Saturday Tapas Class 3/22/14

Typically we focus on inversions but Sunday’s class is a seasonal 108 sun salutations (or as I call it: 108 different kinds of fun) and so Karin chose to focus on hip opening.

We began class with seated meditation, edge of our seats on a folded blanket.  I had been breathing calmly for several minutes before class and I kept sliding deeper.  I am working with many postural elements and so although my mind was very quiet there was still some stuff going on about remembering to push heart out on inhalation and let the shoulders rotate a bit in their sockets and broaden the collarbones.

There was also other stuff going on in the room as other students arrived and everything settled into place and while my eyes were statistically quite immobile behind my closed eyelids, there was still comprehension blooming as sounds formed meanings and thus a tiny darting of the eyes about.  Like the tiny vibrations of very cold matter.  (and so blooms an interesting theory of consciousness which just took shape as I typed these words: perhaps consciousness is some field of artificially cold “matter” somewhere maintained within the brain and pratyahara actually further cools this supercold consciousness matter-energy by witholding the excitation and thus kinetic energy normally provided by sensory input meaning bubbling up [neither here nor there, but fun nevertheless]).

Karin gave a few postural cues.  Knot in the right shoulder.  Let the shoulders move.  Breath into the upper back ribs.  All pertinent.

I’d love to give a play by play of the class, but I’m not sure if I’m capable.  Perhaps if I approached class with the added impetus to remember everything I would be able to.  And in reality, I should do that whether or not I blog about it because I should be reflecting deeper upon class.  In each one, I attest, I notice important things and important things are said.  Although I would consider myself a strong student, really I’m just a slack thing.  I could tighten up my “asana” on a number of levels.  I probably ought to.  Knowing’s half the battle.  Doing’s the other half.  Patience the third.  Planning the fourth: I’ll let a student’s strand run throughout tomorrow’s 108 sun salutations.

as if class weren’t right now
total attention cells buzzin’

We started with several variations of surya namaskara.  I tried to apply my earlier-in-the-day insight on how to raise my arms into urdhva hastanasa, involving timing the rotation of the arm bones with the lifting of my arms and the expansion of my upper-middle chest.  If I don’t get it right I get a click in my left shoulder.  Doesn’t hurt, but I prefer to avoid it.  What I had been doing is over exaggerating the delayed rotation of my left arm, but with the rotation sort of evolving spirally up my arm from the thumb and the timing of the breath I can get the left and right in sync and not-exaggerated.  The breath is the most important part for the avoidance of my click.

I’m not really sure where we went from there in exact or full sequence, although I could probably correctly order in time 3 groups of disordered asanas.  However, after trying, I realized it was not the right idea.  It would be like trying to hold a pose past steadiness and ease.  I did, however, manage to visualize/feel myself doing many of the things we did, so that will suffice for my practice.  And will be what I begin doing immediately after my next class.

We ended with an 8 minute savasana and I really felt one with the pose, maybe a little too one with the pose because my last exhale probably extended to upwards of, I don’t know, maybe anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute, and I basically woke up with the final tuft of air being lower-abdomen thrust-out.  Oops.

Commercials That Educate

A specific example of the more general idea:

Producers of healthy foods (as well as other interested parties) should create an alliance of funds (I’d donate, perhaps the COOP could add 5% to my purchase and donate for me) to produce and market commercials that educate about food, healthy cooking, health research, and yes, brands that are exemplary.

Imagine an America in which the TV watchers not only have to see the same set of various commercials night after night promoting the stupid products and services we work ourselves up so much over, but also repetitions of commercials that show educational material about the body and health of cooking oils and how to cook and products that support that style of life.  Over the course of a year or two, the average viewer having seen literally thousands of such commercials, will probably have learned quite a few things.  These don’t have to be dryly educational and a piece of knowledge doesn’t have to be limited to one showing (although I would not reuse “footage” or “verbage” too much – want to spice it up with funny creative variation along pretty much every angle that is reasonable – still have to contend with ADHD, obviously).

It would practically be charitable to support such a thing.  Bill Gates could give a billion for commercials and we could all rejoice.

Prediction: American eating would transform radically.  And probably our foreign policy, too.

I’d also like to add that this would probably be a very high return on investment opportunity for American taxes, since with Obamacare, we’re all going to be footing quite a hefty (pun intended) bill for all our unhealthful.  We could transform the idea of a PBS into an educational taxpayer funded commercial stream that shows on all channels that have commercials, maybe even radio.

Satvada

Desikachar says (Heart of Yoga, pg 12):

If we subscribe to yogic concepts, then everything that we see, experience and feel is not illusion; it is true and real.  Everything is real, including dreams, ideas and fantasies.  Even avidya itself is real.  This concept is called satvada.

I used to think about this back when the Matrix was released.  Everyone kept saying things like the Matrix isn’t real, or that our experiences may not be real.  That the world as we know it may not exist.  There is a way in which these statements make sense, obviously, but there is also a way in which they don’t.  Obviously illusions exist.  They exist in the brains or fields of experience of the one witnessing the illusion.  They also probably don’t only exist there (else we’re talking about an hallucination), but probably are created by systems that also contain the illusions’ physical foundations outside of our bodies.  Iow, illusions exist in the same way that everything we experience exists.

All experiences exist.   I mean, by definition (Kant).  And, if you buy into the modern narrative, all experience is sourced in the physical (energic), both within our own mind-bodies, and within the world that stimulated our senses.  It may well be that what we think about the experience, the things we assume about what we see and the physical (energic) foundations of it, are false.

Pegasus doesn’t exist (a horse with wings and no fossil record?? Pegasus != Pterodactyl).  But the concept and image of Pegasus sure does.  Those who think Pegasus doesn’t exist are just as wrong as those who think Pegasus does exist.  Two kinds of avidya from different angles.

In reality, the above is pretty straightforward and most thinking people would agree with it (an assumption, but I don’t think my reality meter is that far off [obviously the Pegasus statement is self-contradictory on the face of it, but the respective level-attributions came in the preceding two sentences]).  And so it kind of looks like a word based argument that doesn’t matter.  However, based on the way people use words, I think we sometimes ”     ” the reality of the unreal.

Samskara

Desikachar says (Heart of Yoga, pg. 10):

Now what is this avidya that is so deeply rooted in us?  Avidya can be understood as the accumulated result of our many unconscious actions, the actions and ways of perceiving that we have been mechanically carrying out for years.  As a result of these unconscious responses, the mind becomes more and more dependent on habits until we accept the actions of yesterday as the norms of today.  Such habituation in our action and perception is called samskara.  These habits cover the mind with avidya, as if obscuring the clarity of consciousness with a filmy layer.

I find the concept of samskara very interesting.  It’s sophisticated.  But I’m also curious about its history.  Almost every definition uses 19th century words or later (subconscious, unconscious [technically, Friedrich Schelling created the word around 1800 and Freud and company refined it to our current “understanding” over the next century]).  I wonder to what degree the definition of samskara or the sense of the definition has changed over time.  Is the modern understanding deeper or essentially unchanged?  To what degree was the concept of the “unconscious” understood anciently and how did that understanding modify the conception of samskara?  What other concepts surrounded the concept of the unconscious and “framed” it?  How does our modern understanding of the unconscious condition a different understanding of samskara?

My post from last night pointed out another kind of the “unconscious”.  I observed that we (I do it, so you probably do to) can hide the physical experience/expression of fear behind a sort-of cultivated numbness.  That hidden fear and that unfelt body is unconscious, or subconscious (and of course, it isn’t limited to just fear, anger’s a usual suspect [although what’s behind the anger?  I find it’s often fear]).  And that really points out one of the more obvious ways in which we can “see” the unconscious (or juxtapose it against something we can see, looking for the shadow).  We can expand our awareness of our body until we notice something that was certainly there before but of which we were unconscious.

How can we be unconscious of our own self?  It’s very mysterious.  Especially when you realize that there’s just this tiny tiny part of yourself that says, hey, I wasn’t unconscious of it, you just fragmented us off somewhere else far away from all of you.  It reminds me of how I can cut off an internal dialog at any point and if I look behind the sudden absence of subvocalization I can still know the words I was going to laboriously subvocalize.  Makes me wonder why I bother going through with the whole subvocalizing of thoughts when the thoughts are already there in a more flexible/fast form anyway.  But more to the point, when I am subvocalizing thoughts I am unconscious of that behind-the-scenes wellspring of meaning.

Unconsciously we all are pretty good at pratyahara.  One could identify in the withdrawal of the senses from the mind the mechanism of a certain brand of common unconsciousness.  We all do it, and on one level, we are doing it intentionally, as a sort of (samskaric) strategy for coping with things as they are.  The samskaric angle of that process is the unconscious tendency to want to make parts of what could/should be conscious unconscious.

The key for yoga is to make conscious our skill to make things unconscious, to use that skill as a tool, just as we use our breath as a tool, to know when to apply and when to restrain it and to learn to see when/where it is operating.

Rounding back around to samskara, this also digs into how there are positive and negative samskaras.  We can have tendencies that lead us further into the pit of our own darkness or we can have built/inherited tendencies that lead us higher up towards our light.  Perhaps the whole reality of a “tendency” is to be avoided, but, if I’m going to have any, I’d rather have those that lead me upwards towards the shedding of the whole “tendency” tendency than those that further entrench the-unworkable-as-such.

Abhinivesa

Desikachar says (Heart of Yoga, pg 11):

Finally, there is abhinivesa, fear.  This is perhaps the most secret aspect of avidya [incorrect knowledge] and its expression is found on many levels of our everyday life.  We are afraid that people will judge us negatively.  We feel uncertain when our lifestyle is upset. We do not want to grow old.  All these feelings are expressions of abhinivesa, the fourth branch of avidya.

It seems to me that a lot of fear doesn’t directly express as fear to consciousness.  The whole fear is there, but we numb ourselves to our body so that the physical fear (as all fear is) is not felt.  We become numb in parts of our bodies, parts that are actually expressing the fear.  At the level of our consciously aware ego (ie us) we may have some thoughts of aversion or judgement or sacrifice and also not notice an absence in our body-field.  But that absence only goes so deep.  Behind a veil we have conspired to throw over some portion of our field of view looks our other eye from its other side on the scary feeling and a veil a fool threw up behind it.

I caught myself:

Slouching lower back, starting around T5-T9 (I don’t have refined enough proprioreception to determine where the epicenter of the slouch is [heart?]), it pulls the zyphoid process in and pushes the shoulders rounded up and over and I also noticed my adductor muscles pulling my legs up a bit in my cross legged seat and tilting the pelvis and jacking up my right hip and tilting my whole body and scrunching my right abdomen and lumbar and selectively lifting up my right leg and its old injury – all combining to make it impossible to feel that I am actually sitting balanced – and that was involved with a whole attitude. I can see two layers, one, the specific thought contents, and two, the generic attitudes that spawned those specific contents.

The most disturbing thing was that but a few moments before relaxing through it, I didn’t even see it.  I thought I was sitting perfectly balanced.  Blind to my blindness.  Even there as I wrote the last sentence I detected it again, not fully expressed, but sneaking in.  Settles in with each exhale.  The way to counteract it, for me, is to breath with my middle chest and push my heart out.  It’s the perfect antidote as it requires all that stuff to just mellow out.

But how to counteract forgetting to counteract the slouch?  Notice it.  How to counteract forgetting to notice it?  Down the rabbit hole we ever go to the fabled land of continuous attention… breath… live out the details of the breath with each ebb and flow and become familiar with the shape of the shore and the lore of the depth…

All that sounds mysterious, but I intuit the consistent pushing up and out of the heart with inhalation will unlock some sense of life that would be impossible to miss the absence of once its presence is experienced…

Darsana

I’ve decided to reread The Heart of Yoga by T. K. V. Desikachar as a first step for my new study program.  The sensibility of this book really captures what I find powerful about Yoga.  The introductory interview questioning Desikachar about his father is very enlightening as to how to orient one’s spirit.

I particularly like the following, Desikachar says (Heart of Yoga, pg 5):

Yoga is one of six fundamental systems of Indian thought collectively know as darsana… The word darsana is derived from the sanskrit root drs, which translates as “to see”.  Darsana therefore means “sight”, “view”, “point of view”, or even “a certain way of seeing”.  But beyond these lie another meaning: to understand this one we must conjure an image of a mirror with which we can look inside ourselves.

The image (!) of a mirror that shows, not the surface, but the inside of what faces it, is powerful (and recursive).  But how can the idea be translated into practice, or is it just a clever concept that tickles my monkey?  It’s actually pretty clear to me that the practice of yoga is just such a mirror.  For instance, with asana, the proprioreception one generates/receives as one moves into the poses are like the pointillist elements of an emerging gestalt centered around one’s current condition.  If one accepts that the “body” and “mind” are related much as “matter” is to “energy” then one can derive equations that relate the two and with variables fed into one half of the equation can draw conclusions about the other half; going both ways.

Of course, “equation” is a rhetorical device.  The actual practice of seeing into one’s mind states from one’s body states is a subtle intuitive activity that tries to form correlations between physical sensations and psychological phenomena in the moment.  Actually describing that process in words would probably just look like a lot of examples of the thing recorded after the fact.  I’ll try to keep this in mind and update this post with some specific examples.  More generally, look to clenched jaws, limbs held static while the body moves, furrowed brows and tightened eyes, itching and scratching (!).

They happen frequently, but are difficult to trick into “ink”.

Yoga Focus

I’m going to do a yoga teacher training program this fall.  In preparation for it I am going to read these books (note, there’s one book with a handwritten cover because it doesn’t release until May, so I’ll get that book when it comes out).

books i'm going to read

Here’s how I do things:  I dive deep and then I come up to the surface, eyes still set to the depths, seeing what is near superimposed upon what is far (you can see the stars during daylight hours from the bottom of a well [approaching a related idea from a totally alternate angle]).  This approach gives a surprising context in which to understand and remember what is being shown and engage more deeply with the process.

There’s a lot of books there.  Too many for 5 months.  However, I’ve read some of these books already and, more importantly, I’m not going to deeply study these books, which is a multi-year endeavor, in the next 5 months.  Obviously.  I’m not going for “deep study” in this pass.  I’m trying to think of a metaphor… tilling the soil.  That’s my purpose and these books are my plow.  With these memes churning in my frame of reference, I’ll be free to focus on learning to teach and to apply practices during the program rather than on encountering things for the first time.

Although I won’t do a deep study of these books, I will write something whole and well-reasoned, maybe something like:

  • Yoga and the Complementarity of Structure and Function in/btw Anatomy and Physiology and Psychology
  • Moving towards an advanced way of communicating “yoga” multimodally in a digital age (Yoga Sutras 2.0)
  • Numinous yoga mystery

Maybe I’ll write one thing blending all of the above.  That’s probably it.  That sounds good.

And in the meantime, I will start posting my study notes on here.  I really don’t like this WordPress interface, but I’d rather plow the soil via these books than code my blog (there’s a limit to how much I can sit and program each day).  That particular field needs to lie fallow for a while.