Monthly Archives: March 2016

A short history of Virabhadra

There is a somewhat large movement in the modern Yoga community that refutes the claim that asanas are millennium old postures, but rather made up in the last 100 years from Indian gymnastics schools. The movement often refers to yoga that comes from the Krishnamacharya lineage as “modern postural yoga.”

I for one wasn’t around a few millennium ago, and if I were, I could not recall my incarnation at the time. So now I am stuck in this life trying to ponder these questions. However, some asanas give certain clues to how “old” they are. It seems as though if a name of an asana is named after a sage, or a diety, it tends to be much older than poses like “wild thing.”

One of my odd hobbies to to read about different Hindu temples throughout the world on the internet. I suppose it is the next best thing to doing it traditionally by foot. I came across a temple dedicated to Veerabhadra Swamy, or a henchman of Shiva. This is the same figure for whom the Virabhadrasana (Warrior) poses are named after. Much like depictions of Kali, he is a terrifying figure with a necklace of severed heads from his conquests. TemplePurohit, an informational website about Hindu temples, describes him as an incarnation of Shiva, having a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet; wielding a thousand clubs; and wearing a tiger’s skin.

Veerabhadra-Swamy-The-Manifestation-of-Lord-Shivas-Wrath

There are scores of temples that are dedicated to, or depict Veerabhadra, including Lepakshi temple in Andhra Pradesh that dates back to the 1300s. Slightly older that 100 years as MPY theorists would have you thinking. And you have to consider that these were built to worship Veerabhadra, who as a concept would be thousands of years older.

Kalyan_Mantap_Lepakshi

Before jumping to conclusions that Veerabhadra was a wrathful being, we have to explore the symbolism of this figure. The enemy he is fighting isn’t some innocent victim, it represents the prideful ego which creates maya, or illusion of an inflates self that causes endless suffering in our lives. By lopping off the head of the ego, this is not an act that violates ahimsa (non-harming) in the same way that killing cancer cells is not a violent act as it saves the body from a much worse fate. And like Shiva, who is depicted as the “destroyer,” Veerabhadra goes along the same line of thought of the impermanence and eventual destruction of all things.

Just as the figure of Veerabhadra is fierce, the standing postures Virabhadrasana I, II, and III are fierce as well. Of the standing poses they often require the most energy. Holding any of these three poses for more that 30 seconds is quite a feat. Any longer than that and your ego might just get lopped off too!

VB 123

 

The politics of “namaste”

Now that yoga is becoming more mainstream, it is finding itself in the debate to whether it is an offshoot of Hinduism, or simply another form of exercise. Yoga has now found itself to the far reaches of Georgia USA, where parents are up in arms about the non-exercise portions of the practice. Bullard Elementary School in Cobb County, Georgia has banned the word “namaste” from being used in yoga lessons at the school stemming from complaints from parents.

Even within the Yoga community, the word “namaste” has been challenged, with opponents saying it is some form of cultural misappropriation for non Hindus to use the word. Others in the yoga community don’t use it simply because they have felt it has become cliché.

To give simple definition, this word means “I bow to you.” More elaborate new agey definitions include “the God within me bows to the God within you.” However, I understand that many mainstream Indian Hindu residents use “namaste” or “namaskar” as another way of simply saying “hello.”

Very much like the word “aloha” in Hawai’i where I live, this word has different meanings for different contexts (hello, goodbye, and love). But aloha, like namaste has some element of reverence beyond merely “hi” and “bye.”

I always end my classes with the phrase “Thank you very much for doing Yoga. Peace within. Namaste.” That is in reverence to my very first Yoga teacher Daws, who used that phrase at the end of his classes. For me, it is the closest thing to diksha I have received. I worked intensely with Daws for many years prior to coming to the Iyengar tradition, so that is what I take from his teachings into my classes.

The short of it is, people should not be up in arms about a word that conveys exhaled greeting for fear that it may turn their sons or daughters to some mysterious foreign faith, or whether it is misused out of cultural context, or because it is overused.

Last time I checked, I have not converted anyone to Hinduism from my teachings, people in the West still eat Chapati-s and Dahl and are not completely disgracing the Indian subcontinent, and people are still saying hello, goodbye, and I love you even though everyone has been saying it for thousands of years.

It is time for naysayers to lose their tremendous sense of self importance and ignorance, and clearly see objects for what they truly are. Namaste!

For those who have attained Yogic powers, now is the time to use them

III.53 kṣaṇa-tat-kramayoḥ saṁyamād viveka-jaṁ jñānaṁ

-By performing saṁyama on the moment, and its sequence, one attains knowledge born of discrimination.

In wake of today’s news of the Brussels airport bombing, we Yoga practitioners need to find our inner resources. In the midst of the horrific images, there will be rhetoric claiming revenge. There will most likely be vengeful counter attacks. Who knows if those counter attacks will include innocent lives. There will also be untold atrocities toward people of Muslim faith who had nothing to do with the bombings only because of those who possess ignorance and passion.

One power Yoga teaches us is to delay our reactions. That doesn’t mean it slows us down, or makes us into pacifists. It means that we don’t react, but we respond appropriately. So my plea to all the Yoga practitioners out there is to stop, do your practice, and reflect before taking any action. That pause can make all the difference.

tree 1

Citta Vritti, or the stuff that makes the mind disturbed seeps easily into the consciousness. Above is an invasive Miconia plant in Hawai’i creeping up an unsuspecting tree. If you image that the tree represents pure unalloyed consciousness and the Miconia weed as citta vritti.

tree 2

Without regular Yoga practice, the weeds take root. The Consciousness begins to mistake the weeds of citta vritti as the actual self. At this point the consciousness is susceptible to all that is not permanent.

tree 3

And in the end, the Citta Vritti chokes the consciousness. Now the transient thoughts are running the show and the person is at the mercy of ill thoughts.

So as yoga practitioners, we need to use what the practice has given us to transcend this time. Nothing is permanent execpt for the consciousness which is untouched by war, disease, old age, and fear.

 

 

Taking the student’s suggestion

I was subbing yesterday evening. When I sub, I try to treat all of the students with kid gloves because I was chosen as a representative of the teacher. It was “restorative week” and I was teaching prasarita padottanasna as seen above. There is a stage one and stage two of the pose. Stage one, head is up, stage two, head is on the floor.

A good teacher uses “landmarks” aside from just “right, left, front and back.” So in stage one, I was telling the students to lift their head and look toward the parking lot. After about three times in this pose I heard a student say “may I offer a suggestion?”

In the past, that question has been fraught with many pitfalls from “can you play music in your class?” to “why don’t you heat up the room like hot yoga classes?” And since I didn’t know this student, I was braced for the worst.

“Can you say ‘mountains’ instead of ‘parking lot,'” the student asked. I turned around and saw this outside the studio window:

Rainbow

 

So from now on I will say: look to the rainbow! Brilliant suggestion.

Transcending Asana with self inquiry

I have been reading much about Ramana Maharshi. I was first introduced to him in a mediation group I used to attend many years ago. Maharshi’s basic premise is that we are already enlightened, we just have to ask ourselves “who am I?” It is a bit more complicated than that, but maybe it isn’t.

I have been finding that question useful in my personal sadhana. I am working hard toward my Junior Intermediate I certification. Some of the most difficult poses for me are seated lateral twists. Mainly because of my girth. It is easy not to accept yourself when you are struggling in a twist. The asanas are like looking at your body through a microscope and seeing every imperfection amplified with a x1000 lens.

Every day I have been doing twists and making progress. Right when I feel discouraged, and uncomfortable, I ask myself a question: “Who is it that is struggling in this pose?” Suddenly, the twist gets deeper and more profound. The chakras align and spin. This spine works its wonders. In ardha matsyendrasana, I reach my knee, a huge milestone toward the summit-the foot. I am not there yet. “Who is not there yet?”

I reflect on Ardha Matsyendrasana. This is a pose with a beautiful lineage all the way from Shiva. Shiva was at a lakeside with Parvati, his girlfriend. Shiva and Parvati have a complicated relationship. He is teaching her yoga, but she is not listening to him. A fish in the lake is listening to Shiva’s words and becomes instantly enlightened and takes the form of Matseyandra–half man, half fish.

As I struggle in the pose I listen for Shiva’s words. All that comes is “I am” “I am.” Shivoham, Shivoham. I am not this struggling body. I am beyond that. I am beyond here and now. It doesn’t matter that I reach my foot, or my knee, or any twist at all. The main thing is that I am practicing sincerely daily. Not just in Yoga, but in life.

Shivoham Shivoham

Nice to see Kofi after two years

As many of my readers know, I am not much of a workshop habitué. I’m not even much of a class habitué anymore with my full time job, three classes I teach, and family duties. I dearly miss my mentoring teachers’ classes. Needless to say, I squeeze in daily practice when and wherever I can, be it a quick rope practice after my morning class, a half hour at lunch at my work, or an afternoon home practice after I have taken care of my aging father-in-law’s endless needs.

A few times a year I do make an exception, and Kofi Busia has made it back to Honolulu after a two year absence and I was able to attend two of his workshop classes. I never go to Kofi to learn technique. My mentoring teachers have done and still do an excellent job of instructing me in that area. I go to Kofi to get a bit of perspective. He was one of BKS Iyengar’s original students when Guruji started teaching heavily in the West. Kofi was at Oxford and he was taken to Iyengar’s  class by his yoga teacher. Soon afterwards, Kofi would make trips to Pune to study directly with him. Here is nice “vintage” video of Guruji instructing Kofi in a 1985 London class. Kofi comes in around the 5 minute mark. This is when he practiced without the use of props–even without sticky mats!

He gave a nice Q and A before class. He acknowledged that this was first class he had taught to the Honolulu community since Guruji’s passing in 2014. “Is there anything you want to know about Iyengar?” Kofi asked the class. Such a vast question! I asked how many students Iyengar had in the early days. Kofi responded that there were 6 regular students for a long time when he was practicing with him in 1971. He said many of the students were asked to bring props with them when they would visit. This was before RIMYI was built, and Kofi said they pretty much practiced in Guruji’s living room and had to move the furniture around to make space for class. “That all ended when teacher name withheld brought 25 students to class one day. From then on it was packed classes all the time until Guruji’s passing.”

After the nice Q and A, we proceeded with asana practice. I tried to memorize the sequence, as Kofi’s tend to be a bit unusual, but got lost about midway through when he did Salamba Sarvangasana. That pose is normally put toward the end of class, but Kofi stuck it right in the middle. I am always perplexed at his reasoning for sequences which are quite deliberate. He also teaches upwards of 20 poses per 2 hour class, which in many ways reminds me of when I first started doing Iyengar yoga via Light On Yoga with the asana courses in the back of the book, of which contain upwards of 50 asana per class. I surrendered to the class once I stopped keeping track of the asanas which was much more satisfying.

Sadly, I had a case of acid reflux and in Halasana I had to come out early. Kofi gave me a concerned look and I told him my problem and sat out the remainder of the pose. The sequence culminated in Adho Mukha Padmasana which was very accessible to me at this stage in my practice. As we settled into Savasana, he chanted a beautiful mantra about Brahma from the Bhagavad Gita.

After class I thanked him. I asked him how he felt about recent bad press toward Guruji from the likes of Mark Singleton and Matthew Remski, who are heavily promoting a Guru-bashing tell all book about misconduct from lineage based pioneers like Pattabhi Jois and Iyengar who brought yoga to the West. “People have been bashing Guruji for years,” Kofi said, “this isn’t anything new.” Kofi’s statement reminds me that Guruji’s teachings have withstood and will stand the test of time in this era of commercialized yoga. He also made me realize it is the duty of an Iyengar certified teacher to attract new students with the integrity of the system. Thank you Kofi for the perspective.

The new faces of yoga?

Today was a nice reunion in my Saturday morning class. These are all of my original male students who have been studying with me since 2004. What is remarkable is not the fact that I have been teaching for 12 years, but the fact that these men have been regulars for a large duration of that time.

Dr. Malcolm Ing, seen in the black shirt to my right in the photo (I’m the guy with the red tank top), has an impressive resume. He graduated from Yale Medical School and is a pediatric ophthalmologist. He’s well into his 80s and surfs longboard as well. He is a great model of what it looks like to age well.

Howard Wiig, the man to his right, works with the State of Hawai’i on alternative energy solutions. He is a stalwart in my class and comes rain or shine when he is not traveling extensively for his work. He is an avid runner and works out far more than I do. He is well into his 70s. Another great model of aging well.

Joe Teipel to my left in the grey shirt was an auctioneer for many years. I saw him recently on A&E’s Storage Wars when they came to Kailua. He is now pursuing other career interests in real estate. He is also an avid surfer and has been a part of the Hawai’i surfing community from the early days. He has a golden voice and often gives speeches for money. He has a great cameo in the movie “North Shore” which came out in the 80s. He of course was the announcer of the big surf competition. I think Joe is in his 60s, but reminds me of someone in his 30s.

Not to knock the ladies, but yoga nowadays seems to be dominated by young, lithe, 20 something women who have been doing yoga for only a few years. When I see my male students in class with over a decade of yoga experience, and they keep coming back week after week, it gives me hope that there is also a bright future for yoga being more open to men as a means of relieving stress and staying healthy as they age. With these guys, I get the same feelings of healthy camaraderie I felt was a youngster in my grandfather’s barbershop.