Why did my father's father worship the sun?
Did it shine more brightly?
Did the moon affect the tides more?
Did the earth rotate faster,
Or the wind blow more wildly?
My father's father had no electron microscope,
No quantum physics,
No automobile, no internet connection,
No indoor plumbing or running water.
The sun still rises in the east,
The earth rotates and the seasons change,
Seeds grow into plants, fed by the sun and the rain.
The wind blows and the rivers run to the sea.
Perhaps not much has changed.
Only us, for we no longer worship the sun.
"In good yoga in general, we are working asana in direct relationship to balancing and cleansing of the nadis, the proper practice of bhanda, mudra and pranayama. More and more practice reveals that these things are the purpose and primary focus of asana, and when done well lead directly into Raja yoga and deep contemplative practice."
From Richard Freeman's response to a question on yogaworkshop.com
The posture pictured to the right is called Short Man (or Short Person). It is normally done with the hands in prayer at the chest, but I have taken to extending it with the arms stretched overhead. There are a few different reasons to lift the arms overhead with the hands-in-prayer. Some are physical and some are spiritual.
1) Strengthen the shoulders. The most simple reason to lift the arms overhead is to strengthen the shoulders. Straightening the arms is one step further, especially if the hands are in prayer and not interlaced which can allow the stronger arm to support the weaker.
2) Lengthen the chest, abdomen and hips. Stretching the arms overhead draws the chest muscles tight, stretching them and drawing the ribcage upward. This has a chain reaction down the front of the body, stretching the abdomen and even the hips. It is especially valuable in backbends, hip openers like Short Man, and even front-of-leg stretches like Fixed Firm.
3) Raise the center of gravity. When we lift the arms overhead, it becomes harder to balance because we raise our center of gravity. This means that, all things being equal, arms up demands a little more stillness, awareness and control.
4) Dedication to God. Much like the well-known hands-at-prayer in front of the chest, hands-at-prayer raised overhead is a traditional form of dedication to God. Ancient ascetics would sit or stand for hours with their arms raised overhead. So raising the arms is a powerful and traditional spiritual component.
"There is no violent yogi. Nor is there one who utters falsehood. Bandit yogis are nonexistent. Philandering and yoga do not mix. Avarice also is not a yogic trait. Yogis have clean minds and bodies. Contentment is the hallmark of a yogi. Moderation is a yogic virtue. A yogi is a scholar as well. All that a yogi does, he does so with a sense of loving offering to God."
From Yoga Beneath the Surface by Srivatsa Ramaswami and David Hurwitz.
With the Regional Competition behind me and the National Competition about two months away, I consider the pros and cons of competing at yoga or asana or whatever it is that we are demonstrating when we get up on stage in a competition.
Yoga itself is not about competition; it's not about being the best. Yoga is not even about perfection, whatever that may mean. It is also not really about the postures, the asana. In those ways, yoga competition goes against the essence of the practice: spiritual awakening and connection.
What is the competition about, if it's not about yoga? Confidence, courage, self-improvement, refinement, attention to detail, to name a few.
Preparing for competition has made me assess my practice objectively. What am I capable of at this moment in time? What can I do well and consistently? In addition, what can I improve sufficiently in a relatively short amount of time? This has changed the focus of my practice. Usually I play the long game, practicing what feels right for the day, striving for slow, balanced progress. With the pressure of competition, I have also started "pushing" a small handful of postures, deepening and refining them more than usual. This focus has improved my postures and honed my attention to detail in my practice.
The most surprising element of competing thus far has been the sheer terror of getting up in front of judges and an audience and demonstrating my practice. What if I fall? What will they think? Am I deep enough? Am I still enough? Some postures can be challenging enough even when no one is watching. Add a room full of strangers and judges critiquing your every breath... you get the picture.
So, to put it lightly, I was nervous when I got up on stage. I knew I would be. The challenge for me was not to remove or even diminish the nerves. The challenge was to get on stage and do my best anyway. Stand, fall, tight, sweaty, terrified - no matter what I was going to give it a shot.
I don't deny that there are confusing and negative aspects to yoga competition. I try to focus on the positives and the benefits and not get wrapped up in the weirdness and negativity. I try to avoid letting it turn into a ego contest or an "I win, you lose" situation. I stay focused on the improvement to myself and my practice, and the tackling of my fears.
Yesterday, Ida and I competed in USA Yoga's Midwest Regional Asana Championship. It was a long road to get to the competition, both mentally and physically. I wrote about it a little bit back in November and also last year when we were considering competition but decided against it.
Last week, in the days preceding the competition, both Ida and I had significant cases of nerves. Always feeling tired and ornery, strange appetites and falling a lot while practicing our postures. It was frustrating and terrifying; I fell out of Standing Head to Knee more times than I care to admit. As competition day approached, we prepared ourselves for the worst. We would be happy if we survived our routines without toppling over.
Come competition day, we were confronted with the new challenge of warming up our bodies and staying warm without overdoing it and compromising strength, especially being worried about balance as we were. Luckily we were both near the top of the competing order, so we didn't have too long to wait.
There were competitors from a handful of midwestern states, and everyone was proudly wearing shirts from their home city and yoga studio. In the Bikram world it sometimes seems like everyone knows everyone else.
Standing "on deck" waiting as the next competitor up was among the most stressful moments of my life. My heart was racing, my breath short, my mind going crazy. I tried to stand perfectly still and take deep, slow breaths. It helped a little, but only a little.
Perhaps the adrenaline helped us focus, because I didn't fall and neither did Ida. We both did our postures about as well as we could have expected to. I was a little wobbly in Fingerstand, and Ida was a bit wobbly in Lifting Lotus, but all in all we made it through unscathed.
At the end of the day we were both Wisconsin champs and, more importantly, we were invited to the national competition. Exciting and terrifying! So last night after all the day's events we discussed how to improve our postures and routines and even practiced a little bit.
I will post photos and video in a day or two once I have it all together.
My interest has been renewed in studying the ancient texts of yoga. In addition to the Yoga Sutras there are texts like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Jogapradipika, the Bhagavad Gita, expositions by various masters like Vashista, Matsyendra and Gheranda. Plus thousands or tens of thousands of other shastras written anonymously.
I ask myself, "do I know more than these yogis?" If I disagree with something they have written, do I have the authority to disregard it and do my own thing? Why would I take their advice in some aspects but not in others?
Like many other modern yogis, I have instincts and opinions about what is "right" in yoga and what is "best." Not to mention the powerful pull of capitalism that seems destined to drag yoga into the world of physical fitness. Who am I to say what yoga is or is not? Especially when there is documentation from yogis far greater than me.
At this point, I feel the need to be humble. Practice, be focused and studious. Read what these yogis wrote that has lasted thousands of years. Develop my own relationship with this powerful force we call yoga.
I have been deepening my study and practice of Pranayama, the often misunderstood and ignored practice of 'life-force extension'. Many practitioners simplify this to mean 'breathing exercises,' but Pranayama can't be reduced to breathing exercises any more than Asana (Postures) can be reduced to 'stretching.' Like all of yoga, intention, focus and dedication are vital to the practice of Pranayama.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes Pranayama as the lengthening and smoothing of the inhale and exhale, but he is almost alone in that description. Most of the other ancient texts define Pranayama as primarily or entirely Kumbhaka, breath retention. To them, Pranayama is synonymous with holding the breath.
It is within these periods of held breath that the life force of the body, the prana, is controlled, extended, slowed and eventually even halted altogether. This stillness, when even the most basic functions of the body are ceased, is where the consciousness reveals its true nature - the formless, the absolute.
Pranayama is described by many of the texts as the most important element of a yogic practice. It is through this control that higher stages of self-integration are realized and that karmic demerit, the junk we carry with us from our current and previous lives, is removed.
For the past few months Ida and I have been working alongside fellow yogi and all-around beautiful guy Jerome Armstrong on an exciting project.
We discovered the lost manuscript of Buddha Bose, written in 1938 but never published, in which he describes and demonstrates the complete 84 asanas in the Ghosh Lineage. The book contains 84 asanas and 10 mudras, with more than 90 photos. It will contain a new introduction by Bose's grandson Pavitra Shekhar Bose.
Everyone that has practiced the Bikram sequences, both his 26+2 and the 84 advanced sequence, will see familiar postures and also new postures and instruction from Bose. The album is presented in sequential sets of Padmasana, Sitting, Lying Down, Standing, and an advanced Kurmasana set, plus 10 Mudras.
"Key to the Kingdom of Health: The Buddha Bose Collection of 84 Asanas" is set to be published and made available to all yoga scholars and practitioners in June 2015.
Sign up for updates or contact for more information at www.buddhabose.com.
Happy New Year! I want to start this year with focus and simplicity. What better way than to ponder the wisdom of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad? It spells out the value of right action, a moral code that can be found at the root of almost all spiritual traditions.
"As a person acts, so he becomes in life. Those who do good become good; those who do harm become bad. Good deeds make one pure; bad deeds make one impure. You are what your deep, driving desire is. As your desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny."
From the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.
This journal honors my ongoing experience with the practice, study and teaching of yoga.
1) Sridaiva Yoga: Good Intention But Imbalanced
2) Understanding Chair Posture
2) Why I Don't Use Sanskrit or Say Namaste
3) The Meaningless Drudgery of Physical Yoga
5) Beyond Bikram: Why This Is a Great Time For Ghosh Yoga