Monday, August 14, 2006

Aren't Tic Tocs really just another word for Front and Back Limbers?

So, as I was saying, can practicing yoga still be practicing yoga if the person practicing it is fixated on the asanas and what his or her body is doing? Or to put it another way, can gymnastics/calisthenics be yoga if they are "done" on a mat?

Not long ago, and I am talking, weeks, I might have said "no way". And before that, I would have said, "Way." And once again, I am back to that. Kind of.

Here is my thinking. If becoming one with a physical action - or set of physical actions - takes you into that zone where your mind no longer speaks loudly enough for you to attach to your thoughts, then THAT, I believe, is yoga, as yoga is defined by Patanjali. Yoga is the quieting of the mind so that the Self can emerge.

The Self is who we really are - unchanged by time, by external events, by that which happens to our body. The Self is within all of us (of course), but some of us never even get close to perceiving what the Self might be. Some who practice yoga have caught glimpses of what it is to feel the Self emerging from the abyss created by the cling and clatter of the Mind. I believe that what it might feel like is a momentary sense of pure perception. Of complete connection with another human being or a part of nature, a wordless sense of wonder.

But most of the time, the Self is almost entirely obscured by the chatter produced by the mind. The methods prescribed by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras - the Eight Limbs of Yoga - are just route to getting to that quieting of the clatter, or, in other words, to yoga. I believe that other methods may get some of us there as well. At least some of the time. And at least temporarily.

See, if a yoga student is fixated on the postures, the effects of the practice may be quite profound while the student is on the mat. But at the same time, the effects may be short-lived, confined solely to the time spent on the mat even. For example, a student whose mind becomes entirely absorbed in the practice while on the mat may indeed come out of practice noticing that there are no thoughts that can be remembered or identified from the immediately preceding 90 or so minutes. That sounds like yoga to me.

However, if upon rolling up is or her mat after practice, that student looks around the room and sees another student (or two or four) practicing, postures that he or she has not yet been "given", then what happens if that student is not practicing the limbs of yoga other than "Asana"? What happens if his or her yoga practice is all about the Asana practice, and not at all about "Asteya", "Satya", "Ahimsa" or any of the other Yamas (or Niyamas)? In that case, the student may find that the thoughts that obscure the Self, that disturb the sense of calm, come bombarding back just as soon as he or she steps off the mat. Once the body is no longer fully engaged in the practice, the mind finds its voice again, and thoughts reflecting competitiveness, greed, desire, aversion can once again be heard.

That is why although some sports are known to be meditative (for example, running, swimming and golf), they aren't exactly "yoga". They provide temporary fixes. In order to acheive longer, more permanent shifts in the balance of Self and Chattering Mind, something more than the engagement of the body seems to be necessary.

For those who practice Asthanga - the Eight Limbed path, we have our road map. What we choose to do with it, that's another story for another day, which might or might not involve a confession of my having called someone an "F-ing Bitch" at the dog run yesterday at a particularly tense moment involving a beagle, a Bagle, two very hungry boys and my naivte regarding the ferociousness of food aggression a hungry hound might direct toward another hound in the presence of two slices of barbecued-chicken-pizza being eaten by his human brothers.

Trust me when I tell you, it's not a nice image. Therefore, I opt neither to confirm nor to deny anyting at this time.




boodiba said...

[See, if a yoga student is fixated on the postures, the effects of the practice may be quite profound while the student is on the mat.] This is about the highest achievement I've reached. I'm as prone to fits of passionate temper as I ever was. The thing is... from what I've seen in the yoga world, so are the yogis who are super advanced in their asana. I haven't seen anyone who's gotten really, really far who doesn't seem to have an ego about it. With the exception of my favorite teacher.

So does this mean I should give up?

It's all so confusing. How can a bunch of opposing viewpoints seem so equally true?

yoga chickie said...

What would giving up mean exactly? Not practicing yoga? Instead, doing what? If you are enjoying it, then of course you have to keep doing it. You couldn't quit if you tried!

I think that the best we can hope for is an awareness of where we are now in our practice (not just in the asana portion) and an understanding of what yoga is. And with that, we just do our best to stay sane, happy and hopefully grow a bit as people. I think...

Cody Pomeray said...

If the intention of the practice is to gain postural proficiency in order to impress others, then I would say that it is gymnastics, not yoga.

If the intention is to cultivate awareness, or still the manic thoughts, or achieve self-awareness, then I'd definitely call it yoga.

Asana practice is just one path towards self-awareness. Devotion, service, and knowledge are all viable practices. Different strokes for different folks and all.

Ashtanga is a great technique for heightening awareness of our inherent tendencies. I like to think that one progresses from ignorance to awareness-after-the fact to awareness-in-the-moment to awareness-before-the-moment when dealing with our reactions to situations.

I may still be quick to anger, but now I'm more likely to reflect on the conditions that led to that anger. Hopefully, over time and through continued practice and heightened awareness of self, I'll be able to head that anger off at the pass.

Keep on keepin' on...

Jody said...

Was Nadia Komenich a yogi?

yoga chickie said...

Hmmm.....looked that way, eh?

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I live by a duck pond. I used to live by the East River. I don't work. I used to work a lot. Now, not so much. I used to teach a lot of yoga. Now not so much. I still practice a lot of yoga though. A LOT. I love my kids, being outdoors, taking photos, reading magazines, writing and stirring the pot. Enjoy responsibly.


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