headstands and breathing

During class on Tuesday, after accomplishing the headstand, brief as it may have been, I felt pretty good. I honestly didn’t think I was going to be able to do it, even with the help. I was happy with myself for just getting upside down. It was interesting to perceive things from literally another perspective. I don’t feel like I was too successful at the shoulderstand in class. It actually seemed harder than the headstand. While practicing at home, I have been practicing the headstand more than the shoulderstand. I’ve managed to get upside down against the wall (though I’m still not very balanced and usually need to come back down almost right away), but I imagine that being able to do the headstand without the wall as support will take much more practice. One of my favorite classes so far has been the breathing exercises on Thursday (and not just because a lot of the time lying down). I liked becoming aware of how I breathe, because it’s not something you think about. I’ve practiced the techniques we went over, especially the one about kind of pausing in breath. It’s a conveniently discreet part of yoga to practice.

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Impressions on How Yoga Works

How Yoga Works has caused me to kind of cycle through a set of opinions. I started off the first few chapters enjoying the novel-like way the book was written. The characters seemed interesting enough, and the book’s failure to prove my wary concerns of it being a boring instructional read made me want to actually read on. Just when I was settling down into the pages’ story I realized that the repetitious nature of captain’s complaints, Friday’s philosophical lesson, concluded by captain’s realization of the true meaning of yoga (repeat this again, and again) was what the entirety of the book was going to be about. Soon this frustration wore off and I kind of began to get into a comfortable routine of expecting some philosophical insight to follow from each confrontation. The book did have its share of interesting events, so it’s not as if it was altogether monotonous. As we also discuss in class, I did like learning about the reasons such and such pose ought to be done such and such way in the book. It gave me purpose to my actions. I didn’t really care for the initial jail setting of the book – I felt it distracted me too much from the intended substance. Some other aspects of the book didn’t always seem to be necessary or maybe seemed a bit silly, but at this point in reading it I knew to just extract what needed extracting and not worry about the details. Overall, while yes this may arguably not be the most interesting of novels to read, the amount of time I spent musing over the book’s peculiarities still led me to thinking over the yoga aspects as well.

Just doing it

This past week I have been focusing on the poses that I’ve felt have really been helpful – especially those ones that open up the chest. So far I’ve noticed that the poses over the course have helped me in a general sense of improving my balance, flexibility, and just feeling more aware of my body, but these “chest-opening poses” have helped with an actual problem of my asthma. I’ve always enjoyed the different (meaning without medication) means of taking care of my health. Something else I’ve noticed that I feel I’ve improved on is just doing what I know needs to get done. I’ve started to not bother making some intricate plan of how I’m going to go about doing the said thing, because usually this just means I don’t ever get started. This relates to yoga practice because I started off the semester wanting to have all the poses printed out and organizing them in some way or another (maybe based on the order in class, or the grouping) but basically I never just got out my mat and practiced unless I knew exactly what I was going to do. Truthfully I ended up not practicing as much as I wanted to. However, recently (especially after hearing that even just a couple poses a day is good) I’ve just gotten out my mat and started doing some of the poses that I remembed right off. Conveniently I don’t seem to remember the more difficult or physically uncomfortable of the poses as often as downward facing dog or the restorative poses. For this upcoming week, while I’m still not certain how I’m going to “get upside down” as the syllabus describes, I’m sure, like everything else, I’ll manage it somehow.

Kleshas and life

The most confusing of the kleshas is the concept of “asmita”. Thinking that what we perceive as “I” is not accurate doesn’t make immediate sense (or any sense for that matter). Asmita is also the klesha which I think causes the greatest conflict. If our own self-identifications can’t be trusted, then what of everything else that follows from it? “Abhinivesha”is the most interesting of them all. The idea of continuing life even after death is intriguing and perplexing. I guess the idea is to not get caught in thinking that our consciousness is limited to what we physically experience, and in this way we can overcome this particular affliction. I think it’s extremely difficult to try and understand anything we experience from a viewpoint other than the one of what we actually experience. Even putting all ideas of reincarnation aside, I think there’s still something to be gained from the idea of abhinivesha. I’ve heard this affliction as being described as one that limits our ability to live fulfilled lives, as we’re ever concerned and occupied with the tangible timeline of consciousness and actions and the fear of inevitable death. I don’t know who wouldn’t be fearful of an end to all experiences, but I think the idea may be to not let our “energies” die with our bodies…? Possibly this makes very little sense at all. About How Yoga Works, and really  in general, we see the kleshas in many instances, but I don’t think we often identify them as afflictions. Even if I don’t exactly understand a concept, just being aware of its existence and its application to myself helps. Friday, through her repeatedly mentioning that the prison is not a prison (except to those who perceive it as confinement), shows how she is detached from what she is actually experiencing in exchange for making the experience into something else. I think this is something I could definitely apply in any instance I feel I’m letting the context of the situation determine my actions rather than the other way around.

Practice..makes perfect?

We’ve had the discussion more than once in class about how, just like “How Yoga Works” mentions, we should practice “wrong” to “get it right”. While I understand this idea and the philosophy behind it, it’s still frustrating. It was comforting to hear in class about how it doesn’t matter whether some of the details of our practice are wrong – we have to begin somewhere. Something else that really resonated with me was hearing that we can’t refine what we don’t already have. While this makes total logical sense, I couldn’t help but sort of smile that this is exactly what I needed to realize. ALL the time I find myself putting things off with this subtle fear of doing it anything less than the grand vision I have created in my mind – and this applies to almost everything. The only result is that I end up rushing in the last minute. The idea of starting somewhere and then refining from that just makes such obvious sense, it feels silly that I didn’t see that before. Some of the poses I’ve been doing more of this past week have been ones that are easily done while studying. The twists are perfect for while I’m studying – I can just do the ones while sitting without even looking like I’m doing yoga. Just that minute or so break actually helps me be able to focus better on whatever I’m reading. I’ve also been trying the poses that require balance – since I feel that this is something I need work on – particularly the triangle pose.

the inner core of yoga

Yoga is turning out to be one of those journeys where you don’t quite know where you’re going, but you know it must be somewhere nice, and therefore worth the wait. As I’m peeling back these layers of yoga, I’ve learned that yoga is also quite the instigator of my frustrations. It’s a vicious cycle in many ways. For example, on Tuesday of this week, as we did the eagle (or was it falcon?) pose, I was extremely aware of how ungraceful I felt and doubtlessly looked. Not that the appearance of it was what concerned me most, it was the thought of wondering if being less composed was a characteristic of me, or of my limited (but growing!) yoga abilities. Now, I remember the captain in “How Yoga Works” commenting to Friday about how a certain pose “just wasn’t for him” and how he was better off doing everything else BUT that pose, and obviously that was a shortcoming in his thinking and illogical way of reasoning. It would be logical to apply that “lesson” to my own situation, but then I began to think that a differentiation had to be made between the lofty philosophical teachings of the book and the decidedly more complex situations of reality – but that wouldn’t do either because the point was surely to integrate the two right? So at the end of all that I decided to just “harness my own abilities” and see what comes from it. It was interesting in class when we discussed the sutras and how we shouldn’t be focused on what we gain from yoga but just “let it be”. Or at least that’s what I understood from it. I don’t think I’m really at the point of grasping how to detach myself from what I’m doing, or be aloof from the outcome of my labors. In general, I think we tend to be driven by the ending reward. The thought of ideally being able to disregard the results doesn’t seem logical yet. I know for me, I’m practicing and straining with the expectation of seeing results.

The Vrttis

The sutras define yoga as being the cessation of mental fluctuations, and then proceed to say that there can be acceptable fluctuations. This point was my first insight, because I had always associated mental wanderings, when it came to things like yoga and meditation, as a negative thing. I sort of applied the vrttis, especially the ones about correct and incorrect knowledge, in a general sense to my life right now. I regard my academic and spiritual pursuits as ideally ultimately helping me find correct knowledge. Since the vrttis are vague, I see “correct knowledge” as being something lofty and revealing. Then again, maybe “correct knowledge” has its own application in any and every context, from the smallest to the largest of attainments. Either way, I find this particular vrtti most applicable since, especially at this point in my life, I am investigating the various passions, repulsions, desires and goals that I have. It’s so easy to get flooded with a sense of there being a million and one paths to take, but maybe having “correct knowledge” somewhere in the back of my head will serve a directing purpose.

The vrttis of sleep and memory were the ones which did not immediately resonate with me. Initially I felt that they seemed out of place and didn’t quite understand their significance. After mulling over the vrtti of memory, I gleaned that our past experiences are just as important as our present experiences. The idea of “not letting them go” was interesting. I tend to think of and elaborately plan the future, and have never perceived the past as being so intricately wound into this future. Reading this has made me more aware of how my past colors my future (as simple a concept as that may seem, it’s easy to forget) and how holding on to those previous experiences doesn’t have to be an impediment to creating my future.

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