Jivamukti Focus of the Month: Time was, is and will be, by David Life


ksana-pratiyogi parinamaparanta nirgrahyah kramah
The succession of changes (the uninterrupted sequence of moments) is only recognized as distinct moments when one has transcended those moments and is at the other end.
Yoga Sutras IV.33

We regulate and evaluate our lives by time. Seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years, and decades are all measures of time. Time – that you can see passing in the sweep of the second hand and the sweep of the Sun across the sky. But how accurate are the measures of time that we judge our success or failure in living, the length of our yoga practice and the paycheck we receive? Do past, present, and future actually exist, and can you visit them?

The age-old quest into the nature of time floats somewhere between physics and philosophy. Time is a very mysterious thing. The best scientific minds do not agree on the qualities or nature of time. There are basically two modern theories of how time works:
A theory – past present and future exist and time passes
B theory – no time is objectively past, present, or future, the passage of time is an illusion.

Either theory could be true, or both. We accumulate memories about the past but we have no memory of the future, so time does seem to be traveling from the past to the future. Time moves slowly sometimes and faster other times…or at least it seems to. For example, raising your body temperature can slow down your sense of time as much as 20%. That is why yoga class seems to contain so much – in so little clock time. Time runs faster at elevation too, so clocks run faster if they are raised by just 12 inches. People who live on the top floor apartment age more quickly than on the ground floor. Time passes more slowly at sea level than it does in the mountains. (Time passes slowly in Shavasana.) Your head ages faster than your feet – unless you invert everyday!

Could we travel through time? The grandfather paradox states that if you went back in time to a period before your parents were conceived and killed your grandfather before he had a chance to father your parent, you will never be born — which means, you could never have existed to go back in time and killed your grandfather which means backward time travel will interfere with the future path of the thing which travelled and that the inherent impossibility of this makes backward time travel impossible. This paradox makes sense from a physical point of view, but perhaps time travel takes place in other dimensions, perhaps in the realm of Super Consciousness itself.

The yogic method for transcending time is to dive deep into it. In Hinduism, god is personified as time – Kala, and Time moves in relentless and bloody cycles that repeat. In yoga sutra ksana represents the smallest increment of elapsed time – a moment. A ksana is so small that it actually has no duration. Ksana is time out of time. It is much like the point in geometry. In the same way that a point has no dimensional existence of height, length, or width – the ksana has no duration. The point that is repeated creates the first dimension of length. The ksana that is repeated creates the arrow of time that seems to move from the past to the future, the kramah. The trouble is (according to the sutra,) that we don’t realize the impact of our actions, until it is too late to do anything about it by changing our actions. Hindsight is 20/20!

The reason we cannot seem to link our current actions, with past actions and future results, is because we act unconsciously. When consciousness lapses the continuity of actions is lost. The present moment seems to have unrelated challenges and novel inventions of fate. “How did I get here?” “Why is this happening to me?” The world seems to be coming at us for no fault of our own. Yoga practices reveal how your actions result in the life you experience, and your projections appear – as the world before you.

Too bad we can’t pierce the veil of time and inhabit our past, present and future now!

But you can…and you will reach a state, through yoga practices, when there are no more unconscious lapses – we call it Super Consciousness. You will experience past, present, and future time as continuous and connected. You can free yourself from a time-bound existence.

January 2015 – David Life

Teaching notes:


images3The following post is inspired by a dharma talk by the magnificent David Life at Wild Woodstock.

When I present dinner to my son on a large plate, he often complains that there is too much food and asks me to give him less, on a smaller dish. In doing this, I contain an aspect of his world so that he is able to ingest it without feeling overwhelmed. In this same way, we restrict the nature of many things by placing them into a manageable form, whether it be a spoonful of peas instead of a limitless pot, a river rather than an unending ocean, a tree rather than an impermeable forest. By reining these things into a shape, they obtain individual meaning that we can comprehend.

When a tree stands in the ground from its trunk to its leafy branches, it has a certain value as a whole tree. A coniferous tree, for example, gives shelter through its design of branches and needles in relationship to the ground, and expels sap though it’s bark. If we had only a branch of that tree, or one of its pine cones for that matter, it would have a different value and also a different meaning to us. Nature intended to make the tree in its magnificent form. The tree in its completeness, is bigger than the sum of its parts.

By seeing the tree, however, we see another limited form, for the tree is not simply standing on the ground, but connects into the ground and is continually fed through its roots. It roots draw from the moisture of the recent rainfalls and nearby streams and rivers, that are also dissolving through the boundary lines between the water and the soil. The tree is not separate from the ground, but integrated into the earth and it’s cycle in the greater universe.

It’s is the same with land and it’s uses. The map as we know it, showing its boundaries by state or country and it’s hard lines, is not reality; the earth is organic and curvy and flowing landscapes, one into another. Man has placed those boundary lines on the land for his own purposes in order to strengthen or weaken power of a given individual or group. From another vantage point, these man-made decisions have affected a greater number of lives than probably intended. The natural homes and roaming territory created for the four-legged creatures, water beings and tree beings, is disappearing. Before humans put up fences, knocked down trees and created obstacles, animals had unlimited corridors in which to move. The land for the animals as it is today, is more like individual islands; corrals severing their movement and migration.

We frame our understanding of life with our perspective and motivation in order that we may understand it, relate it in context to something else. Our body is another example of this. Our skin acts as a barrier between us and the world, it defines where ‘we’ end and where other begins, and some people take great comfort in believing this limitation. But are we truly separate? After all, our skin has pores and we are, in reality, breathing the outside-in through these pores, and vice verse, expelling the toxins and moisture out. Rather than a barrier between our insides and the outsides, in actuality, it is more of a meeting point, where we merge into each other. On this note, most of us have felt someone else angry or happy in a room of people, their ‘energy’ seeping into the space, and I have certainly have found myself taking that energy of another being in as my own from time to time. This is no different.

In Rolfing, there is a term called palintonicity: our ability to extend down into the earth, by way of the hips, legs and feet; up, through our torso, upper body and crown; front body, and back body; and even expanding sideways in lateral space. In other words, rather than our feet resting on top of the earth, can we extend downwards through the earth, and likewise, in every other direction. Our physical form is important for so many reasons, but when our context is only diminished, when we absorb ourselves only in the direction inward, it can sometimes feel limiting; isolating. By increasing our awareness of both the limited, framed version of ourself, as well as the greater universal formless form which we can expand from our body, a doorway opens, enabling us to soften our belief system about how we relate ourselves to other. Softening the mind to this understanding is the first step in softening the body out of a fixed point and into something greater.

Yoga asana practice can also be seen as a framing, of sorts. There are different physical postures that have been created as a structure, but the goal of making these shapes is not to hold these postures like a statue, a solid, unmoving mass. A yogi’s interest is in finding the stillness within the structure, even while moving. We understand that the softening body is what dissolves and morphs from one pose to another; what transforms our thinking, cortical mind to our sensory world; what merges the framework of our practice into our life. In other words, while we are not always mobile, we are always motile.

Sometimes the practices of yoga can sound vague if not put into context. Phrases like ‘open your heart’, ‘be one with the universe’ and ‘see yourself in all others’ can be a little overwhelming. Putting a frame on the class, whether it be finding ‘foundation through the feet’, or ‘turning your world upside down’ through inversions, can help us to segment, to separate, so we can reintegrate into something greater. We find corridors in a yoga class, through the Rolfing process, in our life, to connect and transform from one thing to another, while connecting the dots along the way. We are more than the sum of our parts.

Please join me on Sunday, September 7, for the first of three workshops on the topic of the architecture of asana, exploring the various regions of the body in relationship to an integrated yoga practice at Indaba Yoga Studio. Follow the link below to book in:

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

Sickness, Disease, and Death – Jivamukti Focus of the Month, March 2013

Much of what we think of as “me” are actually organisms that we normally would consider “not me.” The human body contains billions of microorganisms. Non-human cells in the human gut are estimated to outnumber human cells by ten-to-one in healthy adults. More than 500 different species of bacteria exist in our bodies, making up more than 100 trillion cells. Because our bodies are made of only some several trillion human cells, we are outnumbered and surrounded by the “others.” These microorganisms interact directly with our immune systems to produce overall health or lack thereof.

We have been led to believe that sickness, disease and death are individual experiences brought upon us from outside conditions combined with vulnerability. In fact, however, it is actually a state of disharmony in the inner biosphere and its relationship to the larger world around us that creates a feeling of “ill at ease,” or “lack of ease,” that we call sickness, disease and death. A new approach to healing must first address the confusion of “self” and “other” and our role and responsibility in the interconnected web of existence. This approach would correlate sickness, disease and death of the human body as a condition reflective of the general state of the entire population of microorganisms that we call our body and their interaction with the environment surrounding us. You could call it the Green Medicine Movement, or you could call it Yoga.

When our immune system gets confused about who is self and who is other, it can turn on the few human cells that we have as if they were the invaders. Whether we are the invaders or they are is not really the question. Autoimmune disorders are one of the plagues of our time and the question is how to create health.

There is no way to stop autoimmunity. It is known that stress can tend to exacerbate symptoms. Most treatment of autoimmune diseases is aimed at lessening the severity of symptoms and replacing the missing hormones when a gland is destroyed. If the immune system becomes hyperactive, immunosuppressive drugs are administered. Approximately half of all persons afflicted with autoimmune diseases do experience periods of spontaneous remission. The remissions are not due to treatment, but to a shift in the underlying conditions.

We are all confused about who is self and who is other-whether we are talking about a bacteria or a god, in relation to me. Yoga addresses this confusion directly and practically. This approach is practical in that you can experience sitting in the driver’s seat of the bus called “you.” Yoga practice re-integrates and harmonizes all aspects of our body/mind vehicle. Vegan conscious diet promotes a healthy, sustainable interaction with the world that nourishes us. Without the confusion of self/not self, the need to eliminate all others disappears. When we let go of a struggle to eliminate or kill all those seen as other because they threaten our existence, and we accept all as Self, then sickness, disease and death are conquered. Those “others” are you. Ask yourself, “Who gets sick?” “Who gets diseased?” “Who dies?” “Who am I?” The simple answer is, “I AM”, and that is the starting point of true healing that comes from the experience of the universal community of existence that is beyond body and mind while in a body and mind.

-David Life

Vibhuti – The Way of Power

Welcome into the community of the powerfully peaceful. Our tribe is carrying the banner of all the great visionaries of peaceful change, like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and John Lennon. You are the ones we’ve been waiting for. You can change the world. You ask how can I do that? The answer is that the “you” that you know as “I” cannot do it, but the essential you – the “I AM” – is a force for peaceful transformation that can work through our bodies and minds into the world. Our first task then is to transform ourselves into an instrument for the change by being that change. What is the change that is needed? Well, for one thing, a shift away from I-centeredness to other-centeredness. This is the first step in conducting “peace-power” – seeing ourselves in others – and it is the way of the tribe. Next step: cradle-to-grave security for all life forms on Earth.

We have responsibilities in the world, and the three main ones are:
-Responsibility to the whole family of living beings – all species;
-Responsibility to Mother Earth – the natural world – composed of earth, air, fire, water and space; and
-Responsibility to world leadership and the welfare of the common good.

Our culture’s concept of power has two aspects. Power is taken to be the cause of any change that we observe, including death, and power is also a latent force within that has the potential to cause change, like muscle power or willpower. Human beings are the only animals who confuse power with force, coercion, deceit, manipulation and death. We must change this misperception in order to access “peace-power” and live up to our responsibilities. Our true power is the power of friendliness, the power of kindness, the power of One, the power of Love.

How to accomplish this transformation? The most important step is purification of all our bodies – physical, energetic, emotional, mental and causal. The yoga practices purify us on all levels and pave the way for us to become peaceful warriors.

For thousands of years yogis have been using the same techniques to re-create themselves and as a result, re-create the world we all live in. In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali teaches that a result of yoga practice is power (vibhuti)…
…power to fly in the sky of infinite possibility;
…power to be invisible to the demons of envy, greed and low self-esteem;
…power to know the great forces of the universe;
…power that moves the sun, moon and stars; and
…power to channel those forces for the good of all beings.
These powers can transform the world we all share.

With a steady yoga practice, you will develop powerful calmness and joy that will allow you to express a vision of the natural world where we live together in peaceful harmony with all living beings.

With a steady yoga practice, you will develop a powerful vision that will cut through the old way of seeing the Earth as a thing to be manipulated and tamed and that will open the eyes of everyone to Her invaluable connection to our own Being.

With a steady yoga practice, you will become a powerful citizen of the world who advocates for the well-being of all, rather than the enrichment of the few.

With a steady yoga practice, you will empower yourself and learn to conduct that power into the actions of the perfect citizen of the world.

-David Life

Some sources:
The Art of War, by Sun Tzu
Mahatma Gandhi
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Principles of non-violent conflict resolution

Maitri-adishu balani (PYS II.24)
Through friendliness, kindness and compassion, strength comes.

Sa tu dirgha-kala-nairantarya-satkarasevito dridha bhumih (PYS I.14)
Abhyasa, meditative practice, becomes firmly and naturally established when, over a long period of time without interruption, one fixes one?s mind on the Self, the “I-am,” with constant effort, reverent and dedicated energy, and great love. (translation by Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati)

-Some styles of yoga today are described as “Power Yoga.” There are many great and distinguished Power Yoga teachers, and there is no reason to judge them negatively. But we should look at the idea of power as it relates to yoga. The distinguishing feature of these yoga methods is not the techniques that are used. The same techniques have been used in yoga for millennia. What really distinguishes these styles is the attitude and fervor with which one performs the techniques. It seems to reinforce ideas of “making” something happen by working somewhat ruthlessly -unrelentingly and with a self-improvement approach. Our culture tells us that this is how anything is gained.
-Patanjali tells us that attitude and fervor are important but he defines them differently than we do in our culture. As far as attitude, he advocates friendliness, kindness, etc. And his idea of fervor suggests working steadily, uninterruptedly, for a long period of time.
-Vira is the peaceful warrior. As we move through the Virabhadrasana series and model the archetype of the peaceful warrior, we perfect our understanding of this gentle art. From the outside two warriors may look identical, display resolute confidence, and appear formidable. What distinguishes the master, however, is not an outer display, but an inner wisdom and joy that make him or her undefeatable.
-When we sit in Virasana we learn to face adversity with the joy and wisdom that come only from titiksha (forbearance) and tapas (austerity), together with ekagraha (single-pointedness), which leads to samadhi (all-pointedness).
-There are really two issues here: the acquisition of power, and the exercise of power. We can acquire power in many different ways. As yoga teachers our power comes to us from our students. As children our power comes to us from parents and teachers. As yoga practitioners our power comes from the infinite source of all power. Whenever we acquire power we have to choose how to exercise it. For many of us it is difficult not to resort to the stereotypical power plays of our culture. For men this means exercising their power in a “manly” way, and for women it means exercising their power in a “womanly” way. These very limited expressions of power belie the true limitless potential that we have. When we do a yoga asana practice we experience the expression of dog-power, bird-power, tree-power, mountain-power, etc., and we experience an open doorway for expression of power as life itself.
-What is your vision of peace? Will war really ever stop? Will people ever stop killing the animals and forests?
-We experience power, or energy, as prana. Prana always flows…it never stops flowing. We can, like the clever rice farmer directs the water to his rice (PYS IV.3), direct the prana as a positive force of peace into the world.