Why our choices matter…

(If you don’t wish to read this post in entirety, please do watch the video below)
Yoga can sometimes appear to be a bit like a slippery ball of yarn; difficult to grasp onto one comprehensive meaning that gives a lay person an understanding of the enormity and spectrum of the practice. While the direct translation of the word is solid – to yoke or unite – the interpretations and understanding of what yoga is differ enormously, and most of the time only capture a limited aspect of an all-encompassing practice. Regular practitioners can generally agree on one thing; there can be a passion regarding the practice that is on the same level of importance of life itself; in fact, the yoga practice is embedded into all aspects of life.

My experience with yoga is that it is a practice of relationship: relationship with self and relationship with other. The state of yoga is seeing ourselves in all other human beings; treating every living being as oneself. The world most of us live in is not created from this fabric. Holding a job, a home, a family implies a sense of self, or ego (‘my’ job, ‘my’ family). These labels, or containers, help to define and separate, it becomes a way of managing ourselves in the world. Yoga, however, is the process of integrating.

To the outside world, or those new to the practice, it may seem that the teachings of yoga can be radical, or extreme. These are two different words, with very different roots. Radical actually stems from the word ‘root’, or ‘inherent’, while extreme stems from the root word ‘outermost’, or ‘utmost’. These subtleties can easily be mistaken and overlooked by the dedicated practitioner, but make a very big difference in the intention of the practice and the ability to be integrated in the world, and in seeing ourselves in other beings, versus living a life of separation that opinates and judges.

In the eight-limbed path of yoga, otherwise referred to as ashtanga (literally translated to eight, ashtanga, attachments or limbs, anga) there are guidelines for practicing yoga in an integrated way in life; not just on a man-made yoga mat, and not just as a specific time in the day when one works on the body-mind relationship. Yoga states that the body-mind relationship extends well beyond time and our body, for yoga inter-relates all of animate life; yoga states we are one.

The first limb of the eight limbs are the yamas, or restraints. These restraints refer to how we relate to others. While we still see ourselves as separate, individual beings (jiva in Sanskrit), the first yama states that we should be kind to all other beings. In Sanskrit the word is ahimsa, or non-harming. This is a rich topic because there are many interpretations and mechanisms for harming others, some without even knowing it.  For example, we may think non-harming suggests that it is better to lie to another being to avoid conflict, or to lie to ourselves to avoid a painful truth. Ahimsa does not imply lying, or making judgements (in fact, the second yama is satya, or truthfulness). Non-harming does imply compassion, the act of experiencing the suffering of others as one’s own. As yogis, we practice both not harming others, as well as identifying with others who suffer. The next step is an obvious one, and that is to not only not harm others, but to actively do something to prevent the suffering of others.

The link between practicing non-harming behaviour, consumerism and activism is a well documented topic, which my teachers, Sharon Gannon and David Life have spent their life articulating. Most of us can agree that when it comes to consuming other beings as food, it is clear that harming is involved-one being must be killed in order for the other to eat it. However, there are many misunderstandings of the conditions the animals in the average factory farm are treated, and the horrific conditions the workers in those factories must endure. In practicing ethical vegetarianism, or veganism (the practice of not consuming animal products), it is a proactive measure to not participate in the cycle of harming. Even so, lifestyle and diet choice can become a fixation point where other relationship falls by the wayside. It is possible, for example, for ethical vegetarians to harm to themselves if left undernourished for a lack of knowledge about how to eat healthfully in this manner or due to specific health reasons. There also may be a tendency towards harmful thoughts, or even actions towards others who do not assume the same label. This often is guided by ignorance, of relying labels which only ultimately feed the ego instead of relating to the other being. Practicing the yamas and yoga in general, implies having the awareness to catch and eradicate critical thought when it enters the mind. It is a practice, and like all practices, we each do the best we can within our abilities and constraints.

What is important to note is that as consumers, the choices we make and our purchasing behaviour is powerful. The more knowledge we have, the more we may make informed decisions and implement changes where possible. If the choice is to eat meat, for example, know where it comes from and how the animals are treated; subtleties and small details matter. This small step may change the lives of thousands, not to mention your own.

Abel and Cole
Planet Organic
Books at Jivamuktiyoga.com


Something Witty, Something Bright

Norman Blair is a wonderful yoga teacher, writer and friend. Take the time Naked emperors on the Bikram yoga system and Hell-Bent, by by Benjamin Lorr juxtaposed with Sacred Fire: My Journey into Ashtanga Yoga by Kino MacGregor.

And then, have a laugh with Ryan Spielman, yoga teacher, comedian; a man of many talents including laughing at himself.

Thanks Norman! For more writings and information on Norman, visit his website.

Lizzie’s Yoga Challenge, Day 12: Vairagya

Today I returned to Triyoga Primrose Hill for a class with Heather Elton, entitled Vinyasa Yoga Level 2-3. After yesterday’s class at the Life Centre, I was curious to see how the difficulty level would compare. Having spoken to Heather a few times and knowing a little bit about her, I was interested to attend her class. Heather is an Astanga practitioner and teacher who also practices Iyengar with one of my teachers; she leads many retreats and is a talented photographer.

Overall, I enjoyed the class. It was appropriately labelled, there was a clear focus on the breath and deepened foundation standing postures with alignment cues, that developed into more challenging arm balances, hip openers and inversions. The class had an interesting flow to it, with the bulk of the sun salutations slotted into the class after 45 minutes of preparatory asana work. The overall experience felt well rounded with a tempo that enabled the body to warm up and deepen into postures, but left enough energy to explore more challenging variations.

The aspect of the class I found missing was the initial connection between the teacher and the students. For the majority of the class Heather stayed up on the platform and performed the asanas while she spoke the class through the sequence without eye contact; in all sincerity it was unclear to me whether she wanted to be there or would rather have been practicing on her own. The other aspect that took me some getting used to is the quality of Heather’s voice and how it traveled through the space of the room. At times, particularly at the beginning of class, her naturally low voice seemed to fall to the floor and get washed out, which made it difficult for me to hear (I came home and cleaned my ears out…you don’t want to know!) Then, 45 minutes into the class she addressed someone in the back of the room and gave specific verbal instruction (it turns out she was watching us after all), and from that moment on the gestalt of the class changed. Her voice became more dynamic and she seemed more engaged.

I left the class feeling open and energized. It dawned on me that what I may have initially read as a lack of enthusiasm was yogic vairagya, or dispassion; colourlessness. It was a good reminder for me that despite my subjective opinions about teachers, classes and studios, it’s not reality, just a shade of perception at a given time, based on my own avidya (ignorance).

…I still think Triyoga Primrose Hill should clean their studio floors.

Lizzie’s Yoga Challenge, Day Ten: Going with the flow

Most days don’t turn out like they think we will, and for me today was no exception. As yoga classes that began at 2pm and 3pm slipped through my fingers, I did eventually manage to make it for a 4pm class at Indaba Yoga Studio with Nikos. While Astanga is not my regular method of asana practice, it is where I began my practice over fifteen years ago, and is part of the Jivamuki lineage, a yoga style that has touched me deeply throughout the years and the method I teach currently.

While the Astanga primary series is a fixed set of postures in a specific sequence, there is a vast difference in classes based on the teacher. There is the personality of the teacher, the tempo of the breath and ability of the teacher to make adjustments among other elements that make the in class practice rich and dynamic.

Nikos brings a wonderfully calm and unassuming energy to the classroom, enabling students to be present in their practice. As an example of this, Nikos set the breath in the sun salutations and then set us free to do several rounds on our own, establishing our unique pace. He offered variations in many of the postures, and demonstrated when necessary but without excess. I was lucky enough to receive a few adjustments, and left feeling calm and refreshed. Nikos is a mature and humble teacher, and if the Astanga method is a style of yoga you practice or are interested in learning, I recommend seeking him out.

One Becomes Many, Always the One

A short story of Embryology goes something like this:

Once, there was an Ovum. It was single-pointed, perfect and complete in every way. Along came a sperm and fused with the ovum, and in an act nothing short of a miracle, the story of dimensionality began. One point became two, two became four, and an explosion of geometry occurred as

simultaneous geometrical patterning resulted in a multi-dimensional, multi-faceted sentient being.

As human beings, both our bodies and our minds are highly developed and complex. The mind, with its seemingly limitless capacity to wave and wander is not unlike our own developmental process with fractals of mental activity splitting and dividing before huge, seemingly nonsensical leaps are made to create something new entirely. In fact, the mind's activities can end up taking over our very existence if left untamed. A great many people pride themselves on their ability to multitask, continually chasing after the 'firecrackers' of thought almost as if an escape from focusing on the present moment. This leads us to feeling uprooted, detatched from where we came from and who we are. In fact, we are just as perfect and complete as we were as a single cell. In all our complexities and superficial differences between other wings it can be easy to forget we all come from that same perfect cell.

Yoga, the state of fusing two things together as one, happens in the present moment (see Atha Yoga Anushasanam, YS I.1) when the mind is unattached to memories of the past or expectations about the future. In Sanskrit, the word for moment is ksana, or point. Our lives are a long, uninterrupted sequence of these moments strung together. The word for an uninterrupted sequence of events is krama in Sanskrit. When the mind isn’t focused on the present moment we are unaware of these specific points in time, and life can feel more like a fluid continuum, or a chaotic unravelling than defined moments. It isn’t until we are questioned to reflect back on our life when a given krama has completed, that we are able to see events as specific moments (see kshana-pratiyogi parinama-aparanta nirgrahyah kramah -PYS IV.33). The vinyasa (vi-order; nyasa-conscious placement) yoga practice is a krama in itself, an uninterrupted process of ksanas with a beginning and end that allows us to practice being present in each moment. We experience each asana build, reach its apex and dissolve into the next, led by the breath and a focused intention outside of ourselves, existing outside of space and time. Regular practice on the mat may inspire us to enjoy each moment in our lives as they take form, blossom and dissolve. This in itself can improve our focus and clarity, and more importantly, cultivates gratitude and compassion off the mat. Afterall, each and every one of us came from a perfect and complete cell and that cell makes us who we are today; perfect and complete.

This is perfect. That is perfect. Perfect comes from perfect. Take perfect from perfect; the remainder is perfect. May peace and peace and peace be everywhere.
-Invocation to the Isha Upanishad<;;;/blockquote

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