On NPR today, the host of the show started to ask his guest about his research by saying, “Maybe you could give us a thumbnail synopsis.” What??? Why couldn’t he just say a “short summary”???

When people become over-educated, they make things way more complicated than they should be! Please, if you feel the need to learn more things than the average person, please don’t feel the need to show off with extraneous or flashy words. They confuse things, rather than illuminate. K.I.S.S.

Memorial Weekend 2006 070

Light Fixture Reflection on Plastic Table Cover

Yoga Test

If I seem a bit obsessed about Yoga lately, it’s because I’m in the 9th week of a 12-week intensive training to become certified as an instructor. We have a test on Wednesday on the precepts of Yoga, or “Raja” Yoga. So below is a summary of some key yoga concepts, for you to enjoy, but mostly to help me prepare for my test!

References to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are given in parenthesis (Book-Sutra).

The eight limbs of yoga practice are (2-29):
1) yama (The abstinences: non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, non-greed)
2) niyama (The observances: purity, contentment, accepting but not causing pain, study of spiritual books, and surrender to God)
3) asana (steady, comfortable posture)
4) pranayama (breath control, expansion of energy)
5) pratyahara (sense withdrawl)
6) dharana (concentration)
7) dhyana (meditation)
8) samadhi (contemplation, absorption, or super conscious state)

The ultimate goal of pranayama: Prepares the mind for meditation. How? Calming the mind, clearing the naadis. In meditation, find a point of awareness, and when the mind wanders, bring it back to that single point.

Definition of Yoga according to Sri Patanjali (1-2): Yogas chitta vritti nirodhah. The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.

There are 2 types of vrittis or modifications of the mind-stuff (thoughts) (1-5): Painful and Painless

Our relationships to our vrittis/thoughts can be either selfish or selfless. If we feel we are in a position of need, the thought is selfish and we will feel pain.

Mental modifications are restrained by Practice and Non-Attachment (The 2 wings of the bird of freedom) (1-12).

Practice is defined as effort toward steadines of mind (1-13), and becomes firmly grounded when well-attended-to for a long time, without break, and in all earnestness (1-14).

Non-Attachment is the consciousness of self-mastery in one who is free from cravings for objects seen or heard about (1-15).

The mind can retain its calmness by cultivating the following attitudes toward people (4 keys for 4 locks, use the right key for the lock) (1-33):
1. Friendliness toward the happy;
2. Compassion for the unhappy;
3. Delight for the virtuous;
4. Disregard/indifference for the wicked.

Reflecting on the results/consequences of your actions before performing them is called pratipaksha bhavanam (2-34).

The six branches of Integral Yoga are:
Hatha Yoga- body, postures, breath
Raja Yoga- mind, ethical perfection
Bhakti Yoga- heart
Karma Yoga- life/actions
Jnana Yoga- wisdom, self-analysis, who am I?
Japa Yoga- meditation

Some Sanskrit Terms:

The Five Koshas, or sheaths: Anamayakosha (Food Body), Pranamayakosha (Energy), Manomayakosha (Mind), Jnanamayakosha (Intellect), Anandamayakosha (Bliss)

Yantra- a visual representation of a Mantra
Mantra- a sound vibration of some aspect of the divine
Chakra- an energy center
Sangha- spritual community
Prana- cosmic energy (a subtle concept I’m still working on wrapping my head around, otherwise known as chi, life force, etc.).
Naadis- subtle nerves (this one I can relate to acupuncture meridians, energy channels, nodes that prana can pass through, etc.)
Ida-naadi energy channel associated with the left nostril & right hemisphere of the brain
Pingala-naadi energy channel associated with the right nostril & left hemisphere of the brain

Holy Yoga

From the book, Holy Yoga, written by a recently born-again Christian:

“The usual criticisms of yoga from a Christian standpoint fall into a few major categories:
*Yoga can’t be separated from the Hindu religion
*Yoga is about emptying the mind
*Yoga’s goal is to find divinity in oneself
*Yoga opens you up to false gods and demonic influences
*Yoga will be a stumbling block to your Christian witness”

I’d like to address some of the above claims based on what I’ve learned to date.

1) Christians would generally take offense with Hinduism’s pantheistic approach, that God has many sides of himself that are equally of value to worship by anyone of any means. The fact that you can worship a rock, or a picture of someone else’s creative version of God is unacceptable. Their assertion is that God is strictly defined: God is a “he”, God has a Holy Spirit, God has a son named Jesus, a nemesis named Satan, and a crew of angels.

My issue with the Hindu religion is its concept of karmic rebirths. So until I become immersed in Samadhi, my crown chakra open to the universe, and I become aware of all that is and all that was, and it is revealed to me that I lived many lives before and finally became a being fit for yogic union with the universe, I probably won’t buy the idea that the billions of years involved in our creation was so that humans could experience bliss with God, something that other creatures and inanimate objects merely “aspire” to.

I think if you were truly open-minded and tolerant, you would know that all the plants and animals and humans less “gifted” with spiritual longings are absolutely perfect just the way they are. I suppose if this is the case, then the practice of yoga is reduced to, evolutionarily speaking, simply another way of extending our odds of survival by creating harmony in our species so that we don’t kill each other or other important creatures in our ecosystem off. Which, I think, is a great reason to practice yoga in and of itself.

So, no, why buy the whole cow (Hinduism) when you get the milk (Yoga) for free? On the other hand, if the ancient Yogis were brilliant enough to dream up this almost flawless scientific system for living a healthy, peaceful, life, maybe the Hindus that were smart enough to adopt Yoga knew something that I don’t about previous lives and rebirths…

2) Yoga is about emptying the mind:

Yes it is. And if you think a devil is going to take control of your mind if you stop thinking for 1 minute about what you’re going to have for dinner and what you should have done at work that day, then, what can I say? The old age quip that an empty or idle mind is the devil’s playground probably applied more to juvenile delinquents than to people simply trying to bring a little peace to their lives. On the other hand, if you empty your mind with the intention or expectation that evil thoughts will enter, then they probabaly will, and you probably shouldn’t do it.

3) Yoga’s goal is to find divinity in oneself:

Again, although the Bible says God is omnipresent, and all things came from God, Christians refuse to entertain the notion that if everything came from God, then everything is a holy expression of God. How could it not be so? Even if you try to use the “he is the potter and we are the clay” argument, it doesn’t quite hold water, because it was he who made the clay, and the wheel, etc. Everything is exactly as it was meant to be, because God is perfect, therefore, imperfection cannot come from God.

“Na-mas-te” is a common phrase used in Yoga. Roughly translated from Sanskrit, it means “that which is divine in me recognizes that which is divine in you.” We say this because we know that we are more than just our bodies; we are some incomprehensible expression of an all-encompassing, all-powerful universe, that in-and-of-itself could be called “God.” Some people need a more personal, ego-centric, more removed-from-the-events God, so to them, our universe/existence is rather God’s creation, or God’s dream. But ultimately, it is all just God in the end.

So the question of whether you are looking inward for divinity is the wrong question. The right question is WHY you look for divinity. And if looking within yourself for divinity causes you to think you are valuable above everything else in existence, then you have missed the point, and are NOT in line with Yogic precepts. Yoga teaches us to examine our thoughts, eliminate wrong thinking and replace it with spiritual thinking, so that the SELF becomes less and less important, and the essence of the self, which is the same in all of us, which is an expression of God, becomes more and more important.

The last 2 points aren’t really worth discussing at this juncture. That’s my brief-as-possible justification for Yoga for today.

I think you are lucky if you find divinity (a.k.a. God, a.k.a. anything more wonderful than yourself) anywhere, and you should probably treasure it and be grateful for it whatever form you find it in.

A Life of Passion, Pride, & Pain

It’s interesting to me to think about the choice one has in life to live as a yogi, always in peace, always in bliss, or, as most mortals live, a life of ups and downs, pleasures followed by pains, followed by pleasures, followed by pains. This comes to mind in athletic pursuits…If you choose to accept the great feelings you have when you succeed, and triumph, you are also choosing to accept feelings of defeat, pain, and need…the need to be better, throw farther, run faster, whatever, when you don’t succeed. Needs necessarily make us feel not good enough, and take our peace away.

I always thought it was weird to ban those funky dance celebrations after a team made a touchdown in football. But on further contemplation, maybe it reveals a kind of higher truth that the ego shouldn’t be glorified. It is okay for the entire team to celebrate after a victory, but for one person to do the moon walk after a success puts the attention on the individual pride rather than the collective effort.

As an athlete with goals and needs, you must accept that there will be pain and there will be pleasure associated with the journey to acheive that goal. A lot of times we get caught up in the pain and start feeling sorry for ourselves. But that’s what you get when you chase a goal. You made a choice, and you must live with the consequences.

You can think of athletics as kind of a practice in pain for purification. You accept the pain because if you can muster the strength to get through it and learn from it, you know it will make you better in the end.

Crazy Dreams

So I’ve been great about stopping eating after 7:30pm, until last night. I took my massage therapist that works with me out for dinner, so I had some chamomile tea and an eggplant crepe around 8:30-9pm. I had a dream that I was two timing Will Ferrell and Jared Leto. I dumped Will Ferrell (at which point I learned he was already married and wasn’t wearing his ring) and things were going well with Jared Leto except he dressed like someone from the beatles and had the bowl-shaped haircut. Then I found out he had a penchant for wearing women’s brazierres and wearing makeup, so I had to say goodbye.

So, don’t eat after 7:30pm.

The Next Level

I had a fun thought tonight during meditation…You know how at first life developed in the oceans, and eventually creatures developed lungs for air? Well, the other day I heard it said beautifully that we live at the bottom of an ocean of air. So, theoretically, if the edge of our planet's atmosphere is the top of the ocean, and we keep jumping to the top like amphibians, eventually we may adapt to be able to live in space. If we can condition ourselves to live colder and with less oxygen and gravity, who knows? It may just be the next leap in evolution!

Nutrition, Routines

So I’m going to test my theory that I feel tired all the time because I’m eating too late at night and my body is digesting instead of resting. Have you ever woken up with a hangover from food? I have! If you eat too late in the evening, the food will actually just sit there and ferment in your stomach and start gurgling & digesting when you wake up!

Ocean Beach
I took this picture on the first day of my 3-day fast at the start of yoga teacher training.

Supposedly the ideal time to stop eating is 6pm. Most people who understand this concept shoot for 7:30pm. I had a friend at Chevron (shout out to Dempsey) who lost 20 pounds just by not eating after 7:30pm each night. Makes total sense to me. Your metabolism/digestive fire is strongest at lunchtime, so it makes sense to have a medium breakfast, a nice filling lunch, and a light dinner. If you need some decaffinated tea or something in the evening to tie you over, no harm done. So I will be stopping eating at 7:30pm for a week, and monitor the quality of my dreams and whether I feel rested in the morning.

All I Need

No saints have shown me miracles
I have no special powers
I can’t see auras
But I can feel your sadness and connect to your heart
God is nebulous
But power & beauty is everywhere
And when I’m driving in the fast lane
And the sun is setting
I turn the music high
And feel it in my veins
and I have all I need.