why are people Surya Namaskaring? Everyone is. Are we practicing first? Mysore before the workshop? I guess I’ll just practice till I’m told different. Maybe I should have read the workshop email better. I bring myself through first series. A wondrous experience. I was not expecting to practice this morning and planned on trying to get up early the next several days to practice before heading to the workshop. Another pleasant surprise. We’ll be practicing first thing before the workshop everyday. Starting the day with practice has become a joy. It releases me of burdens that I want to hold onto so that I suffer. Don’t ask me why I want that. The day seems clearer after practice, freer. Warm, close, and not to wet. I could probably wear the shorts I practiced in tomorrow. In fact I’m gonna. I’m not going to practice in them tomorrow but after practice for workshoping. They’re good

The workshop will focus on hands-on assists for primary series and today we go over the standing sequence. Padangusthasana till Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana. The foundational asanas(postures) of ashtanga. “What about Surya Namaskar?,” you ask. That’s yours. That’s your “prayer.” Time to bring one’s self to practice. No assistance necessary. Of course the teacher still teaches the movement, breath, and focus of the Sun Salutations but this time is for the practitioner to come into practice. Set their intention. Worship the Sun. No need to bother them with hands and feet manipulating them. Let them find a center for the days practice.

Hands can help when padangusthasana starts. The hand becomes a focus. Manju brings the warmth of the palm into the assist. Manju brings the three great goddesses the reside in the hand to the assist. Lakshmi, Saraswati, and Govinda directing the direction of the spine with a massage up the strong muscles of the back. First of course finding evenness and stability with a pull that might be a little strong for someone blind to ashtanga. I’ll come back to that later. Secure the student in their asana. Move their spine in the direction it wants to go. And keep the student wanting the assist with no threat of falling over and a massage towards the heart. There’s more. Hands push hips one way. Legs help the student’s balance. Simple movements remind the student to give up on holding shoulders so tight. An arm around the ribs helps twist.

In the end the student needs to feel secure. Needs to feel assisting not assaulting. It needs intention not tentative limp fingers that show no direction.

And I come back to it. But what about those that are super tight, scared, injured, or recovering. Simple, if the student is uncomfortable enough in the asana they need to come out of it something is wrong. “Pain is not gain. Pain is pain,” Manju said. The assists he showed are the end point of the help. The teacher needs to know how far a student can be assisted. Which is why hands-on assist can work in ashtanga. During a mysore class the teacher and student build a relationship. They learn about each other so no harmed comes.

I look forward to tomorrow and my nice waterside drive to practice.

The paradoxes of Ashtanga yoga.

Oh what a word! Paradox. Google defined it for me as: “a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true” or Yoga in general. Into my tenth year of practicing Ashtanga I have come across the paradoxes of Ashtanga yoga many times. The most recent one being severe pain which could have come from practice. A month or so go (writing this in March of 2017) I had to stop practice and break down because of agony in my right wrist. What! This was supposed to be healing me! What’s going on? It crushed me for the day. Tears and all. I have built a life based around physical activity that needs the support of the wrist near one hundred percent of the time. What was I to do? My practice ruined therefore life has collapsed. My only choice give up, wander into the wilderness, and wait for death. No, no, no. Now you’re just being dramatic. Of course life isn’t over.

I may never know if it was or was not my practice that caused the pain, but I do know that I noticed it during chaturanga and especially urdhva mukha svanasana (up-dog). But, this isn’t a post about wrist pain. It’s about the paradoxes of Ashtanga yoga or the aspects of yoga that seem to contradict themselves. This healing practice that makes bodies ache and joint scream. This practice of non-attachment that gives me withdrawals when I skip more than one day of asana a week. Building up my ego by keeping me slim, fit, and able to lift-up into handstand, but ego bad? Similar thoughts going through your head while you shouldn’t be thinking? Maybe they will be now. Such beauty in the opposites of Yoga. Shiva and Shakti. Yin and Yang. Everything and nothing. Okay not quite opposites, paradoxes.

Without Shiva we have no Shakti. Without everything there can not be nothing. Like all things one cannot be without the other. This pain that practice brought led to analyzation. It led to using the modifications I teach others. It led to a new more aware practice. It led to the conclusion, “You moron you know you felt funny wrist things before this and you did nothing but ignore them. And now look.” These paradoxes of yoga that appear are helpers. They are the questions to be asked and studied. What are you doing when the pain happens? What may be causing it? Why are you not changing it? This is your practice as it works for you. The practice is not an unbendable bar of outer space metal that we have no method for manipulating. Experiment, ask your teacher, read books and try what you read, modify, stop. Know that Yoga is more than movement. It tries to make us go deeper, to find blockages that need a solution or at least contemplation. Thus it gives paradoxes: absurd statements that want investigation or at least acknowledgment. There will be things that do not make sense. Bathe in the glory of human ignorance or question it. Your choice. Your practice. 

Looking for contradiction in a practice that preaches goodness is the slippery slope into philosophy. Which can easily be ignored, but can as easily be a quick path into deepening a practice.  Ashtanga — Yoga in general — is more than just exercises if you wish it to be or it’s a fine way to better one’s health and life.

This is just the beginning of my journey into the world of paradoxes of Ashtanga yoga and I hope to continue falling down this rabbit hole and have an adventure in whichever wonderland I may find myself. What are some of the paradoxes of Ashtanga yoga that you have found? Write them in the comment section below. One of my favorites is the ego-building of Ashtanga’s asana practice. Gotta keep that in check. Don’t forget to love yourself though. Be well and thank you for reading.

Ashtanga: Breath, move, live.