Archive for Yoga

Holidays and Travels

Greetings All

The Holidays are upon us.  Hoping you and yours are planning on much celebration.

We have been very busy here, just like many of you.  I was in SRSG, Rishikesh India for the month of November.

httpv://www.youtu.be/DaHoC3lNImA

What a great time teaching and learning from everyone.

 

Met some fantastic people from Delhi.

 

 

 

 

 

We had over 65 students from all over the world.

 

Now back in USA, California.

 

 

 

Wishing you all the best of the Holidays.  May it be filled with much love and laughter.

…and remember:  Many times bring the mind to itself–just watch your breath.

See you in the New Year–Shantih, Shantih, Shantih–peter

 

White Lama

White Lama: The life of Tantric Yogi Theos Bernard, Tibet’s Lost Emissary to the New World

A description from inside the book cover:

An amazing, often overlooked story of the man who brought Yoga and Tibetan culture to America. Theos Bernard’s colorful, enigmatic, and sometimes contradictory life captures an intersection of East and West that changed our world.

After years of forcibly stopping foreigners at the borders, the leaders of Tibet opened the doors to their kingdom in 1937 for Theos Bernard. He was the third American to set foot in Tibet and the first American ever initiated into Tantric practices by the highest lama in Tibet. When Bernard left that sacred land, he was sent home with fifty mule loads of priceless, essential Buddhist scriptures from government and monastery vaults. Bernard brought these writings to America, where he achieved celebrity as a spiritual master. Appearing four times on the cover of the largest-circulation magazine of the day, befriending some of the most famous figures of his era, including Charles Lindbergh, Lowell Thomas, Ganna Walska, and W. Y. Evans-Wentz, and working with legendary editor Maxwell Perkins, the charismatic and controversial “White Lama” introduced a new vision of life and spiritual path to American culture before mysteriously disappearing in the Himalayas in 1947.

Biography, travel and adventure, a history of Tibet’s opening to the West, and the story of Buddhism and Yoga’s arrival in America, White Lama: The Life of Tantric Yogi Theos Bernard, Tibet’s Lost Emissary to the West is the first work to tell his groundbreaking story in full and is a narrative that thrills from beginning to end.

Includes 15 photographs shot in Tibet in 1937 by Theos Bernard, part of a collection that has been described as the best photographic record of Tibet in existence.

This book (2011) by Douglas Veenhof is well researched.  He took 7 years during which he had access to archives in five states.  It contains 53 pages of notes on all sections.   It is probably the most complete and compelling rendition of Theos Bernard in print today.

Now why am I writing comments on this book.  I would like to try to stimulate some discussion on these topics.  I find them immensely interesting.  It gives us a historical context of some of the early pioneers who we refer to today in many traditions.  Anyone who is looking into the recent historical context of yoga and Tibetan  practices brought to the Western world would find this book of interest.  I recently finished reading the 480 pages.  The partner book on these topics I think is Yoga Body:  The Origins of Modern Posture Practice by Mark Singleton (2010).  This latter book also is worth a post latter.  They do point to the development of Hatha Yoga, especially in the 20th Century in the West.  Of course each book stands separately and they do not not cover the same material.  I feel they do show aspects that have not been popularly known.

This is not a typical book report.  I highly recommend reading the text.  It is a well researched and comprehensive treatise of the flowering of yoga and tantra in the USA in the early 20th century.  Many of the topics I cover are of interest to me as a yoga practitioner who is interested in the background of these early beginnings as they became known to the West.

Theos Bernard Early Years


Guess where he was born–Los Angeles, California.   Definitely a California boy–but the year was 1908.  Remember California had it’s great Earth quake in 1906.  His birth father, Glen traveled to India soon after his birth.  His mother ended up remarrying a Scottish mining engineer in 1913.  He and his family moved to Tombstone, a generation after the OK Corral gun fight of 1881.

Interesting Yogic/Vedantic Historical Events in the West Around the End of the 19th and Beginning of the 20th Centuries

Beside Theos Bernard’s many talents as an explorer, photo and video recorder, world traveler, author, etc–his greatest capacity was involved in the yogic and tantric communities of India and Tibet.  This life as an early Western explorer of the occult occurred at an interesting time for Yoga and Vedanta in the West.  These three great teachers of the late 19th and early 20th century mark a time when the East was trying to provide some guidance to West, especially in North America.

Now back to more of his early chronology.  During college, he contracted rheumatic fever which damaged his heart valves.  Sadly in those days they treated him with toxic Mercurochrome injections.  In spite of such treatment, he was rescued and did recover.  He was diagnosed with a weak heart since.

Strengthening his system with his ever evolving yogic practice (pranayama and the various internal washes or classic shat kriyas), restored his health.  Climbing through the Himalayas in Tibet proven possible, dealing with amazingly treacherous mountain passes during harsh weather conditions.

Here was someone who schooled himself with the help of his guru-birth father to quite a high level of health and well–being.  His resting pulse over years of training was around 42 bpm.  When he was climbing the high mountain passes to Khampa Jong (20,000 feet) on his Tibetan travels, his heart was elevated to only 57 bpm.  Again he was able to push himself to extremes to complete tasks that many would find very arduous even with today’s modern technology.

Glen Bernard’s Influence

His father, Glen Bernard, who turned out to be Theos’s birth father, was very steeped in Vedantic and Yogic sciences.  Glen’s half brother, Peter Perry Baker (aka: Pierre Arnold Bernard) introduced him to Hamati.  Hamati was a highly educated Syrian/Bengali Indian teacher.  Glen apprenticed for 12 years with him.  Traveling also to India to visit him and other teachers.  It is Glen who turns out to be most influential to Theos and was the Guru Theos mentioned in his subsequent writings.  (although Theos never correctly identified him in his own works, only this book which had access to these archives mentioned before, has clarified this mis-identification)

Tantra came to the West in the most public way through the figure of Pierre Arnold Bernard (Theos’s Uncle).  The following is of possible interest to those in the Himalayan Tradition.

Pierre Bernard, or Perry at the time, met this Bengali, Hamati, in the 1888.  As Douglas Veenhof (books author), incitefully shows this time to correspond to 5 years before Swami Vivekananda’s World Parliament address in Chicago. (and earlier, RW Emerson’s widow hosting a lecture of an Indian Hindu–really this Veenhof is quite amazing in his research and integration of materials to show such an amalgam  of richness of these times).  Pierre made his way to Seattle where with Hamati he founded the Tantrik Order of America.  They published the Vira Sadhana:  International Journal of the Tantrik Order.  It was a journal that compiled quotes from many thinkers of times past and present.  They also published an interview with Swami Rama Tirtha.  Swami Rama was said to have highly endorsed both the publication and Pierre’s understanding of Tantra.  (Hmmm!)

Pierre Bernard has been called many slanderous things as well as the “father of Tantra in America”.  His greatest impact came from his influence in New York.  He established the Clarkstown Country Club.  It was here that Theos Bernard met his first wife Viola Wertheim.

In this same year, Theos started his PhD in Hatha Yoga and Tantra at Columbia University.  Interestingly, his father, Glen was in India continuing his studies of yoga.  He even met W. Y. Evans-Wentz, author of the 1927 book: Tibetan Book of the Dead.  Glen spent many years in India trying to find the practical yoga that would lead beyond the ignorance and superstitions that his half brother seemed caught up in.  Having been initiated into several Tantric chakras in Calcutta, he went to Bihar working with several Tantric adepts including his mentor Atal Behari Ghosh.  Atal Behari Ghosh was the same individual that served as Sir John Woodroffe’s collaborator in his Tantric publications twenty years earlier.

Theos Bernard in Tibet

The sections on his travels to and from Lhasa is fascinating.  He was scrupulous in keeping a regular journal.  The author (D. Veenhof) was fortunate enough to have access to such amazing recorded accounts from his 1937 travels in Tibet.  Theos even taught himself the Tibetan language.  Later he wrote a book of Tibetan grammar.

Interesting Historical Events Around This Time

  • Thubten Gyatso, 13th Dalai Lama, died in December 1933-predicted the invasion of Tibet by the Chinese
  • Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama, born 1935, recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama at the age of 2-He is the current exiled Tibetan Leader so well known and articulate in today’s Buddhism

Theos never met the Dalai Lama.  Many other great Tibetan teachers and masters were introduced to him on his trip to and from Lhasa in 1937.  He had unusual access to these remote monasteries, unlike any other Westerner before him.  There must have been something that both he and these great teachers saw in each other.  He returned with a very large treasure of original texts, manuscripts (specially printed and checked for accuracy at the time for him by resident monk scholars), along with many artifacts of critical historical and scholarly importance.

Before his trip to Tibet he had made several trips throughout India.  He was seeking qualified masters who could help in his journey of destroying death and obtaining happiness and Brahman bliss.  There were some masters he met.  He left a bit disappointed though it seems.  Tibet was another story.  Much of the book covers these details so well.

He returned in 1947 with his (quasi-) third wife, Helen Graham Park, to India during the turbulent and dangerous time of the Partition of India .  He was probably killed in 1947 in the state of Himachal Pradesh.

Conclusion

Theos spent a good amount of time developing his practice of the Shat Kriyas and pranayama practices.  (see below in Other Readings #3)  These cleansing practices are an important step in balancing the internal organs and energy channels in preparation for raising of the Kundalini.   He wrote several books and a PhD dissertation (Columbia University 1943).  Hatha yoga, Vedantic philosophy and Tantra were his passions.  There is not enough information on his understanding of these disciplines in this book, White Lama.   Even the fruit of returning from Tibet with such great experiences and a wealth of information is left undisclosed.

In 1939, Theos established the American Institute of Yoga.  Well before anyone else in the country had this thought, Theos’s aim was to teach both the philosophies and practices of Vedanta, Hatha Yoga and Tibet Buddhism.  Sadly there were no others to carry on his work directly.  So much had been acquired and accumulated.  Now only the dusty archives and a few popular works have survived.

These times were extraordinary.  The figures of these times were no less so.  There are many other leading figures that have not been mentioned.  I am pleased to have had an opportunity to at least highlight one of the figures of these times.  But also of interest has been the surrounding figures that could lead to a lifetime of historical study and elucidation.  From the notes of Douglas Veenhof, there is an immense amount of unexplored archival materials.  Maybe in today’s eWorld we could look to being able to explore at sometime these great treasures.

As you come across other accessible materials of these times, please feel free to share them here.  Thank you.

Other Readings

  1. The Great Oom by Robert Love–author of a study of the life of Pierre A. Bernard, the Great Oom–quite an interesting P.T. Barnum type of tantra in America–yet his mansion  housed over 7000 volumes of Eastern studies.
  2. Barbarian Lands: Theos Bernard, Tibet, and the American Religious Life doctoral dissertation of Paul G. Hackett.
  3. eNotes on Theos Bernard Interesting discussions and even an outline of his daily practice from his book (Bernard, Theos C. (1941, reprinted 1952), Heaven Lies Within Us, London: Rider and Company,)
  4. Alan Robert’s lecture on You Tube on Tibetan Book of the Dead–Suggest to start with 2nd part, hyperlinked here

Relaxation of Effort

Proper Practice

In all training we are guided by certain principles.  The Yoga Community often places proper emphasis on proper practice.  One of the keys to skillfully practice is to relax ones effort.  Today we are often mindless doing and exercising.  Often the accumulated tensions of the day and life are held during our practices.  Therefore it would seem proper to point out this dis-stressful style.  Lets look at when you would emphasize this “relaxation of effort” in your practice.  Your practice could be Yoga asanas, Meditation or any movement endeavor/exercise or performance.

Enjoy It

When we start practicing an asana (again it could be a musical instrument or learning to run hurdles), we start doing something.  Often in the context of yoga asana, people are taught to do a form and then  learn to relax into it and enjoy it.  That sounds just fine.  In practice for most of us, it obviates the basics that need to be established primarily.

Sometimes a student is working at performing a particular asana (again think exercise or your choice or other skill).  If they have difficulty with it, they may stop working on it.  They no longer feel like they are enjoying it.  It just isn’t fun anymore.  This Yoga stuff isn’t really right for me.  I try something else.

Trying to perform something and then being unable to do it can be frustrating.  If the emphasis at the beginning is to enjoy it and relax and one doesn’t, then do you give up?  The whole act of practicing is not to perform something perfectly, nor to necessarily find it enjoyable and be so relaxed at the beginning.  (If you are a high level person that can hold a perspective truly of joy in the mind, then this article is not for you).

Practicing is about developing ways of sensing and doing that were not available at the beginning.  It is a journey filled with lots of work.  Perfecting this work/practice will give enjoyment and you will develop over time this “relaxation of effort”.

Hard work

Notice that a gymnast that is able to effortless perform a routine on the rings or balance bar does not start with trying to relax their effort as the primary practice.  It is only after much sweat, extreme focus/sacrifice and over a long time that they can look so beautiful and effortless.

Yoga Sutras

This classic text by Patanjali has 4 chapters/padas.  The second pada, 47th sutra starts out talking on how the posture is made perfect.  The first part in sutra 47 states that it is through loosening the effort or relaxing the effort, that then the posture/asana becomes perfected in it’s steadiness  and easefulness.

Note that the sutra before, that is sutra 46 states that a posture is that which is steady and easeful/comfortable.  Again this steady and comfortable is not what you do.  It is what happens as you WORK in asana.  Often people are teaching to become something at the beginning that we are not at the moment.  Once again, practice is needed which will provide these qualities as almost side effects of proper practice.

Now in looking at the first part of the definition of asana (in sutra 46), steadiness in Sanskrit is called sthira.  One of the first places in the Yoga Sutras that speak about sthira is in the first pada, sutra 13.  Loosely restating the Sanskrit (via Swami Veda Bharati)–…this effort towards sthiti/steadiness is called practice.

The next sutra in the first pada, sutra 14, then pretty much lists the qualities for ones practice to become solid.  (The beauty and depth of the Yoga Sutras are not being communicated here–just an introduction to some guiding principles and how they can guide this relaxation of effort in our practice).

Firm practice when:

  • Practice is done for a long time
  • Practice is done without an interruption (think long term here)
  • Practice that is done right and proper (details are 4 and beautiful, but will not be discussed here)
  • Practice is done fully, completely (not haphazard or partial)

Relaxation of Effort

So one can be guided by such a profound text like the Yoga Sutras.  In this case, one is practicing not to perform something perfectly.  One is practicing to create a steadiness and stability of their asana (again think dance performance, faster sprinter, etc).  This control of that which is not under control, is achieved through practice (only in part, see YS 1.12).

This effort to becoming steady and stable is our practice.  This steadiness is not rigidly still.  This steadiness is the absolute control of the mind and sensory motor system.  It is that which provides  the direction to correct practice.  This practice then takes time–often long hours of practice, done in the way outlined above.  It is not something that just happens without these focuses.

Then as our practice develops in these ways of becoming stable and easeful, we automatically find that there is a loosening of our effort.  Relaxation of effort is not prescribed first as a primary methodology here.  Of course practically you work and relax and repeat.  Just do not underestimate the primacy of working as outlined in the first and second padas of the Yoga Sutras.

Continuing Practice

Steady practicing leads to relaxation of effort.  It begins to flow.  (Practicing means you have a goal.  This goal is that which you focus your mind, body and effort on.)

Relaxing is always easier after working fully, completely.  There is a rhythm to relaxing.  It alternates with hard and skillful work.  Later it becomes not hard, but no less work.  One begins only later to appreciate the lessening of struggle of working FULLY.  One then moves into the  joy of “hard work.”  It is no longer an effort.  One starts noticing that they are just more relaxed.  This richness of practicing is worth the work.

Again if there is anyway I can be of service, please feel free to contact me here.

Remembering the Basics

The Basics of Practice

“I stand not on the shoulders of those before.  My steady stance comes from returning to the that same place those who have stood before.  Over time the work of this continuing practice exposes an ease and relaxation of effort that before was not available.  A bringing together of all postures and directions into an experience of holding only one which is all.  Then these differences of where one stands is no longer an effort of finding the right place or thing–it turns into a continuous flow of this stream of consciousness which is this form and love of ones life.”

This quote comes from the thoughts and experiences of working ones practice.  It follows the references made in the first and second pada of the Yoga Sutras.  These teachings come of course from the practices of those before.  It is only because of this connection that has been afforded to me in this Himalayan Tradition that these thoughts and experiences arise.  It is these teachings that are the teachers.  It is an expression of the work and love that is yoga.

Hari Om

Centering Ones Self

Centering-Centrate-Centralize

In posture and activity, stabilizing and or moving from and into a center point can be great feedback.  You start noticing what is your attitude of your body, breath/prana, and your mind.  Where do you stand or sit from?  Where do you move from and into in your life?  What are the effects of the postures we take–both physically and mentally?  How could we organize our postures of our body, breath/energy and our mind?

It is this latter question we wish to speak of at this time.  The other ones are of great interest also and we will allude to them as well.

Coming to this center means finding a balance point within these three systems of the:

  • Body System
  • Breath or Pranic or Energy System
  • Mind System

Body System

Let’s look at posture.  Sitting posture is one place to start.  Sitting for meditation is a great place to start.  To sit well can be a lifetime endeavor.  As you will see or know, all these systems (body, breath and mind) relate closely to each other.  So only for convenience are we separating them out here.

Sit with the head neck and trunk straight.  This is a popular guideline in meditation.  On this site there is an outline (here) for how to arrange the body to sit.  We will not go through that detail but add some other points and emphasize some previous points.

Center All Spinal Junctions

  1. Where the head meets the top of the neck (O-A joint)
  2. Where the bottom of the neck meets the upper back (Cervico-thoracic joint)
  3. Where the bottom of the rib spine meets the top of the low back spine (thoraco-lumbar joint)
  4. Where the bottom of the low back spine meets the sacrum or pelvis (lumbo-sacral joint)

Let’s pick one of the above areas to talk about a bit more.  The thoraco-lumbar joint on many people who try to sit erect or even stand erect is often not placed in the center of its excursion/range. or of it’s tone.  Often I see many people place this area in to much extension.  That means we are leaning backwards too much from this area.  Leaning backwards is part of not leaning forwards.  It is just that this T/L junction placed into too much backward or extension movement.

To understand or appreciate this over extension of the T/L junction we need to see this over effort as a compensation.  It is usually in part taking place in the adjacent areas above and or below.  That means the rib spine or Thoracic spine is too forward or flexed.  The same can be true of the waist spine or lumbar spine (it can be too forward or flexed).

The effort at straightening up in sitting  in this example is just taking some common postural dysfunctions in order to elucidate the issue of centrating the junctional areas of the spine.

This over extended T/L junction causes tension and impedes normal tonic flow of information both grossly and subtly.  This means it is crimping this area like you would crimp a garden hose–it interrupts the flow along the spine.  (whether we talk about a facilitated/inhibited vertebral segment or talk about impeding pranic flow–in principal they are coming from the same problem–postural imbalance of not centering properly)

How to center at the T/L junction

Easiest way to come to center is to first explore the two ends.  So sitting like the above is moving the T/L too far forward–flexing too much and relaxing or over stretching the posterior elements, tsk, tsk.  You are trying to arrive at something in between after you literally flex and extend this area.  You can see that extending at the T/L junction allows one to nicely lift the chest.  If the thoracic spine is stiff and bent a bit forward in flexion, then lifting the chest at this area is a compensation for a problem above. (a dysfunctional compensation for many)

So as you explore moving in flexion and extension at the T/L, make the movement excursion smaller and smaller.  Find this in-between place.  Check the lower ribs that meet the belly to see that they are not lifting nor depressing.  The erecting of the trunk comes from the anterior rotation of the pelvis and less activity of the  lumbar lordosis than many perform.  The centering of the T/L junction is supported by activation of the belly.  The front lower ribs and the front of the pelvis maintain the upper trunk from leaning backward at this junction.

The belly is not rock hard.  Proper diaphragmatic breathing continues and is a check that the belly tone is just right.  If you are breathing only in the belly like an infant, then you are not breathing efficiently.  (Belly breathing is a good first start vs chest breathing.  It is only a starting point, not an end point.  Get instruction if needed.)  Breathing now should be felt more three dimensional.  The belly in proper tone that helps centrate the T/L junction, allows the breath on inhalation to expand laterally and slightly posteriorly.

This centrating or centering the T/L junction often places people with a forward head posture in an exaggeration of their postural dysfunction/problem.  Also many people with a forward head over extend the T/L junction as their compensation.  Then when they try to correct the forward head they over lengthen their O-A junction, by incorrectly doing the turtle movement or head retraction to stand tall.  (isolated cueing without respecting the pattern of compensations is a recipe for failure and adding tensions in order to be correct, which in this case is incorrect.)

Weight of the body is placed through or slightly anterior of the hip joint axis

Most people sit straight with the too much activity of their muscles along the spine, the paraspinals.  First let the weight go through the pelvis with a properly rotated pelvis (slightly forward) and ones normal lumbar lordosis (similar to in standing).  Allow the hip joint to be flexed while the lumbars are in their normal lordosis.  The sacrum is also anteriorly nutated.  (meaning that the lower lumbar spinal segments are supported in extension because the base of the sacrum, the top, is slightly forward.)   This hip position will automatically activate the hip extensors, slightly.   Also the hip flexors are involved in stabilizing the spine.  There is a symphony of balancing activities going on here.   Some of which we have a better idea than of others.  (probably there is more to say and these things said will be revised over time.)  Here the hip extensors are acting eccentrically in a tonic fashion.  (meaning that you are not extending the hip per se but you are using these muscles to control flexion–eccentrics are lengthening contractions, like when you do a push up and lower your body your elbow extensors are controlling the elbow flexion activity vs extending the elbow at that time.)

Breath, Energy or Pranic System

In Yoga the Pranic System is more familiar.  It is often misunderstood.  The breath is on a continuum.  There is gross breath that everyone knows.  Then there is subtle breath.  We now get into “weird” territory for many.  One thing to think about is if you have a dead body and try to just push air into it there is no effect for life.  It does move the chest up and down, but that seems to be it.  There is a life that is carried by the breath, that yoga speaks to as the prana.  Other systems talk about the chi.  What ever you call it the Yogis have spent a long time (thousands of years) in refining and teaching it.

One starts with the breath and establishing diaphragmatic breathing.  There will be a separate post on this later.

There are junctions in the pranic system, just like there are junctions in the physical system.  (imagine that)  These junctions are described with the terms of chakras and marma points.  (as well as other designations)   Just think of them as meeting places of energies of a more subtle nature.  (meaning of subtle here is just a descriptor of less easily noticed, that’s all)

Bandhas and Mudras

In yoga, one way we learn more about the pranic system is through practices of the Bandhas and Mudras.  They are simply a way of channeling these energies.  They have strong effects on the neurological system.  A common Bandha is Moola Bandha.  At the gross level it is tensing of the anal and pelvic sphincters.  It is interesting to note that more and more people are utilizing the pelvic floor activity in functional movement training and diagnostics.  It is a area that is included in describing musculoskeletal coordination in ontogenesis of children or child development.

This means that proper stabilization of various movement patterns have this activity of the pelvic floor being recognized now in mainstream function.  Well the yogis have refined it to a great detail.  I don’t say I understand it completely in that way.  It is just an experience which I wish to share.

When sitting for meditation we will activate this Moola Bandha.  Also the Khechari Mudra (tongue lock) is utilized.   Another Bandha that is helpful is activation of Uddiyana Bandha (stomach lock).  These bindings/redirecting of energies will not be technically taught here.  There are some erroneous claims and methods of applying them.  I only wish to mention another way of working with them once you have some basic experience with them.

Method of working with Bandhas and Mudras

In order to make ones posture steady and stable–and absolutely still these methods will compliment your postural work of coming to center more deeply.  You will be using these Mudras and Bandhas to align your centers and use these energy centers to align and centralize yourself.

  1. Activate the centers with the traditional practices of learning the above mentioned Mudras and Bandhas
  2. Next subtle activate these same Bandhas and Mudras.  This means that in the first step you grossly contracted the muscles and felt and saw the effects.  This second step is were there is only a slight activation that would be barely noticed.  You practice at this level until you feel it easily.
  3. Next you make it more subtle.  There is no perceived body activation now, there is only the sensation of the area within the mind.  It is as if the mind’s awareness becomes activated in that area, which actually is felt as calmness and great stability there.
  4. Next you will find that these Bandhas and Mudras will seemingly spontaneously activate.   You will experience a deep stillness and sharper focus inward.  The outside focus of sensations and thoughts, etc just subsides.

Mind System

Bring the mind to it’s center.  Easier said than done.  To stabilize the mind and bring it towards it’s center we withdraw it from the outside and bring it inside.

  1. First get your minds attention
  2. Second withdraw the mind from the outside sensory input–we do this by quieting the body through relaxing it.
  3. Use the Breath as described above
  4. Increase ones breath awareness with further refinements
  5. Increase the minds focus with sound like a mantra as replacement for the thoughts that just percolate into our awareness
  6. Then slowly shift to observing even the mind as it watches this breath and sound and thoughts that arise
  7. Slowly expand your capacity to remain in this place of observing the mind’s focus
  8. Slowly as you further deepen this state of observing, you will at times loose the focus of the mind
  9. You will enter into a deeper stillness and silence
  10. This stillness can be expanded all on it’s own
  11. At some point there is just nothing
  12. Not sure what continues as one holds or is held in this later step

I have an inkling that there are connections between many of these levels.  These connections are not linear or incrementally progressive.  You can fall in and out of them in both directions.  That is why slowly training the mind in an incremental way is so important.  Otherwise it’s like a chutes and ladder game then–it’s good sometimes and then no good other times.  This change is a part of the journey.  Is it always?

As they say come to that center and find out.  Also enjoy the comings and goings.  Life certainly can be such a drama.  We can over do it and under do it.  This center can create stability and life which is lived as we are.  Lived both from the inside and outside.  Such fun stuff this life stuff.

OK, now let’s go practice.

Romantic Yoga Practice

Issue

Here is the main issue:

Do we talk or think at one level and practice at another?

Many of us start this journey of yoga from different backgrounds.  Those of us who stay are often enamored in it’s tradition and practices.  That is a good thing.  Then in practicing year after year (yes yoga does take time, darn), sometimes we notice increased flexibility and a more calm mind, but…

This “but” is that after time we seem to still remain the same person under stresses that we were before.  How many of us have reached enlightenment.  OK–so we are benefiting some.   This journey in yoga of coming to the self is not unlike climbing the highest peak of the Himalayas.  Think of the preparation training needed to reach the top.   Take any great endeavor.  Look at the amount of training a Gold Medal Olympic athlete puts in everyday.  Look at how we view our training.  Are we more into romanticizing  where we are going vs doing the work to get where we want to go.  (and don’t start with saying we are already there–that is philosophically true but practically an overly romantic and erroneous viewpoint-in my opinionated opinion)

What is our practice really like?  Do we have a program design from week to week and month to month?  Do we just start practicing and not pay attention to how we will progress from one plateau to the next?  Do we train a lot of meditation and leave the body not attended–or vice a versa.  Are we always working with gross mind and gross breath?  Do we use our imagination in thinking about training but lack incremental and progressive training schedules to assist in taking us towards our goal?   Are we more romantically imagining that we will reach such great heights of understanding and being by not doing simply a “ton” of very rigorous practice?

Lots of questions are put forward here.  No point in answering them all here.

Let’s look at what we need to do in our practices.  It is not any different than any great performer or athlete must do in their training.  Find a coach/teacher and then implement good program design and practice a lot in a skillful manner.

Practice

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali has in the 1st Pada, three sutras about practice (Sanskrit: Abhyasa).   Now there are many great teachings that have been given on this subject.  I only want to speak about one aspect of our practice.  The third sutra (YS 1.14) on abhyasa/practice states:

That practice, however, becomes firm of ground only when

  • Done for a long time
  • Done without interruption
  • Done right
  • Done completely, fully and regularly

Now what does this mean to someone who is practicing and looking for clarification of this yogic path to climb this steep mountain.  (Of course this mountain is really the stuff of ourselves that is in our way.  We in yoga spend most of our time cleaning up to allow what is already there to be seen/heard/felt/lived, etc)

Goals

Another definition of practice has to do with the etymology of the Sanskrit word, Abhyasa.   We won’t break it down and teach that part today.  We will use the meaning (slightly altered) from Swami Veda.  Abhyasa is to repeatedly sit again and again facing towards this goal (of the true self) that is evidently right there in front of our noses.  (Also we could launch on the reference of the tip of the nose, is not really the tip but is more related to the center of waking consciousness, up to and including the absolute center of consciousness, etc–but again, not this lesson).

So we have to have goals.  In training we want to define a proper goal.  For example:

  1. Long term goal:  Samadhi and liberation
  2. Short term goal:
    1. Diaphragmatic breathing 1:1
    2. Diaphragmatic breathing 2:1

Journal or Training Record

It is absolutely imperative to write down and record on a regular daily/weekly basis your actual practice.  After you have your goal, you then design a practice routine that will be the road map which will take you naturally to your goal.  You know it doesn’t do this by itself.  It is a great tool to outline what you think you need first.  Then as you do the work as described in the Yoga Sutras (in this case YS 1.14), you can get feedback from your journal on whether it is taking you towards your goal.  Revise it as needed.  You can see if you are walking the talk.  Are you just philosophizing and imagining or once again are you closer to your goal?  Does your practice give the fruit of your labor?  Can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear–they say.  Planting dandelion seeds and expecting roses just doesn’t give you the grace of the rose.   Come on we know this stuff–what is holding us back from reaching what it is that we truly are?

Get perspiration going because inspiration is over-rated.

Outline of progressively training diaphragmatic breathing

First Month

Breathing Classes

  1. Diaphragmatic Breath vs Chest Breath
  2. Navel centered
  3. Belly breathing
  4. Anatomy and Physiology of Breathing
  5. Qualities of the breath
  6. Only breath observation 1st month
  7. Use of Makarasana and Shavasana
  8. Nadi Shodhanam
  9. Digestive Breathing

Training Record

  1. Daily log Meditation Practice
  2. 2 min med
  3. Duration  of dharana in am meditation
  4. Daily log of Pranayama Practices
  5. Makarasana and Shavasana or at least the former
  6. Nadi Shodhanam rounds
  7. Observation comments of qualities of diaphragmatic breathing
  8. Silence day
  9. How long one lasted

Second Month

Breathing Classes

  1. See above and review a lot
  2. Review makarasana and Shavasana practice—support and encourage daily practice even if for short time—check observation of breathing qualities
  3. Deepen qualities of breath with taking one quality and practice and log training
  4. Work with sandbag breathing
  5. Work with paced breathing
  6. 1:1 breathing introduction
  7. Nadi Shodhanam
    1. Expand to include 2d method if ready or refine current level
    2. Progress and Practice up to 6 rounds

Training Record

  1. Daily log Meditation Practice
  2. 2 min med
  3. Duration  of dharana in am meditation
  4. Brief comments on 6 negative emotions that most interfere
  5. Daily log of Pranayama Practices
    1. NS rounds and time taken to complete 3-6 rounds
    2. Observation comments of qualities of diaphragmatic breathing
    3. Record breathing rate/min before and after one of your practices like NS or morning flow class for one week
  6. Jala neti frequency
  7. Silence day and response
  8. Compare this month’s log with last months
  9. Graph one aspect (to compare last month and this month or just for this month)
  10. Graph breathing rate
  11. Graph frequencies of NS or 2 min med

Conclusion

OK, you get the idea.  The above is just a possible outline (in part) of how to utilize these ideas.  I know some of you are familiar with this material.  It is what we used in part in the training at the Gurukulam in SRSG in Rishikesh, India.  This type of training can be done by anyone.  Modify it as needed.  The main idea is to have a goal, a training program, keep a log, use it for feedback and guidance, work for long time, without any significant interruption, work smart and very hard, be fully involved in giving this practice the value it deserves for the goal that you wish to achieve.

Again if there is any way I can help you.  Feel free to comment and/or email to me.  Also consider scheduling an appointment if you are this Northern California area.  Contact me here.

Best of luck in your training.

Practice and Training

Practice and Training

Climbing to our goals is a short definition of practice.  Training implies there is something we are training for, ie a goal.  In Yoga, they use the Sanskrit word Abhyasa.  There are many translations of it.  The grammatical reduction of the term we will use here.  Abhi is to face towards something (a goal).  As or as-a here is to sit, apply oneself, to sit here in the body, in the mind, etc.  So we are practicing only when we are sitting (not necessarily physically) or focusing our selves, our bodies, our breath, our minds, our attention towards that which is the object of our goal, our focus, that which we are doing or sensing.

As soon as our focus comes away from the point at which we were holding it, then no longer are we practicing!

10,000 hours of practice = Mastery

You know I’ve been practicing yoga (fill in your practice here) for ten years.  Well whoever said that may not have closely examined what they were doing.  You know, I sit for meditation for one hour.  During that practice, I am not meditating for one hour.  My mind has slipped from it’s focus and is no longer facing towards that point of concentration.  So when do we practice.  Really our practices could be strengthened by strengthening our capacity to focus the mind.  This means being able to concentrate.

This practice could be as simple as our workouts physically.  If we wander around the weight room or track, our practice is diminished.  If the activities that we are doing get interrupted by a constantly changing focus, we lose valuable time and effectiveness of our work.

The grosser our practice is the easier it is to maintain focus.  The more subtle the practice is, especially if only using the mind, the more difficult is it for many.  This is not always true for everyone.  Some find unfamiliar activities to be difficult to keep a focus, whether they are mental or physical.

Romantic Practices

Choose any goal and look at your practice.  Look at the above definition of practicing.  It is not easy to train in such a way.  It takes effort and perspiration to keep oneself doing the mundane, day in and day routine of practicing.  (Remember, mindlessly doing is not training–it’s just goofing off–which is certainly easier, I know this well)

Also look if we are practicing when in reality we need to be doing our real tasks in life first.  We all have duties and responsibilities.  Well maybe not everyone.  But look to see whether we are using our practices to avoid our living of life.  Are we following a workout because some imaginary polishing of our ego or beliefs.  Do spend an inordinate amount of time in the gym because we are working on our physical health.  (Maybe we spend a lot of time not in the gym–not talking about this problem here).

Often people go through stages in training.  (This includes this author)  At the beginning, we end up reaching for some lofty goal.  Our minds are focused not on our goal but on what we create in our imagination as this wonderful thing.  Soon withing weeks, months (and possible years), our enamored infatuation with our thoughts and feelings begins to dwindle.  We no longer are able to maintain this pin point focus.  Our attention wanders and we often loose interest.  We then stop the practice and say that it (IT) doesn’t really work.  It never really provided that feeling I first had.  I’m changing my mind.  It just doesn’t work.

EGADS

Sorry for shouting.  This pattern is historically memorable of the past.  Maybe some of you have not noticed this lack of skillful practice.  But it is is worth shouting about just to clear out the ole pipes (pipe dreams).

Now Yoga has a pretty nifty take on this concept of training.  Not only does it focus on defining practice, but it talks about the attributes that will make ones practice bear the fruit of ones effort.

All great performers, athletes, workers and craftsmen have followed that same sage advice and training protocol:

  • Practice for a long time
  • Practice without interruption
  • Practice in the right way
  • Practice thoroughly and completely

Then no longer will you be disturbed by all these other distractions.  Your mind, breath and actions will all lead you towards that which you have focused your mind onto.  Your practice will then take you directly to your goal.

Do It

OK, now just go do it.  Easy to say and as we all know–not so easy to do.  Practice-Practice-Practice.