Fellow yogi Jerome Armstrong is doing and documenting a 30 day Bikram challenge. Follow his posts here. Jerome is a very smart guy, always learning and exploring and practicing to go deeper into himself. His discussion of the Bikram practice, in addition to other practices and considerations, is insightful. Check it out.
One of the highest goals of yoga is the one-pointed mind - a mind that is quiet and undistracted, focused unmovingly on one thing. A one-pointed mind can filter the important information from the useless and is capable of great concentration and therefore great perceptiveness.
When practicing postures, a one-pointed mind can be elusive. The body has so many parts, each of which is flexing or extending uniquely, not to mention the breath and the movement between the postures.
The complexity of the physical practice makes it easy for the mind to be distracted and many-pointed. What is my foot doing? Is my leg straight? Is my spine correct? Is my breathing deep? Are my muscles tired or stretching? But we have the ability to make the mind one-pointed, even amidst such diverse bodily movements.
To do this, we need to practice the postures with intention and attention to detail. Much of our practice must be focused on the physical mechanics of the body - what limb is doing what, what muscle and what breath. We must practice with this detail often so that the postures become ingrained in our bodies.
When the postures are ingrained at least somewhat, we can begin to remove the mind from the execution of the posture. The body will do what it knows how to do and the mind can be still.
The mind becomes free to focus or meditate or be completely empty. Just don't let the mind wander or become distracted as that will defeat much of the purpose of the practice.
Today there is a free yoga class on State Street in Madison. 11am-12pm. Led by the wonderful Sean Ward, sponsored by Lululemon. Lots of great teachers will be there assisting and Ida Jo will play some music at the end. Maybe I'll see you there!
At the beginning we do the postures to serve the body. We make the muscles strong and the joints mobile. At some point the relationship inverts and the body exists in service of the postures. We no longer do the poses to strengthen our abs; we have strong abs to enable us to do the poses.
This begs the question: what do the poses serve? What is the purpose of the postures once they are no longer done in service of the body?
The goal of the postures becomes the same as the goal of yoga itself: to remove suffering. Our unhappiness is made in our minds where we create little universes for ourselves and try to rule them. We try to be the best and the most popular and have the most stuff, or whatever the rules of our ego-driven worlds are. We try to keep control.
The path to happiness is not by conquering our own mind-made universe, but by realizing its nature as a figment of our minds and gradually eradicating it. This is where self-awareness, honesty and meditation come in.
The postures become a place where we can settle our bodies, sometimes for long periods of time, and quiet the mind. They become points of focus. Each posture has a different point, and when we do the posture our mind can focus and rest there. The poses become practice for the mind in concentration and longer periods of shiftlessness.
"When the five senses are stilled, when the mind
Is stilled, when the intellect is stilled,
That is called the highest state by the wise.
They say yoga is this complete stillness
In which one enters the unitive state,
Never to become separate again.
If one is not established in this state,
The sense of unity will come and go."
The Katha Upanishad, Part 2, Chapter 2, Verse 10-11.
"While doing yoga correctly, one should not pant heavily. In contrast to aerobic exercise (which itself has benefits), neither the breathing rate nor heart rate should increase while practicing yoga."
"If, while doing several vinyasas in a sequence, one feels overworked or out of breath, one should take a rest of one or two minutes to regain one's breath."
From "The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga" by Srivatsa Ramaswami."
Wind, I cannot control the wind
Sun, I cannot control the sun
River, I cannot control the river
Rain, I cannot control the rain
Earth, I cannot control the earth except in small handfuls or shovelfuls
Birds, I cannot control the birds
Brother, I cannot control my brother
Insects, I cannot control the insects
I have not much control in this world
But I can control my thoughts and my actions
I can strive toward peace and happiness
Humility is easy if I just open my eyes and look around me
"The Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Dhammapada are among the earliest and most universal messages... sent to inform us that there is more to life than the everyday experience of our senses. The Upanishads are the oldest, so varied that we feel some unknown collectors must have tossed into a jumble all the photos, postcards and letters from this world that they could find, without any regard for source or circumstance. Thrown together like this, they form a kind of ecstatic slide show - snapshots of towering peaks of consciousness taken at various times by different observers and dispatched with just the barest kind of explanation. But those who have traveled those heights will recognize the views: 'Oh, yes, that's Everest from the northwest - must be late spring. And here we're south, in the full snows of winter'" (The Upanishads, introduction and translation by Eknath Easwaran).
When I read this paragraph in Easwaran's introduction to The Upanishads, especially the last couple sentences, I was overwhelmed by emotion and recognition. My eyes filled with tears. For much of my life I have felt familiar with the teachings and explanations of Eastern philosophy and spirituality regarding human consciousness. I have never been able to explain or understand my familiarity and I have always thought myself a bit of a hippie or a kook.
According to this description, my familiarity must come from some sort of recognition. Something within me has experienced these things before. Could it be a past life or the universal consciousness? I don't know, and there I go sounding like a hippie yogi kook again.
One of my biggest challenges as a developing practitioner of yoga is my shifting consciousness. I have fewer words to describe the experiences that are occurring within myself. And I am at a complete loss about how to explain or guide my fellow Midwesterners. Pranayama exercises are putting me in touch with the nervous system throughout my entire body. I am witnessing and experiencing more pure energy from the earth, the atmosphere and within the body. These are things for which I have no vocabulary.
"As Mark [Singleton] points out in Yoga Body, the number of basic gymnastic or contortionist postures that the body can assume is ﬁnite and similarities between yogic āsanas and such postures as practised in the West cannot be put down to inﬂuence either way. But one feature of certain styles of modern postural yoga identiﬁed by Mark as an innovation brought in under the inﬂuence of modern Western gymnastics does set it apart from pre-modern yoga: the linking of āsanas into sequences. With a couple of anomalous and trivial exceptions it is clear from textual sources, travellers’ reports and my own ﬁeldwork among ascetic yogis today that in traditional yoga practice āsanas, like the poses held by ascetics mentioned in the Mahābhārata and other ancient texts, are to be held for relatively long periods and that no ﬁxed order is prescribed for their practice. Such a conclusion is unsurprising in the light of the implication of sedentariness expressed by the word āsana itself."
A post from my teacher Tony Sanchez.
In the mid 70's when, I first met Bikram, he was on a clear mission. He taught me the value of yoga and made me a believer. He used to say "Nothing is good unless you do honest work for it". I learned the value of daily practice with intent. And I understood that if, you teach and train the body and mind through Hatha yoga and healthy eating, they will serve you well. Hatha Yoga is a self-repairing system that will restore the body to optimum working order in a gradual and even way. Healthy eating will provide you with the needed nutrition to keep the body and mind going. The mission, I felt was to teach the world a simple, effective and natural way to stay healthy. And in good physical shape and mental peace in this challenging times we live in. It almost, sounded as if, at one time, it was Ghosh's mission.
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