Wednesday, November 23, 2011


This just in The New York TimesYoga Addict’s New Mantra: ‘Mix It Up’

Random thoughts; I've been adding to it; now it's more random and rambling.

Seems to run from food-body-related thoughts to comments on subtler layers:

1. Calories in/calories out:
Body comp (lean-ness versus otherwise) is 90% food quality. Do a lot of "wining and dining, with renewed vigor" (i.e. wine ((sugars)), refined carbs) and you get fat, most likely (as a woman) around thighs/buttocks (men: umbilicus/low back/obliques).

Doesn't matter if you're running 50 miles a week (in which case you're most likely skinny-fat, like most marathon runners), lifting weights, or practicing Ashtanga: jack your insulin levels and you store fat. No amount of "burn" will reverse insulin and cortisol issues.

2. Adaptation/hormetic response
The body, as is its wont, adapts to stressful stimulus. For fitness, strength, and health, variation is critical in order to elicit a hormetic response. Not enough to kill you, but enough. 

For upasana/'adoration,' however, ritual and repetition are critical.

To expect continued physical adaptation to the same series/sequence, practiced day-in, day out, for years, is a clinical definition of insanity (i.e. identical inputs but expect different outputs).

3. Novice effect
Also, she experienced the novice effect. Any novice/beginner/untrained person — I am talking strength and active flexibility (vs. passive) — will experience phenomenal strength gains immediately due to any physical stimulus.

For a sedentary person, untrained person, and quite frequently endurance athlete (i.e. typical American jogger, marathoner, etc) this could be playing Wii, doing Ashtanga or knitting. Doesn't matter, they will show demonstrable increases in strength.

Adaptation is logarithmic, however. When beginning, there are frequent and large gains made close together.

Over time, as adaption occurs, gains plateau and occur with less frequency.

(I could also make the case that deepening/expanding sense of connection arising incidental to Yoga practice follows same logarithmic curve.) 

3. Protestant Work Ethic
Displays the embedded notion that long, hard practices built spiritual equity — and six-pack abs. However, we are human. A strong desire to look good naked is integral to existence. 

As we age there ought to be strong, ever-increasing acceptance of physical conditions as they are. Enlightenment is your ability to share this expanding sensibility.

4. Comin' Around
I find it great that it took visits with a trainer for her to come around to a deeper, more profound aspect of practice. Practice for its own sake! This is, no joke, seriously wonderful.

5. Conflation of physical difficulty with fitness
This is a logical fallacy. All physical activities that are difficult do not equal fitness or strength. I.e. archery versus Olympic weightlifting; juggling versus pentathlon.

Ashtanga is challenging, true, and will make you a bit more fit than the couch-bound, but gains stop and plateau very soon in context with other physical endeavors.

If you wish to test this, there are many metrics with lots of recorded results with which you can compare yourself; Army Physical Fitness Test, etc.

(As an aside, my old friend and a long-time practitioner Dr. John K. and I both laughed about this after being tasked with workouts that involved push-ups and 400 meter runs ((that is, around ONE city block)), and we both discovered the 'fitness' of Ashtanga was, as the Kevala Advaitins like to say, confusing a snake for a rope. After the workout, we realized the snake ((our fitness)) was just a rope ((not at all fitness)), and this confusion was the result of ignorance ((avidya)).)

6. Tracy Anderson is a joke.
I recall one of her quotes: women should never lift more than 10 pounds. Also, her stretch band exercises are ridiculous, and her advocation of baby-food diet is also bullshit.

Succeeding in a Tracy Anderson 'exercise' class is like beating a 5-year-old at Monopoly.

7. Ashtanga as Renunciation
As Swenson has been quoted, "Don't let Yoga ruin your life." What's this about going to Mysore and not having sugar, coffee or dairy?! Clearly she missed some facets of traditional Yoga diets as well as typical Indian diet (i.e. ghee, milk, chai, jageri, etc). 

Strong indicator of how much projection takes place in our heads versus what we think the Yoga practice is supposed to be.

8. Acceptance
Obviously, article tweaked a strong chord in me. Despite its repetition of bullshit fitness myths, author airs out many typical Ashtangi myths. Sunlight is good for numbers 3 and 5 above.

9. What Lies in Ashtanga's Implicit Structure?
Is this over-reliance and over-emphasis on physicality implicit and therefore inseparable from Asthanga?

As a teacher in the Mysore room, does 'rewarding' the 'perfection' of one asana with the next foster this do-or-die, attain-at-any cost mentality? What is the tone or tenor of your Mysore room? How much is in your head?

Also note that I could make the argument that Ashtanga 'selects' for those with contortionist predisposition (i.e. there are mostly genetic components for leg-behind-head, spinal flexion, femur-hip rotation).

As an incredibly obvious example, I have practiced with one blind woman and the Japanese couple with no legs (three total) since 1998, so we could say Ashtanga selects for people with all their limbs and sight. I.e. selects for the fully abled.

What other selection processes are made? Age? Gender? Economic class? Athletic predisposition and experiences (samskaras, karmas)?

"All Ashtanga Yoginis are Type-As."

It's like saying "All basketball players are very tall," or "All swimmers have long arms and broad shoulders," which is not the case — at each increasing difficultly level more favorable genetic predispositions are generally selected for, i.e. Michael Phelps/Olympics, Michael Jordan/NBA, etc.

So is this true? Does the practice select for Type-As?

Does it foster (reward) so-called "type-A" behavior"? (Obsessive posture-seeking.)

(Leaving aside for a moment the issue of the bullshit factor of the whole personality "type" classification system.)

Interestingly, article does not mention much of practitioner's asana 'attainments,' such as, "I finally completed third series."

One could make the case that an over-emphasis on physical attainments creates the so-called "type-A" behavior. So "type-A's" do not find Ashtanga, but stringent focus on physical postures brings out posture-tunneling.

10. No Quote From Eddie
Would have been nice and dare I say, balanced. Also would have been nice to hear something about 'traditional' emphasis and focus of this practice (i.e. 'Citta vrtti nirodha'). No mention of Patanjali? Did I misread?

11. Connection, Relation, Joining Does Not Result From A Series Practiced Perfectly
"Yoga" is not caused by the perfect practice of an entire and complete sequence of Ashtanga Vinyasa. This is the confusion of "correlation" with "causation." A profound not-two-ness arises — or does not — independently of practice, which I have found through life's vagaries can be 20 minutes or 2 hours. This lucid luminosity is an accident; we practice to make ourselves, as Trungpa said, "to make ourselves more accident-prone."

12. Yoga as Success
This is nothing new, but to reread the Yogic texts as well as the Vedas as well as Upanishads and even Puranas reiterates Yoga as nothing more than a means to attain success independent of morality.

This as Ravana (and every other Asura) demonstrate through the success of their tapasya and achievement/attainment of some rather radical gifts and powers.

Independent of morality, ethics (Patanjali here as brutally utilitarian; yamas and niyamas only serve to smooth out life enough to make kaivalya possible), the question ought to be then, Does your yoga work?

Does it satisfy the claims its adherents make?

For author of the article, clearly she thought that Yoga would flatten her tummy, keep her butt high, help her look good naked.

Clearly, it did not serve to flatten her tummy, keep her butt tight and round, help her look good naked.

This is a "tragedy of small enlightenment" on her behalf (i.e. I submit she is guilty not of desiring the wrong things, but of not desiring enough.)

How to determine if your system does work? Not enough to gaze around a silent Mysore room and admire all the bodies you see there (e.g. you could be at Eddie's studio the day Cirque du Soleil is in town.)

Conversation and engagement (Holy shit! Yoga!) is required, as well as self-study (svadhyaya) and surrender or devotion — I have really been vibing off 'adoration' lately (isvara pranidhanani).

Deeper questions: are your teachers and co-practitioners emblematic of what they promise this system to deliver? Which is what, exactly?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


More from Geoffrey Samuel's The Origins of Yoga and Tantra:
"The Yogasutra has noticeable affinities to the dhyana and jhana meditations of the Buddhist tradition and has generally been regarded as strongly influenced by Buddhist meditational procedures, with Samadhi seen, as in the Buddhist practices, as a state of withdrawal from external concerns and focusing of the body-mind...
 Rather than seeing this in terms of ‘Buddhist influence,’ we should perhaps again see this more in terms of participation within a shared ascetic sub-culture...
Thus the Yogasutra I.17 defines an initial meditational state (samprajnata Samadhi) in terms close to the Buddhist definition of the first dhyana state, while I.33 recommends the practice of the four states (friendliness, compassion, sympathetic joy, equanimity) known in Buddhist texts as the four brahmavihara states (Satyananda 1980: 33, 57).”
The Origins of Yoga and Tantra, page 222
Samuels goes on to suggest the idea of kaivalya not as a withdrawn "alone-ness" but an "internal reversal rather than necessarily involving a cessation of existence in the world," (p. 223).

Though he does go on to mention that a "consistent emphasis on world-rejection is certainly found in major figures of later Indian philosophy such as Sankara." (p. 223)

What's challenging in reading of Shankara is to consistently remember that he appears to only write from the perspective of One-ness/Singularity/Non-duality.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Re-reading Geoffrey Samuel's The Origins of Yoga and Tantra; thought I'd share some of his comments on the Yogasutra:

[David Gordon] White argues against the frequent modern interpretation of yoga, based in large part on Vivekananda’s selective reading of the Yogasutra, as a ‘meditative practice through which the absolute was to be found by turning the mind and senses inward, away from the world’ (White 2006: 6) ...  
Yogic practices are about linkages between the microcosm and macrocosm, and they postulate an ‘open’ model of the human body, not a closed one. 
In particular, White notes that the commonest use of the term ‘yoga’ in the narrative sections of the Mahabharata is to refer to a dying warrior transferring himself at death to the sphere of the sun through yoga, a practice that links up with Upanishadic references to the channel to the crown of the head as the pathway by which one can travel through the solar orb to the World of Brahman (2006: 7). This channel is called susumna in the Maitri Upanishad, a term that recurs some centuries later in the Tantric context. (page 221)
What do we expect from an Ashtanga Vinyasa practice: a great turning in, or a great turning out? How much of our expectations of this practice descend from Vivekananda? How much from the renunciate tradition of Shankara?

(I have had a tendency to post questions; this morning however I thought I'd share my own journaling/svadhyaya on the questions.)

Shankara, it must be said, viewed practice as useless — well, not entirely: as he says in the Brahma-Sutra-Bhasya, it is of some use "for those of inferior intellect."

Personally, I find introversion and withdrawal easier than extroversion and energetic engagement. I notice I have the tendency to simplify complexity and clarify confusion, and this thread has insinuated itself into aspects of my Yoga practice, maybe from a less mature understanding of vairagya, or dispassion or non-attachment.

However, perhaps the idea that vairagya as an ideal stems from a "closed body" model of Yoga, one descended from Vivekananda's prurient take on the Yogasutra and sprouting from the sramana ("strivers") era of renunciate-ascetic tradition circa 2,000 years ago.

An "open body" model of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga suggests acceptance and understanding of both increasing complexity and confusion, and consequently increasing difficulty.

It's an interesting perspective or stance to adopt. Rather than dispassionate observation, an "open body" model suggests more appreciation and savoring (svada) of various states.