Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Yoga Themes: Thematic Yogi

I've been trying out different ways of structuring my classes so I have something to work around. Teaching has been a lot of flailing around with moments of clarity, but I'm starting to notice a few things about what feels the best. I started with a pose - building the class around the pose. That's useful to an extent, but I lack immediate access to anatomical terminology to really feel like this is interesting and effective. That's a future undertaking. And then I tried thematic structuring, using poses as physical metaphors to tie into the theme I offer. What I've settled on so far is somewhere in between. I like having a pose to think about, but it's better when it has a little theme to go along with it. It feels more natural to chatter on about something not limited to the physical experience.

So this week's theme? Patience!

I was flipping through a book I've been loving (which my friend gave to me, even better), about meditation, and one of the big themes is "self-pacing." You can't rush your own development as a human being. Things happen at the rate they happen - there are a lot of competing clocks out there (the universe, happenstance, whatever), and the one that will always come in last is your own notion of where you are and how far along you are on whatever path you are on.

Patience is: an act of humility. It takes a lot of pride-swallowing to say, "I am not ready for this thing that I want to do/have/experience/learn." To wait instead. Harder. Boy, imagine if you had had the wisdom to decline certain experiences as they rose before you when you were younger because you weren't ready. Hm, that might get me into a Catch-22 - if you had the experience, you were ready for it, no? Well, maybe.

Maybe, because the next thing I read in this meditation book was (paraphrasing here), "better knowledge come to you lifetimes too late than a moment too soon." Yes, the possibility of misusing information and knowledge is big. But more importantly, this idea makes me feel better about the waiting part. Where's the fire? What's my hurry? One hundred more lifetimes would be fine, I'd do it all again 100 million times. If it takes that long to realize something, to be fully bloomed, that's fine. Better that than trying to be chasing personal evolution frantically, desperately. This little bit of wisdom makes it easier to be content with the here/now, methinks.

So I was thinking about this, and I came up with an image for patience. It's standing in a forest and seeing a deer in the distance. And then holding out an apple for the deer in an effort to get the deer to come eat the apple out of your hand. You clearly can't chase the deer. It's big and fast and easily spooked. Don't even let yourself feel too heavy on the earth for fear the branches breaking will frighten it away. Nope, just hold out the apple and wait. Make peace with the idea that the deer might never come, but hold out the apple anyway. I mean, if you don't hold out the apple, the deer will definitely never come.

And I like this thematically because if there's one thing I want people to take away from a yoga class, it's don't worry about it. Seriously, never do a handstand, that's fine. Never touch your toes, really, it's completely beside the point. Hold out the apple. Don't chase the deer. Just hold out the apple.

Does that jive? I'm into it. The other good thing is that I teach Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, so I can bust it out on Sunday, fix the big problems by Tuesday, and then polish it up for Thursday. It's great. Oh, maybe the point of this post from the reader's point of view is: only come to my Thursday classes. Hm, I'll have to mix it up a bit so that Sunday isn't always the cold run.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

God is not Square

I rejected the opportunity to be confirmed at my family's church when I was 13 or so by telling the Reverend that I wasn't sure I was ready to sign on to all that jazz. It disappointed my parents, but the Reverend acted as diplomat and I didn't have to get confirmed. I was pleased.

Why didn't I want to? Well, it had zero substantive meaning for me. Jesus loves me, blah blah blah, don't steal or lie, whatever. I liked singing songs in the choir but that's really it. Of course, as a gloomy and cynical teenager, I'm sure that declining to be confirmed comported with my sense of dark sophistication and all that. And rejection of something mainstream felt right to me. Probably mostly in a vanity way, in a too-cool-for-school kind of way, adults-are-stupid and I-can't-believe-I-have-to-be-here kind of way. But maybe also in an authentic, this-isn't-right kind of way, too.

But now I sort of resent god's reputation as a total square. I don't want to go godless just because it's been made so freaking lame in lots of corners of the world. I want to feel great about god, like it's hip and meaningful and rad to believe in god and feel grateful and full of wonder (wonderful?) about life. I don't want it to feel embarrassing to say grace over my dinner. I don't want anyone to look at me like I'm crazy if I were to say I actually believe in god.* Why is it so lame to be goddy? It is lame that it is lame. Warm is better than cool, people! Being too cool for stuff is over. Are you noticing this? It's like how no one wants to stand in the dark and barely sway while a moody band emotes its ennui - nope, we're done with that - instead, we want to connect and collaborate and dance and have fun. Same thing with god stuff. The Occupy movements, happy music, reclaiming god - there is a wave happening, a good, happy, positive wave. We had to reject and deny and be sad and directionless to get here, but I think that's ending. Something else is happening. I'm glad.

*Side not on "belief": I don't necessarily mean this in a hard-and-fast "faith" kind of way. For now, I mean it more in the way that I believe in equality and an end to poverty: life is nicer with these aspirations, and we are sooooo close, really, to living with them (and god) in an every day way that is true and immediate and empirical, not just conceptual.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What is Addiction? Why is it Bad? All Your Questions Answered.

I am now an expert in clinical diagnoses! Just kidding, I talk out of my rear end, just like everyone else.

At work we were talking about addiction. I was thinking about this because it occurred to me that processed food is like opium or heroin - you take something whole and innocent and natural, refine and extract and condense it to (one of) its essence(s), and you're left with something extremely potent and usually bad for you. The experience of ingesting such highly concentrated materials is an exaggeration of our normal sensory spectrum. Whether in the form of getting super high or tasting something super sweet, our sense are manipulated by processed goods, and we are more likely to feel addicted to them since our concept of the range of our sensory spectrum has been artificially distorted, requiring repeated input from hyper-ized products to return to the falsely elevated feeling of "good." Personally, this makes a lot of sense to me when I think about spaghetti and potato chips, which I love and have emotional cravings for.

Okay so that's what we were talking about at work. So then I suggested that people become "addicted" to processed foods the same way they become addicted to opium or anything else. This isn't a new concept at all, but it finally seemed really clear to me. And we were talking about the overuse of the concept of addiction, and victimhood culture, and people's relinquishing of their own autonomous decision making power to something they can claim to be addicted to. So this got pretty heady pretty fast, so to back it up we decided to define addiction.

My offering: anything that has a negative impact on one's life that one feels powerless to combat. Seem broad? I think it fits. Habits and routines and practices that do not serve us, and yet we continue to do, I think can be swept under the definition of addiction.

And I think this is useful, because then everything can be given the AA treatment - by which I mean: abstention, community support, and giving oneself over to a higher power. My pal at work said that everyone getting to be addicted to whatever they want makes a culture of helplessness and excuse making. I sort of like the view of addiction, however, that connects us to a sense of our own smallness - we are not all powerful, autonomous beings who just need to try harder, think harder, and do better. Instead, we are tiny particles of a larger, more mysterious set of forces, and sometimes the self-obsessed feeling of addiction/helplessness is an inroad to this more selfless feeling of humble connectedness. Why not, right?

Sometimes I feel like I'm combating my "addictions" one by one, and that my view of myself and my progress toward inner peace is the process of shedding the negative habits that I seem to do without thinking. And I have to ask for a little cosmic help to do it because I'm pretty weak, generally speaking - I'm giving myself 30 days for t.v. right now, which would be from October 9th to November 9th I suppose, and I already fell off the wagon once for 1.5 hours of House on the 19th, but it's still a worthy undertaking - and I need a little Sky God Earth Power or whatever to help me exercise my will. The whole thing forces me to redirect my attention more positively, and I really appreciate the after effects.

So I think that giving attention to your challenges as though they are addictions can be a handy way of thinking about yourself in order to take your obstacles seriously and to be connected to the magical powers of the universe. The end.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Bloggerwhelming. Teaching is neat.

You know what's overwhelming? The yoga blogosphere. Holy bananas people are writing a lot about yoga all the time. It's a little too much. Too much to process, too much to reconcile for points of view, too much to select from. How can anyone know what to read when there's so much? Ah the problem of the information age. That's why we're all so vulnerable to selective aggregation services - the news, Pandora, the blogs - we can't process anything effectively on our own so we need the selection service.

Anyway that's besides the point. You know what else I love? Teachin' yoga. Oh man it's really interesting. I am really liking it. I think I'm starting to get a little better at it, but it's slow going. I teach twice a week right now and I'm about to start teaching three times a week. The two classes I teach are so different from each other in audience, space, and general vibe. It's really interesting to have to fit myself into the scheme of things and adjust for the class. And how many people are in the class makes a big difference, too, and where they are in their yoga practice. Anyway I like the whole thing. It's a learning experience unlike anything I've tried to do thus far in my life, and I like it for that reason alone.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Yoga Commodification

So I like yoga a lot, that's pretty clear. And I certainly acknowledge that wanting to find peace etc will make me buy stuff from time to time. Yesterday friend sent me an article about the commodification of the true self that pointed out the sales aspect of yoga to me in a new way. Basically, instead of, say, lipstick or new clothes making you feel better and happier and more like the you you want to be, well, yoga and poses and meditation are the lipstick or clothes.

I guess the real commodity is the same as it's always been: anything that will help relieve you of your feelings of inadequacy. There is a catch-22 here, of course, in the sense that usually we have to be told by the manufacturer that we have some inadequacy, then we internalize that inadequacy as true to us, and then we commit to purchasing something regularly for the rest of time to help relieve that inadequacy. Hooray advertising!

So, yes, in one sense yoga is a commodity that plays upon human dissatisfaction, creating a culture of consumers with the promise of an improved self. There are lines of yoga clothing and lots of workshops and stuff to buy and oils and incense and beads and whatever. In another sense, well, aren't we all ever just trying to grow? And do new things and expand our minds and experiences? And we need to know about stuff and participate in the world and read the newspaper and some books and check out fliers and do all of that, too, right? How can you differentiate "buying in" to make yourself feel better from "growing as a person" to make yourself improve?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

More on Yoga Sutras n Stuff, Feat.: God

At Yoga Sutras discussion group we're up to the aphorism on god - so far the system has described what yoga "is" (the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind/freedom from identification with those fluctuations), and all the different kinds of mental wanderings one can experience (a bunch), and then how to work hard at yoga (by practicing both dedication/perseverance and non-attachment/dispassion), and then some of the good stuff that happens with that (various types of samadhi, aka oneness with the Seer), and the types of effort/personalities that achieve varying stages of oneness (basically success is proportionate to effort) . . . and then, most fascinatingly, the god stuff.

The god stuff, in a nutshell, states that whilst hard work and climbing the ole workaday mountain to enlightenment are the usual road to samadhi, another, more efficient and effective road to liberation is to surrender everything to god.

The nice thing in some of the Sutras commentaries is that there is room in the term Patanjali uses for god to let it apply to anyone's deity/prophet/high power (Jesus, Krishna, the Universal Intelligence, etc). Um, please note that scholars and commentators differ in their approach, and I'm singing my own song here so let's roll with it. So anyway contemporary practitioners can "surrender" to whatever higher power gives them the very bestest sparkly magicals. On a personal note, this to me is most tangibly experienced in the tingle underneath the skin and the swirling many-colored darkness behind the eyes. I think I can "surrender" to that. I have a little trouble with the more abstract part of it.

I guess it's the word surrender that I have the most trouble with. What does that mean? God I think I can comprehend - all knowing source of all great big awesome neat thing. Sure. And I've heard the relinquishing stuff before - give over to god, relinquish everything to god, take absolute shelter in god - but what does that mean?

The usual way that people submit themselves to god, it seems to be, is through prayer. What's that? Well, in discussion group, my dedicated, regularly-attending pal identified three types of praying: one, journal/talk-therapy prayer (hi god, here's what went on today and what I'm thinking about); two, request prayer (dear god, please gimme a better job and make peace on Earth and help me deal with my crazy sister); three, gratitude prayer (wow god, thank you for my safety and access to food and the experience of community and my proximity to a good grocery store and the miracles of popcorn and breathing and babies and flowers).

The one that I feel gets me closest to understanding the surrender part is the gratitude prayer. It seems effective for connecting one to a sense of wonder (popcorn really is a miracle, I'm serious, NASA for kids has a great entry HERE), and of humility for one's blessings (safety, nutrition, political freedom). It's still pretty vague for me, but the "something is bigger than me" part comes from general wonder. Wow, I love the tingle under my skin, where does it come from? Golly, the sun is sooooo huge! Did you know that if you put a seed in the dirt and let it hang out it can grow into something pretty big and frequently delicious, what?!

So that's how that makes sense to me at the moment. I had one other glimpse of effectively connecting with a feeling of surrender to god in another class where a teacher was talking about it (the same day that discussion group was covering it, fate!), and it was still feeling pretty "Huh?" to me. But then we were doing something sort of hard in class, and he said something like, "see how we forget to take shelter when things are hard? And we could just surrender to god right now." That made some sense, too. I'm having trouble articulating why, but it did make sense at the moment.

Anyway fun to think about.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Yoga Book Truth Error Thing

So at my weekly Yoga Sutras discussion group we are moving through the aphorisms of Patanjali a little at a time. It's pretty fun, and I have a regular discussion buddy and another lady who shows up when she can, and another who plans to come back after her summer vacation - things promise to be pretty action-packed, and I'm pleased about it. So we just went through the types of "vrttis," the fluctuations of the mind, and I was thinking about "error." One translation says that "Error is incorrect knowledge based on misinterpretation of reality." And the classic example apparently is mistaking a rope for a snake - drawing a "hasty conclusion" whilst in the "grip of emotions." Sure, yes, I dig that. It's a nice articulation of the way errors are made. Our feelings in any moment can distort a perception away from its basic aspect.

This same translation offers an explication that I think is nice, and adds that "Not always negative, error can lead us to question ourselves once more and to progress. Truth is often a succession of corrected mistakes."

Pleasant, no? I really liked that last phrase a lot. What a nice way to view one's mistakes - as a path to truth. Then I got to thinking about how negatively we think about corrections and mistakes - and thinking about how, as I've said before, I view yoga mostly as one big helpful suggestion, and not really as a right/wrong thing. I'd like something more like, "truth is a succession of adjustments to perception," or "truth is a succession of refined attempts," or "truth is the accumulated result of recovery from blunder," or "the process and result of seeking truth is the accumulation of humility and curiosity" - well, I could go on and on. Just something a bit softer, maybe?

That's all.