Patanjali


Dana hace Yoga en la Playa

Image by leo.prie.to via Flickr

And not with each other.

Two distance healings, a trip to the dentist and many back rubs from my ever patient and saintly husband later, I ventured back to yoga class. There is a warm yin at noon on Fridays, and I arrived early to secure my spot by the heat lamp (must.buy. heat lamp.) where I snuggled into the Maduka Lite mat, as my new and far comfier heavy weight mat made my shoulders flinch under their own power, and prepared to “let go”.

Yin is not quite restorative yoga. Restorative is about relaxing, a far more difficult thing than people imagine and part of what makes it a harder sell than physically punishing practices like Ashtanga, but yin is about space. Finding a depth in a pose that allows the body to fill in until full expression is gradually found. Despite the props, there is not a lot of ease or comfort about it.

During one of the final poses before savasana, Jade, my teacher, read to us from The Yoga Sutras of Patanjail by Sri Swami Satchidananda, Sutra 33 which discusses the four keys that open our lives to serenity and happiness.

We studied this sutra and Satchidananda’s observations during teacher training last year. Essentially, there are four kinds people and having the “keys” necessary for interacting with them puts one of the path to a serene mind which in turn promotes happiness.

Patanjali, the universe bless him, wrote this:

By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.

And Satchidananda reminds his readers that Patanjali was not describing some long ago world but one nearly identical to ours today because what people want and need at their core hasn’t changed. He reminds us to be happy for those who are happy in their lives because our jealousy or ill-wishes towards them will only harm us in the end. He entreats us to show compassion for those who struggle regardless of their reaction because in being kind we do ourselves a good too. He asks us to be “delighted” in the virtuous, see them for the shining examples that they are and try to imitate them for our own sake.

And then he discusses the wicked.

By wicked Satchidananda isn’t necessarily referring to the Adolfs and Wall Street swindlers of the world. He is talking about those we encounter in our daily lives who seek to pull us down because we are content and they are not. They are notches lower than the unhappy who though they may lash out truly do so without malicious intent. The wicked seek to hurt because they hurt and view our non-hurting and any advice we might give as an insult to them and their pain.

Jade went on to read the story of the Monkey and the Sparrow, which I believe I have shared before but it’s a wonderful teaching tale and it relates directly to something I recently forgot and was sharply reminded to recall.

One rainy day a monkey was sitting on a tree branch getting completely soaked. Opposite of the monkey on another branch was a sparrow sitting in a hanging nest, staying warm and dry. The sparrow saw the monkey getting drenched from the rain, and points out that even though he only has a small beak and no hands like the monkey, that he built the nice nest (home) expecting the rain. He also points out that Darwin said the monkey was the forefather of human beings, so why hasn’t he used his brain to build himself a house? The monkey made a terrible face, and yelled at the sparrow for advising and teasing him, and then tore the sparrow’s home to pieces. The sparrow was left to fly out and get drenched in the rain.

There are four keys needed in life to deal with the four types of people. Friendliness, compassion, gladness and disregard. If we are friendly to the happy, compassionate to the unhappy or sad, glad for the righteous/good and disregard the wicked, serenity of mind is ours and with that happiness.

Lately, I have been commenting on a blog written by a writer who was widowed but is long since remarried. Though he blogs about many things, he would occasionally write about his widowhood and this prompted women who are dating or married to widowers to email him with their questions regarding their relationships. In response, he began to answer their questions with a post every Wednesday.

I have replied and mainly just shared my story and opinions in an advice-free manner. Sharing from a personal perspective without judgment or placing oneself as an expert is the safest route when the medium is the written word. Mostly because people in general are such poor readers it is easy to be misunderstood.

The topic last week was on second chances. Widowers who’d established relationships. Pledged love, fidelity and a future, and then pulled the old “it’s not you: it’s me. I need more time to grieve.” It’s really no different from the divorced guy who suddenly realizes that his ex and their marriage have made him rethink commitment and not in a positive way. Or the never married guy who’s been “so hurt in the past” that he can’t bring himself to commit – even though if he could commit to anyone, it would be you.

Men who are … douchebags … um … wicked are so, regardless.

I threw in a sanitized version of my opinion along with my own story about readiness and moving on.

The end. Except not.

A widower found the blog. Even though the Wednesday posts are clearly marked and have nothing to do with being widowed personally, he felt maligned because it wasn’t promoting grief in a way that worked for him, so he came in swinging.

Mostly at the blogger but a bit at me. Probably because the blogger and I are remarried widowed, who are clearly in the “loss happens, you cope and then you move on”camp. The widower is new-ish and still very much invested in the idea put forth by the grief “industry” that promotes self-help, processes, journeys, and the idea that grief is never-ending. Which isn’t true but you can’t tell that to someone still in the thick of it. Time and distance move us all away from the idea that we will hurt like bastards forever. It’s not the grief but the rebuilding that convinces people to cling to that notion. Mourning is less work than moving on.

Had I not bothered to reply. All would have been well. But I made the mistake of explaining*, which is advice by another name and voila – a flaming hot comment thread.

And then I got irritated because the gentleman pulled out the tired “denial” thing to explain my inability to admit how right he was.

Denial. Irony abounds.

But thankfully, Patanjali has set me straight via yin class. All praise Yoga! Thank you, Swami Satchidananda!

*When you make the mistake of explaining, the other person will see it as defensive and begin deconstructing your explanation line by line, giving themselves the advantage of pulling things out of context and spinning it. At this point, you’ve been played and should walk away. A sad/unhappy person won’t bother to do this by the way, but a wicked one will.

UPDATE: The angry Widower wrote a scathing blog piece attacking the “industry” that is building up around the women who date widowed or GOW’s, as they call themselves. They have blogs and message boards and websites, which are almost identical in the defensive, selfish stance that widowed take. They share the misguided belief that grief is some sort of mental breakdown rather than a normal human experience. They just come at it from opposite angles. Both groups? Could use a bit of reality dosing, but it won’t happen because they group together and reinforce each other. Interestingly, a blogger/self-help writer was the target of the Angry Widower and she was quite unkind (snarky really) in her assessment of him when she found out and wrote this reply. I tried to leave a comment to the effect that she was misrepresenting grief and that men who play games do so for reasons that cross all types (widowed, divorced, and never-marrieds) because the reality is that widowers who love women – marry them and those who don’t act like douchebags until the women in question wake up, respect themselves and find someone better. She deleted my comment. As on the widow blogs, I don’t fit with the promoted view that grief is a syndrome in need of 12 steps. The irony is, of course, that these two groups are just the same and the people who cater to the delusion aren’t all that dissimilar either.


Kevala Jnana of Mahavira

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The business of yoga enveloped me the past couple of days. In many ways, teaching yoga and teaching public school has much in common. Paperwork. Association dues. Insurance, though I have to admit I never once carried a liability policy in my twenty years of teaching and coaching children.

And there is the money side.

Yes, yoga isn’t all asana and heavy breathing. Perhaps the yogis of Patanjali‘s time wandering like minstrels or jongleurs, spreading enlightenment for table scraps and a night’s lodging, but yoga teachers today would have a difficult time getting anyone to take them seriously if they wandered the streets of Edmonton pushing shopping carts and setting up their mats on the sidewalks of Whyte Ave.

It’s interesting (my catchall phrase for when I don’t have all my opinions in a row on something) how the yoga teaching has fallen into place. I’d anticipated filling in here and there and maybe having a class at the studio in town to call my very own. Not what has happened.

I have three classes at the studio and two more to start at the community hall across the street in October. I’ve turned down other offers for work since yesterday afternoon. Stuff I would have taken if not for the fact that I have other stuff already that conflicts.

Another graduate of the training who I keep in touch with remarked on how lucky I am to not have to run work down and I am reminded of something related to the practice of asana/poses – that we are to find “ease” in each posture.

If that is the goal of yoga than it is also the goal of life because I have learned that yoga and life have nearly everything in common.


Patanjali states in Sutra 2.16 that “the pain or grief that is yet to come is avoidable” which seems a contradiction taken at face value. Pain is a certainty in the human existence. The questions being only when, how much and how often.

But Patanjali is not saying we will avoid events that can cause pain, he is merely pointing out that how we suffer, or if we suffer, is a choice, and that the sutras can be a great tool for those who choose to use them.

From the physical aches and pains of inactivity, over-activity to aging and illness right through the emotional traumas whether they be bumps, bruises or brutal attacks, yoga is about learning to push through and push away. To endure until one can let go. Whether by means of asana (postures), breathing exercises (pranayama) or meditation (dhyana), we have the tools necessary to avoid future pain.

When we cultivate a physical practice, we strengthen and prepare the body for what it will face as we age. Mindfulness of the breath is the path to controlling stress and wild thoughts. Meditation, or prayer, turns us inward and has the ultimate effect of connecting us to everything. All together, these practices prepare us for accepting and letting go because it is these actions that help us avoid pain.

*This is a rough draft of my presentation for test weekend in June. Thoughts?


Yesterday during yoga training, we spent a bit of time going over the take home exam and receiving our individual teaching lessons for the in class exam.

It’s doable.

For the teaching portion, I am to instruct Adho Mukha Savasana or Downward Facing Dog. my personal nemesis. Down Dog is one of the most basic of poses and it’s one that I am still finding my self in. Every new teacher, workshop or training session shines light on Down Dog. It’s like “the pose that can do anything” because it is always the same yet different every day.

I am also presenting a sutra. Cat assigns each of us one or a short set of sutras and asks us to present/teach it to the rest of the group. Mine is 2.16 – The pain that has not come is avoidable.

And I thought? Seriously?

Because I am sort of – okay – completely – of the theory that we have destinies. Our life paths are not necessarily carved in stone as we are free to embrace or reject experiences, lessons and universal directions, but for the most part, “pain” is as “life” is. We are mortal and therefore subject to all that entails.

You know “bad things happen to good people (and bad people and people of morally ambiguous natures too).

But as I thought about it last evening – and you know me, that’s about all I thought about because I am as bad as a dog with a new chewie when it comes to things like this – I realized I was looking at pain as though it was a condition of certain experiences rather than a choice, an add-on.

Pain is an “a la carte”.

And suddenly, like the revelation of the widening of my sacrum in down dog, I think I got it. It’s about attachment or non-attachment. I can experience without attaching pain. I can detach my experiences from pain when it tries to add itself to the order.

Most obvious example is death. Losing someone is sad but sad is not painful. It’s just sad. I can experience the sadness without attaching pain to it. It’s simply sadness. I feel it for as long as I need to … and I let it.

Acknowledge. Move on.

That’s what an asana practice is preparing me to do. That’s why we chant, practice pranayama and meditate. To gain the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual strength to let go, detach, life from pain.

The suffering does not make you stronger. Letting go makes you stronger. Feeling the sadness without allowing pain to muscle in, distract and take over is the point. Pain is a choice.

Even on a physical level, a person can detach from pain with the strength of the mind alone.

But pain is still there. It doesn’t go away. It’s just our perception and/or experience of it that makes all the difference.

I think. Maybe.

Gotta get ready for training. Happy Sunday. Namaste.


Yoga training typically culminates on a late Sunday afternoon with the Sutras. We’ve hit chapter two, which is the meat of the mental practice – because yoga is all about reaching the interior whether it be the muscles and organs or the thoughts and emotions.

We spent a great deal of time on teaching beginners, so Patanjali got shorted. Thirty-five minutes is inadequate to the task of fleshing tapas.

Tapas?

Tapas is all about the pain and the letting it go. Emphasis on “letting it go”.

Patanjali insists that we are only anchored to the physical world through the pesky inconvenience of having bodies. Bodies that are not us.  The true “me” of me is not my body at all. Therefore, all experience happens to the body and what “I” should be doing is experiencing, acknowledging and then letting it go.

Everything. Good, bad, meh and bloody awful. Feel it. Know it. Wave goodbye.

“Nothing is permanent,” Cat, our instructor, pointed out.

True. It’s our attachment to the idea that good things should have no end and bad things are unfair (I’m overly simplifying) that leads us into the mud and mires us there.

I just listened.

Not because I have no thoughts or concrete experiences to share, but because I know that this is one of those deceptively simple ideas that become nightmarishly difficult when reality envelopes a person.

“Our reactions are choices,” another woman chimed in.

Essentially, we can shape our lives through letting go or just acknowledging that all experiences are finite.

And here the conversation veered into the anecdotal experiences that, I think, aren’t helpful.

A fellow student was in a serious accident and was told by her doctors that she would never regain the use of her arm. She told us that had she listened to the doctors, she would indeed have no function, but she chose to ignore them and rehabbed herself to the point where she is now able to use her arm – not 100% – but no one could tell by simply looking at her that she has difficulties.

I hate these analogies. They are exceptions and they lead others to believe that we are all destined to be exceptions when we aren’t.

We are the rule. Sometimes reality is what it is. No exceptions.

This doesn’t preclude trying to be an exception but it does mean that more often than not, one will have to accept that they are the rule and then – let it go.

“We can change our reality,” Cat said.

But we can’t. Reality is. Sometimes all we can choose is our reactions and how to live within the reality. There are some realities that can’t be let go. They can only be managed.

Managed isn’t the best term, I’ll admit, but there are experiences that stick even though we have let them go.

Will is dead. I have a dead first husband. Not much I can do with that. Very little to work with. Certainly can’t change it.

But I can acknowledge it and let it go, knowing that its effect on me is permanent and that “letting go” might have to be revisited periodically throughout my life.

Same holds true for my classmate. If she had not been able to regain the use of her arm, she would still have had to let the experience go and live within the parameters of her altered reality.

I don’t know if Patanjali addresses this later on, but letting go is a process and it can take years or a lifetime. The choice – I believe – is the attempt to let go in the first place or to cling and not bother.


If you want page views, you should use the phrase “outing myself” somewhere in it or talk about dead people. Although the latter is usually the bigger draw here, I’ve had amazing results with the former this week though I suppose they are technically one in the same.

The last hour of training this last weekend was wiled away with Patanjali. I didn’t have much to say out loud. My opinions on life, energy and the transformation of true self (some people refer to that last as “soul”) are not fully formed and stray far afield of generally recognized lines. Mostly, I listen. Most of the others in the training are younger than I am, many of them could easily be my daughters had I been an early mother. I recognize a lot of passions and ideas that I’ve long since discarded. I am struck by the optimism and that’s a feat because I’ve always found it difficult not to err on the side of Pollyanna’s dreams.

A few things.

First was something I touched on in a reply to Sharon’s comment yesterday.

It’s easy to believe that you have the answers. Read a little Yoga Sutra. Cultivate a yoga practice. Eat quinoa and shun milk for soy. Enlightenment!

No, not really. There is a common feel to the Yoga Sutras. Issues we grapple with today can easily be addressed within its teachings. But that’s so with most philosophical/religious texts that have stood the test of time. The bible. The Koran. The Talmud. Even some of the timeless literature, The Iliad, Cinderella (did you know that every culture has its own version of her story? every single one.) Human beings are complex in their utter simplicity.

Yoga is a good path for the me as I am at this point in time. I would never speculate in detail about decade from now, but I feel safe saying that I will still be following this path or at the very least, a tributary.

But I have no answers. Sorry. I won’t be jumping into guru mode or overlaying sutra on my experiences or vice versa. The margin for serious error is too high.

Monks in Tibet sit around with sutra-like texts and debate it. I am a bit skeptical of my own ability to do much more than merely relate to it and pick up a theme here and there to run with. Apply it to others? Not so much.

The other thing that came up was the whole “religion” problem that yoga has. It clearly has meta-physical roots. One doesn’t have to read to far in before the “g” word comes up.

One young lady, who reminds me of DNOS and Edie in some ways because she has this tiger aura about her, brought up the fact that it is simply disrespectful to gloss over the religion in yoga. One doesn’t have to personally embrace it to gain from a yoga practice but to ignore or disparage it is … rude.

Rude is not the word I would use. I would say “arrogant”. In a very white sort of way. But I’m a fallen away American, and the my adopted country folk are often kinder than I am in their assessments of things.

Finally, our instructor, Kat, talked about the Hugging Guru who’s achieved such a level of  “yoga” in terms of non-attachment (quite different from “detachment”) that she radiates joy. A person can physically feel it radiating from her being like a soul heat lamp. Even before she is seen, people can feel her. A lightness permeates them and once in her presence, a single hug is a bath of love. As a result of this – um – enlightenment? – she really embodies what Kat described as “being in the world but not of it”. Therefore, this woman has caretakers. People who make sure that her physical needs are met, that she gets to where she needs to be when, and that no harm comes to her.

Not most people’s reality.

But,

I realized, and not for the first time, that it comes pretty darn close to mine. And that can’t be an accident, can it?


Yoga grounds itself in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

Sutra (get your mind out of the gutter) means “rule” or summary or a listing of “doctrinal summaries”. More simply put, they are teachings. Literally translated it means  “a thread or line that holds things together”.

The Yoga Sutras are the basis from which yoga emerges.

Part of my training includes studying, pondering, trying to make sense of Patanjali’s sutras.

Who was Patanjali? He’s the guy who, thousands of years ago, wrote down everything a person needed to know in order to reach the goal known as Yoga.

No one really knows who he is. In his workshop, Michael Stone told us that Patanjali was mythologized even – half man/half serpent. Scholars, however, are of the opinion that he really existed.

The second sutra, according to Sri Swami Satchidananda – whose translation I am reading, actually sums up the end goal, and means to it, of yoga.

YOGAS CITTA VRTTI NIRODHAH

The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.

Huh?

It’s deceptive in its simplicity.

“If you can control the rising of the mind into ripples, you will experience yoga.”

Yoga is union.

So, if the mind can be hushed and thoughts tamed so they are not running off with the slightest distraction, you have achieved yoga.

Yoga is not the physical practice – the “asanas” or poses. That is a simplification of itself. Asanas are practiced to help a person still the mind by learning to focus on breath through movement.

It’s another way to learn meditation.

Bet those Bikram people feel all foolish now seeing how it’s not an Eastern Jane Fonda way to yoga butt.

It’s deceptively simple though because – in case you’ve never tried – reigning in thoughts isn’t easy. Try it. Take a few moments and silence the parade of thoughts stampeding through your mind. Or, just try to herd one thought in a single direction and see if it doesn’t get away from you. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

(musical interlude for the lazy)

Not so easy, is it?

It takes no time at all for the mind to wander off to the day ahead or the troubles of yesterday or off into a daydream or lament or idle speculation about why I am boring you with my yoga training again.

Our minds are programmed to modify. It’s perfectly natural for thoughts to meander. Sometimes it’s a good thing. But just as often, it isn’t.

The modifications or “vrittis” are named by Patanjali, the man-serpent.

Right-knowledge, misconception, imagination, sleep and memory.

They are neither good nor bad except for – as Shakespeare would put it later in Horatio’s mouth – thinking makes it so.

There is no good or bad in the world because they are labels only and projections of human interpretation – figments of our mind-stuff so to speak.

The world itself is nothing more than a projection, a shared one sometimes, but it makes sense when a person stops to consider how differently a group of people can view a common event or idea.

Kat, my training instructor, asked us to come up with two examples – good and bad – for each of the vrittis and write about them.

Ah, you think, this is why she is torturing us with her Eastern mumbo-jumbo.

Partly.

I have to admit that I am a bit stumped.

Right-knowledge is that which is a universal truth. But are there truths that everyone agrees on really? Human beings pay lip-service to truth more than they actually practice most of them.

Killing for example. The killing of humans is bad. Except if they have killed or if the killing takes place during war and they are on the winning side or in instances of self-defense or if a person chooses to kill his/herself unless they aren’t terminally ill and it’s okay for police officers and white people who need land and resources from browner people. Just to name a few exceptions to that “truth”.

All humans are created equal. Except, it doesn’t say that. It says “men” and thus begins the “excepting”.

Misconceptions are the “eye of the beholder” thing that gets most of us into trouble. It’s the projection of our perception onto others, events, universal truths. Its the way we read into everything regardless of the actual depth.

Imagination are the fanciful thoughts that lead us into trouble or inspiration depending.

Sleep is either in feast or famine and nearly always we control that.

Memory. Ah, memories. Faulty and more prone to misconception than our real time dealings, in my opinion.

I’d be curious – and most grateful – to know your opinions on the vrittis. How can they be both good and bad? Positive force or negative?

Examples would be appreciated.