Monday, November 5, 2012

within you without you

'When you've seen beyond yourself,
Then you may find,
Peace of mind is waiting there,
In addition, the time will come,
When you see we are all one,
And life flows on within and without you' 

George Harrison- The Beatles 1967

 As Yoga continues to deeply transform concepts around body, physicality, exercise and self in the post-modern age, many people try to answer the question, "what is YOGA?" and struggle to qualify 'purpose' in the practice and articulation of this ancient ritual of self exploration.  For many, yoga remains a spiritual practice, existing in the spiritual realm of 'the self' with attachments to religion and dogma.  For just as many, yoga has become a form of exercise with dominant attachments to the body and to the physical self.  Where does yoga come from... within us or without us?

Hatha Yoga, a commonly practiced yoga in the studios of the west, uses the body as a ‘doorway’; where as Jnana Yoga (not as commonly practiced) uses the mind.  The idea with a Hatha practice, is that rather than 'forcing' yourself into uncomfortable postures that are not attainable (in this moment), one works to their 'edge' and views the 'message' the body is sending, without judgment of attachment.  The message is to be viewed 'in the moment' as reflective of the temporal state of the (multiple layers of) self.  The reflection can speak to the individual’s mental, emotional, physical states and both the physical and subtle 'self'.  This way we are looking at our limitations to define our true potential.  This is duality.  The western language (of understanding)  is one that exists and originates from a systemic binary; quite contrary to the idea that 'limitation' and 'potential' can come from the same place, or from the same energy.  Just as many eastern religions tend to find their philosophical root in multitheism; an appreciation of multiple deities for multiple reasons and the history of western Christianity is born out of an emergence of monotheism (from paganism), a devotion to one God only, the polarization of these concepts has effected the differing ways people 'view and perceive' themselves.  This 'perception' of self can easily be said to have been isolated by culture and nurture over time.  It is more difficult for people who have been raised on the strict diet of binaries that create strong 'self-schema' (healthy vs. sick, strong vs. weak, fat vs. skinny, etc) to embrace a flexible fluctuating awareness of 'the self'.

Jnana Yoga uses the mind to 'stretch' self-concept and perception.  The challenge here is that, in the post-modern age of 'the self', the role of body is decidedly physical and dominant.  Our body image is part of our self-schema.  The body image includes;
  • The perceptual experience of the body
  • The conceptual experience of the body—what we have been told and believe about our body, including scientific information, hearsay, myth, etc.
  • The emotional attitude towards the body
Our body schemata may transcend the realities of what our bodies actually are—or in other words, we may have a different mental picture of our bodies than what they physically are.  Concepts around 'exercising the body' as a 'mostly' (physical) being, defining the (physical) body  as 'an act of volition through space', 'forceful and with (self-prescribed) direction and pace', a notion that exercising the body is an act that involves 'movement'... all of these are attachments and schematics of a western-world perception of the body.  All of these would limit a Yoga practice; therefore, all of these should begin the process of potential.  Yoga is not a series of poses to 'acquire' or accumulate skill in practice.  You cannot get better, or be better at Yoga.  When we practice asana, we may find ourselves engaging in dialogue ( developed mental habits) where we 'judge' or analyze our practice, where we anticipate (look forward to the 'next' pose, the 'most challenging' pose), we are ambitious (look to the gains of the future), are competitive (wish we were better, stronger, faster... we think the instructor/the person in front/behind/beside us is 'better, stronger, faster') - Yoga is the positioning of all of the inquires, doubts and fears in front of you, so you will really 'look' at them. What you do with them is up to you.  Rumi wrote, "When the mirror of the heart becomes pure and clear, impressions of the other world will become manifest. The image and the image-maker will become visible, like the carpet and the carpet-spreader.”  If Hatha Yoga uses the body as the 'doorway' towards enlightenment and Jnana yoga uses the mind... perhaps the translator is the heart.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Yin of Winter

Do you ever imagine your winter day as follows; you, curled up in front of a roaring fire, sipping on something warm and delicious, with your favorite slippers on and your favorite book, quiet snow falling on the other side of the windowpane, and Thelonious Monk playing on the stereo... You have no place to go, there is no rush, you don't need to get in your car and drive into the tempest. Your soul's purpose is to rest and, despite a fallacy that suggests otherwise, regrowth is happening in the winter, deep beneath the snow and stillness... and deep under the wooly sweaters and socks, skin, bone and beating heart - There is regrowth.

The season provokes many attachments; to fears of the cold, to fears of dying, departure, solitude. We often find ourselves rushing into the wild winds and sleet to 'produce' the same energy we would on any other day, any other season, in contrast with nature, as usual. Do you, like me, languish in the months of January through March, pining for the spring, thinking of nothing else? Winter gets a bum wrap, and here is why. We do winter all wrong. "Instead of having fun, we often end up feeling ill, anxious, or depressed. The reason, according to Taoist philosophy and traditional Chinese medicine, is that the action-packed schedules we keep at this time of year fall out of sync with the earth's natural cycles." - We need to replenish in winter; take time to nurture a different part of the self and sustain by eating a different diet and doing different things with our bodies, with time, with space; all elements of a well-rounded yoga practice.

"Taoist philosophy conceptualizes universal balance in terms of yin and yang, complementary forces that govern the universe. Yin characteristics are cool, wet, slow, feminine, and quiet, whereas yang is the opposite: warm, dry, fast, masculine, extroverted. Winter, the yin season, is a time for storing and conserving energy in the way a bear retains fat by hibernating, or a farmer stores food for the cold months ahead."

Eat warm, slow-cooked, nourishing foods. GET a slow-cooker, use it in the winter. Turn off the t.v. and the computer (well, after you've check this blog, of course!) and read more. Write in a journal. Turn off the lights and light scented candles with rich aromas of cinnamon and vanilla and MEDITATE. Stare at the flame and watch it dance. Let go (or be dragged).

"The incongruity between winter's restful, introspective, yin nature and the frenetic way many Americans spend their holidays can contribute to seasonal affective disorder, depression, exhaustion, and other manifestations of what is known in TCM as shen (or spiritual) disharmony"

3 or 4 days before Christmas, when everyone else is frantically racing from mall to mall, invite your friends and family over for a different kind of party. Celebrate the shortest day of the year with crafts, warm food and drink and laughter. For Wiccans, the holiday of Yule (or Yuletide) is about bidding farewell  to the old, and celebrating the new things yet to come. As the sun returns to the earth, and days get longer again, life begins once again. Have your own Yule celebration or create a ritual. Abandon the commercialism of this holiday and pay homage to the longest night of the year by  nurturing the yin nature of winter and bringing the light; to your home, to your Yoga and to your spirit.