Sunday, September 14, 2014

Please attend this yoga workshop if you can

Before I go on to say what I'm about to say in this post, I'll just come right out and confess to you that this entire post is a pretty shameless yoga workshop sales pitch. But some things are worth selling and making a pitch for, and this is one of them.

So here's the deal: I'm going to Bozeman, Montana, over the weekend of September 26th to 28th, to attend a workshop with Bhavani Maki at the Ashtanga Yoga School of Montana.

Bhavani with Guruji and Sharath, Mysore 1997
[Image taken from Ashtanga Yoga Kauai]

Bhavani is presently based in Kau'ai, Hawaii. She is an international yoga teacher who has been authorized to teach Ashtanga yoga by Guruji, as well as by Baba Hari Dass of Hardwar, North India (okay, I've no idea who this guy is, but he sounds pretty awesome). Bhavani has also studied Sanskrit in Mysore with Professor Narayanacharya. She also recently published a book, The Yogi's Roadmap. In this book, she offers unique contemporary insights into the Yoga Sutra, linking the ancient teachings of this text with our modern understanding of psychology and the emotions.

I met Bhavani briefly back in the summer of 2007 on Maui, when I was attending one of Eddie Modestini and Nicki Doane's asana intensives at their studio. They invited Bhavani to be a guest teacher for one of the sessions. She led us through chanting some passages from the Yoga Sutra, and then gave us a brief lecture. She has a wonderful presence and a most beautiful voice. In addition, I have also heard that she is a wonderful teacher of asana, although I have yet to experience this personally.

Well, hopefully, I will get to experience this very soon in Bozeman. Why hopefully? Well, as of right now, the workshop is under-booked, and there's a possibility that it might not happen. Well, I don't want this to happen, for very obvious reasons. So I'm going to say a couple more things to (hopefully) entice you to come to this workshop. First, as you can surmise from the above, Bhavani is a great teacher who brings a wealth of cultural and psychological insights to the yoga practice and tradition. Your practice will definitely deepen and broaden as a result of studying with her. Secondly, but perhaps only a little less importantly, if you attend this workshop, you will finally get to meet me, if you haven't already have had the good fortune of doing so :-) Yes, me, as in Nobel of Yoga in the Dragon's Den, whose jumpbacks and considerable floating abilities are rocking the world even as we speak...

Anyway, I guess I better stop now before this post becomes an egomaniacal rant about my powers. But you get the point: If you are anywhere in the United States, and especially if you are within 500 miles of Bozeman, MT, please do consider coming to this workshop. It will be fun and insightful and... fun. Details about the workshop can be found here.  

Maybe I'll see you in Bozeman soon? ;-) 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sexual fantasies, false consciousness

A few evenings ago, I got together with some friends at the house of my friends J and L. There were five of us present: J, L, S, M and myself. After a few drinks, the conversation turned to the subject of sexual fantasies. There is some kind of rational professional rationale for talking about this subject, because J is a sociologist who does research in sexual deviance. In fact, I often have the feeling that J often uses his friends as impromptu and unofficial study subjects for his ongoing ruminations relating to his research.

Anyway, at one point in the conversation, J claimed that all people, no matter what their sexual orientation, have had fantasies about doing something sexual with somebody of the same sex at at least one point in their lives. Upon hearing this, M, who is a heterosexual female (as far as I know), objected that she had never ever had any sexual fantasies involving somebody of her own sex.

S immediately responded to M's objection with a very resounding "Bullshit!". S might be described as a predominantly heterosexual male who has, by his own admission, also had a couple of sexual encounters with members of his own sex. I do not know what M's internal reaction was to S's calling bullshit on her; after a few drinks, my social perception is usually less acute than it normally is... well, actually, my social perception even when sober isn't really all that acute either. But that's a story for another day. In any case, J immediately seized upon S's pronouncement of "Bullshit", and went on to expound what I understand to be a certain neo-Marxist socio-theoretical view. According to this view, as I understand it, a person's thoughts and feelings about things are really just epiphenomena that are parasitic on physical events and happenings. Well, I suppose a bit of explanation is in order here: To say that feelings and thoughts are epiphenomena is to say that feelings and thoughts really have no effect on events and happenings in the world, even though the person who is experiencing these thoughts and feelings might nevertheless have the illusion that her thoughts and feelings are affecting events and happenings. This view is neo-Marxist, because it is influenced by the Marxist view that many ideas (like religious ideas, for instance) have no effect on the progression of history, but are nevertheless seen by their adherents as having such an effect. Which is why Marxists typically believe that religion, being such an illusion, is the opium of the people, and that religious adherents are sufferers of false consciousness who must be rehabilitated or re-educated.

J, as I understand it, meant to apply this socio-theoretical view to explain why M might persist in believing that she has never had any sexual fantasies involving somebody of her own sex. The upshot is that if M claims that she has never had any same-sex sexual fantasies, then she must be suffering from some kind of illusion or is under the sway of false consciousness. Hmm... does this mean that M needs to undergo some kind of rehabilitation or re-education?

Leaving aside the question of whether or not M is in need of rehabilitation or re-education, I think you might be able to see that there are certain problems with this neo-Marxist socio-theoretical view. For one, if all thoughts and feelings are epiphenomena, then I think it is safe to say that about 99% of the human race suffer from some kind of illusion or false consciousness, since I'm pretty sure that about 99% of human beings believe that their thoughts and feelings do affect the course of events in the world. Wouldn't that mean that 99% of human beings need to be rehabilitated or re-educated? I'm sure you can see that this is patently absurd.

Moreover, even if this theory happens to be true, it still wouldn't explain why all people have had same-sex sexual fantasies, even if they aren't consciously aware of it. In order to be able to say that all people have had same-sex fantasies even if they aren't consciously aware of it, we would have to invoke some kind of Freudian theory of the subconscious or unconscious (or whatever the appropriate term is here), which would presumably explain how it is that people can have sexual fantasies without ever knowing that they have had them. Which means that if we want to be able to convincingly explain how all people have had same-sex fantasies, we would have to have some kind of hybrid Freudian-Marxist theoretical construct...

I don't know about you, but my head is really beginning to spin at this point. Which means I should probably quit writing right now, and go get something to eat. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts about any or all or some of what I have written above, I'd love to hear from you.       

Friday, September 5, 2014

Practicing with my silhouette

I haven't written anything about my practice in a while, mainly because practice is just this wonderful thing that goes on in the background of my life. It's sort of like the A/C or the heater; it hums happily in the background, doing its work and providing me with strength and comfort. What's there to say or analyze about it?

But this morning's practice might be worth saying a couple of things about. So when I practice, I usually shut the blinds in the living room before I begin, so that the sunlight doesn't stream into the practice space. It's not that I am afraid of sunlight; rather, I do this because otherwise, my body will cast its shadow on the wall of the practice space, and then I will always be tempted to look at the shadow of my body as it goes through the asanas on the wall. Which is obviously a drishti violation, but I also can't help feeling that it takes energy away from what I should be focused on (i.e. what is going on within my own body and mind).

But this morning, I forgot to shut the blinds before practice. By the time I noticed this, I was already in the standing postures. I decided that going over to shut the blinds and then resuming the practice would be too annoying and would disrupt the flow that I had going, so I just ignored it. What followed was... interesting. Because of the sunlight shining directly into the practice space, I was treated to the sight of my body moving in and out of various asanas throughout the practice. Damn... I didn't know my practice silhouette looked so good... especially when I was going into Kapotasana... And yes, I do know that all these are serious drishti violations, I don't need to be reminded of that ;-)

But at the same time, I felt that because I was constantly distracted by my silhouette, I was putting less focus and mental energy into the asanas. I have always believed that where one's gaze is is also where one's energy is directed, so all this pretty much confirms what I have always believed.

The other interesting result of this silhouette-gazing is that my practice speed somehow speeded up as a result: It took me only an hour and thirty-one minutes to get through half of primary and second up to Karandavasana (it usually takes me about an hour and forty minutes to get through this sequence). I'm guessing that gazing at my silhouette probably had a motivating effect on my practice, causing me to move faster than I normally do. Which may be a good thing (or not, I don't know). But either way, I probably won't try practicing with my silhouette again. Note to self: Always shut blinds before starting practice. Gee, I wonder how all those people practice in gyms with mirrors on all four walls. Must be really, really distracting...     

Monday, August 25, 2014

My mother's garbha

Today is the first day of classes of the fall semester here in Idaho. About half an hour ago, I was walking around in the student union food court, when a Chinese student stopped me. I know she's Chinese, because I had overheard her saying something in Mandarin to one of her compatriots just a few seconds earlier.

Anyway, Chinese person came up to me and asked (in English), "Hey, where are you from?" I stood in surprise for about two seconds, and then blurted out, "Uh... Singapore?" Her face visibly fell, and she said, "Oh, okay." And then she turned away from me. Apparently, I wasn't the person she thought I was, whoever that person might be.

As I walked away from her in a slightly puzzled state of mind ("Who did she mistake me for?"), a slightly mischievous thought struck me: If I were a little quicker on the uptake, I should probably have said, "My mother's uterus," instead of plain old boring "Singapore". Because, if nothing else, it is technically true that I am from my mother's uterus (as is she, and everybody else).

But since I am not quick on the uptake, I guess I will never find out what her response to this alternate response would be. Ah, the woes of not being quicker on one's feet!

************

Anyway, that was a (hopefully) cute little story from my little life here in Idaho. As you can see, there is nothing yoga-related about it at all; unless, of course, being quick on the uptake is somehow a siddhi. At this rate, I'll soon be reduced to posting off-color jokes on this blog...

But then again, doesn't womb/uterus translate as "Garbha" (as in Garbha Pindasana) in Sanskrit? So maybe there is something yogic here after all... but then again, "my mother's garbha" wouldn't quite elicit the same kind of effect as "my mother's uterus", would it?  

Monday, August 11, 2014

Video of me doing Hanumanasana; visiting Ernest Hemingway's grave in Ketchum, ID

Sometime last week, I messed up my SI joint while doing second series; I think I was overzealous in getting my leg behind my head, trying to do so on a day when my hips weren't particularly open. I had read and heard somewhere that doing Hanumanusana is beneficial and therapeutic for bringing the SI joint back into alignment, so for the past couple of days, I have been doing this pose as an "extra-curricular" thing outside of my practice, even though I am far from being at that place in my regular practice (I know that in Ashtanga, it properly comes at the end of third series.). 

This extra-curricular practice has been going quite well so far; if nothing else, my SI joint is definitely feeling better. This morning, I also made a video of myself doing said pose, just for the heck of it. And since videos are arguably made to be shown, I have also posted it on Youtube. Here it is:


As you may have noticed, I am not wearing yoga shorts in the video; I'm basically doing the whole thing in my briefs, which is my usual daily practice attire (if you can call it that :-)). I hope you are not offended by this. If you are, well, this is only my second yoga video in all my years of practice (the first can be viewed here), so you can be assured that you will not be treated to the sight of me doing yoga in my underwear on a regular basis. I just thought, "Well, what the hell, I did my yoga practice in my underwear when I was staying at my parents' in Singapore earlier this summer, and even they--being the socially conservative Confucian folk that they are--were totally cool with it. So why should the enlightened readers of my blog care what I use to cover my, ahem, vital body parts, so long as they are covered?" Right? :-)

You may also notice that my breaths in Hanumanasana are rather short. I don't think Grimmly would approve of this, but this being a quick show-offy demo video (I really do have other things to do in the day), I decided that I could afford to have slightly shorter breaths. 

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the video, and are not unduly offended by the lack of appropriate yoga clothing. 

************

Speaking of yoga clothing, I wonder if Lululemon sells men's yoga shorts? If they do, are they priced affordably? I have a feeling I know the answer to the second question... But anyway, I bring up Lululemon because I was in Ketchum, Idaho this past weekend, and they actually have a Lulu store there. A Lulu store smack in the middle of rural Idaho? Who would have thought? But then again, Ketchum/Sun Valley isn't average small-town America. Ketchum and neighboring Sun Valley are well-known tourist resorts, and many celebrities have pricey homes in the area. So, come to think of it, it really is no surprise that Lulu has a store there. 

While in Ketchum, I paid a visit to the grave of one of its better-known residents, the writer Ernest Hemingway. Here's a picture of the gravestone: 

  

I had recently reread The Sun Also Rises, and was very moved by Hemingway's rendering of the existential and moral crisis of the so-called Lost Generation. So visiting the grave was a kind of pilgrimage for me. The grave is located unassumingly in a public graveyard, and there are no prominent signs in the town to guide you there, so it took me a bit of asking around to find my way there. The whole process of asking around is in itself an interesting story, and I can probably write an entire post on it, but well, let's save that for another day. The present day is not getting any younger, and I need to go get a few more things done before this day is over.

More later.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Established facts, scientific studies, reality, and aliens; and where to practice if you are in Singapore

Gee, I haven't blogged in what seems like forever... well, five weeks, actually, which may as well be forever in the world of blogging. So what's new with me? (Not that you would care, but this is my blog, so I may as well say something about me). In the last post, I reported about being in Singapore for my brother's wedding, catching up with people and places I haven't seen in thirteen years. Well, I've been back in the U.S. for more than three weeks now. I'm getting back into the grind of academic life, by and by. Actually, the main reason why I'm blogging now is because I'm procrastinating about preparing for my summer class, which starts next week. Pretty sad reason to resume blogging, don't you think?

But I suppose I should try to say something more... substantial. How about... aliens? As you may know from a couple of posts in the past (for example, this post), I believe that not only do extra-terrestrials exist, but that at least a couple of them have been living on this planet for at least the last fifty years. Well, last weekend, I expressed this belief to a friend, and added that at least one former leader of a G8 nation has publicly declared that aliens have been on this planet for the past fifty years (for more information, see this International Business Times article).

Being skeptical, my friend proceeded to ask me a couple of probing questions ("If this thing is so top-secret, why would this former leader spill the beans in public?", "What motivation would our leaders have for hiding their existence from us, if indeed they exist and have lived on this planet for the past 50 years?"). I tried my best to answer her questions ("Well, he probably wants to make sure the world knows about it before he goes to the grave with it", "The aliens are very likely to be harboring technologies that would make us no longer dependent on fossil fuels and much more immune to the business cycles of capitalism, and people in the military-industrial complex and those in power certainly do not want that to happen...").

Being a rational person who sticks only to established facts and scientific studies, my friend wasn't too impressed by my responses ("In order for your answers to be credible, multiple conspiracy theories would have to be true... are you willing to buy all those theories?"). And being the nice polite-conversation kind of person that I am, I decided not to press things any further, and we switched to a more neutral subject of conversation.

But this exchange with my friend really got me thinking. There's nothing wrong with sticking to established facts and studies, in and of itself. But I'm just not convinced that these facts and studies are the only ways to find out about reality. After all, people in power are in the business of making sure that the established facts and studies that the general public has access to are precisely and only those facts and studies that they want us to have access to. In other words, the established facts and studies that we have access to may well reflect only the part of reality that a small group of people want us to have access to.  

So this whole alien thing seems to be a no-win situation. If aliens exist, and if the aliens themselves or those in power do not want us to know about their existence, they would make sure that, beyond eye-witness accounts here and there by people whose sanity is cast in doubt, no evidence of their existence ever makes it into the public sphere, and so there would be no chance of their existence ever becoming an established fact or the subject of a scientific study. In such a case, established facts and scientific studies wouldn't be much good in helping us to track reality here. If, on the other hand, I am wrong, and aliens do not exist, then their existence would obviously never become an established fact or the subject of a scientific study. But then we would have no way of being certain that these established facts or scientific studies are indeed telling us all there is to know about what is out there. So, one way or the other, established facts and scientific studies aren't all that helpful to us in this case.   

Which means that, as far as the question of the existence of aliens is concerned, just because something is not an established fact or supported by some scientific study is not in itself a reason to dismiss it out of hand. Which suggests that there has to be some other way of gathering facts about the universe in which we live. One way is to see and experience things for yourself. If you have actually seen an alien (say, if you have been abducted by one), that would be a good reason for you to believe that aliens exist. But then again, you would probably have a hard time convincing somebody like my friend, because she would probably think you hallucinated the whole thing up while going through some other traumatic experience that is more terrestrial in nature (maybe you really got abducted and raped by humans wearing alien costumes...), and your hallucinating something up obviously wouldn't make it an established fact or supportable by a study.

Well, I wasn't really planning on going on this big rant about aliens. Maybe my sanity is in doubt here. Maybe I am slowly going bonkers, and the subjects of my blogging are the first symptoms... hmm, must be all that tropical air in Singapore. But I believe that in addition to established facts and scientific studies, there is at least one other way of getting reliable information about the universe: The testimony of reliable and sincere people. After all, if you think about it, most of our knowledge of so-called established facts and scientific studies come from sources that we take to be sincere and reliable: How many of us really have the time and resources to verify every single established fact with our own five senses, or to read every single scientific study out there? Most of the time, we read the papers, watch the news, listen to experts that we trust, and take it that they are not pulling the wool over our eyes. If we are alright with doing this with information concerning everything else in the universe, why not with aliens? I mean, if you read that International Business Times article that I linked to above and watch the accompanying interview with Paul Hellyer... well, the guy definitely has solid credentials (former top leader of a G8 nation), and he seems to be a sincere and clear-headed person, not some rambling lunatic. So... why not give this whole notion of aliens being around another honest hearing?

**************

Anyway, I'm not sure why I went on this big rant about aliens. It's not as if anybody's paying me to do this. Well, I suppose I should say something about yoga, since this is ostensibly (still) a yoga blog. Well, what about this: I am happy to report that I did not miss a single day of practice the whole time I was in Singapore. My family was kind and gracious enough to put up with my getting up early six days a week to do this super-sweaty yoga practice. Oh, and speaking of sweaty, boy, did I sweat! Because of the heat and the super-high humidity in Singapore (it's tropical), I sweated like I've never sweated before. By the third or fourth Surya A of every practice I did in Singapore, I was totally drenched in sweat. Somehow, that made me practice at a much faster pace. One morning, for instance, I actually got through full primary in an hour and five minutes. I don't think even Sharath's led is that fast... The other upside is that because of the heat, my muscles warmed up really quickly, and practice was a breeze: Which probably explained the super-fast pace of practice. And also, because I was so sweaty, Garbha Pindasana was a breeze: My arms just slid through my legs like there was nothing there.

While in Singapore, I also went to a shala once. The Yogashala is located in the Chinatown area, and I had a really enjoyable practice there. James  Figueira, the principal teacher and owner, gave me some really cool tips about my backbends. I also brought my mom there. The last time I heard, she is still going there once every couple of weeks, and trying to do the practice by herself at home; last time I heard, she told me that they have moved her up to Trikonasana. Anyway, now you know: If you are ever in Singapore, you have a place to go practice if your immediate environment isn't so accommodating for you to do your practice in ;-)

Alright, I think this is enough blogging for somebody who hasn't blogged in, like, forever. More later.      

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Singapore, home, and the unburdening of promises that have outlived their relevance

I'm in Singapore right now. I came here last week to attend my younger brother's wedding, and will be here for another couple of weeks before I head back to the U.S.

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you may remember that for the longest time, I have been experiencing a lot of fear about coming back to Singapore, or even thinking about the place itself (for more details, see this post). So why have I decided to come back this time? Ostensibly, it was because of my brother's wedding. He sent me an invite a few months ago, and even somebody as hard-headed and hard-hearted as yours truly cannot resist the pull of some basic familial obligations (along with some guilt-tripping on the part of my parents).

But on another, deeper level, there is a more powerful reason for my being back this time. On some level, I have decided that it is time for me to really come to terms with certain things from the past, that if I am to move forward confidently with my life in a way that is free and unencumbered, I need to come back here and squarely face up to the baggage that I have been carrying with me from the past. I'm not going to bore you with the details of what exactly this baggage consists in: That would take another long post or two, and I'm not in the mood to write that much at the moment, anyway. Suffice to say that there were some promises that I made to certain people many many years ago, and I have been burdened with guilt over the fact that I have not fulfilled those promises and have therefore betrayed these people. Anyway, I met up with these people over the last week. All of them understand that my life is now in a very different place from where it was years ago, and that it would be unreasonable to hold me up to those promises. Actually, a few of these people were surprised that I even felt guilty about the whole thing, as they themselves could barely even remember me making that promise to them!

I understand that all of this is probably very vague and probably very unsatisfying, from a story-telling point of view. But as I said, I don't feel like writing a whole other post explaining the content and background story of these promises. And in any case, I feel that the explicit content of the promises do not matter so much as the emotional and spiritual anguish involved in holding on to something that has outlived its relevance, and the liberation that comes from finally letting go of these things.

Right now, I feel a lot more free and confident about moving on with my life. One thing that has really bothered me a lot in the past few years is the question of where home is. On the one hand, nothing can change the fact that I was born in Singapore and have gone through many irreplaceable formative experiences and encountered so many wonderful people here. But ever since coming to the U.S., I have also had many other experiences and met so many people that are just as irreplaceable. I have always been uncomfortable with the notion, held by many people, that home is only the place where you were born and where most of your family is. I think that there is something to this notion, but this cannot be the whole truth, because I also believe that as a person evolves and grows, what kind of place he comes to call home must also evolve and change. This is especially true if he has moved to a place that is different from his birthplace, and has allowed that place to irrevocably shape who he is as a person.

Because of these considerations, I have, after much reflection and soul-searching, come to the conclusion that I am a person with two homes: Singapore will always be my home, but the United States is also equally my home. For me, there is no other way, because I simply cannot bring myself to put down one place in order to elevate the other. I have tried to do this in the past, and the result has always been a lot of unnecessary emotional anguish and suffering. What all this means is that I have to grow to become somebody whose life and heart is big enough to encompass both these places, whose life is big enough to enable him to truly become a man of the world. 

******************

I could probably say more about this whole emotional and spiritual journey here, but I guess I'll stop here for now. Maybe I'll share my thoughts about being back in the place where I was born after 13 years (yes, I've been away for 13 years...).

One of the first things that hit me during my first few days in Singapore was: The whole island is one big freaking shopping mall! Everywhere you turn, there is some kind of shopping mall or other. So much so, that one can't help but wonder if the people in charge built the subway system (the MRT) simply in order to make it easier for people to go all over the island to shop at the different shopping malls! As you can well imagine, this, combined with the very high population density--there are more than 5 million people packed into 276 square miles--makes the entire place a very crowded and tightly packed concrete jungle. One of the first things I noticed upon arriving here was that many of the open spaces that I used to know as a young person growing up here have since been filled up: It seems that every square inch of open land here has been developed or is been developed into some kind of shopping mall, office building or condo. I'm not even going to tell you what I feel about all this, because, well, who wants to go there?

But thankfully, some places and people have stayed the same. Yesterday, I had lunch and tea at Holland Village with a good friend I haven't seen for a very long time. It was I who suggested meeting there, and the moment I got there, I remembered why I missed that place so much. The whole place has this laid-back, bohemian feel to it, and it has preserved this feel after all these years. To be sure, there are a whole bunch of new shops and restaurants that I don't recognize, but there is something about the way the streets are generously laid-out and the relaxed attitude of the locals that cue you in to the fact that the character of the place is very much alive and well after all these years. We went to this restaurant, ate lots of Indian food and shared a bottle of white wine, and talked the entire afternoon about our remembrances of things past and plans and hopes for the future. My friend, who was a young lady the last time I saw her, is still a young lady, plus a husband whom she is happily married to and a very adorable young daughter, both of whom I have yet to meet. It is great to finally see somebody who has constantly been in my thoughts all these years, and to see her so happy and fulfilled in life.

 *****************

I've also had the opportunity to share my Ashtanga practice with a few friends. One of my friends saw that Youtube video of me doing primary series (if you haven't seen it, check out this post), and remarked that what I am doing is a good set of physiological movements that activates all aspects of the system. However, he continued, it is too tough for common folk in the street, and it probably doesn't help that many Singaporeans (yes, that's what you call people from Singapore) are overweight because Singapore is blessed with too much food (most of which is very delicious, but also very bad for you). I can't help feeling that what he says here is also a good description of Americans. Hmm... and I call both places home? Wonder what that says about me? :-)