The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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Category — Yoga

Impediments

I studied Iyengar style yoga for a summer before one of my last soccer seasons with two local teachers who have been at it for decades. At the end of a session as we were folding forward, my instructor pointedly looked at me and yelled, “Lose the gut!” Naturally, it was my last class with him.

Yesterday, some ten years later, I understood that he was right (though, of course, wrong in his method). Sometimes there are impediments to practice that must be removed before one can practice, and the teacher must help the student remove them. It is irresponsible not to. Sometimes Minnesota nice just doesn’t work.

July 26, 2012   Comments Off on Impediments

Holy Shit…It’s So Liberating

In my entire lifetime, I have never once turned the other cheek. Because I was a sensitive, mousey boy, my parents took it upon themselves to toughen me up and they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. As a consequence, I don’t take shit from anyone.

But, oddly, I did today. What in hell is going on?

A neighbor walked toward my car as I was exiting my garage. In deference to his having the right-of-way, I waited for him. When he was a few yards from me, he glared with thinly disguished contempt and made no attempt to acknowledge me. In essence, he was saying, I’m cutting you dead. This didn’t surprise me. He’s part of the clique of people that run the neighborhood. I don’t comingle. My strategy has been to ignore them, though one does pay the price with unplanned chance encounters such as this one.

Without knowing what I was doing—was I channeling Gandhi? have I been doing too much yoga?—I raised my hands and put them together in the universal symbol of peace. My lips moved and I found myself repeating the word, “Namaste.”

This had no effect on him—he walked away—but it certainly did on me. I had spontaneously returned love for hatred. I had never once done this before in my life. Holy shit. It’s so liberating.

May 1, 2012   Comments Off on Holy Shit…It’s So Liberating

Grace

For two days I’ve been the only person in my yoga class. Maybe it’s the close attention I’ve gotten—not sure—but it was obvious both days that much of my resistance and physical pain were actually my ego’s attempts to protect itself. It wasn’t physical at all. In truth, most of our irrational fears are the ego’s defenses against being known for what it is—nothing, nada, mu. More than anything, yoga is a unique way of dissolving ego through physical practice. I told my instructor that it felt like the old Christian notion of redemption through grace. Quite amazing that it could be so simple. Bless the gods and my yoga instructors. Namaste.

March 15, 2012   1 Comment

This is what you shall do…

“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

–Walt Whitman

This is one of Sarah Jane’s favorite Whitman quotes. I think she read it at the end of yoga class for me. But who knows? Who knows a goddamned thing? Beautiful, isn’t it? Something to strive for. What is strength? I’m not sure any longer beyond holding an asana and breathing through it with calm steadiness. Is there really anything more to life than this?

November 21, 2011   Comments Off on This is what you shall do…

Meeting Resistance

My yoga instructor yesterday was a substitute. The regular teacher was at a funeral. His bike was in the room and my first impression was that he seemed a little too sure of himself. My opinion quickly changed, however, when he described how he came to practice yoga. It was after falling 35 feet, breaking his back, and struggling for six or seven years to rehabilitate himself.

He was handsome and the two older women in class beamed with the glow of being in the presence of an attractive man. His instruction was precise and perfect. Creating a base was the most important part of any pose, he said, because the asana was built upon it. He used all kinds of props and supports. He had studied Iyengar. Anything was useful if it helped one get nearer the ideal posture.

As he was helping me set up my mat and blankets as props for the shoulder stand, he said something that caught my attention. From his perspective, it was a casual comment, but from mine, it was a minor epiphany. He said, “We often think of props as fixed surfaces. The result is that they skew our bodies in unnatural ways because we resist them. The proper way to deal with resistance is to establish a relationship with it. It is there to help you achieve your goal.”

How right he was. I managed a perfect shoulder stand for the first time in my life.

August 30, 2011   Comments Off on Meeting Resistance

Neutrality versus Indifference

Before yoga this morning, my instructor and I spoke about attachment and how swiftly and easily it arises. Reacting emotionally to a word, a gesture, or a sensation is all it takes to form an attachment for life. She must have given our brief discussion some consideration, for during class she emphasized the idea of breathing in and out with long, regular breaths—no matter how difficult the asana—and staying neutral in our thoughts regardless of how we felt. It was difficult for me—I’m sometimes in a lot of pain because of my right hip—but I quickly grew fond of the idea. Previously, I had thought the way to deal with difficult persons and circumstances was to become indifferent to them, but during our exercises today, I realized that neutrality is preferable. Consciously not taking sides is much easier to achieve than attempting to deaden the emotions. It was a small moment of enlightenment. Deciding to be neutral leaves you with a choice. At that point, you can simply observe without making a judgment.

June 27, 2011   Comments Off on Neutrality versus Indifference

Pushing through Pain

The person on the mat in front of me today didn’t follow the instructor’s directions and half-heartedly performed those asanas he didn’t enjoy or already knew. For him yoga is a stretching activity, similar to loosening the limbs before running. I’ve noticed that off the mat, he goes from point to point without regard to anyone. One is supposed to get out of his way. This is all valid, of course. What he does or doesn’t do has nothing to do with me. But I wanted to tell him to listen with the full intensity of his being and push himself through pain until his mind controlled his body, not the other way around. Of course, I said nothing. It will have to be my secret—that pushing myself to the very end of endurance gives me balance and helps make me whole.

June 21, 2011   Comments Off on Pushing through Pain

Attachment

The idea of “attachment” is central to most Eastern religions. We are told to keep these to a minimum and eliminate those we’ve already formed, mainly through meditation. Of course, we form attachments every time we make emotional judgments about how things are—being cut off in traffic, an abnoxious neighbor, a sick and dying friend, or someone who openly disrespects us. We have thousands of these obsessive thoughts swirling around in our minds, and we spend most of our lives nurturing them by repeating them.

The solution? Reduce expectations to a minimum and refuse to make emotional judgments about anyone. This is not easy, of course, but it’s never going to happen unless you try.

June 15, 2011   Comments Off on Attachment

Flipping the Wrong Switch

When the perturbations of the psychic nature have all been stilled, then the consciousness, like a pure crystal, takes the colour of what it rests on, whether it be the perceiver, perceiving, or the thing perceived.

Patanjali’s 41st Yoga Sutra (above) implies that the distinction we normally make between the observer and the observed is an illusion. There is no duality, no real difference between our “I” and “it.” To me this sutra is like a Zen koan—a logical impossibility that may, in fact, be true. But without really experiencing it, who can say?

Interestingly, the idea is not as esoteric as it seems. If you observe your consciousness carefully, you will notice that you have experiences similar to this several times an hour. For example, when you are lost in contemplation of a slice of watermelon or are attacked by mosquitoes. For a few moments, when the bite truly stings, there is only the perception of pure sensation. Your “I” is lost.

Of course, Patanjali is saying something more radical than this—that once the mind is truly stilled, consciousness can “know” itself without reference to anything else.

Is this really something to be desired, though? Does everyone who achieves this state come through unscathed? What if you flipped the wrong switch? One moment staring at a piece of sidewalk, suddenly getting lost, and never coming back to normal reality. No more eating, politics, and sex. Unfortunately, even though you had totally tuned out, you’d still be inhabiting your body.

All I can say to you yoga practitioners and heavy meditators out there—better take out an insurance policy for private nursing care in case you wind up fixated on nothing. You know, getting someone to help you with such things as going to the loo.

I’m being facetious, of course, but not entirely. More than a few people have lost their minds trying to find God.

June 3, 2011   Comments Off on Flipping the Wrong Switch

Resistance

My body was not ready for yoga this morning—the resistance I felt was overpowering—but I went anyway. As fate would have it, the class consisted of just me and the instructor, so there was no way I could hide. After warming up, I wanted to run, but didn’t. The instructor and I talked about how I felt, and we decided to work through it together. When I was in pigeon pose, stretching my right hip, shaking and in a great deal of pain, I was reminded again that although most of us survive our parents’ neuroses, some of us do not. This simple insight helped me relax and the pain became bearable. Although I have adopted my parents’ confusing standards, I don’t let them run my life. With a few exceptions, I’ve taken the best and left the rest. To protect myself, I became the black sheep–the seemingly crazy one–but, in fact, behind the scenes, I have fought for the integrity of my personhood throughout my life. At that moment, I felt compassion for those who lacked the strength to be themselves and have become neurotic or worse, and my resistance faded and I was wholly myself again.

Am I too proud in this? Maybe, but I don’t think so. I know who and what I am.

May 18, 2011   Comments Off on Resistance