Thursday, November 22, 2012

Padmasana in headstand, Tandoori Turkey, James Bond; Is it possible to vicariously violate Ahimsa and Brahmacharya?

During this morning's practice, I decided, on the spur of the moment, to see if I could get into padmasana without using my hands in headstand (well, can you get into padmasana using your hands in headstand? :-)). What happened was, my body was itching to try Karandavasana again after laying off that infamous pose for more than a year. But I told myself to take it slow, and first see if I can get into padmasana in headstand first.

So I tried doing that, and it worked quite fabulously! My balance wobbled a bit in the first stage, which involves bringing the left extended leg way back to open the hips to accommodate the right foot into the left hip crease. But everything else went quite well after that, and I stayed in headstand padmasana for ten breaths. I think my hips have become more open over the last few months, because it didn't feel so easy the last time I tried padmasana in headstand, which was, I think, more than a year ago. So yeah, this is quite exciting. Maybe this means that Karandavasana is coming. Or not. We'll see.

Speaking of padmasana in headstand, Kino recently made a video about this. It's very helpful. Check it out:


And of course, today's Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy, be merry and be grateful! Whether you are eating Turkey, Tofurky (or some non-meat version of the bird), or not eating any Turkey variation or all, may your Thanksgiving feast be tasty and joyful. If you are eating Turkey (like, the bird), you might want to give thanks to the bird for providing you with food. Perhaps say a little prayer for it to be reborn in more favorable circumstances. 

I won't be eating any Turkey today or any non-meat version of it; never really been into Turkey. We might go to the local Indian restaurant for a late lunch, as they are having an all-day buffet today. I hear that they have Tandoori Turkey or something along these lines at the buffet. But I won't be partaking of it.   

Later in the day, I'll try to see if I can persuade/convince my fiancee to go with me to see Skyfall, the latest James Bond movie. I'm a big fan of Daniel Craig. I think he's the best James Bond ever. I mean, Sean Connery and Roger Moore and all those guys are great, but all they do in their movies is jump off a couple of moving vehicles and throw a couple of punches, and then the rest of the time is spent drinking martinis, saying semi-smart things to hot women, and looking sharp while driving around in fast cars. But Daniel Craig... boy, can the guy move. I think he probably did more running and jumping in the first five minutes of Casino Royale than Roger Moore did in his entire acting career. The guy really brings a realistic, gritty action-packed feel to the franchise. To get a sense of what I am saying, check out the following parkour chase scene from the beginning of Casino Royale. Be warned:  You might want to skip this video if you are allergic to guns, hand-to-hand combat, and other Ahimsa violations.


Gosh, I don't think I'll be able to move like Sebastian Foucan (the African guy Bond is running after in the video) even if I practice Ashtanga for another twenty years... but then again, that's not what the practice is for, right? :-)  

Okay, I realize I'm rambling about something you're probably not all that interested in. I'll stop. But let me see if I can shift the conversation towards something more yoga-related. Well, here's a question to think about: Does watching James Bond movies constitute a vicarious violation of the yamas? I mean, one is not actually violating ahimsa or brahmacharya, but in watching the movie, one empathizes with and puts oneself in the place of the main character (Bond) and, I'll be honest, takes a vicarious delight in the pleasures he experiences and suffers vicarious pain in the suffering he goes through in the course of the movie. So is one then vicariously violating Ahimsa and Brahmachraya by watching Bond beat bad guys up and cavort with hot chicks? I'm assuming, of course, that it is possible to vicariously violate Ahimsa and Brahmacharya. 

Just a thought. I don't know the answer to this question, one way or the other. But if you are not too stuffed with Turkey (or Tofurky), and wouldn't mind exercising your brains a little by pondering this question, I'll love to hear what you have to say. 


  1. Hi,

    first of all, S├ębastien Foucan is French, born in Paris (of Guadeloupean origin if you insist and Guadeloupe is part of France since 1814).

    Concerning the movie, I did see and enjoy Skyfall a lot!

    As for violating yamas through watching an action movie, I guess that Brahmacharya is not affected if you do not envy Bond relationship with the hot girls on the screen.
    But it's true that enjoying and encouraging violence display (by paying the price of the movie ticket) seems to me bad for Ahimsa.
    It's like if you buy some turkey (for example) but don't eat it: you did contribute to the death of the poor turkey even if you did not eat it.

    So I guess a way to cope with it, is to acknowledge we are not perfect yogis but we know it and we can try to work on it (specifically when James Bond will be incarned by another actor ;) ).

    If we pursue the Ahimsa concept to the end, we should all end as Jain priest sweeping before their steps and wearing a tissue before their mouth not to harm any insect...


    1. plus showing one white man defeating hundreds of black men seems like a bad stereotype to promote and so must be violating something

    2. Louis: Interesting, I didn't know that Sebastian Foucan is French.

      Well, the trouble with me is that I don't just support violence by paying the price of the movie ticket; I actually enjoy the action. Although it is an open question whether what I am actually enjoying is the beating up of others or simply the choreography of the fight scenes. If the latter, then maybe there is no Ahimsa violation after all. As for the hot girls, well... let's just say that I would be very disingenuous if I say that I do not find them attractive at all.

      Well, perhaps the good new is, as you say, that there will quite probably be many many James Bond movies to come. So lots of opportunities to practice the yamas :-)

    3. Martha: Yes, there is quite definitely some violation of something or other here. On a related note, I can't help but wonder how different things will be if someday, somebody decides that there should be a black James Bond (this being the age of equal opportunity and all). If this happens, would we then see one black man running around beating up hundreds of white men? :-)

  2. James Bond is a reincarnation of Arjuna. It's his dharma to put down the bad guys, to not do so would subvert the cosmic order. So says Krishna.

    1. Nice :-) I have to think about this one.

    2. In all seriousness... under the Vedic system each caste is privileged certain activities. Kshatrya literally means "one who cuts." They are given responsibility for protecting dharma, even if that means killing. This is what maintains the conditions which make possible the practice of ahimsa, which is the privilege of Brahmins.

      Of course in modern Western culture we just pick whatever dharma we like, such as film star or CEO.

    3. Interesting... I did not know that is what Kshatriya means. This makes sense, at least from a sociological point of view: Every society needs warriors/guardians.

      But what would Ahimsa mean to the Kshatriya? Or is Ahimsa solely the "privilege of Brahmins", as you put it?

    4. I'm not really qualified to speak authoritatively on this, but my understanding is:

      classical yoga (as a means of self-realization) was developed by and for Brahmins, who are the philosopher/priest class, and

      Patanjali (or whoever) appropriated ahimsa and the other yamas from the Jains.

    5. Interesting... Well, the official story I know says that in the beginning there were the Brahmins (and the other castes) who were basically priests that were versed in the Vedas and performed Vedic rites. Then Patanjali and the yogis came along, and decided that this existing Vedic order wasn't enough to get one to apprehend reality as it is. So they went into the forests, meditated and experimented, and came up with a bunch of mind/body techniques that eventually became what we know today as yoga.

      But your story, as I understand it, seems to have it the other way around, i.e. yoga already pre-existed Patanjali.

    6. Yes, there was yoga before Patanjali... most of the established scholarship on the Yoga Sutra places its composition around two millenia ago. Whereas in one instance, Krishna talks about yoga quite a bit in the Gita, and Krishna's death (signaling the start of Kali Yuga) is variously dated three to five millenia ago. Check the Shvetashvatara Upanishad's discussion of yoga, or you could go way back to the Rig Veda, check hymn 10.1.36 about the "long-haired" shaman.

      It is important to understand that the yoga tradition is not linear or monolithic, or internally consistent. Taking the example of Pattabhi Jois: on one hand we see a guru who placed great importance on his family's observation of Advaita Vedanta (non-dualist) in the tradition of Adi Shankarya... as Guruji taught it, pranayama practice always ends with a recitation of the Advaita lineage of gurus. On the other hand we begin asana practice with an invocation of Patanjali, as Guruji was emphatic that his system is an authentic expression of Patanjali's classical yoga (dualist). Complex, no? Generally speaking though, classical yoga is a dualistic blip in an overwhelmingly non-dualistic tradition of Hindu thought.

      Returning to the discussion of ahimsa, my comment was inelegantly phrased. Regarding its place in classical yoga, ahimsa is an essential part of the path of self-realization which was considered the privilege of Brahmins, which is not to say that it is entirely exclusive to Brahmins. Looking to the source of this technique, the Mahavrata of Jainism (ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, aparigraha) was codified around five centuries before Patanjali (check sutras 2.30-31 for the direct quote of the Mahavrata.) Anyone really interested in ahimsa should check out what the Jains have to say, which is a lot more extensive and nuanced than preachy admonitions against meat and violence.

      But that's all just my story/solipsism, of course! The important thing is that we do our practice. :)