Tag Archives: ahimsa

Asanas are 1% of Yoga: Patanjali

Patanjali

I write a great deal about Asana in my blog. One could argue that my blog is only about Asana and that I have not even come close to touching the other limbs. That would be a valid argument. I have been fortunate enough lately to devote much time to reading and studying the Patanjali Yoga Sutra-s. After hearing an interview with scholar Edwin Bryant, the idea has crystalized that has been inside of for much time: since Asanas are so powerful and profoundly life changing by themselves, the entire practice of Yoga is light years more powerful and transformative.

There are only three Yoga Sutra-s that address Asana: sthira sukham asanam (the seat/pose steadies and brings about comfort for the aspirant’s consciousness), prayatna-śaithilya-ananta-samāpatti-bhyām (mastery in the Asana is accomplished when the aspirant has a state of effortless effort in the body and in the consciousness), and tato dvaṅdva-an-abhighātaḥ (from then on the aspirant is not vexed by the dualities that exist between the pure consciousness and the perceived world.)

As Bryant points out, reference to Asana only encompasses 12 words in a 1200 word text, or 1 percent. But rather dismissing Asana as unimportant because of its brief “cameo” in the Sutra-s, reflect on how powerful Asana has been in your life. For many of my readers, Asana is only what they have practiced. That is not a bad thing, as Asana as Bryant describes is “plugged in” to a larger system of total transformation.

Now imagine how powerful it would be to practice daily and uninterruptedly a concept like telling the truth, or keeping yourself clean, or not being greedy. Just practicing those concepts for one day would be life changing to many. Then one only begins to gather how difficult and how deep the whole of the Yoga Sutra-s are in what they are trying to impart to the reader.

By all means don’t give up your Asana practice! B.K.S. Iyengar taught that all limbs can be practiced in Asana and has proved it in how he changed the world’s view of Yoga.

Gandhi liberated India with concepts in the Yoga Sutra-s like Satya (truth) and Ahimsa (non-violence) and inspired Martin Luther King, Jr. to duplicate these principles to create civil rights in the US. Similarly, the Patanjali Yoga Sutra-s teach how to emancipate ourselves not only from sorrows, but from all the Karmic and Samskaric imprints we have inherited.

 

 

 

 

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Yama and Niyama in Asana

I have been on a Yama/Niyama theme lately. That is because Yama/Niyama are the true foundation of Yoga. As Iyengar says in Light on Yoga, “Practise of asanas without the backing of yama and niyama is mere acrobatics.” In the West, we have fetishized asana as “yoga” without giving the other limbs their due.

There is a popular misconception that the eight limbs are to be done sequentially. However, Iyengar taught that the limbs can be done concurrently. Based on concepts from Prashant Iyengar’s The Alpha & Omega of Utthita Trikonasana, I will present examples on using Yama/Niyama with Asana. Here is BKS Iyengar in Utthita Trikonasna:

iyengar triangle

This is Iyengar’s pose in his prime. His arms are perfectly straight, his legs are perfectly straight, and there are three distinct triangles within his pose. In his pose, he is practicing Ahimsa (non-harming) by doing the correct actions and not injuring himself. He is practicing Satya (truthfulness) by having proper form. He is practicing Asteya (non-stealing) by not allowing one side of his body to do the work that should be done by the other side of the body. He is practicing Brahmacarya (continence) by presenting the asana in a pure manner. He is practicing Aparigraha (non-greediness) by sharing his practice with the world.

Meanwhile, he is practicing Saucha (Cleanliness) by presenting himself as with good hygiene. He is practicing Santosa (Contentment) by the placid look on his face and he calmness of his asana. He is practicing Tapas (Intensive spiritual effort) by his dedication to the pose and getting his hand to the floor without distorting any other part of the asana. He is practicing Svadhyaya (Self Study) by examining his pose and redoing what needs to be corrected. And lastly he is practicing Isvara Pranidhana (Complete surrender to God) by “sealing” the pose and transforming into three triangles right before your eyes.

Isvara Pranidhana is what I aspire to in all of my poses. It is the true giving of myself to the practice in Asana. Iyengar often said “My body is my temple and asanas are my prayers.” He was referring to Isvara Pranidhana.

In modern yoga, people seem to be fixated on yoga as some sort of “workout.” While asanas do tone and strengthen the muscles and bring health, doing asana without the other limbs is much like carrying around a wheel and thinking it’s a car.

People are afraid to say that yoga is a spiritual practice because of their own religious views. But yoga transcends religion. It is what religion wants to be, but is yoga is not bound by politics. Yoga leaves the “religion” to the individual self to decide.

When asana is done for the ego, you can tell in the face that Isvara Pranidhana is absent. There is strain when we push the body where it is not ready to go.

yoga strain

When asana is practiced with all of the yamas and niyamas, this is what the face looks like.

eka pada sirsasana

In your asana practice this week, try to see if you are practicing all the Yamas and Niyamas in the poses. That in itself can be a lifelong practice.

Grand champions of the Yama/Niyama competition

I have gotten an unusually large response for my Yama/Niyama contest. I made up this competition in response to the ubiquitous #30daychallenges I see every day on WordPress. It is also a spin off on all the Asana competitions out there. To follow Yama/Niyama is what separates those who practice yoga from those who are just merely flexible and athletic. To illustrate how difficult this challenge is, I will list some past champions.

gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi. Extolled Satya (truthfulness), and Ishvara Pranidhana (Complete surrender to God). He crippled the occupying British to rubble with Ahimsa (non-violence) alone. Martin Luther King, Jr. would later adopt his tactics to springboard the US Civil Rights Movement.

iyengar sage

B.K.S. Iyengar. Used supremely intensified Tapas and took yoga from obscurity to a worldwide practice during his lifetime. If you practice yoga today, you have this man to thank. He refined and used asanas to cure ailments that medical science had given up on. Iyengar lived deeply in all limbs of yoga.

Ramana Maharsi

Ramana Maharshi. Practiced painstaking Svadhyaya with self inquiry. He asked one powerful question: Who Am I?

patanjali

Sage Patanjali. Codified yoga into 196 terse aphorisms. Also mastered grammar and medicine in addition to yoga. Originally wrote down the Yama and Niyamas.

The NFL, FIFA, NBA, and NHL have it’s superstars, I have mine. Good luck in your competition!

30 day Yama/Niyama challenge

 

adisesa

Every day I come across some type of 30 day “yoga” challenge. Either they are a challenge to practice asana each day, or accomplish a pose in that time frame. One lady even wanted to try to do the splits (Hanumanasana) in 30 days. After about day 15 she stopped posting altogether. I wonder if her hamstrings gave out. People even have asana competitions where they are judged on their postures. I felt I wanted to propose a harder challenge–a yama/niyama competition!

Here are the rules:

1) Can you go 30 days without causing physical or mental harm to anyone?

2) Can you go 30 days by telling the complete truth no matter what?

3) Can you go 30 days without stealing anything?

4) Can you go 30 days of regarding others as human beings instead of male/female bodies?

5) Can you go 30 days free from greed?

6) Can you go 30 days being clean, not only physically but mentally?

7) Can you go 30 days being content with what you have, and not buying anything new outside of what you need?

8) Can you go 30 days of fervid adherence to these principles?

9) Can you go 30 days studying ancient yoga texts and then seeing how your practice fits into these texts?

10) Can you go 30 days of completely surrendering yourself to this practice no matter what the outcomes?

Which ones are easy and which ones bring up issues for you? In classical yoga, the above is what is asked of you for your whole lifespan. It is very challenging even for a day. I am not saying I am anywhere near close to achieving these on any given day. But to aspire to do these for 30 days will bring about profound positive change in your life much more than trying to do Eka Pada Rajakapotasana. It will be much more difficult than Eka Pada Rajakapotasna too.

ICP

 

Have fun!

 

 

Subbing in the shadow of the popular teacher

superstar teacher

I sub a lot of classes. As seen in my previous post Why I Only Teach Two Classes Per Week, one of the reasons why I keep my own schedule light is so I can provide service to teachers who need to take time off. I have a busy end-of-summer subbing schedule for teachers who are one or two levels above me. I have subbed so often for the other teachers at my studio, that I have earned some respect. That respect is hard to earn as a sub.

I’m sure many of you have your own preferred teachers. You go to their class, see the sign that they are on vacation and that there is an unknown sub. You may leave, or you may stay. As a frequent sub, I have been on the other side of that schtick for so long that I would like share a few of my thoughts about how to deal with the group dynamics that are thrust upon the unsuspecting sub.

To see where I am coming from, I encourage you to see the movie “Bad Words” to get the spirit of what it is like to be the sub for the popular teacher. The quick plot is a 40-year-old man finds a loophole in how to enter a spelling bee for middle school students. He is booed mercilessly from the contestants’ parents on his mission to “win” the nationals. I will spare you the other details of the film, but you get the gist. The sub of the popular teacher is instantly persona non grata.

In the film, the character played by Jason Bateman is booed so often, that he waves his hands like a symphony conductor every time the audience turns on him. This is the attitude one must have to withstand the psychic onslaught of students who are none too pleased with your presence.

bad words

I follow some hard and fast rules when subbing any class. First, I follow proper etiquette of asking students if they are new or injured or menstruating. Being a male, I have to ask the latter question delicately, but not so delicately that it is awkward. There is a fine line.

Secondly, I start and end the class during the time as it is posted on the schedule. Some teachers are liberal with their start and end times. I had a teacher in Las Vegas go over for an hour! My poor wife had to wait in the hot parking lot for me. Hence, I am stickler for schedules, and I realize people appreciate the predictability of when they will get out of class.

Lastly and most importantly, I only teach the poses that I know well. Perhaps the popular teacher is so advanced, they have glossed over the obvious details of foot placement and all the other minutia seen in my other posts about how to do basic poses.  You will always appear more confident when you teach what you know, no matter how “basic.”

There are major pitfalls to avoid when subbing for the popular teacher. The first is to try to mimic the teacher’s style. I’ve been to classes where the sub does this and it drove me nuts. You will come across as insincere and like you are “making fun” of the teacher.

Another sure way to failure is try to teach poses that are more “advanced” because you think that is what the students want. I have done this in the past with miserable results. You have a good chance of injuring someone that way, and fulfilling your prophecy of being “inferior” to the regular teacher.

When you come across the student who has an injury, you ask them what their teacher is doing to work with that injury. For example, someone with a hamstring injury should not be doing forward bends unless they have been given very specific instructions on how to do them without further injuring themselves. I would most likely not allow them to do forward bends at all. If in serious doubt, I will tell them to sit out the class and refer them to a more senior teacher. This takes me and the studio out of a position of liability. I have angered some students by doing this in the past, but it shows that I am serious about their safety. It is practicing Ahimsa.

Now that I have a few seasons of subbing for popular teachers under my belt, I am realizing that those students who are serious about yoga will stick around to see what you have to offer. The ones who leave in a huff are better off not in your class. They are not ready for what you have to offer them, and you don’t have to deal with their ‘tude. Time and time again, some of those students of the popular teacher end up coming to my regular class where I am not the sub.