Sunday, March 31, 2013

How do you know when you are ready (or not ready) to teach Ashtanga?

I just read Angela Jamison's latest post on the Ashtanga Yoga Ann Arbor blog, where she discusses in engaging detail that million-dollar Ashtanga question: How do you know when you are ready (or not ready) to teach Ashtanga? I encourage you to read her very intensely thoughtful and utterly honest post in its entirety, but here's an excerpt that really speaks to me:

"For ashtanga teachers, transitioning from sadhana to seva (from self-focused practice, to service) can be weird. It can stunt one’s growth dramatically if done without sufficient (1) preparation as a student, and (2) support from teachers and community. When this transition is made because the student puts herself in the teaching role, and not because her own teachers identify her as sufficiently skilled and prepared to teach, the challenges just mentioned are multiplied.

(Subtext: do not get in to ashtanga teaching unless you full-on cannot avoid it. Resist!! Don’t give yourself over to it unless you basically have to do it in order for your own practice to grow, and unless you have tons of support.)

Given these challenges, most teachers need active, invested mentors to whom they are accountable. (I do.) They need a (1) clear method and (2) a sense of history to keep from getting confused. They need to have strong equanimity and mental clarity, so they can (1) stand outside today’s “yoga” market and culture hype and (2) influence that culture positively.

Teachers need to be able to identify, and resist, the ego’s urge to use teaching to feed root chakra needs: money, sex, power, and attention.

(Subtext: yoga BS, and yoga scandals, happen when teachers don’t have all the support they need. Or when they fail to realize that they actually do have sufficient money, sex, power and attention – and thus they constantly grasp after more and more of the same. This happens when we don’t have anyone to call us on our, well, crap.)"

Reading Angela's words above and reflecting on my life of mostly self-practice over the last few years, I can appreciate that what has happened to me over the last few years is really no accident. If you read this blog regularly, you will know that over the last few years, I have, on several occasions, entertained the notion of teaching or "sharing" the practice with others, and although I have made a few limited ventures in this area, none of these ventures have led to anything big or long-lasting.

Reflecting on Angela's words above, I can see that the "failures" of my forays into teaching Ashtanga thus far are actually not bad things at all, from a big picture point of view. While there is probably nothing inherently wrong with sharing my limited knowledge of the practice with others, it is still nevertheless true that I was never in a position where I "full-on cannot avoid" teaching; I was never in a position where I had to teach in order for my practice to grow. As they say, everything happens (or does not happen) for a reason: I am quite convinced that in not teaching Ashtanga over the last few years, I was in fact protected from the vicissitudes of today's yoga scene; a scene which, as many of you know, is more often than not driven by the forces of the free market than by people who genuinely know what they are doing. Angela speaks quite bluntly about this pitfall of the contemporary American yoga scene when she writes:

"The majority of yoga teachers are exploited. Exploiting them is easy because they’re inexperienced as practitioners and poorly trained as teachers. But exploitation, inexperience and poor training don’t help anyone – not really.

...here’s the thing. Trying to pretend you know what yoga is when your practice is not fully developed is a formula for arrested development. Thrusting a person into this job for matters of convenience is not cool. It’s the reason western yoga is full of elementary-level instruction trying to pass itself off as something more by adding special effects. 

(Subtext: when you meet someone who wants you to teach regardless of whether you’re ready, and for matters of their own convenience, is that your teacher? Do you deserve better?)"

These are definitely sobering words for this "fake-it-till-you-make-it" capitalistic culture that we live in, in which it seems that virtually everybody wants to be seen as an expert of one kind or another, whether or not they actually really know what they are doing or saying.

On a slightly different but related note, at her LA workshop last weekend, Kino also briefly addressed this question of when one is ready to teach Ashtanga. During one of the sessions at her workshop last weekend, she related this humorous story of a very physically-talented student she met during her workshop in Taiwan. Apparently, this student, who had a background in martial arts, was doing Ashtanga for the very first time in his life (apparently, he had accompanied a friend to the workshop and was taking the workshop along with the friend to keep the friend company). Seeing that he seemed to be quite physically able, Kino asked him if he could try jumping through with straight legs. After hearing her description, this student effortlessly accomplished a straight-legged jump-through on his very first attempt ever; an accomplishment which took Kino herself many years to achieve.

Anyway, the point of Kino's story is this: You know you are ready to teach Ashtanga yoga when you can look at people who are more advanced in the practice than you are (or who can effortlessly do things that took you a long time and a lot of effort to accomplish), and genuinely rejoice and be happy at their abilities, without being envious of them or even being resentful of their achievements.

Well, all I can say is this: Using Kino's yardstick, I know for sure that I am definitely not ready to teach Ashtanga. If it's okay with you, I'm not going to go into the details here. But I think you get where I'm coming from...           

Preston, Idaho: Napoleon Dynamite in real life vs. reel life

After a long overland journey from Southern California, I arrived back here in Pocatello, Idaho a couple of days ago. School starts back up tomorrow, and I am still trying to re-orient myself to the gravitational pull of my "normal" life (i.e. the life that does not involve driving all over the place attending yoga workshops and interviewing celebrity teachers).

But I guess I'll spare you the boring details of this re-orientation. Here's something else that might interest you. On the way back to Pocatello, I took a little detour off the interstate, and stopped briefly in Preston, Idaho. Preston, as some of you may know, is the home of Napoleon Dynamite. I don't know how many of you are fans of the movie, but while in Preston, I went to a few of the places where the movie was shot, and took some pictures. In what follows, I shall set out these pictures I took alongside screenshots from the actual movie. I hope you find them interesting. If this doesn't interest you, and you'll rather read about something more yoga-related, well, then, wait for the next post :-)

But in the meantime, for all of you Napoleon fans out there, here goes. The first thing I saw when I got into Preston was Pop'n Pins Lanes. This is the bowling alley that Kip and Uncle Rico went bowling at in the movie:

Kip in action 
[Image taken from here]
 
Here is the place in "real" life:
 
 
I wanted to go in and take a few pictures, and maybe even play a game or two. Unfortunately, the place only opens in the evenings. Well, maybe next time :-) 
 
Next up is the high school that Napoleon attends in the movie: 
 
Napoleon and Deb on the steps of Preston High
[Image taken from here]

And here are the same steps, sans Napoleon and Deb: 
 

 

You might also remember that thrift store that Napoleon and Pedro went to, the one where Napoleon got his famous suit from: 
 

Napoleon looking sharp in his suit
[Image taken from here]
 
 Napoleon and Pedro hunting for the suit in the thrift store
[Image taken from here]
 
Deseret Industries, the thrift store where the scene was shot

You might also remember Uncle Rico, who is obsessed with going back in time to relive his glory days as a high-school quarterback. As you may recall, a big part of  Rico's discussion of time-travel with Kip happens over a burger:
 
[Image taken from here]
 
Unfortunately, the original burger joint where the discussion took place has since been torn down and replaced with a pizza and pasta place (I wonder why? You would think that there would be a big surge in business after such a big movie was shot there...). But the owners of the new place have nevertheless kindly kept the old sign in place: 
 
 
Well, that was all I managed to capture from scenes in the movie during my brief tour of Preston. There are many other things from the movie that I did not manage to capture here. For instance, I did not see Tina the llama. Nor was I able to locate the martial arts studio where Rex Kwon Do was taught. 
 
"Bow to your Sensei!"  
Kip receiving instruction in Rex Kwon Do from the Rex himself
[Image taken from here]
 
The locals didn't seem too enthusiastic about Napoleon-Dynamite-tourism. When I went into the thrift store and asked to take a few pictures (introducing myself as a fan of the movie), the clerk had this resigned look on her face ("there they go again...", she was probably thinking), but agreed to let me take pictures anyway. This being the case, I thought it would be wise not to overstay my welcome in this little quiet town near the Utah-Idaho border. But seriously, if any of you Napoleon Dynamite fans out there know the exact location of that Rex Kwon Do studio, please let me know. I could use a few RKD classes myself...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Carlsbad and Encinitas, California: A little yoga pilgrimage

It's midnight here in Irvine, California, where I am staying at the home of a couple of friends who are hosting me (I came down here from LA immediately after Kino's workshop last weekend). It's way past my bedtime; fortunately, tomorrow is a moon day, so I don't have to worry about getting up very early :-)

But I want to write about the little yoga pilgrimage that I undertook here in SoCal today before I go to bed. It started with my going to mysore this morning at Tim Miller's studio, the Ashtanga Yoga Center in Carlsbad. I had a little trouble finding the place; apparently, part of the road on which the shopping center in which Tim's studio is located has a different name, and my directions did not reflect that.Which threw me off for a little while, until I remembered from Tim's website that the studio is located directly above H&M (a trendy fashion store). So I asked a few locals where the H&M was (I didn't think many locals would know where the Ashtanga Yoga Center is, but H&M is a different story...), and was able to use the directions they gave me to the H&M to find Tim's studio. Isn't it interesting how you can use something that was intended for one purpose for another purpose? I can't help feeling that it was the energy of Hanuman that helped me to manifest the wisdom to find the place in this creative way.

Practice at Tim's was great. Before class started, Tim walked around chatting with people. When he got to me, he said, "We've met before. You look familiar." I then proceeded to explain to him that I had attended his workshop back in 2008 at Miami Life Center (Kino's studio). In response, Tim simply smiled serenely, and said, "Good to meet you again." It's things like this that sometimes make me wonder if I end up giving too much information to people--information that are, in some sense, not terribly essential to the encounter--when I introduce myself.

Anyway, after the introduction, I proceeded to do my practice. It was great, as I said. I did full primary and second up to Kapotasana. Through it all, I got just one adjustment from Tim (in Virabhadrasana B), but I was happy with my practice. As with many other mysore rooms that I have been in, there was something about this practice room that made me practice at a faster pace than I usually do at home (group energy?), so that by the time I got out of Kapo, I was totally winded. It was all I could do to do three backbends, and stand up from the third one. I just didn't have it in me to do dropbacks and standups. Neither Tim nor his assistant insisted either, so I just went straight to the finishing postures.

After class, I asked Tim if he would pose for a picture with me, and he agreed:

I'm guessing you know which one is Tim (Hint: Not the Chinese guy with glasses.)

After leaving Tim's studio, I stopped at a Starbuck's to have some coffee and a little bite to eat, and then proceeded to Encinitas: 


Encinitas, as many of you know, is home to many things yoga. One of them is, of course, the Jois Yoga studio:


The storefront of Jois Yoga

The Jois Yoga store in Encinitas is divided into two sections: A boutique and a studio. 

The studio space in Jois Yoga

Me standing in front of Guruji in the boutique

Besides Ashtanga, Encinitas is also home to another yoga lineage. The headquarters of the Self-Realization Fellowship is also located here in Encinitas: 

I spent half the afternoon in Encinitas. Encinitas is a beautiful little city with a certain timelessness to it; perhaps the city itself does yoga too, and is thus able to delay the effects of aging and change :-) So much so, that I also can't help wondering if Encinitas might not be the place where good American yogis go after they die. Just wondering; don't take my words too seriously, especially if you happen to be from New York or Miami. 
Anyway... I suppose I should go to bed now. I am setting out on the long journey back to Idaho tomorrow, and I probably should get some sleep before that. More later.  

Monday, March 25, 2013

Interview with Kino about the niyamas, March 24th 2013, Los Angeles, CA



Yesterday afternoon (Sunday March 24th), I had the great pleasure of interviewing Kino right after her workshop in LA. This interview is about the niyamas, the second limb of yoga. Well, I guess I'll keep my words brief here, and let the interview speak for itself. I hope you will like it.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Led Primary with Kino in LA: The Eternal Boiling of the Chick Pea

Just finished the first day of Kino's workshop here at Omkar108 in Los Angeles. We had two sessions today: Led primary earlier in the morning, followed by a session on arm balances after a brief lunch break. I am beyond excited and very grateful to be able to study with Kino again, even if just for a couple of days. In addition, I also met for the first time Savannah, who writes the blog Musings from the Yoga Mat. It's really wonderful to be able to put faces and voices to virtual personalities.

As with all of Kino's workshops, she shared a wealth of information and insight (not to mention unforgettable Guruji impersonations) during both sessions. I am really too beat to share everything here (as if that's possible anyway). But I'll just say that this morning's led primary totally kicked my ass. You know, I'm embarrassed to say this now, but before this morning, I had actually thought that I was pretty "good" at the primary series... Well, let's just say that Kino showed me a few interesting things about primary this morning. For instance, do you know that if you hold Mari C for a few Kino-length-breaths (she would typically count "1", then interject an entire commentary on some aspect of the pose in question, then count "2", and interject some commentary on some other aspect of the pose, and so and so forth, till we finally get to the blessed "5"), the arm that is doing the grabbing in the bind will feel so sore that it feels like it's going to fall off? Or that it is possible to take these really, really long breaths in the finishing padmasana in which the inhalation seems to last forever, and the exhalation also seems to last forever?

With all this in mind, it would perhaps be wiser from now on for me, in Kino's words, to "remain broken". i.e. to not think that you have "got it", but to be in a perpetual state of being aware that no matter how "good" or "advanced" you think you are at this or that series or this or that pose, you are "never good enough." Not "never good enough" in a bad or disparaging way, but "never good enough" in the sense that there is always something on the horizon to aspire towards and to challenge ourselves with.

You could also say that I kind of feel like that chick pea in that famous Rumi poem. I'm not a big Rumi fan, but I really think that particular poem hit the nail on the head as far as what I am feeling now is concerned. Oh, in case you don't know what poem I'm talking about, here it is:

Chickpea to Cook
A chickpea leaps almost over the rim of the pot
where it's being boiled.

"Why are you doing this to me?"

The cook knocks him down with the ladle.

"Don't you try to jump out.
You think I'm torturing you.
I'm giving you flavor,
so you can mix with spices and rice
and be the lovely vitality of a human being.

Remember when you drank rain in the garden.
That was for this.

...
 

Eventually the chickpea
will say to the cook,
"Boil me some more.
Hit me with the skimming spoon.
I can't do this by myself.
...

The cook says,
"I was once like you,
fresh from the ground. Then I boiled in time,
and boiled in the body, two fierce boilings.

My animal soul grew powerful.
I controlled it with practices,
and boiled some more, and boiled
once beyond that,
and became your teacher."
 

Ah.... may I always be a chick pea that is burning with the desire to be boiled some more, so that the flavor of the practice may seep into the depths of my being and make me more and more delicious... 

Speaking of delicious, I am quite hungry now. Thus I shall presently sign off, and scour the City of Angels for some angelic grub. More later... Oh, I almost forgot something else. The picture below was just posted on Kino's Facebook page. It shows all of us taking rest, lying in post-led-primary bliss:

If you look at the second row from the front of the room, at the sixth body from the door, you will catch a glimpse of the boiled chickpea in question. 
[Image taken from Kino's Facebook page]

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Salt Lake City, Utah

Today, I am spending the day (and night) in Salt Lake City (SLC), Utah, on my way to Kino's LA workshop this weekend. SLC, as many of you know, is the headquarters for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (a.k.a. Mormonism or LDS). This being the case, I felt that it would be inappropriate to visit SLC without paying a visit to the Mormon temple (usually referred to as the "Salt Lake Temple").

So this afternoon, I devoted a couple of hours to touring the grounds of the temple complex. A few church members (two young women and an older gentleman) led me on a tour of the premises. I wasn't allowed inside the main temple building, but there were quite a lot of other buildings on the temple grounds. For instance, there is a really huge and impressive LDS Conference Center with a four-acre garden on the roof (somehow, it reminds me of the hanging gardens of Babylon). This center also has a very interesting art gallery on the second or third floor (I can't remember exactly which floor), which boast a series of commissioned oil paintings depicting key scenes from the Book of Mormon.

All in all, it was a very educational and fruitful trip for me. The church members were very helpful and sincere in telling me about their religion and practices, and acquainting me with the temple grounds and buildings. The hardest part of the tour for me was when the older gentleman was telling me how, according to the Book of Mormon, Jesus Christ came to the Americas to teach the gospel to the native Americans soon after he died on the cross and was resurrected. It took me more than half a second to realize that this gentleman actually really believed this as a matter of fact and with the full weight of his conviction. I had to suppress the urge to make some kind of irreverent remark (which would have been totally inappropriate and disrespectful, given the circumstances), and make myself go along with his story and ask what I hoped were respectfully inquiring questions. But of course, the fault is totally mine; as you probably know from reading this blog, I have a habit of making irreverent remarks, not all of which are appropriate. 

Well, as they say, a picture speaks a thousand words. During the tour, I took a few pictures of the buildings on the temple grounds:

Main Temple Building

The main office building of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

Statue of Brigham Young

The LDS Conference Center

The Main Temple Building, as seen from the top floor of the LDS Conference Center

I hope you like these pictures. I need to go get some sleep now. I have a very long drive to LA tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

"We don't have yoga pants"

There is a crisis facing female yoga practitioners in North America: No yoga pants. For more details, take a look at this video:


As you can see, this is no laughing matter (even though you are probably laughing right now; well, stop it!)... I mean, do you really want to do Chaturanga in Yogurt pants? Or try to get into Downdog while sporting cardboard pants? If you don't want this to happen to you, act right away! And do not think that you are safe just because your present pair of pants are in good shape: Even if you do have a nice pair of lulus right now, pants don't last forever, and you will surely have to buy a new pair someday.... and then what? So make a donation right now, and save your ass(ana)!

P.S. In case you don't know, I am being totally irreverently facetious in this post. I didn't think I needed to say this, but I guess I'd better; these days, I simply can't assume that everybody gets my sense of humor...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Chinese people and yoga, pragmatism and Brahmacharya

I just read this article on Recovering Yogi by Sarah Li Cain, where she describes her experience with taking yoga classes in China. In the article, Cain relates at length an interesting episode about the bowels and yoga. But I am going to leave you to read about that episode for yourself. What I'm going to do here is to focus on some observations she makes at the beginning of her piece. She begins her article with these observations:

"The yoga studio I went to was very competitive. It’s an unspoken rule in China that the female patrons make sure they are dressed to the nines in expensive yoga gear so they can look the prettiest. They also compete to be the best in every yoga class, bending and twisting whichever way they can...
Men go to yoga studios to pick up women. Why wouldn’t you want to be the only male surrounded by twenty other females and have your pick of them?"

Hmm... I honestly don't quite know what to make of this. All of this brings up many thoughts in me. Where to start? Well, let's start with myself. I myself probably won't feel very at home in such an environment; even though Ashtanga does have a not-so-good rep for fostering competitiveness and Type-A-ness (doesn't this sound like Type Anus?...), I do try my best to follow the yamas and niyamas, and to not be competitive with myself or with others.

On the other hand, being Chinese myself, on some level, I kind of get why people in China would go to studios with this kind of mindset. I can't speak for women, but I do know that most Chinese men, for example, are very pragmatic in nature. This being the case, if you are a man who is, well, looking for a mate, it would seem to make sense, according to this pragmatic logic, to go to places where many women are at, and a place where you are outnumbered twenty-to-one by women would seem like a very good place to start, from the perspective of such a logic.

Of course, if you are a good yogi, you'll be thinking: But what about Brahmacharya? Well, at the risk of over-simplifying things, I'll start by observing that Brahmacharya, as far as I know, is a concept that is foreign to the average Chinese mind; and literally so, since yoga comes from India, which is a foreign land to the west of China. And at the risk of over-simplifying things even more, I'll venture to say that Brahmacharya is, in an important sense, also alien to the Chinese spirit of pragmatism. To illustrate this pragmatic spirit further, let me share a little story here. The Chinese writer Lin Yutang once gave the following witty explanation for why Chinese philosophy is so different from western philosophy: When the westerner sees a duck, he asks himself questions such as: Does the duck exist? How is it possible for the duck, which is supposedly a soul-less being, to move? The pragmatic Chinese person, on the other hand, simply asks himself: What is the best way to cook this duck, so as to produce the best-tasting duck dish?

Well, if you apply the above pragmatic spirit to the mind of a Chinese man who is looking for a mate, what kinds of questions do you think the man would be asking himself when he sees a fairly attractive woman (or, in the case of a yoga class, a bunch of fairly attractive women clad in lululemon pants (which, incidentally, are becoming more revealing than ever before))? I'm guessing I don't have to elaborate here...    

So I'm guessing that if you were to tell the average pragmatic Chinese man that women in yoga classes are not to be picked up, he would quite probably look at you like you are crazy, and then say, "But why not? If ducks are to be cooked, why shouldn't women be picked up?" Sounds sexist, I know, but it is what it is.

But then again, for all we know, things may be changing even in China. Some time ago, I was chatting with a senior Ashtanga teacher (I shall not reveal his name here) about possible changes in the global demographics of Ashtanga practitioners in the near future. He believes that as China becomes a world power and more Chinese citizens get exposed to different cultures, more people in China will also start taking up Ashtanga seriously (this is probably already happening anyway). When this happens, Chinese people will then start traveling to Mysore to study at the KPJAYI, and will also naturally delve into the other limbs of the yoga practice (including Brahmacharya). When this happens, they will then start absorbing and internalizing a notion that was once foreign to their minds. And perhaps things will change then.

Well, I'm not sure if this will happen. We'll just have to wait and see, I guess. 

Yoga in the Dragon's Den is now a Transcendent Site for Stress Reduction

Although you wouldn't know to look at it. Just what is it about this blog that is so transcendent (because I sometimes give voice to semi-coherent philosophical thoughts?)? Just what is it about this blog that is so stress-reducing (I myself certainly don't ever recall feeling my stress level go down as a result of reading this blog...)?

But in any case, I take what I can get. Being a person for whom being honored is not an everyday affair (or even an every-other-day affair), I have to take what I get when I can get it :-) Anyway, here's the story: Just a couple of hours ago, I got an email from the people over at ADN to BSN.org, telling me that this blog has been put on their list of Transcendent Sites for Stress Reduction. So I simply decided to accept the honor, and have displayed the badge for this honor in the right-hand corner of this blog. This is what they have to say about this blog:

"Yoga in the Dragon’s Den is a blog at a cross-section of pop culture, yoga and meditation, and philosophy. It seamlessly flows from one area to another, tying them together for what are ultimately satisfying reads."

Damn... I am actually at a cross-section of so many things, and didn't even know that! You know, as much as I often pretend to sound very yogic on this blog, it is very difficult not to feel all light and floaty and shit after reading such a flattering account of what I do on this blog. 

Although, come to think of it, there is also a certain irony to this whole thing, given the fact that I haven't been much motivated to blog lately. But as some wise guy once said, "One does not stare a gift horse in the mouth." Well, let's just hope the gift horse is not a trojan horse...

Anyway. As you can see, I'm totally reduced to rambling incoherency these days. Do I actually deserve to be on this list? But then again, maybe there really is something transcendentally stress-reducing about the way I ramble on and on on this blog. Well, I can at least hope.      

Monday, March 18, 2013

So I don't blog, chaos, and encounters

Haven't felt much of a desire to blog lately. I'm guessing this is because much of what I blog about here has something to do with my yoga practice (as in, the practice that is on the mat). But these days, the practice on the mat is just, well, the practice on the mat. Some days, interesting things happen. Other days, interesting things don't happen, but the practice moves along. One way or the other, I don't seem to feel the need to broadcast these on-the-mat happenings to the rest of the world. So I don't blog.

As for things that happen off the mat, well, they happen. Many of these involve beautiful encounters and wonderful conversations with people in my immediate environment, but I can't seem to blog about these without somehow taking away from the immediacy of the beauty of the encounters. So I don't blog.

Somehow, there just seems less of a need than before to reinterpret and reinvent reality through the lenses of an electronic medium. I think this says something about my present life and reality as opposed to my former life and reality. But I'm not exactly sure what just yet.    

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

But I did listen to an interview on NPR on the way to work this morning that is worth bringing up here. On Fresh Air, Terry Gross interviewed writer Emily Rapp, who recently lost her son just before his third birthday. In January 2011, Rapp's nine-month old son Ronan was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs disease. Children with this disease "lack an enzyme responsible for breaking down specific chemicals in the nerve cells of the brain. When these chemicals aren't removed, they build up, and the child loses his or her ability to function. Seizures and loss of sight and movement are all symptoms of the child's body shutting down." There is presently no cure for the disease; Tay-Sachs is always fatal. Children diagnosed with it experience a progressive shutting down of the body, and most of them die by the age of three.

Rapp recently wrote a memoir of her experience of living with and caring for her dying son; the memoir, incidentally, started out initially as a series of blog posts which she wrote "in a sort of fugue of grief and hysteria, essentially. I did it because it gave me something to do and I desperately needed that..."

Here's something she said in her interview with Terry that really struck a chord with me:

"I had this period when I would go out in Santa Fe ... and people would say to me in the grocery store, like, 'You must feel cursed,' and I would just be like a) 'That's not helpful,' and b) 'So are you if you think about the fact that you're a human being and you never know when chaos will find you.' So it made me just realize how deeply phobic we are of this idea that chaos is really a reality in this world. It is the thing that can touch and will touch us sometime in our life, and that doesn't mean that we're bad people or we deserve bad luck or that we're even unlucky. It just means that that's what happened... I think having that kind of a diagnosis, which really feels straight out of the biblical JobI mean, it really does — it's like you feel cursed, and what Job does in the Bible is wander around asking everyone why this is happening because he doesn't understand, and I think that's a little bit how I felt. People come around Job and they sit with him for a while and then they try to explain it, and that's when it all kind of goes horribly wrong, because what they should just do is sit and witness and say, 'We don't know. We don't understand. It doesn't make any sense. This is chaotic and crazy and I can't believe it's happened.'"

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

This is powerful stuff. On a very very different note, this may be somehow related to my inability/unwillingness to blog lately. Although what is happening in my life is a totally different thing and certainly definitely cannot compare in intensity to what Rapp has gone through, I can't help feeling that the encounters I have been having with people are also powerful in their own subtle ways. And it is difficult to try to explain the power of such encounters in writing without taking away from their power. The only thing to do is to feel, witness, and accept, and be grateful that everything that has happened has happened. Because it is the only way it can happen, and because it will never happen again. 

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

But speaking of encounters, there is one interesting encounter that is coming up for me this weekend. I will be seeing Kino again after a long time. I will be making the long journey (eleven hours' drive from Salt Lake City) to her workshop this weekend in LA. Perhaps seeing and studying with and interviewing Kino will get me out of this relative electronic-media silence. We'll see.
  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Evolution of Ashtanga, the (possible) papal butterfly effect

I just read this very thoughtful and insightful article by Matthew Sweeney on the evolution of Ashtanga Yoga. It gives me a lot to chew on; I think Sweeney does a wonderful job of articulating and giving a balanced treatment from different angles of the way the practice has evolved over the years. I'm not going to quote any of it or offer any commentary here; I think the article speaks plenty for itself. But do take a look at it when you have a chance. It's definitely worth reading and pondering over.

In other news: It appears that a new pope (the first one from the Americas, no less) has been elected. Will the election of a new pontiff have any effect on my digestive and elimination processes, just as, say, the flapping of the wings of a butterfly in the Amazon might cause a typhoon in Asia? Probably not. But who's to say? Anything is possible in the universe these days.  

On that note, I'll keep this post brief, and sign off here: The election of a new pontiff is probably not a good occasion for a long, pontificating post :-) More later.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The laxative effect of Surya Namaskar B; Or, don't worry if you can't move your bowels before practice (the practice will move them for you)

Over the last few weeks, I've had at least a couple of evenings a week where I got home a little later than usual, and therefore had to prepare and eat dinner a little later than usual (i.e. after 8 p.m.). As many of you out there know, what this means in terms of the practice is that I wake up the next morning feeling a bit heavier than usual. What this also means is that it is a bit harder to make myself move my bowels before starting practice, because... because, well, probably because the food from last night hasn't had time to digest... honestly, I'm not entirely sure if the bowels that one moves on a given morning actually consists of waste matter from the food from the previous evening, or if they consist of waste matter from food eaten more than one evening ago (this is where my knowledge of biology is not so good); if the latter is the case, then the feeling of lightness that many Ashtangis reportedly get from moving their bowels may be more psychological than real, since if moving your bowels does not actually get rid of the waste matter from last night's food, and it is last night's food that is causing one to feel heavy, then moving the bowels won't probably do very much to relieve any feelings of heaviness. Simple logic, right? ;-)

But the question of what waste matter is actually being moved by which bowel movement is probably a purely academic question, as is the question of whether the resulting (unbearable?) lightness of being is psychological or real in nature. What matters, as far as the practice is concerned, is that one preferably gets to move one's bowels before practice, and that such movement results in a good feeling of lightness, leaving one ready to take on the rigors of practice without being distracted by the heaviness in one's innards.

But what if, as happened to me this morning, one finds oneself unable to move one's bowels before starting practice? You could, of course, keep sitting on the toilet till the bowels (or Kingdom) come. But this is very likely not a productive (no pun intended) way to go about things. As anybody who has ever experienced constipation knows, trying to take a shit is very much like trying to go to sleep; the more one tries to "will" it to come, the more it stays away. It comes when it comes. Period.

So what is a good Ashtangi to do in this situation? Well, here's something that has worked for me. I just get on the mat and start practicing. When I get to Surya B, there is something about doing Uttanasana immediately after Utkasana (a.k.a. Ekam and Dwe positions in Surya B) that gets the bowels moving for me. For the last few weeks, if I have been unable to move the bowels before practice, I would feel the bowels stirring in these two positions within the first or second Surya B. Every single time. Without fail. And then I would have to either hold in the poop (which might be good for extra bandha strength training, but not so good for the body in general, because what has to go, has to go) or walk/trot/run to the bathroom to get the stuff out of the system. I always pick the latter. Yeah, it breaks the rhythm of practice, but again, what has to go, has to go (a.k.a. there's more space outside than inside).

So yeah, I guess what I'm saying is that it seems that Surya B (more particularly, the first two positions of Surya B) seems to have a laxative effect on my system. Come to think of it, I actually suspect that everybody probably has a "laxative pose" or two out there (i.e. the pose that will get you to go to the bathroom when all else fails); they just have to discover what those poses are, since every body--and presumably, every bowel--is different.     

But all this is just me talking about my own very particular experience of the relationship between practice and moving the bowels. Does this resemble your own experience at all? Or is your experience very different? Feel free to share, if you are not averse to talking about such matters of the bowels.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Seeing 108; or why I might be going insane

Recently (like, over the past week or so), I have been seeing the number "108" seemingly everywhere I turn. I would be looking at the clock, and it would say 1:08 p.m. (never "a.m.", because I don't stay up that late). Or I would see 10:08 a.m. or p.m.

And just a few minutes ago, I saw the number 108 somewhere (I can't remember exactly where now; I think it was on some car's registration plate...).

I know that the number 108 has a lot of significance in both Buddhist and Hindu lore. For instance, sentient beings are said to have 108 desires... so I can't help wondering if there is any significance to the fact that I seem to be seeing this number everywhere of late. But then again, psychologists don't seem to think much of this experience; they dismiss this as apophenia, or the tendency to perceive patterns or conditions where none exist. Hmm... psychologists seem to have a fancy name for every condition under the sun these days. But if apophenia is indeed a condition, that may well mean that I am going insane! But whether or not I am indeed going insane, one can't deny that it's still intriguing that of all the patterns or connections that I could be noticing, I am noticing 108, don't you think? 

Oh, and I wanted to finish this post at exacty 1:08 p.m. (more for poetic effect than anything else), but it's now around 1:18 p.m. So that didn't quite work out...

Oh well. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Chaturanga for the brain, chess for the body

It's been a rather lazy, got-nothing-much-done Saturday. I got up a little later than usual this morning, did full primary with Sharath's led primary CD, and then drove around town running a few errands. And then I came to this coffeeshop where I usually do my work, where I played (and won) a game of chess with a guy from Saudi Arabia. I'm just now settling into the "real work" part of the day, and trying to get a little "real" work done (preparing for classes, doing my research, etc.) before the evening rolls around.

Speaking of chess, I just found out from Wikipedia that the game is believed by scholars to have originated in India during the 6th century CE, where it was known as... guess what? Chaturanga! As many of you who read this blog know, Chaturanga means "four limbs" in Sanskrit. Applied to this ancient version of chess, "four limbs" refers to the four divisions of the military in ancient India: Infantry, cavalry, elephants and chariotry. These four elements would go on to evolve respectively into the pawns, knights, bishops and rooks of modern chess.

I suppose for most of us yoga practitioners--and in particular, Ashtanga yoga practitioners--the first thing that comes to mind when the word "Chaturanga" is mentioned is that push-up-like pose; you know, Chaturanga Dandasana. Well, maybe chess is Chaturanga Dandasana for the brain, i.e. when you play chess, you put your brain through a workout comparable in intensity to putting your body in Chaturanga Dandasana. 

Folks doing chaturanga with their brains
[Image taken from here]

But then again, why can't it be the other way around? Why can't Chaturanga Dandasana--and Ashtanga yoga as a whole--be chess for the body? For all we know, when we do Ashtanga, we may very well be playing chess with our bodies!

Ah well. Chess for the body, Chaturanga for the brain... does it really matter, in the end? Alright, I really really need to go get some work done now... More later.

Friday, March 8, 2013

A little practice non-report, and my upcoming presence in the City of Angels

Ah... it's Friday again (TGIF?). The end of another week. What do I have to say here? Well, my practice is... going on. I'm still working on getting that inner rotation of the thighs in backbends (for more details, see this post). It seems to be working well thus far; if nothing else, I am definitely feeling a lot less compression in the lumbar spine and more of that sweet delicious burning sensation in the thighs. Other than that, the practice is as it is; there are ups, there are downs, but the journey continues. Nothing really worth rhapsodizing too much about on this blog.

But here's something that might be worth blogging about: I'm going to get to see Kino again soon. Yesterday evening, I signed up for Kino's upcoming LA workshop at Omkar 108 on March 23rd and 24th. I spoke on the phone with J├Ârgen Christiansson, who was most kind and helpful in getting me registered and paid for the workshop.

So, God willing (I don't actually believe in God, but "the universe willing" just doesn't sound right), I will be in SoCal exactly two weeks from now. I plan on making this a big road trip, as this will be during my spring break, and I have a little more time to play around with. The plan (again, God willing) is to set out from Pocatello, Idaho (where I am right now) sometime around mid-day on Thursday March 21st, drive down to Salt Lake City, Utah, to meet with a friend and fellow academic who also does research in procrastination, and talk about procrastination for a couple of hours. And then stay the night in Salt Lake, get up on Friday morning and drive about 10 hours till I get to LA. God willing, I should get into LA sometime on Friday evening. And get up fresh and bright for Kino's workshop the following morning. After the workshop, I'll be in SoCal for a couple more days, visiting a couple of friends in Orange County.

Kino has also very kindly agreed to another video interview with me (if you haven't seen the previous interview which I did with her a couple of years ago, check it out here). This one will probably be on the niyamas, in continuation from the previous one, which was on the yamas. Gosh, I just estimated that if I do an interview with her on each of the eight limbs every couple of years, I will probably cover all eight limbs in about... twenty years! What a thought.

Oh, and of course, if you are also going to be at the workshop, and would like to notify me of your existence, please look out for this Asian guy with black horn-rimmed glasses (for more details on his appearance, see the interview video above). If you go over and say hi to him, he will not bite (he is not a zombie).

Anyway, I got to go play some chess now. More later.  

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Standing on your head is a good antidote for philosophy

At the beginning of my philosophy class this morning, a student came into the lecture hall carrying a yoga mat. (Full disclosure: To my knowledge, none of my present students know that I practice yoga. I don't exactly know why I keep my yoga and academic/teaching life separate. Maybe it's because I have this notion that people might somehow take me less seriously as a person of ideas if they find out that I can put my body into some interesting shapes.)

Anyway, as the student settled herself into her seat, I asked, as innocently as I could, "Is that a yoga mat?" She said yes (What was I expecting to hear, anyway? "No, this is actually an extra-long seat cushion"?). This is roughly how the conversation proceeded from this point:

Nobel: "Did you just come from yoga, or are you going to yoga after this class?"

Student: "I'm going to yoga after this."

Nobel: "Ah.... I would imagine that standing on your head must be a good antidote for doing too much philosophy."

That last statement drew a collective chuckle from the rest of the class. Meanwhile, the student in question smiles sheepishly (I hope she doesn't think I'm a creep).

I don't know why I am telling this story here (probably because there is no other place to tell it; if I were to tell this to my colleagues, they'll probably think I'm being cheesy, or worse...). So there. For the first time in a long time (or maybe for the first time ever), there is no moral to my story. I'm just telling it like it is. I hope you find it interesting or (I can at least hope) entertaining.   

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Playing chess at coffeeshops, not blogging, giving advice, and sounding like Aristotle

These are lean times for Yoga in the Dragon's Den, in a manner of speaking. I simply haven't felt much motivation to blog lately. I have also been rather remiss in responding to comments. The main reason is that I have been living more in the "real" world. I am teaching a full load of classes here at the university, and my non-teaching time is taken up with socializing and hanging out at this local coffeeshop where many young people gather to play chess regularly. Young people playing chess (and not, say, videogames)?! You may be thinking to yourself. Yes, it's true, and it's such a pleasant surprise. The coffeeshop has a chess set permanently set up on one of its tables; the story is that the owner--who, incidentally, is not an avid chess player--set up this table a couple years ago. Young people would wander into the coffeeshop, find the chess set there, and just... play. As a result, a lively chess culture has sprung up.

Which, as I said, is a pleasant surprise for me. I've always loved the game. But in most parts of this country (at least, this is my perception), chess is seen as this dorky, brainy, anti-social game that is only for dorky brainiacs (full disclosure: I am pretty dorky, but I am not a brainiac. But that has not stopped me from loving chess.). As a result, I've always had a lot of trouble finding "real" people to play chess with (I don't like playing chess online, as I tend to stare too hard at the screen, and my eyes get really tired after a while). Until now. So for the past few weeks, I have been spending whatever non-working time I can find picking up chess games here at this coffeeshop. And not to brag or anything, but I'm actually gaining a modest reputation here as a great chess player (probably not as great as James Altucher, but I'll take what I can get :-)). Truth is, a lot of it probably has to do with the fact that I'm quite a bit older than most of the other players. As one advances in age, one loses a bit (or more than a bit) of testosterone. Which makes one more able to stand back and consider things more coolly, and be able to take shit better. Which is a useful trait to have in chess-playing. 

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Anyway, all of that was by way of explaining why I haven't been blogging much (blogging about why I'm not blogging... imagine that.)

Fortunately, I do actually have something modest to blog about today. I just read Claudia's latest post about giving the best "deathbed" advice that you have. Claudia writes:

"If someone asked you to give the "best advice you have on you", a one sentence that you would tell somebody else if you had all the wisdom you have now, and you were about to leave the earth; What is THAT advice?  What is your legacy sentence?  
My Best Advice? GO FOR HAPPINESS FIRST...

For example, if I say I want more money, I can then ask: why would that be? I could answer: so I would not have to work so much, why? So I would have more free time, and why would that be? so I could focus only on things I love doing, why? because then I would be....HAPPY!
Seen in this light, why not go for happiness first?" 


Interesting. I'm not sure if Claudia knows this, but she actually kind of sounds like Aristotle here. Here's what Aristotle has to say about this subject: 

"If, then, there is some end of the things we do, which we desire for its own sake (everything else being desired for the sake of this), and if we do not choose everything for the sake of something else (for at that rate the process would go on to infinity, so that our desire would be empty and vain), clearly this must be the good and the chief good." (Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1, Chapter 2, translated by W.D. Ross.)    

"Now such a thing happiness, above all else, is held to be; for this we choose always for itself and never for the sake of something else, but honour, pleasure, reason, and every virtue we choose indeed for themselves (for if nothing resulted from them we should still choose each of them), but we choose them also for the sake of happiness, judging that by means of them we shall be happy. Happiness, on the other hand, no one chooses for the sake of these, nor, in general, for anything other than itself." (Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1, Chapter 7, translated by W.D. Ross.)

Thus we can see that like Claudia, Aristotle also believes that happiness is the final and therefore, in this sense, the most important human good. It thus appears that Claudia is in good company :-)

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Very interestingly, someone at this coffeeshop that I hang out at also recently asked me for the best "deathbed" advice that I can offer: You get that a lot when you tell people that you teach philosophy for a living; they immediately assume that you are very wise, whether or not that is actually true... Anyway, this is my, ahem, advice: Find something to do that you can pour your entire heart or being or whatever into, so that if you were to die right now, you would be okay with that. 

Well, this doesn't sound quite as wise as Aristotle (or Claudia, for that matter). But hey, you got to take what you can get, right? ;-)