Jivamukti Focus of the Month, January 2014: Fed Up

atha yoga-anushasanam
Now this is yoga as I have perceived it in the natural world.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (PYS 1.1)
Anyone who is engaged in serious yoga practice has come to yoga for the same reason—we’re fed up! That means we’ve had enough.

Atha means “now.” But it’s more than just “now”; it means now in terms of “hereafter,” or “going forward.” The importance of that nuance is that it implies that whatever has been happening will now, hereafter, be different. So in his first sutra, Patanjali is speaking directly to those of us who are fed up with things as they are. Everyone has a different story about the shape that being fed up takes for them—a miserable job, a life on drugs, a troubled relationship, etc. But fundamentally it’s the same for everyone who comes to yoga—at a certain point in life we take inventory of how much is really great and how much is suffering, and we come to the conclusion that it’s mostly suffering—even if the suffering is relatively mild, like “things are fine but I know there’s more to life.” Most people are not there; they’re not quite willing to let go of the old model. Some even like their suffering and identify with it. They’re not at that point where they’re fed up enough to say, “okay, what else is there? I’ll search high and low to get it.” But for those who are, Patanjali grabs us and says, “you’re ready to hear this stuff.” That’s the good news of that first word atha.

The word shasanam can be understood as a set of rules, a discipline applied to us from the outside, a set of instructions for what we’re supposed to do next. But when we put the word anu, which literally means “atom,” in front of it, it means the instructions or ways to act that come from the inside. For example—“I’m thirsty, so I’ll go get a drink of water.” It’s that simple: we don’t think of it as a rule that when you’re thirsty you have to go drink water, or when you’re hungry you eat, we just do it. In this sutra, Patanjali is telling us that yoga is one of these things that comes naturally. It flows from us, through us, and basically if we could just get out of the way, then it would be free to manifest in our lives. And that’s the practice of yoga—the practice of getting out of the way.

Of course it’s very difficult to let go of the parts of us that disable the natural flow of wisdom and purity, because they’ve become enculturated and neuroticized. They are the ways we cope with the world, our No. 1 defenses: they are how hard we’ve got it and how impenetrable our problems are. But Patanjali is saying that these are the parts of us that are unnatural, that have been inflicted upon us, and we could take them off like we take off a set of clothes. But it’s not so easy. One hundred percent of what restricts us is in our minds and has been concretized in our bodies in different ways. So yoga practice is meant to point out to us where that energy is stuck, whether in our minds, our shoulders or our hips. In this way, yoga is often referred to as a discipline. But it’s important to understand that it’s not the kind of discipline that’s forced on us from the outside, or in the case of teachers, it’s not a discipline that we’re forcing on others. It’s a discipline that’s naturally arising. As we move through our difficulties in the practice, whatever they are, we understand that the encounter with difficulty is a blessed moment and an opportunity. It is not a fail, but a chance to reflect on what separates us from each other, the nature of suffering in our lives, the role that prejudices and fixations play in our lives, etc., and just let them go. It can happen very quickly, in just an instant, but it can also take some time; it’s not easy to shed a carefully constructed armor. The great teacher Dharma Mittra likes to say, “Get mad and do it!” Get fed up! But don’t do it because a teacher tells you to do it or because it’s a rule; do it for your own reasons, because you’re fed up with the way things have been and you want them to change. Do it because you want to do it. Do it to get rid of a cruel dictator—your identification with your mind. Do it as your personal revolution. Atha…

— David Life

Begin Again

“Rolfing is an awareness school. The body is its medium. Not its end” (Peter Schwind)

Amidst changing foliage and colder days, November 1 found me back at the entrance of the Kailaish Centre in St. John’s Wood, the backdrop for the first-ever Rolfing Training in the UK.

We are now in the second phase, where the modules and the bulk of the work revolve around the 10 series, a recipe loosely knitted together by Ida Rolf, the founder of the bodywork method. The series take the client and therapist on a journey, establishing relationships, exploring and opening up the breath, finding ground and space, setting bones free from other connective tissues, and deconstructing, then reconstructing the body’s structural integrity, piece by piece.

The days are long and the work intense, and while we have all not only undergone the 10 series, but a minimum of 5 additional Movement Rolfing sessions (I have had somewhere between 20 and 25 sessions), throughout the second phase of the training, we all undergo the 10 series again by working on one another.

One principle of the Rolfing work is closure. The idea is that each session in itself is complete with a clear beginning and end, a concept that resonates with me tremendously as the yogic path is also about beginning and ending, or life and death. So often fear, frustration and anger arise around the feeling that there is not enough time, or opposite, the sense that too much time is spent in endless struggle in times where the path that lies ahead feels complicated and obstacle ridden. The thought that each moment in effect has closure, and each new moment is a moment to begin again, is comforting and easy to digest.

I have allowed past bodywork sessions to be about trying to ‘fix’ a laundry list of client complaints in the hour or hour and a half allotted, which has left me feeling rushed and less effective than perhaps I could be as a therapist with a more focused task. I found that working in this way was ultimately not serving the client or myself as a practitioner. The Rolfing process alleviates this problem through the 10 series and highlights the principle of closure not just at the end of each session, but repeatedly throughout the working relationship.

Yesterday we watched an entire first session unfold between a Rolfer and outside client, and for me the idea of closure was carried throughout the session, both in the transitions between talking and working, moving to different regions of the body, and the more intense fascial work punctuated by moving away to give space to the client’s system to digest and absorb the penetration of touch. During the session that lasted over an hour and a half, I continued to bring myself back to this principle, breaking the segments of work down, allowing moments of closure for myself in order to stay present and hold the space for the treatment.

Atha yoga-anushasanam means ‘Now, this is yoga, as I have experienced it in the real world’. It also implies that the present moment is where all realities merge as our experience. The previous moment has already died, and the next moment is unborn. Effectively, each moment gives us the chance to begin again, each breath is a new birth followed by a small death, and if we think we breathe over 84,000 times a day, we have many chances to let go, to reset our intention and to gain closure. And begin again…

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

Jivamukti focus of the month, September 2012: Atha Yoga-anushasanam

Atha yoga-anushasanam
Now this is yoga as I have perceived it in the natural world (PYS I.1)

In this sutra, Patanjali tells us that it is possible for any of us to experience yoga and realize the truth, because this truth is available all around us; if we are willing to look deeply into things, we would be able to realize it. Everything is more than it seems. There is always something hidden underneath the surface of a person or a thing, but to discover it you have to be willing to look deeply.

Significantly, not only does this sutra begin with the word atha, but this whole book begins with the word atha. Atha is a most auspicious word. It means “now.” It calls our attention to the fact that a teaching of great importance is about to be given-right now-not “once upon a time” in the past, or some time in the future-but now in the present moment. This is so encouraging, because when anyone opens this book and reads that first word, automatically yoga has relevance to that person; it’s about them-it has implications to the life they are living right at that moment. Atha makes yoga a living teaching, not something archaic that was studied by ancients at some point in history, but an invitation to Be Here Now.

The word anu from anushasanam means “atom”-the minute, most indivisible parts that make up the whole. This relative world is composed of many jivas or individuated atomic beings. For a yogi-one who can step into the present moment of now-all atoms (separate component parts) can be seen as yoked or threaded together making up the whole. Shasanam is from the root word shas, which means “to instruct.” So when it is connected to anu, it means that the atoms will instruct you: the essential nature within all of life will be your teacher-Nature will teach you. The wisdom that you need is all around you in the very forms of nature. Every encounter has profound meaning, providing a means to link or yoke you to the infinite, which is where you really belong. But Nature can conceal as well as reveal. The atom is the innermost essence of life, and it is waiting to instruct you, but only if you want to know its secrets. All of life no matter what it is, from an oak tree to a bumblebee, has a heart-a place inside that isn’t often noticed by someone who is only looking on the surface. But it is in the tiniest of seeds, like the Biblical mustard seed, that the history of the world is stored, as well as the history of me and you, for are we not of the world?

Only when we observe nature carefully will we discover the universal truths that are concealed. This sutra is an invitation to live a deeply examined life, imbued with sensuality and feeling, and through that experience come to know the natural world not as existing separate from you but as your teacher-able to provide you with open doorways of limitless possibilities in the here and now. There are natural laws of geometry governing harmony, proportion and beauty which can be discovered in the forms of life expressed as flowers, sea shells, trees, animals and even the heavenly bodies of the stars and planets. The universe is alive, and all of life communicates. When a sparrow flaps a wing in one part of the world, the breeze can be heard all the way around the world. Most of us have just forgotten how to listen.

The message of yoga is to first look here on this earth for intelligent life. Stop speculating on whether or not intelligent life exists on other planets. We haven’t yet been able to admit that nature is intelligent: we have been so obsessed with exploiting her for her resources, we haven’t taken the time to stop and listen, much less try to learn from Her. Be so completely present that nothing escapes unnoticed. Don’t wait for another time or place to discover the Truth. It is wherever you look-but only if you are able to look deeply, if you look with yogic x ray vision, that is. Most people stop their observations of Nature on a superficial level-at face value-where differences are most apparent and get caught in classifying and breaking things apart from each other into separate categories based on those outer differences. This analysis, or breaking apart by the intellect, may be useful and interesting in some respects, but yoga is a practice of intuitive synthesis-putting yourself and the world around you back together again, consciously engaging in the interactive process of renewal.

Look for hidden meaning-that is what Patanjali is advising to those who are interested in yoga. Yoga is an esoteric, secret, occult science, which means that it doesn’t reveal itself at first glance. Its teachings are veiled in symbols, codes and poetry and presented as sutras-threads, which weave themselves into and out of plain view. It will take the most astute student, one who is disciplined and focused, one with a sense of adventure, to be able to immerse themselves into its mysteries. But once you enter on the path, there is no turning back, because by entering on the path, you step into the eternity of the present-that which ever renews itself-and it is that experience which eventually but inevitably will transform you from an ordinary illusionary to a cosmic luminary.

-Sharon Gannon

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