Monday, December 31, 2007

Food for thought...

Practice at the CT Shala was slooooooooooooow today. Got one adjustment, and it was really just to grip my shin tighter in Mari D, while holding my wrist. Then I was on my own, due to the lateness of the hour. Had to bind Supta K on my own, which is not as much fun as I initially thought it was. Had to drop myself back, which is pretty stupid, to which anyone who has seen my backbends can attest. And yet, strangely, I did stand up on my own without looking like a drunken monkey on the third try. On the first try, I had to push myself up with one hand from behind, although I technically did "stand up" withut assistance. But it was soooo ugly, I can't count that as anything. On the second try, I fell to my knees. It was only when I dropped back and popped right back up that I could do it with one percent more grace than is usual for me.

I did the DonutsZenMom-Elbows-Around-The-Head-a-la-Headstand-at-the-Wall-Research. I felt NOTHING at all. Which is not surprising because as DZM says (and I paraphrase), I have a disconnect between my brain and my armpits. BUT, that said, after three of those, I did the Laksmi-Endorsed-Forearms-To-The-Wall-Research (would love to put my triceps against the wall, but currently, that is not to be), and there was a marked improvement in terms of my general feeling of suffering in backbends.

That's saying a lot, really.

Of course, you get a little, you give a little: My Pasasana sucked badly. My wrapping arm kept slipping off my outside leg on the second side, so that I ended up in a cross between Mari A and Mari C while squatting. Not pretty. And I was squatting with my back to the wall, so there was no excuse, other than impatience, and that's no excuse at all. And come to think of it, I basically phoned in my Salabasana and Bhekasana. I just wanted to get the hell out of there because it felt like the practice that never ended.

Of course, it did end. And I came home and baked two batches of scones, one blueberry and one almond/apricot. Then I cooked up some Moroccan Chicken and Chickpea Stew. It smelled so good, I served myself some chicken along with my chickpeas, surprising myself since I don't normally eat chicken or much of any meat at all these days. Then I tasted it and put it right back. The chickpeas were so much nicer.

I'm going through this phase where I find meat absolutely disgusting. What's strange is that I keep thinking I WANT to eat meat. Then, I taste it, and...yuck. Not really a problem. Actually, in theory, I would prefer to eat no meat at all because of the aftereffects - feeling sluggish, feeling food in my stomach long after I've eaten, feeling toxic the next day at practice, not having lovely vegetarian poops. Sorry, readers, but it's true. When you don't eat meat, your shit don't stink.

If anything, it's that last reason that keeps me off meat more than anything else.

But I digress. Way off the point. I wanted to write about having read Norman Allen's and David Williams's interviews with Guy, which are reprinted on Guy's Ashtanga Yoga Sangha website. Two takes on the Mysore experience with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois during roughly, well more than roughly, the same time period, could not be more different. Fascinatingly different. But I should temper that by saying that I could barely understand Norman Allen's interview. Bits and pieces came through to me, but as a whole, it was difficult to understand and seemingly full of contradictions. Guy seemed interested in getting NA to talk about my own dear-to-my-heart-topic: asana as the means to yoga. NA had explained that he came to Ashtanga as taught by SKPJ because he was impressed by the physical practice:

"A month or two before this conference, two young Indians from Mysore show up at the Ashram with Saris - wanting to sell saris and little sarongs, and one of their names is Basaraju and one of them is Manju, OK? And they hung out there, in their young 20’s and this one boy Manju demonstrates some Yoga postures that he had learned from his father… Oh Man! look at that....

"So, I saw Manju and Basaraju and then a month or two later saw his father and then saw Vishvanath demonstrate and I said: 'OK, this I want to learn'."

NA had already been engaged in all manner of yoga practices ("... we did asanas, pranayamas, we did chakrabrakshalas, we did every clean out there was, we fasted and then after the fast we ate dosa...we ate the masala dosa, we did coffee enemas, we did every kind of thing, we did mainly a lot of the laya yoga kriyas, visualization, levitation"). In what Manju and his friend were doing, NA found something new that he wanted to try, from a physical standpoint.

But then he seems to say that the asana practice will get you "nowhere", without "taking other steps." He talks about the importance of dissolving the ego. Guy asks him if the asana practice might be a means to that and NA says no. But it's confusing as to what one needs to do to dissolve the ego. At first he says that the yamas and niyamas are important. Then a moment later he says to forget the yamas and niyamas, that it is all about prana. Here is what he says about the physical practice, itself:

"But to have a practice that locks you into a format and a discipline that calls you to attention. That will teach you (that) if you get afflicted in the body, what means can you use to un afflict yourself? That’s all there. That’s precise and glorious if you can deal with that. It’s too late to dig the well when the fire is burning and the house is on fire. “Oh, man I gotta go do some yoga…!” No man! You learn it early and practice it and then when you are in trouble you can call on it, because then it’s appropriate.

"That’s why, be established in it. It takes a few years of regular practice, you get to be intimate with your body, you know when it’s out of humors and you can evoke some relief for it."

I have to be honest: I keep reading it over and over again, and I can't understand what he is trying to say, or how it relates to what else he said. If anyone can give me a summary of NA's main points, it would be very helpful.

As for Williams, I have to say, I liked what he had to say, and I liked the way he said it. He tells the story of how he came to practice the entire Ashtanga system, in a clear, linear fashion. He answers Guys questions directly and comprehensibly, including the question of what role the asanas take in the quest for yoga:

"If you do the practice, all will be revealed and to me, that’s the spiritual part of having the revelations by first getting the body in a fit enough position where it won’t interrupt you, so you can get into a state of meditation. The word 'yoga' and 'meditation' are synonyms. I, more and more over the years, work to make my yoga practice a moving meditation and then at the end of my practice, when I get up and walk away, I continue that meditation into my life, all day long, so I consider the practice to be a foundation of a twenty-four hour a day meditation."

DW also makes it clear that he came to Mysore after already having taught the Primary Series as he understood it, and he made clear to SKPJ that he wanted to learn it properly so that he could teach it properly.

When did it become criminal to have a desire to teach Ashtanga and to ask the SKPJ family to ready you to teach it?

Here is how he ends the interview:

"I went to India searching for the best possible yoga practice and I found his system and started learning it with diligence. Since then I have still continued my search of the world for the greatest fitness program; I ask everybody that I meet, “Have you found a better yoga system than this?” I still haven’t found anything better than Guruji’s ashtanga yoga practice. If somebody said to me, "OK, you have fifteen minutes or one hour. Do something good for yourself; you can have all the equipment, no equipment, barbells, bicycles, whatever...

I would get down on the floor and start doing my Salutations to the Sun and start going through the first series. I am entirely indebted to Guruji for all of the hundreds of hours that he put into teaching me the ashtanga yoga."

Now that's food for thought I can digest with ease.


1 comment:

sony said...

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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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