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Yoga 3.0. A retreat for an accelerated culture.

WHEN. 

January 13, 2013. 10-4. (Mysore practice 8-9:30.)

WHERE.

The Stone Arch, a decommissioned church in downtown Saline. (Pictured above.)

WHO.

Open now to all regular Mysore practitioners at AY:A2. Please join us! Retreat opens Dec 15 to anyone I know with a daily practice in the yoga tradition: drop a line now if you’re interested.

WHAT.

– Regular morning Mysore practice

– Break for drinks (Ashtangis take over the Drowsy Parrot… again!)

– A session on some subtle body or alignment principle of use to our group

– A short session on working with vrittis that arise during silent practice (this is a “reveal codes” talk – principles of traditional teaching method articulated!)

– Lunch by Gauri, who catered our 2011 retreats (“The two best meals I had this year were prepared by her” – Tim Veeser)

– Playful discussion of Yoga 3.0

– Gifts for all in attendance generously provided by Dead Sea Warehouse

TO PREPARE.

(1) Register by email, and pay.

(2) Read Chapter 3 of Yoga 2.0 by Remski and Petrie. $9 on Kindle, or borrow my copy.

(3) Mull over what Yoga 3.0 could be. What practical, political, technical, emotional, intellectual, activist, relational, devotional, or other qualities might equip us to create it?

PRICE:

– Full-time academic students: 45 (this is below cost – please do come, students)

– Retirees; Non-profit, industrial and service workers: 65

– Bourgeois Professionals (you might be bougeois if… you think you might be bourgeois): 85

– Support a student: 100

THEME.

In 2010, Remski and Petrie wrote: Yoga 1.0 is history. It is a book on a shelf, and perhaps a lecture talking about the book. Yoga 2.0 is a conversation. 2.0 invokes a move towards empowerment, interactivity, and relationship in its transmission. 2.0 shreds the illusory veils between east and west, and between past and present, between science and spirituality, and between yoga and any other form of intensive inquiry (p. 9).

This is an accurate, rousing description of post-modern yoga. It features not just consuming information, but talking back to it. It breaks old divisions like east/west and past/present. It is non-hierarchical and all-inclusive. For post-modernity, nothing is not yoga.

I would submit that, having encountered post-modern, commercial yoga some time since the 80s, each of you gradually developed a taste for something a little stronger. Yoga 3.0? You moved from being consumers (1.0), to commenters (2.0), and gradually became producers (3.0) of practice. You take your practice everywhere, and can create it under any conditions. This is not to say that any practice is yoga: you know quite well when you fall off your game. And while you are practicing an overtly egalitarian form (Pattabhi Jois said “anyone can do ashtanga, except lazy person”), there is an element of exclusivity in it. Taking action (showing up) does matter. Mastery is real.

Expertise accrues. The expertise you have after 3 years of daily practice is not just the same as that which you had after one year of practicing whatever you felt like just on the occasions you were in the mood. Unlike many post-moderns who mistake their own egoic attraction/revulsion reactions for their “inner teacher” and reject all other teachers because they trust no one, you are capable of being genuine and whole-hearted students. But, thank God (or, rather, thank post-modernity!) you’re way beyond the 70s-era illusion that surrender to what is (isvara pranidhana) is the same as abject submission to an inscrutable guru-authority.

In other words, you have a method, even if (again, thanks to post-modernity) you don’t think that method is perfect or timeless. But you do recognize that yoga has a factual, practical history rooted in India – yoga wasn’t made up in the last five minutes, cosmically speaking. Like Karl Marx, you study and embed yourself in history so as to be more powerful revolutionaries in the present.

When it comes to commercialism, Yoga 3.0 – being self-manufactured – is not marketable in the same way as is Yoga 2.0, which can be all things to all people. Yoga 2.0 is a brilliant grassroots movement, but, ironically, it is also highly amenable to commodification, buzz, and mass market appeal. But, bored by all that, you invest a different sort of energy in practice: your time, attention, and bodily participation. Practice has probably come to give you more energy than it takes, but this is only because you have invested quite deeply on the energetic dimension. That’s what is required to move far past consumption and spiritual materialism into the mindset of production.

Do bits of this sound at all familiar? Either way, I offer these fragments as raw beginnings for the post-post modern zeitgeist. Because I think you’re the ones who will make it happen.

Right now, as we hold our breath for the end of 2012, I suggest we start thinking about the foundation for the yoga that will burst forth after the collective exhale, and after the apocalypse that will never come. Lucky 13 is another turning of the wheel of yoga’s history. Let’s make it a strong revolution. I have no idea what it’ll look like, but I look forward to finding out together.

Space is limited. But not particularly exclusive! Drop me a line to inquire.

 

 

REFERENCES: the novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture by Douglas Coupland. The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte by Karl Marx. You might be a redneck if… late 90s comedy routine by Jeff Foxworthy. Yoga 2.0 Mala 1: Shamanic Echoes by Matthew Remski and Scott Petrie.

How to get up for yoga, again.

I’m unconsciously competent. The longer I practice, the less I can articulate how to begin. So I must keep learning from those who are new to ashtanga. Thank you for being open about what’s hard, brave in dropping old habits, and enthusiastic in your own practice. I love this phase of the learning.

At the start, getting up for practice requires strength and guts: I admire you, and we will all support you. Later, you’ll be able to do what you want to do with ease, and will embody that grace to yet new beginners.

Again this year, I’ve surveyed our group to remix the autumn antidote to SAD. The Earth is changing, our student body is changing, the zeitgeist is changing: so, a practice so fine-tuned as ashtanga also has to adapt. (This is true, too, of subtle changes to the method emerging from the main school in Mysore: our old practice is ever new. Because we are ever new.) Anyway, after a month in the lab with your findings, here’s this year’s get-up-early elixir. No kidding: stick to a regular practice rhythm, and ashtanga’s the only prophylactic you’ll need.

1. Alchemize your word.

What’s the value of your word? If you say you’re going to do something, is that an ironclad statement? Is it as good as a 50/50 bet? Is your word more like hot air? If you decide strongly that you are going to be a woman or man of your word, then you can use the golden quality of that word to hold yourself to your own intentions.

Recently, three different practitioners who were struggling to get on the mat consistently got out of their own way with this single, uncompromising practice. They decided to be the kind of people who have zero daylight between what they say they will do, and what they do. In those painful mornings when the bed was especially seductive, they asked themselves if sleeping through the alarm was worth the pain of going back on their own word. It wasn’t. Because they had turned their word in to gold, it was able to cut through tamas, doubt, and even the softest bed.

Thanks for the inspiration. You know who you are.

2. Use the moral values that help you practice; lose the ones that don’t. It turns out that getting your words and actions lined up is efficient. Similar is the Bhagavad Gita’s teaching that a yogi remains detached from the fruits of her actions and simply absorbs her attention into doing her best in the present moment. Ashtanga is not about getting an awesome body or a perfect mind or “nailing” some posture; it’s about maintaining some concentration and equanimity for every breath, regardless of what it looks like.

Grasping for results isn’t morally wrong; it’s just not smart. What we can control is our attitude, not the outcome of actions. So why waste energy fretting about what we cannot control?

By the same token, why waste energy fretting about the past? Most of us—myself included—have absorbed a Puritan meta-morality from western culture. This includes a lot of emphasis on moral purity, with a countervailing internal assault team of guilt, shame, self-loathing and regret.

Total waste of energy. Enough already, Hester Prynne. Regrets for the past kill excitement for the present. You are worthy and you are welcome: if the (internal) puritan mobs come for you, laugh at their feeble 17th century weapons and get your lightning speed mulabandha in gear.

3. The drugs. 1 mg of herbal melatonin 30 minutes before bed for the first 2 weeks. Don’t try to wake up at vastly different times on different days. People seem to suffer too much doing that. A key insight of Ayurveda is that the body loves a stable rhythm. Reset the whole system, so your serotonin-melatonin dynamic is stable.

4. The rock’n’roll. Big sound, bright light and a hot shower in the morning are still key. See here.

5. Practice in the body you have today. The corporeal body… and the student body. The new people having the most fun this year are those rolling out your mats near the veterans. People who have practiced for a while embody a tacit (hormonal, energetic, phermonic?) knowledge that does rub off. Get in!

The veterans’ prime time used to be 7-8 am, but like in most Mysore rooms, it’s crept earlier because they just can’t wait to get on the mat. Most newcomers say it helps to know that getting up early for practice is effortless for so many. (For that matter, my alarm now goes off at 3:30 instead of 4; and in Mysore I usually get on the mat at 4:15. And, to be brutally honest, it’s awesome.) For now, our group’s energy is strongest from 6:30 – 7:30. You can come later if you want! But if you need a boost, you’ll get it by jumping in the 6:30 updraft. By contrast, if you arrive when the majority of people are finishing, what you’ll experience is their most calm, grounded, quiet energy. That’s also very nice, but one cannot really draft off it.

6. Start in with a sunshine lamp routine now. Get one and follow the instructions. If you don’t want to invest the money, ask your friends. Everyone who has one will tell you it changed their life. Michigan newcomers usually suffer their first winter or two before figuring this out. Why waste a year? I use a Phillips goLITE BLU light therapy device.

7. Get closely in contact with your love of the practice. It’s there, even amid suffering, obstacles and madness. Why else are you doing this, anyway? Ayurveda teaches that our deep desires are wise, and that on some level the nervous system knows things. I see different ways that each of you loves, and respects, and gives thanks for this practice. It is personal. I see that some of you love the way your mind and body operate on the days you practice; some of you love the quiet of the mornings; many of you love the sheer honesty of staying with this when it is physically, emotionally or psychically hard.

Whatever it is, that awe and love are high quality fuel (whereas guilt, shame, pride, superiority and achievement are not as great). Love and a little reverence tend to give us all more energy as the rhythms—hormones, appetites, emotions, inner vision, et cetera—find their way into agreement with each other.

This is how it works. Most of us have to effort it strongly at first, and then practice starts to do itself. I see for those of you in your second year that you are not pushing yourselves to practice so much as being practiced. Yes. Once this thing has a strong spin of its own, you move from (1) depending on external practice resources (like high concentration environments, others’ strong energy, and social norms that promote precise mental discipline) to (2) producing them for yourself and others. In this way, too, in the long run the yoga gives more energy than it takes.

Guest Teacher, Dominic Corigliano

Dominic Corigliano is my teaching mentor. He will guest teach Sunday, October 21 – Thursday, October 25, during the waxing moon.

Dominic is coming because he mentioned offhand that he could swing through Ann Arbor, and I took that seriously. I’d like him to see the house that he helped build here. And I’d like for the practitioners here to experience one of the most awesome yoga teachers in the world – someone whose energetic and psychic clarity you have heard me mention with delight and bewilderment.

Finally, because I will not be traveling to Mysore this January due to my responsibilities at the University, I need to create circumstances in which I can be a student in a Mysore room. Having made a long, quasi-sociological investigation of Mysore programs that fail, I’ve concluded that there are three practices of highly effective Mysore teachers. Those who don’t follow these practices tend to  lose sight of the way that one’s teaching practice is just another aspect of ashtanga yoga – a method that systematically checks the ego and endlessly asks us to give up our dull ideas of who we think we are. Anyway, one of the three practices of effective teachers is maintaining strong, loving, respectful relationships with our teachers. All of them. Ever. This builds on an underlying skill we all know, by intuition, that our teachers must practice to be worthy of our trust: that of being a student. Anyway. What a blessing to get to practice asana in the room along with you all.

My time as Dominic’s student, and then as his apprentice, altered the course of my life’s work and my inner evolution. This was a process supported by the the space that he held, by his rare and subtle of cues that would significantly reorient my awareness and guide my energy deeper, by a loving community, and just the method of daily practice itself. The shift that took place in those years was of the ineffable sort, so it’s most honest to pass over it in silence. The most I can say is that I learned to take a predominantly energetic practice (my consciousness was centered in pranamaya kosha) and integrate an awareness of all levels of my being – physical, analytical/discursive, intuitive/psychic and spiritual. The boundaries I’d set up between my practice and the rest of my life began to really fall away. Experiences of weird stillness started to happen, and stayed happening.

I will not project these experiences on to Dominic, but he did hold the space for deep shifts to occur naturally. And he did keep sufficient distance and comfort with uncertainty about what would happen next that I could undergo a phase of very rapid growth. The gratitude is endless.

In general, Dominic’s teaching is energetic. After a while, there isn’t much verbal instruction. He will not fix anything in your practice; he doesn’t think you are broken. He won’t give you a take-away technique, because the teaching is about the present moment. He won’t give you better (insert bugaboo posture here), because he’s too energy-efficient to do anyone’s work for them. As a teacher, he taught me to (1) relax, (2) establish rapport, and (3) shut up. At one point, I felt that I’d had my head ritually anointed with SKPJ-brand teflon – this reflective coating helps transmitters of the method to keep our personalities from distorting our teaching  (having a personality is cool, but I do not teach Jamison yoga); and it helps us not to take stuff personally. SKPJ teflon, turns out, is also quite flexible.

Instead of giving people teachings that can be noted in books or turned into checklists, Dominic shows up and channels the  energy signature of Pattabhi Jois (which, sources say, is also the vibe of Krishnamacharya). It’s not really a big deal; and it’s not something we can grasp on to or take home for later. This way of being is mostly indescribable, because it arises from a nondual awareness that sounds like a myth until it is experienced directly, and consistently. Yet this vibe does have some obvious qualities: diamond clarity of mental awareness, a spacious and not-personal feeling around human interactions, a clean and safe way of honoring the differences between masculine and feminine, and radical equanimity that allows students to drop social hierarchies and comparing-mind.

The signature element of our lineage is fire; and the closer we stay to the source, the warmer and more clean it burns. It doesn’t matter what the physical practice looks like, if we have a perfect body, or if we have a perfect mind. What is that, anyway? High quality heat and light are super effective for buffing out self-torturing ideas we inherit from popular culture. So just show up like usual. It’s no big thing.

Dom is not some yoga celebrity. Yoga celebrity is as dead as the Gaiam mat you shredded in the first month of ashtanga practice. It’s as dead as stock growth at Lululemon. It’s as dead as the animals in the fast food meals that (sorry; it’s the practice’s fault) have stopped smelling good. Dominic’s not anything high and mighty at all. Nobody is. He is a dude who’s got an uncommonly strong line on the source. Turns out, yoga’s just really awesome like that.

Dom does have a resume’ and stuff. It includes 3 decades (thirty.years.) of teaching experience, being the film guy for Pattabhi Jois and Sharath on one of their long world teaching tours, lots of time in India, being one of a handful of Certified teachers, being a father, and husband, and a motorcycle travelin’ man. And funny. He’s very human; and very funny. He’s no-bullsh*t; and he loves to shoot the sh*t. That’s what it doesn’t say in the resume’.

So. This is a pretty awesome moment for ashtanga in our region. To support everyone out here on the new frontier of ashtanga yoga- the Midwest – I will be opening up some drop in slots during Dominic’s visit. Home practitioners out there in neighboring states, or any daily ashtanga practitioner from around the area, this is for you. Saraswati Jois puts it like this: You come. But she means Mysore. That’s more logistics than a drive to A2. Just email and we’ll figure it out.

House Recommendations

Here are a few more out-takes from the House Recommendations. The full document is available to regular Mysore students here upon request.

The House Recommendations are just some suggestions for mental hygiene, efficient learning, and honest practice. They are crafted for ashtangis in their first five years on the mat. If your mind feels closed just now, it’s not useful to read further. If you feel curious and open, then perhaps a few of these will be useful.

The main recommendation is: Streamline. Also…

Breathing

Initiate movements with breath. Literally follow the breath with the movement. NB, practitioners who actually do this tend to be the same ones who can carry off solo self-practice without self-interruption.

Breath is white noise. If your mind is taking you for a ride, replace the auditory sensation of internal talk with the sound of breathing.

Get fascinated by breath in whatever way you can.

Learn to move from the deepest strength in the body: mulabandha and uddiyana bandha as they respond with the breath. This takes great concentration at first. Over time, breath, bandha and driste synthesize into one single practice.

Mental Hygiene

Cultivate positive triggers. These are repeated sensory stimuli that shift you into the mind-body state of practice. The jolt of the car’s ignition, the quiet exhilaration of being awake in the still morning hours, the feel of the door in your hand. Any sensory feedback loop can entrain a state-shift. (Personally, my mornings start with nauli and trataka, followed by a one-woman blues rock dance party. The latter is not typical.) These associations will slowly strengthen your focus, and raise your energy, over time.

Guard your awareness before practice. In the morning, avoid anything that winds up discursive mind. Especially the internet. (If you’re disciplined about this, your verbal/ analytical mind will be smarter when you turn it on later. Mental hygiene increases cognitive function.)

The first part of drste is keeping the eyes in your own space, with only soft, peripheral vision engaged if you want a sense of the whole room. This is huge. Drste gets subtle, but at first it’s simply a commitment to keeping the eyes still. Eyes are powerful. Use them well.

Even as difficult emotions arise, stay in contact with the positive emotions of practicegratitude, confidence, love, joy, humor, ecstasy, calm.

Let difficult emotions and thoughts arise and move on. Observe and note their patterns. Do not repress your experience – this deepens emotional blocks and increases unconsciousness.

Be cautious about repeating negative thoughts (or talk) in a compulsive manner. You have choices about the (inner) environment you inhabit. It’s funny, but physical practice is easiest when there’s a vibe of kindness and generosity to oneself and others. It is possible to cultivate positive emotions and thoughts while accepting and studying any negativity that arises.

Sutra 1.12. Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tat nirodhah. Roughly: It takes both will and surrender. Will doesn’t mean force: it is regular discipline. Surrender is not submission to authority: it is radical acceptance of whatever is happening now.

Another way to describe Sutra 1.12 is as a cheer for (1) concentration and (2) equanimity. These are practices. They’re deliberate choices. They can be life skills. Most westerners lack both. But most people drawn to Ashtanga yoga are intuitively interested in them.

Rhythms

Primary series can be difficult. I’m here because I believe it’s worth your effort. It is the most genius, exacting, and healing program I have found. Aches, tweaks and energy fluctuations diminish dramatically after a couple of years of consistent practice. Be gentle and mindful with any ups and downs.

If you take a break, or practice in an erratic rhythm, significant ups and downs (mental, emotional and physical) are likely. Don’t worry about it. Dial down expectations. Take a cool (detached) interest in the experience.

Practice in the body you have today. No matter what, you can accept and move with the body-mind that’s here right now.

If in doubt, come to class. It’s practice, not a performance. Modify for pain or fatigue if they actually arise. You might be surprised – they may have just been in your head.

To avoid injury: (1) Really know your unique breath pattern. There will be some kind of disruption in the pattern if you’re on the edge of injury. Meditating on the breath is a safety feature. (2) Practice in a regular pattern. If you fall off the wagon, be truthful to your moment-by-moment experience when you come back. Your body-mind needs time to remember things. (3) Toss the NSAIDS. They dull your perception and damage a healthy inflammation response. For muscle healing or soreness, use: rest, castor oil packs, warm Epsom salts baths, zyflamend, anti-inflammatory diet, the old RICE method (if your body responds to it – ayurveda would suggest otherwise), and focused relaxation of protective patterns when appropriate.

To see growth in practice: Relax about transformation. Really. Not only is this the whole practice of yoga, but paradoxically, this attitude is also necessary for developing ashtanga’s specific skillset. The Bhagavad Gita is a sort of mind-blowing story about this paradox.

This practice restores muscles to their full functional length. Strong parts become flexible; flexible parts, if they were weak, become strong. Both types of effort – creating flexibility, and creating strength – happen most efficiently with focus, repetition, and a relaxed attitude.

Three days of practice a week is the minimum to establish any sort of rhythm. Four or five days a week enable significant healing and vitality. Six makes a life practice. It is much more effective to practice a little bit every day than to do big practices every few days.

Ashtanga is a house-holder’s practice. In teaching, my job is to support people whose daily lives are far more complex than my own. As you figure out what level of intensity on the mat is right for you, please stay grounded. Ashtanga yoga is designed to support you in daily life with your family and work.

Experimentation. When you modify a personal habit or way of moving, give it a month of daily practice (or the equivalent) before you re-evaluate it. Otherwise, the judging mind will try to highjack the experiment before there’s enough data for a decent assessment.

Tone

The House suggests: treat yourself and the practice with care. Be aware of the vibe you give off. Be open. Do not be lazy. Be modest. Give space to each other literally and figuratively. Some helpful qualities are: spaciousness, implicit camaraderie, quiet loving-kindness.

Fellow practitioners are a resource. The quality of your practice is enhanced by the quality of theirs, so even out of narrowly defined  self-interest you need to support them to support you. Here are two practices that have helped me. (1) I never talked to others about particulars of my asana practice or relationships with teachers. I let go of that discipline when I became a teacher, because now my practice and lineage belong largely to you. (2) I set the same intention with yoga friends that my husband and I articulated in our wedding vows: to be in relationship in a way that promotes mutual awareness, growth, and service to others. This has helped me to find wonderful friends.

After practice

Leave it on the mat. No need to review or evaluate practice after it’s done. During ashtanga, do ashtanga. Otherwise, do otherwise.

Regrets are a waste of energy. I don’t judge you; I don’t have the energy. Please take it easy on any self-reproach (and on looking down on others – a similar kind of drain). Just practice.

Superiority is poor quality fuel. Our esprit d’ corps comes from better sources. Even if looking down on others has given you energy in the past, eventually it takes more energy than it gives.

I don’t pretend that “it’s all good” out there. There’s probably a good amount of yoga delusion, confusion and egomania out there somewhere in the world. That’s fine. Totally not our business here. Let’s just practice.

Eight limbs. Practice on the mat encompasses limbs 3-5 and sometimes 6 of Patanjali’s classical system: asana, pranayama, pratyhara and (eventually, naturally arising) one-pointed focus.

If you get interested in the first two limbs (social ethics, and what I call the useful virtues), cool. They’re fundamental. If not, ok. Ashtanga method values yama and niyama a lot, but in a relaxed way. Most of the recommendations here actually derive from daily practice of yama and niyama. Virtue is practical, not theoretical. It helps to avoid being uptight about it. Ashtanga is not a religion.

Limbs 7 and 8 (absorption states and godknowswhat) arise on their own if at all—they’re not practices. But there are ways to increase the chances that the last two limbs will sprout. This has to do with developing strong concentration (an incredibly rare skill), and honest equanimity.

Watch the envelope. The boundary between practice and life might shift or go away. If you catch yourself just being fully alive to mundane activity, or emotional ups and downs get less dramatic; if you sleep better; if sometimes you notice you’re projecting instead of just buying in to your own judgements/emotions regarding others (i.e., if you don’t believe everything you think); if there is less experience of the mind reacting to experience with patterns of attraction/repulsion, love/hate, respect/disdain… well, this is all normal. You are doing it right. Come to practice.

Jayashree and Narasimhan to Visit Ann Arbor

MA Narasimhan and MA Jayashree

Monday, Nov 12. 5:30 – 8:00pm.

Chanting the Samadhi Pada; focus on sutras 1-15. Introductory Lecture on Yoga Philosophy.

Tuesday, Nov 13. 5:30 – 8:00pm.

Chanting and Lecture on Ashtanga, the Eight (ashtau) Limbs (anga) of Yoga

Location: Main Hall at the Ann Arbor Friends Meeting House.

Cost: $40 per night, or $75 for both nights. Most proceeds go to the Ananatha Research Foundation of Mysore, India.

All are welcome. To register, or for more information, send gmail to annarborashtanga.

Dr. M.A. Jayashree

Professor of Sanskrit, Mysore, Karnataka has been teaching all aspects of Sanskrit for the last 30 years. She holds a doctorate in Sanskrit from Bangalore University on the topic, “Concept of Mind in Indian Philosophy.” She has authored many books in the fields of Sanskrit, Ancient Sciences, Indian history, Indian Culture and Music. She has presented papers on Sanskrit, Indian knowledge systems and culture in many national and international fora. She has also conducted a number of workshops in India and abroad. Her workshops are generally in the fields of Sanskrit language and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

She is a multifaceted personality, a musician with a melodious voice, an accomplished artist of the Mysore school of Painting, delivers discourses on Puranas, Tiruppavai & Philosophy. She is a great teacher of spoken Sanskrit. She has given performances in classical music in the Karanatic style all over South India. She is also the editor of ‘Itihasa Rashmi’, a journal on Indian History in Kannada. Jayashree was featured in the movie “Guru” about Ashtanga guru Sri K Pattabhi Jois. She is also the editor of ‘Itihasa Rashmi’, a journal in Kannada on re-writing Indian History, and conducts classes on Indian vegetarian cooking (yogic food).

As a proponent of the Srutiparampara, she has produced many CDs in the field of Sanskrit learning along with the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali and Bhagavad Gita. The CDs are designed as teaching aids to help people learn the chanting and memorization of the important Sanskrit texts of ancient Indian culture. She has a large following of overseas students engaged in studies of ancient lore of India mainly Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Bhagavad Gita  and the Sanskrit language. She has presented a paper on a music topic at the 13th World Sanskrit Conference held at Edinburgh. She has been awarded as a ‘South East Asian scholar’ of merit by the American Academy of Religions, and to participate and present a paper in their Annual Meet Nov.2008 in Chicago.

M. A. Narasimhan

Director of the Anantha Research Foundation in Mysore, is a science graduate holding Masters in Education with specialization in advanced psychology and research methodology, and also in Sanskrit. He has specialized in the Indian philosophical systems and the various practices of yoga, and is a disciple of His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He is a teacher of Transcendental Meditation, having taught the TM technique to more than 20,000 people and trained more than 1,000 teachers of Transcendental Meditation.

He has held many responsible posts in the then Mahrishi Institute of Creative Intelligence. As the director for the TM operation in the entire south India, he had more than 600 teachers helping him to spread the message of TM. He was instrumental in opening small-scale industries and many schools in different parts of India. He has been a Siddha practitioner, reaping the benefits of advanced techniques.

He is a research scholar specializing in the fields of Indian culture and the Sciences of ancient India. With a considerable number of books, monographs, and papers in the fields of Indian history, Science, Sanskrit and philosophy to his credit, he is also the editor of journals such as Ithihasa samachar, Ithihasa Rashmi. Currently he is engaged in the investigation of “Supa saastra” in Indian tradition (the food tradition of India)” with INSA, ‘History and geographical information in the Puranas’ with Bharateeya Itihasa Sankalana Yojana, and preparing a critical edition of Patanjali’s Yogasutra with all the available commentaries and their English translation with Asian classics Input Project, New York and also on ‘Cosmology in ancient Indian Texts.

 

How Jedi Knights Should Eat

AY:A2 begins our second year of daily practice. A few of you are starting to show signs of increased concentration and willpower. I didn’t expect that to happen so fast.

Daily practitioners do develop slightly freakish will power. But a strong will can make you stupid. In this practice, your will is only as good as your surrender.

I’ll use the topic of food to illustrate. Food and ashtanga are intertwined backwards and forwards. Not separate. A person can sort of ignore this, but eventually the ignoring gets boring.

It’s the consistent (I’d suggest daily) practice that really opens things up. If a person does that as a sort of meditation, three distinct empowerments come online with respect to eating. I’ll call them the Young Jedi Trifecta, YJT:

(1) an increase in self-control

(2) a decrease in the buy-in to stories and emotional patterns used to strengthen old habits (e.g. “I have to eat X because I am Z,” or “I can never eat Y because I am W”)

(3) an increase in sensory clarity, yielding new information about the way the body relates with food.

The upshot is heroic discipline, even though one might be a sophomore with the spirituality stuff.

If you do not practice as a meditation (i.e., if you are not interested in clarifying the mind and relaxing its patterns), that is completely ok. Please note that if you’re not actively focusing your practice on self-study, the ego may seize the YJT and cash it in for goodies. Goodies! Have fun with that. Control, charisma, a nice ass, secret feelings of superiority, whatever. Zzzzzzzzz…..

In the Bhagavad Gita (7.16), Krishna tells Arjuna that four types of virtuous people practice yoga: people trying to reduce their suffering, people trying to accumulate knowledge, people seeking worldly goods in a selfish manner, and people who are already acting out of their in-born wisdom.

This winter in Mysore, Sharath said the following at least every other week: “Not all advanced asana students are big yogis.” I take this as to mean that many people he sees are Krishna’s third kind of student—what Chogyam Trungpa termed devotees of spiritual materialistm.

This is the thing. Heroic self-control can supersize the ego. No doubt. Let it happen where it happens. Because I want to note that in the passage above Krishna is not giving Arjuna ammo for some smug “what type is he?” ego-game. Rather, all four types of yogis are said to have virtue. We all contain multitudes – we understand all four types because we have been them. And I only bother to say any of this stuff because it’s obvious that all of you are predominantly of the fourth type. You are predominantly wise.

I’ve been the third kind of student for sure. In the second year of daily practice, I took the YJT and really cashed in. Those were the days. They looked like this: YJT + big self-transformation wishlist + tons of unconscious material =  Oh Unholy Neuroses. Fun times. To mention just the consequences this had for my relationships with eating, I’ll note that I ignored the ways food connected me with friends, family and the environment. I was a “me first” eater willing to sniff at my parents’ cooking and simply not interested in the energetic feel, origin, and environmental costs of my nourishment. (I mostly stopped eating meat 17 years ago, but vegetarianism doesn’t equal ahimsa. At all.) This self-focus was useful for a while. I used it, plus the Jedi stuff, to experiment on my system like crazy.

I did several major cleanses, and played with a number of very (very) strict eating programs. When my friend Marichy, his first four incarnations (especially D), put me in direct contact with my liver and the things I’d done to it as a hard drinking teen, I abruptly quit alcohol for a seven year cycle. Some things are good to swear off like that, but most cleansing and strict diets can harm a person’s metabolism and (if they don’t have sufficient carbs or calories) make it hard to think. P.S., Here are the dark sides of some especially dogmatic eating styles. A dirty little secret of many under-eaters is that constant hunger can drain off energy and goodwill for loving relationships. People who don’t eat enough aren’t happy. A dirty little secret of the organ cleansing movement is that it has a sharp puritanical edge of concern with control, and some confusion between intestinal and moral cleanliness. A dirty little secret of the mythical “ancient” diets is that eating lots of flesh makes a person  rajasic – usually angry or anxious – and can deteriorate analytical and relationship skills (attributes of non-ancient humans) until they become a bit… Paleozoic.

In any case, those years of “research” and strict food rules did teach me a lot, and did render my digestive fire extremely strong and healthy. Luckily, I kept coming to my mat every day without a break, so gradually I started understanding surrender. Now that I’m more interested in radical acceptance of my own social, temporal, and environmental contexts, and of my own desires, it is easier to nest my eating habits not only my body’s energy economy, but also in the context of personal and environmental relationships.

Had I been more in contact with my own wisdom in those days, my relationship with food would have balanced discipline with contemplation. Turns out that the Ayurvedic approach to eating does just this. The way I’ve been learning it, Ayurveda is not a set of fixes or healing strategies. It’s a holographic map of the whole web of manifest reality. The Ayurvedic approach to eating isn’t an arcane prescription for fixing one’s doshas; it’s a set of practices for becoming conscious of the inner and outer webs of our being.

You don’t even have to study it. Just imagine. What if you showed up to your hunger, and your food, the way you show up to our yoga room and to your physical practice? So… you’d put time and awareness in to getting the conditions right. Do a gratitude ritual. Care about where the recipe and the ingredients come from. Practice in silence, and in excellent company. Breathe. Act with clear, loving attention. Regard strong thought and emotional patterns with a bit of cool skepticism. Take a long finishing sequence to absorb the benefits.

Quick fix? Yeah right. Not in ashtanga and not in eating. This practice teaches us that our bodies are vehicles for past and future choices. Love the rough spots into fluidity, day by day, and let the painful stuff get easier. Recognize that especially deep patterns got there as a result of grasping and repetition, and we don’t get out of them for free.

The yoga thing is about action and observation, and finding that these two are not separate. Action can be luminously conscious. Takes practice.

So that’s why I am not in to giving food advice. (1) I figure practice will work it out for you according to your own perfect timing. HOW you eat is probably more important than WHAT you eat. (2) Moreover, throwing a bunch of moral rules at you, instead of allowing them to arise from within you, will probably increase your experience of duality. This takes people away from yoga. Hathayogapradipika 101. (3) Heck if I know what you should eat.

Carisa recently did an elimination diet as part of her yoga practice. (More info about her experience in the document linked in the newsletter.) She loved it, and is starting to use the results to create some really enjoyable new habits. When I said that I don’t tell people what to eat, she noted that people have a right to know if the foods they’ve been eating all their lives have become toxic to them.

Good point, Lady.

So I’ll fess up a bit. Context is big for me. I eat as local as possible and take a lot of energy from food prepared for me with love. When I do that preparation myself, around here I eat as much as a pound of local, organic vegetables…. for breakfast. If it has more than five ingredients or is made by one of the companies owned by Monsanto or Coca-Cola (Kraft, Keebler, Nabisco, Kellogg, those guys), it’s not going in my body. Like many daily practitioners I like fat: nuts, oils, a bit of dairy. This morning I drank a green smoothie, then a few hours later made a two-egg omlette with spinach and goat cheese, and a slice of rye bread with ghee. In addition to the obvious inflammatory foods – alcohol, coffee, animals – there are a couple of other addictive items that I tend to avoid. Big surprise: they are sugar and wheat.

In daily life, I do eat a bit of sugar and wheat now and then, just to keep myself from getting rigid, or because that’s what’s served. Want to know how much? I’ll keep track on the document linked in the newsletter. If you want to use this document to keep track of anything yourself, there is space. But ONLY use it if you can bring as much radical, loving acceptance (abhyasa) as you do will-power (vairagya). There are some interesting articles linked on the document as well.

At the risk of sounding corny, eating feels spiritual to me. I don’t mean fairy dust and sunshine—spirituality is way stronger, grittier stuff than that. It’s simply that eating tends to be an intense direct experience of various layers of my self, my intra-connections in time and space, and all the drives in nature. From the most base to the most transcendent. It is a field of experience in which all sorts of separateness — me/it, attraction/repulsion, life/death, inside/outside — naturally, momentarily, collapse into one.

 

Vroom Vroom

Hello from Gokulam. We are in the days of Shiva here – time to hail the energy of destruction, transcendence, and the crumbling of of old sides of ourselves. Yesterday a mentor who is also a priest (priests being about as common in these parts as your neighborhood notary public) gathered together a roomful of priestly friends and we did hours of ritual props for the Shiva side of ourselves. In the end, we threw our flowers and food into a homa fire stoked in ghee. Then we went back into the world dusted in ashes and smelling like campfire. Spent but fertile firepits.

Strong, intentional endings give energy. There is beauty in them too. But this morning, I needed a little mellowing. Thinking of Vishnu the sustainer – the avatar of continuity and of energy that renews itself – I drove out through the rice paddies north of the city. The green fields are dotted in spindly white egrets. Today there were also some splashing, chaotic little puppies, and responsibility-laden oxen pulling big limbs (their own, and those of trees) through the mulch.

Beyond all this is Srirangapatnam, Karnataka province’s old capital. It’s an island village anchored by a cool stone temple to a being called Raganathaswami. A.K.A “recumbent Vishnu”: for morning puja they pull away the curtain that protects his chamber in the temple’s dark, heavy center. Holes through twenty feet of stone ceiling let in a bit of sun. It’s a bit Wizard of Oz. Bells ring, people crush forward to cast eyes on this vision of cool cucumber repose, with his parasol of a thousand or so fully-flared snake hoods. These are courtesy Adishesha, an energy we’re always secretly circling in the ashtanga practice – and one whose full extension includes the strong, supple reptile body on which Raganathaswami sleeps.

After Vishnu, I checked in with Balaji, Laksmi and Hanuman, three more of the eleven sides of human experience that I’ll tap in to in my own way to seal in this two-month retreat.

I feel like I’m circling closer and closer to a stopping point, something like the funny little spiral I’ve been taught to trace around the body at the end of an ayurvedic massage. Resistance to leaving what’s become a second life here is sloughing away, and I almost cannot wait to get back home to Ann Arbor. (The gratuitous cuddling videos that Rob and the cats have been sending are also doing their part as well.)

So: vroom vroom. WE START SUNDAY. Yeah, like in five days!

Full details of my teaching schedule are available in the newsletter. Briefly: I’ll be in San Diego March 1-3 for AshtangaCon, and home in Montana March 16-19 to do my part in realizing the parents’ secret wish to ski as a family for the first time in 18 years. Otherwise, everything is, as we say in Gokulam, full power.

NEW STUDENTS:

As you know from the website, Mysore class is NOT FOR DROP-INS. If you’re a daily practitioner just swinging through town, and I know your teacher, then that’s different: send email and we’ll make sure there’s space for you to drop in. We do like visits from out-of-town friends.

If you’re local and you want to practice Mysore with us, WONDERFUL. We take one new student per month. My way is to let each new practitioner habituate to the focused vibe of our room, rather that to spread my teaching energy (and the concentration of the entire room) thin around numerous new students at once.

Ashtanga is a practice that is passed on from person to person. You absorb it implicitly, and gradually, by just being with skilled practitioners and becoming receptive to the energy and understanding they carry. Since it’s completely, entirely, utterly impossible to learn this practice from a book or video, or without interacting in RL with other humans, I give new people the best of my present-moment energy. New practitioners get whatever support you need, but also lots of calm, undisturbed space to get the hang of things. You’re surrounded by really cool, fairly normal practitioners who welcome you enthusiastically even though they’ll tend to express that in tasteful silence.

You can see the values of what we’re doing here. They are: life practice, quality over quantity, consistency, time together, teacher-student relationships, community, clear method. Positive emotion is nice too. This practice can be hard; and it brings up real, strong edges inside us. Done with some humility and guts and true understanding, practice makes it increasingly impossible to avoid our own shadows. That’s why care, lovingkindness, joy and humor are good resources. We actually cultivate them.

When – after ten years of yoga practice – I quit my academic job and accepted my teacher’s instruction to teach – I understood that my new job was to offer this practice to ANYONE. There was not some pre-exisisting set of students out there waiting for me. There was no turf (this is not Amway), no job at Ashtanga University, no automatic respect for my ashen, essentially empty KPJAYI papers. I was also not being sent out to teach contortionism to nubile young people. In fact, even though I’m the biggest asana junkie I’ve met so far, turning others in that direction isn’t what this is about. If you want to wrap your leg around your head while sticking your first finger in your ear and thumb in your eye, all while performing eight random mudras and twenty-six secret bandhas, there might be better people to consult. (Well, ok… the hidden bandhas will be worth our time….) Rather, this shala is here is to offer practice to whatever people happen to be around. Like, our neighbors and people at the grocery store. Like you, if you’re ready for a little revolution. Pattabhi Jois said that EVERYONE can practice ashtanga yoga, with one exception. “Lazy person can not practice ashtanga.”

Thus! New students: here is how it works.

If you want the beginner’s slot – we want to give it to you. Beginners are awesome. No yoga experience AT ALL is required. In fact, if you’ve never done any asanas before, that’s probably best.

But to get the slot, you have to want it. Now. NOW. Athayoganushasanam.

There is no waitlist. When the slot comes free, the person who wants it most jumps in. Try it for one month; see what happens.

So there is this tiny obstacle set up at the beginning. It helps a new person summon the fire and willpower she’ll need to stay with the practice consistently for one month. While they can also become obstacles, fire and willpower are often important at the start of a yoga practice. We will pour a lot extra on if you want them; but at the same time you have to DIY.

We will support you until this getting-up-early-to-do-asanas thing gets easy. No problem. It will get easy, but until it does, one of the best resources you can draw on is your own bit of crazy. So take a risk. Track me down. Bug me. Buy Yoga Mala and a Manduka mat. Resist the pull of phony internet yoga teaching. Be open; be yourself; be passionate. Give something. And be in touch.

With my permission, you can come observe a Sunday Mysore class; and soon I’ll be back to teaching the weekly Advanced Practice for Beginners class. Apart from this weird pull to roll out my mat a month or three a year in South India and just be in the presence of my teacher, I am not going anywhere for a long time.

There is a system in place here to support a lifetime of daily practice, but do not waste a moment. Every day before you start practicing is one less day you have to really know yourself, burn out the half-conscious habits that you no longer want, heal yourself and to open up the honesty and lightness and even joy this practice slowly cultivates.

There is a very strange freedom in creating your own embodied, silent sadhana. It’s gorgeous. I’d try to tell you how gorgeous, but that might take a tiny bit of the interestingness away from experiencing it yourself. Besides, I don’t know how it’ll be for you. We’re most interested in learning from and with you, and in holding space for you to explore. So just take a risk in getting a little passionate about this, and see if some crazy actually makes sense.

Class starts Sunday, February 26.

To subscribe to the newsletter, drop a line to annarborashtanga at gmail.

 

Discipline, Affirmation, Emotion

At the Mental Hygiene workshop back in November, Gurjt, Dawn and Yvonne offered a series of intriguing questions about working with emotion.

In sum: given (1) the limitations that go with having a physical body, and given (2) the raw truth of mental/ physical/ emotional/ samskaric pain that yoga makes us look at… well, then to what degree should we cultivate positive emotion and affirmations in practice? When we’re experiencing a lot of physical, mental, emotional crap, should we just willfully change our inner environments? Or is yoga practice more about just observing difficult subjective experience and letting it run its course?

I didn’t even attempt to answer. The reason was that I sort of don’t know. I wanted to leave you some space for not-knowing too.

Not-knowing can be a tricky area for disciplined, dedicated people. So can intense emotion or thought-habits. This is because it’s pretty easy to use strong discipline to repress confusion, doubt or negativity. Because you are such a focused, methodical group, I wanted to offer a bit of a challenge rather than dismissing the question with something as boring as… an answer.

Your concentration and mental clarity are really fun to work with. Not that it matters, but I would submit that your natural gift for discipline (or simply your good choice of practicing with other people who possess this gift, which was the trick my formerly lazy self used to cultivate discipline) will generate increasing clarity and subtlety over time. In ways that will surprise you. Concentration can really snowball on you. (As long-time meditators will affirm, everyday life improves massively after one has a fully developed concentration muscle. But most people will never get any taste of what that feels like.)

Among other interesting things, years of utterly consistent, taken-for-granted, dispassionate practice give a person’s actions a quality of effortlessness. A certain neutrality and luminosity come from practicing deeply enough that comfort-preferences or a need to get rewards are no longer calling the shots. This deep discipline is not super-hero stuff. Super-heroes are for kids.

It’s full-on weird (and exciting) the first time you get to experience a person who is refined in this way. Such people stopped doing practice years ago and are now mostly… being practiced.*  As you know, one reason I love Mysore is that I get to dwell absorb the embodied wisdom of dozens of them. As Sharath reminds us about every week, just doing a lot of asana practice doesn’t comb out a person’s ego in this way: it only works like that if we approach practice with a certain honesty and with systematically good intentions.

But sometimes overly strong discipline can push (1) difficult creative impulses, or (2) confusing contemplative insights into unconsciousness. So when big questions come up, sometimes I think my job is to let them sit there, open. Quick answers are trite anyway. And because my teachers and the scriptures are so inspiring and beautiful, I don’t want to use them in a stimulus/response manner. Teachings are not stones: I do not want to throw them at our practice, or use them to plug the openings it creates.

But it’s been a few months, so now some scripture. And damn if the scriptures aren’t good on this stuff. “Self-study” does include contemplating and applying the resources on yama, niyama, physical practice, and concentration. The AY:A2 library is one heck of a resource where this is concerned, and I’ll come home next month with more for the shelves.

Patanjali is the most accessible; and besides I’m fond of anyone who has thousands of gleaming white heads and the habits of a jungle shaman. It turns out that, when negative thoughts or emotions take on a compulsive quality, generating positive emotion and affirmations is COMPLETELY OKAY in his book.

What he calls pratipaksha bhavanam (“cultivate the opposite”) is not a repressive act. It’s a way of replacing stagnant energy with fuel for practice. Read up on this. And if it gets confusing, just talk to me: I can share specific, easy techniques for doing it. Meantime, many of you have done metta practice: you can adapt that technique to support your yoga (see Sutra 1.33).

At the same time, Patanjali has a lot to say about the types of Samadhi – concentration or absorption states. According to most commentators, nirbija samadhi is a nondual, indescribable, elusive, rare occurrence (very different from the samadhi you may learn about in Buddhism or the Psych literature on happiness). But the many forms of sabija samadhi or savikalpa encompass awareness of an object—or “seed”—of absorbed consciousness. I don’t want to say too much about this, and after just four seasons of sitting with Jayashree and Narasimhan, I’m not much qualified to do so anyway. But briefly, the point here is that Patanjali says there is value in fully “being with” various seeds of awareness in sabija samadhi.

The juice here is in having a full experience of whatever-it-is (for specifics, study up on savitarka, nirvitarka, etc). Note that full experience is RARE. Most of the time, we are being led around by our attractions and repulsions. Distracted from distraction by distraction, as TS Eliot wrote. Yet bare attention to experience, without any effort to change that experience, is essential to yoga in Patanjali’s teaching.

So back to the question of whether we should willfully change our inner environments. When to cultivate the opposite, and when to soak concentration into present experience even if said experience is difficult? I don’t know that either. Commentators have lots to say on the subject: check them out when the time feels right, and put their different insights into relationship with your experience.

Yet also: right now, your guts, hearts and minds have a clue, right? Asana practice with some good intention and sincerity has a way of clarifying and unifying our funny, crazy, adorable, idiosyncratic, distracted mind-bodies so that the clues all start to line up. There is less inner conflict. There is more stability and inner quiet. Gradually, balancing willful transformation with radical acceptance gets… sort of effortless.

The Poverty of Verbal Instruction

Here are some words and concepts organized to question all use of words and concepts in yoga.

Hey, we work with what we’ve got; and bootstrapping is all over this practice starting with the first loop we close ‘round the toes in padangusthasana. Anyway, here’s a prolegomenon to any future blogging.

Pattabhi Jois started out saying that ashtanga method was 5% theory, 95% practice. He later scaled that back to 1% theory. Perhaps the 5% was getting abused.

Talking about experience tends to insulate us from a moment’s raw intensity, from subtle layers of experience, and from the transience of pain and pleasure.

I wonder how we’re really using words in yoga class. Do we know how to use language to set ourselves free in our bodies… or do we more often use it to solidify difficulties and obstacles? Do words come up due to anxiety about impermanence or attempts to pin things down, a need to prove something, or maybe unwillingness to just be quiet and do the technique? I wonder, too, if talking in practice—including my own verbal instruction—increases an egoic sense that we know what it’s is all about.

Who knows. Subtle mindbody activity—and some shocking physical abilities—live below the threshold of language.  To the degree that we are anchored in discursive mind only, we might miss out on a lot of this.

Actually, in a verbally-instructed class, this might be what students want. At first, it can be helpful to be distracted from inner chaos by a teacher who can hold attention strongly. This. Is. Ok. Teachers holding my attention to technique were exactly what I needed for the first few hundred hours of practice. Thank you.

But honestly. In the direct experience business, unless you’re a stand up comic, words are dull tools.

In yoga class, even the most precise, relaxing verbal instruction gets old. When it does, there are two options: (1) progress laterally by genereating 1001 postural and sequence variations, or (2) go deeper** into the bodymind by moving from content-based to rhythmic insruction. In rhythmic instruction, the teacher just pretends to be a metronome. This is where, sometimes, the practice starts to do itself.

Often though, rhythmic instruction still pulls a practitioner’s attention toward a teacher. But in silent, self-led practice, ohhhh….

(smiles dumbly)

Where were we. Ok.  Silent practice. Ok. I dunno. Once the concentration is there to stay with it, we come upon our own brilliance and stupidity; and beneath that is raw sensation that sometimes begins to vibrate or flow in the weirdest ways; and beneath that might be some intertwined thought-muscle-memory samskaras; and then maybe nothingness; and whatever… and there’s really nothing worthwhile to say about any of it. It’s more interesting than stand up comedy. Or the movies. Or this here internet. It’s personal. Impersonal. Empty. Exquisite. Boring. Pointless. Ineffable.

Anyway. The reason I offered the mental hygiene workshop two weeks ago was to suggest why I say so little the rest of the time. It only seemed fair. My teachers have taught me to give little or no response to students’ self-limiting stories, to teach with one’s own personality glazed over to support students’ depth of internal focus, and to do everything possible to prevent chit-chat in the room. My teaching mentors see discursive talk in a practice room as mostly useless. So gradually, and without using words, they showed me how to teach from a very quiet place.

I do offer new students verbal instruction. If someone is reaching out for an anchor or feedback, I’ll even give a little eye contact. And there might be some talk to smooth the transition into the odd culture of a Mysore room. Proprioception and concentration are still developing, after all. But pretty soon in this scenario, we come into contact with the ways that chit-chat and personality-to-personality interactions weaken and clutter the practice. I become more still in order to get out of your way, to let you refine your own beautiful habits of mind-body. It is so nice to be in the room as you realize that you’re ok with whatever arises, as you open to new sensations, as you settle in to just being there, creating and experiencing experience.

Selective Narcolepsy and the Still Small Voice

In response to a six-day ashtanga practice, my nervous system started de-fragging about a decade ago. Most of the results of this spontaneous re-wiring have been pretty nice so far. For example, there are unusual levels of concentration, strong positive emotion when summoned, some ability to enter wakeful and restful states on call, some capacity to not take stuff personally, a tendency to take energy from most situations (including “negative” ones), and a feeling that the happiness and health of others literally make my life better.

However, there is one nervous system condition that seems increasingly odd the deeper I get into this yoga teaching thing. Is it a glitch? A mutation? I don’t know, but I suspect it’s here to help. Other people might want to cultivate it as a kind of neuro-linguistic program. The program, or condition, is Asana Book and Video Induced Narcolepsy. AVIN for short. Here’s how it works: if I am exposed to asana instruction in books and videos, my eyes automatically glaze over. It’s like on Johnny Carson, when unsuspecting audience members would get hypnotized to fall asleep on mention of the word “banana” or something. And then Johnny would push this neuro-linguistic button in front of an audience. “Banana.” Next thing we know, Jane from Tulsa is slumped in a puddle of her own happy drool. That’s me in front of a how-to ashtanga book.

I have to wonder… Heather Duplex, Chuck Miller, Joan Hyman: did one of you program me with AVIN in an early ashtanga class? Did you recognize the ravenous, sharp mind of a PhD student, and also see how she was blocked from the healing and happiness available in the quieter depths of her own awareness? Did you whisper the AVIN program in to her wiring to spare her countless hours of asana spectatorship and analysis?

Nooo. Though I guess it’s normal to wonder if both mutations and wisdom come from outside. It can be hard to take responsibility for both kinds of anomaly– perhaps especially the wisdom. But everyone has an intuitive layer of awareness- what much of the Vedantic tradition calls a wisdom sheath (vijanamaya kosha). This is a kind of knowing that can sometimes be freed from the usual mental activities of protecting a tightly defined sense of self, or repeating old patterns in compulsive, limiting ways. The wisdom sheath has the potential to render a kind of direct, clear knowing independent of figuring-it-out mind. Intuition, grokking, and sheer creativity are said to arise from this part of a human. It’s not so special, even though in highly analytical cultures we might get a bit alienated from what my father (a hospital chaplain in Montana) calls the still, small voice.

I wonder what little wisdom mechanisms and intuition particles are floating around in all of us, just hanging out while the small self plays its games on the surface. The wisdom wires seem to get tripped by the weirdest things. Stories you’ve told me lately: (1) a man walks into a yoga class for the first time, and his monkey-mind flatlines. Boom. The discursive thought, play of reactive emotion, and mind-pictures stay outside the room. It’s odd. But he trusts it. He lets it keep happening, and does whatever it takes to keep his practice clean in this way. From day one. Later, he learns that most teachers don’t bother to suggest that level of concentration to beginners. (2) A woman’s family generates yet another instance of a durable crisis pattern. She leaps to react according to the shared script, then there is a pause. Let’s try something different this time. Give more. Prove nothing. Expect nothing. Oddly, the entire family dynamic shifts.

I don’t know for sure, but there’s a chance my AVIN condition is this kind of a blip. Nobody ever told me to practice this way — indeed Los Angeles yoga culture was fairly obsessed with what postures looked like and how to analyze them to death. But I was flanked by many secretly wise practitioners, and it’s possible I intuitively copied their inner discipline. When after a few years I got around to reading the old yoga texts, I ran in to some ancient versions of this program.

Here’s how AVIN works. (1) I simply do not consume asana-instructional books or videos. (2) I don’t discuss most details of my physical practice, or the deep aspects of my student-teacher relationships, with others. (3) I learn the raw, physical technique (both how to practice, and how to teach) through relationship with teachers who know me very well. I receive and work with what they offer. In sum: I leave the asana on the mat. Outside the Mysore room, I refrain from wrapping my information-loving, analytical mind around matters of the physical practice. When I perceive a compromise to this discipline, some deep switch flips and the whole discursive mind goes dim.

This doesn’t mean I’m not sort of obsessed with the physical practice. How else to explain the never getting bored, the thrill of getting on the mat every day, and the respect for the method that increases with each new person I get to work with? But here is the thing. If I were letting my acquisitive, gotta-get-answers, read-a-buncha-books mind run the show, I’d have gotten bored about 16,000 hours ago. Asana in and of itself is… boring. What keeps me engaged is using the method as a means to clarify consciousness– not only on the physical layer but all the others as well.

Here’s what attempts to document or learn “tricks” of asana do: they generalize; they often commodify; they turn practice into something abstract and somehow explainable. They take up time that could be spent being quiet, caring for others, or being in the world. They turn asanas into problems to be solved, or into decoys to hunt down and conquer. Uh oh… I suddenly feel verrrryyy sleeepyyyyy…..

Even more boringly, trying to learn ashtanga from a book pretty well circumvents the energetic transmission that comes through this practice. I submit that it is waaaay more interesting to work directly with teachers who were chosen by their teacher, who were chosen by their teacher, and so on. Is this energetic transmission thing trivial? To the analytical mind, yes. But if you’re reading this, you’ve probably felt a little of the heat and love coming through that person-to-person line of awareness. You probably have a sense that this (not merely technique) is what’s really going on in this practice, and that it’s not something that can even be discussed.

So we go to spend time with our teachers. This is how it works. Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must pass over in silence. (Wittgenstein, maybe the sharpest & most beautiful analytical thinker of the 20th century, said that.)

The last time I saw my philosophy teacher, MA Narasimhan, he put it like this. “Every time you try to put knowledge down in a book, something is lost.” Narasimhan has a sharp analytical faculty and a deeper understanding of the western mind than most professors… and he only teaches through what he calls parampara. Oral tradition.

Anyway. I have seen some people learn the first stages of ashtanga practice from a book without their practice turning into a train-wreck. By “a few,” I mean two. Both of these people have extremely clear minds. You know who you are; and you have my admiration. I could not have done what these people did. My mind just was not that clear when I began to practice. For me, the effect of asana book-learnin’ would have been the same as it is for most: fragmentary, yet rigidifying. For me, it was important to stay soft and receptive enough to learn the technical, personal method from real people, who really perceived me, in real time. And it was important to keep my mind clear of discursive, digital distractions. So that I could learn the more interesting skills of concentration, letting-go, and discipline. These skills play out in the meat and bone of physical layer, as well as on the energetic dimension, the mental, the intuitive, and beyond.

Here is another nice thing about oral tradition: it keeps things specific and real. It generally teaches a person to be emotionally and mentally flexible, to listen very clearly, and  to move through the technique in a confident, relaxed way. For me personally, the practice has been to keep my technical learning relational, instead of mixing it up with arbitrary advice from strangers or vids from people who might not be acting out of a love of serving others. I probably would have sat around obsessing about my asana practice instead of doing my PhD work, but because of AVIN, I just didn’t have the option. If you get pulled in the direction of analyzing your asana practice and looking around for tricks and commentaries, here’s a suggestion. Check in with your deeper intuition. Do you actually want this in your practice? Is a different habit of mind more free?

Small stuff like this is the big stuff. It only takes a wisp of delusion to start building new samskara. I don’t know what your choices will be, and in a sense I don’t care as long as the micro-practices get filtered through your deepest and best intuitions. Just cultivate a relationship with the learning process that gradually supports the emergence of concentration, clarity, and healing.

It is true that I own two asana instructional materials. The first is Yoga Mala. It is very important for learning what to put on the floor of your practice space and which nostril to breathe out of during sexual intercourse. Everything Pattabhi Jois writes there is wonderful. I understand it a little better every year. Honestly, he saw stuff most humans never will; and it seems he had a very good sense of humor.

The second item is the video my teacher Dominic made of my teacher Sharath practicing the primary series. I would recommend that too, but to be honest, I don’t know anything about it. I can’t stay awake past the first surya namaskara. Sorry, guys. I’ll come learn from you in person.