Friday, August 23, 2013

Post-practice, post-coffee poop; constipation as the mother of philosophy

I think it really shows how uninspired my blogging has become, that I should be reduced to blogging about something that is the byproduct of a byproduct of practice. But then again, all we ever have is this moment in time. The past has gone, the future is yet to be. Only this present moment is really real. Well, at this moment, I am feeling that almost-indescribable feeling of lightness that comes from having taken a substantial poop after having my post-practice espresso. So I thought I'd report this feeling right here, right now on this blog before it gets swallowed up in the river of time.

I suppose that, ideally, according to the Ashtanga Party Line, one is supposed to have done one's pooping before practice, not after. Well, actually, truth be told, I did manage to poop a little before practice this morning. But I sensed that that wasn't all the poop that my body had to produce today. Rather than dwelling on the fact that my body wasn't particularly poop-productive and wasting precious practice time, I decided to just go ahead and practice anyway, come what may. And, as they say, good things come to those who wait. The combination of practice and coffee conspired to give rise to the substantial poop that I had just taken a few minutes ago. Ahhh.... Gives new meaning to "No Coffee, No Prana", don't you think?

I sometimes wonder if at least half of the great philosophers of the western tradition were constipated when they wrote their great works. I don't have any particular reason for thinking this; I'm just speculating. But then again, when was the last time you saw any philosopher smile in his or her portrait? They always look stern and, well, maybe a little constipated. This makes me wonder: If they had pooped more frequently, would they not have been in the state of mind to produce the great works they did? After all, the shit that is in there has to come out one way or the other. If it doesn't come out through the anus, it probably gets sublimated and comes out through the... pen. So, could it be that something as banal as constipation might actually be the mother of philosophy?   

I have no idea why I wrote any of this. As a matter of fact, I will probably come to regret having written this post if I become a great philosopher one day. And then I will have to delete this post, and try to pretend it never existed... but then again, if my theory is correct, and I continue to be as poop-productive as I am now, how will I ever be constipated enough to achieve philosophical greatness? It really is a chicken-and-egg question (or is it really an anus-and-poop question?), isn't it?    

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tuesdays with Nobelji, days of leisure, and the Holy Grail

Happy Moon Day, folks! As you are reading this, you must no doubt be taking a well-deserved break from your Ashtangic labors, doing whatever it is that you do on rest days such as this. I actually did not take a complete break from practice this morning; when I woke up this morning, I was feeling so tight and stiff that I felt that I had to do a few Suryas in order to get through the day. And I did. Perhaps this is a sign that the practice has somehow "hardwired" itself into my system, so that I can't start my day without it. Or maybe this is a sign of not being able to foster non-attachment from the practice; I don't know, whatever works, I guess. These days, I'm starting to think that all this emphasis on non-attachment is really a bit overrated, anyway.

As I mentioned in a previous post, my rate of blogging over the last month has been averaging at around one a week. What's even more interesting is that these once-a-week posts tend to fall on a Tuesday. Makes me wonder if I shouldn't perhaps rename this blog Tuesdays with Nobelji (as in Tuesdays with Timji). But then, of course, I have nowhere near the presence of Tim Miller, so this is probably just me and my grandiosity speaking.

In other news: My days of leisure, of playing online chess and watching seemingly endless seasons of Battlestar Galactica on Netflix, are about to come to an end. The new academic year here in Idaho will begin next week--oh, I guess I never mentioned on this blog that I have been offered a teaching position here at Idaho for another year. Apparently, the good people here have decided that I am not halfway bad as a teacher of philosophy, and have decided to use the services of this itinerant teacher-scholar for another year. Which gives me another year of gainful employment while I continue my quest for that Holy Grail of academia, a.k.a. the tenure-track position. Oh, and speaking of Holy Grail, let's have a quick look at this little clip from what one of my colleagues has termed the Greatest Creation of the Human Mind:

Watching this clip makes me wonder about the state of the blogosphere. I wonder if the blogosphere is also a sort of anarcho-syndicalist commune, minus the voting by two-thirds majority.

But anyway, I see that I have digressed majorly. As I was saying, my days of leisure are coming to an end. Which is just as well. It may well be in the order of things that a good man (or woman) must put the resources from which his prosperity arises to good works, if he or she is to remain in good standing with whoever or whatever is running the universe. This brings to mind these words of Kant: "so paramount is the value of a good will, that it ought not to escape without notice, that an impartial spectator cannot be expected to share any emotion of delight from contemplating the uninterrupted prosperity of a being whom no trait of a good will adorns." (Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals)

So it shall be. But in the meantime, I see that this post has been about everything and nothing at the same time. Maybe I shall have something more substantial to say in the next post, whenever that might come (next Tuesday?). In the meantime, enjoy whatever is left of the summer.   

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Pain is the House of Ashtanga

[Spoken with Yoda voice] Ah, a very funny thing this blogging is. For most of this month, I have just been averaging about one post a week. But then suddenly, this is the second post for today. The blogging muse is indeed a fickle creature...

Just a few minutes ago, I stumbled upon this article by Anne Finstad, in which she describes Ashtanga yoga as a "House of Pain." As you probably remember, about a month ago, David Garrigues published his by-now-famous blog post on the inevitability of pain in the Ashtanga practice (it's so famous that I'm not even going to link to it here; I bet you have probably read it, like, a thousand times by now). In response to this post, the entire Ashtanga blogosphere was aflame (or should I say "inflamed" :-)) with passionate discussions about whether pain is good/necessary in a "real" Ashtanga practice, how many kinds of pain there are, whether the pain that comes from practice is similar to the pain that comes from poetic creation, and whether some senior Ashtanga teachers might be Cylons (this last one is, of course, entirely my own contribution to the conversation :-)).

Anyway, this article by Finstad is definitely worth a read. She talks about her own experience of pain in the practice in a very honest, heartfelt, no-hyperbole kind of way:

"There was a long time for me, the practice just hurt. I spend my first trip to Mysore having torn a hamstring insert before going. It meant a lot of adjustments from Guruji and made me wonder what was wrong with all of us — especially me. It was not an ideal spiritual journey. It was pure raw pain and it was not only painful it was exhausting. I really was suspicious that Pattabhi Jois was a crazy man and we were all crazy for going to India to go through this. And as many will tell you, he didn’t really explain much to you, he just did it. So there was a great deal or room to wonder.

The thing was, and thank God, that part of the practice wasn’t forever. This magic thing happened where after five years of practice my hips opened. After seven years of practice, my knees stopped hurting. And as people will tell you or you can see if someone sticks with the practice over time and through these things, the body is made new.
It’s not a perfect transformation in all cases and the limits of it are dictated by how we take the practice. But as much as we let it the practice will change us for the better."

One of the first things that hit me when I read this was: "Damn, seven years of knee pain!" Most ordinary human beings I know would probably bail after like, five seconds of knee pain. Seven years? Gosh... But Anne has more to say. Here's the upshot of pain in the practice, according to Anne:

"I am writing this to say that everyone at some point has an experience of pain. We each have an attitude towards our own pain. To me the practice is a good way to start looking at how we approach pain. This discussion isn’t always comfortable, but it is one that a lot of us need to have. To work out how to not seek it, avoid it, or fear it. It’s going to happen, this pain. Just like life is going to happen. Sometimes it calls on us to do something, and sometimes we just need to let it be what it is and not try to fix it.

What the practice teaches me is how to let go of fighting the pain — to move on and through it without hanging on or becoming identified with it. To let pain become another sensation that educates me, to change my behavior, or to accept what is.

This, rather than just putting my foot behind the head, is yoga."

I hope you find Anne's article as edifying as I do... but--and I'm pretty sure you are already suspecting this, but I have to say it anyway--this also means that Anne Finstad is probably also a Cylon. How else could anybody live with knee pain for seven frakking years? 


But here's a different way of looking at this whole pain-and-Ashtanga-yoga business. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger famously proclaimed that "Language is the house of Being." I'm no Heidegger scholar, and am therefore unable to tell you what Being is (maybe Grimmly can, but he's on the beautiful island of Crete, soaking in the sunshine and taking in wonderful yoga instruction from Manju... and who wants to read and talk about Heidegger while on vacation?). But as a very convenient (albeit somewhat bastardized) shorthand, you can think of Being as being akin to the Tao or the Force of Star Wars.

So language, according to Heidegger, is the place where Being/Tao/the Force is most at home, and reveals itself most readily to us. But this revealing cannot take place by trying to wrench meaning out of words by linguistic analysis. Being can only reveal itself to us when we are open enough in our being for language to unfold itself through us. Heidegger's favorite example is that of the poet. The poet does not work with language by analyzing it or trying in some way to force meaning out of it. Rather, he allows the muse to speak to him and, in so doing, becomes an open conduit through which language and Being unfolds itself through him.

If none of this makes much sense to you, it's not you: It's probably a combination of the fact that I am both not a Heidegger scholar and also a very bad poet. But where's the connection to Ashtanga here? Well, consider this: What if Pain is the house of Ashtanga? In other words, what if it is through the language of pain that the truth or Tao or whatever of Ashtanga reveals itself to us? In other words, could it be that Pain is the House of the Being of Ashtanga? Yeah, I know, all this is very awkwardly put (I told you I was a bad poet...), but hopefully, you get my drift here.

But if all this is true, wouldn't this mean that practicing Ashtanga is a form of poetic creation, so that in practicing Ashtanga, we are doing poetry with our minds and bodies? Ha! So the pain of Ashtanga is really akin to the pain of poetic creation, after all. Well, shows what I know, right? ;-)     

Sharath in Copenhagen

Most of you probably have already seen this video which was first posted on Youtube three days ago. As of a few minutes ago, it already has more than 8000 views. But I thought I'd post it here anyway, in case you haven't seen it or want to see it again. In this video, Sharath discusses what the practice is about, and the place of asana in the yoga practice. There are a few new stories he hasn't previously shared before (to my knowledge). For instance, there is that very entertaining story of him doing kapotasana in a tent in Africa while a lion is prowling outside; I did not know he has been to Africa.

But many of the things he shares here are not new, but are worth listening to and pondering over again, if only to put our personal practice and struggles into perspective. For instance, he recounts how he used to get up at 2:30 in the morning to drive across Mysore to practice alone with Guruji. Nobody except Guruji knew what he was doing, but he did this for years anyway. Gives me a new perspective on my home practice; I don't get up at 2:30, but I have to admit that there are days when I get up and think to myself, "Really? I really have to put myself through all these physical contortions again?" At moments like these, it's good to remember that there are others who have been on, and are still walking on, the same path.

Anyway, that's enough editorializing from me. I hope you enjoy the video.   

Thursday, August 8, 2013

I saw the Devil last night

Well, not literally, but close enough. I watched this super ultra-violent Korean movie on Netflix called I Saw the Devil. If I have to describe the movie in a nutshell, I would say that it is basically Silence of the Lambs turned inside out. The movie starts with a serial killer murdering a young woman in a grisly fashion and then scattering her body parts all around a river bank for unsuspecting passersby to discover (Imagine this: It's a warm sunny day. You thought you were going for an idyllic walk along the river, and what do you find?...). The young woman's fiance, secret service agent Soo Hyun (played by Lee Byung Hun: You might recognize him as Storm Shadow in the G.I. Joe movies, if you are a Joe fan), vows to track down the killer and exact revenge by putting him through the exact same pain that his beloved had suffered. With the help of police files and some persistent detective work, Soo Hyun tracks down the killer, but doesn't kill him right away. Instead, he plays this cat and mouse game with the killer, slowly torturing him both physically and mentally. In this way, the hunter becomes the hunted, and we start wondering who is more evil: The serial killer, or the bereaved revenge-seeking fiance?

Lee Byung Hun
[Image taken from here]

I won't spoil the story for you by going into the details of how Soo-Hyun goes about exacting his revenge, or how everything ends (the ending, by the way, is genius: Haven't seen anything like this in ages). But all in all, I think this is a great movie, if you can stomach the sight of miscellaneous body parts constantly popping up, and people getting tortured and brutalized in all kinds of painful ways like, every ten seconds. Both Lee Byung Hun (it's really refreshing to see him speaking his native Korean rather than some totally stilted English lines that he's probably committed to memory and rehearsed ten thousand times) and Choi Min-sik (who plays the serial killer) are great actors who are very convincing in their roles. Choi, especially, has the difficult task of portraying an individual whom we are totally repulsed by and yet still, on some level, sympathize with. Not an easy thing to pull off. So all in all, I recommend the movie. But only if you can stomach it: It might be a good idea not to watch it right after dinner.  


What's really interesting is that watching the movie did not have a noticeable effect on my practice this morning. Usually, I'll have an emotional hang-over the morning after I watch an intense movie, and the effects will come up in the practice (a feeling of density, of having to move more slowly through the postures, etc.). But this didn't happen this morning. I did my usual practice (full primary and second up to Supta Vajrasana) completing it at the usual clip of one hour and twenty-seven minutes. I wonder what this says about me and my practice?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Is sarcasm the refuge of losers?

Yes, I know that this question has absolutely nothing to do with Ashtanga (unless sarcasm somehow violates one of the yamas or niyamas, which I doubt). But there's only so much one can say about things like how many types of Ashtanga/Ashtangi there are (I mean, seriously...), and I'm pretty sure you don't want a blow-by-blow account of my practice this morning.

So I thought I'll use this public soapbox of mine to get your response to this question that has been popping up in my head from time to time recently. First, a little background story: Lately, quite a few people around me have been telling me that they can be and enjoy being sarcastic at times. Whenever I hear this, I can't help calling to mind that one line spoken by a character in Little Miss Sunshine: "Sarcasm is the refuge of losers." According to this character, sarcasm is the tool that losers use to bring winners down to their level. If you haven't seen the movie, here's the movie trailer (the line in question comes up at around 0:38--0:39):  

So what do you think? Is sarcasm the refuge of losers? Or is it... something else? Well, actually, maybe I can relate all this to Ashtanga, after all. Here's one more question: If sarcasm is indeed the refuge of losers, does being a loser violate any of the yamas or niyamas?