Sunday, February 26, 2006

Fifteenth Class

Fifteenth Class

Sunday Morning Session: Hansa (why do all these yoga teachers only have one name?)

Starting chant (in recognition of today being Shivarastri, a celebration of Shiva in India):

OM Namah Shivayah
Shiva Shiva Shiva Shiva
OM Namah Shivayah

Hansa started by telling the story of Brahma’s creation of the world. When he was done, Shiva looked at the world and found suffering in it. He asked Bramha why he’d created suffering. Bramha explained that he’d created the world to include consciousness and the ability to choose, and suffering was the result. Shiva goes to a mountaintop where he sits in meditation for thousands of years. In the process, Shiva discovers hundreds of thousands of postures, each embodying and refining some aspect of the nature of mankind. He returns and teaches it to men as the asana (physical postures) practice of yoga.

Starting meditation: How do I, through yoga, find my tools for transformation or is yoga about that for me?

[I found this meditation to open me to a couple of ideas I’ll explore in a subsequent response to this class.]

Hansa began with a discussion of the role of the Yoga Alliance, and the mechanics for membership, training requirements, dues, etc. The details can be found here:

She then presented a class on body reading and koshas.

Koshas are “sheaths” of the self. They are formally referred to as panchamayakoshas. “Pancha” = 5; “maya”=illusion; “kosha”=sheath

anamayakosha=the food body
pranamayakosha=the energy body
manomayakosha=the mental/emotional body
vijnamayakosha=the wisdom body
anandamayakosha=the bliss body

Exercise: Hansa guided us into Tree pose (, four different times, asking us to make notes of our experiences each time. Her instructions varied, each set applying to a drawing imagery from a particular kosha. I found that my experience of each pose varied in accordance with the respective kosha she was addressing. An interesting experience of a person affecting another’s experience quite directly by means of nothing more than words. The first set of instructions employed physical imagery and relatively stiff instructions. It led to questions of “am I doing it right?” and stiff attention to body form. Instructions like this can be useful to students who need to develop a sense of physical capability and limitations.

Energy body. Hansa brought four volunteers in front of the class to demonstrate energy reading, as they performed a standing backbend. The final effect of asana practice is to cease dualistic perception. Every pose has a bindi, or center spot. To some extent, we can change the bindis for poses, depending on the students’ needs. A pose can have more than one bindi– trikonasana, for example, has three: one at the pubic bone, one in the uplifted hand, one in the descending hand. Bindis are also associated with the chakras and marma points – spots where energy lines cross in and bring balance to the body. As you begin to understand these things, you can enhance students’ postures by assisting them to make the connection with the chakras and marmas. More important than the depth of a posture is its alignment to its bindi. The movement of prana in the pose will do the rest. Prana is the life force. It comes in form of Shiva/Shakhti – both meditative and energetic. As you read students’ bodies, you will learn to perceive where they hold their energy, parts of their bodies that are cut off from the energy flow. The body communicates silently each person’s fears and abilities. Yoga asks us to explore the hidden places of our own bodies.

The mental sheath sometimes manifests itself through emotional releases during practice, sometimes also through dreams related to or stemming from the practice. The body will work on these things as a student practices. But we can make use of intention and knowledge to work through some personal transformational issues, as well. We don’t have to wait for the unconscious. Usually, such experiences have a story behind them. That “story” is part of the mental sheath. It is the way the mental kosha engages with those experiences. Often enough in life, we have to learn to forgive twice – once in the head, and a second time when we confront the experience in the cellular body.

Vijna, the wisdom body, works by perceiving where we stand in the world. It is a creation of doubts, as it doubts all.

Teachers assist students by finding energy blocks in the body. Sometimes it requires nothing more than touching the spot on the body to draw the students’ attention to it. Then they can go at it as best they are able.

Exercise: reading partner’s body.

Exercise: walking while leading with the belly, then with the chest, then with the head, then with feet splayed, then with feet pigeon-toed. Notice in each case what it feels like to do so.

When you read others’ bodies, let the intuitive mind engage. Hansa then related her experience in a class led by Bikram Choudry. She was one of a hundred or so students, so he couldn’t have known much about any of the individual students in the class. Yet, when she was standing in a posture, he walked to her and said, “Find your own strength, and let go your reliance on your father.” Bikram correctly read in her posture important details of Hansa’s life, intuited the connection, and then was open enough to share what he perceived. The body can show the student’s spiritual challenges, as well. Observe a student in Warrior pose. Warrior is grounded to the earth, while lifting the heart. How a student lifts the heart can tell you much about the student.

Afternoon Session: Alanna, Dave and Ann.

We began with a review of the yamas and niyamas, quite similar to the presentation by Shannon last Sunday. Alanna walked us through three verses of the Yoga Sutras: 1.1-1.2, and 2.29. She noted that in the first chapter, Patanjali teaches the one-step plan to experiencing Yoga (union to the divine) – ishvara pranidhana – devotion to God. Since that is not an easy path, Patanjali articulated other alternatives. The second path he described is two steps: abhyasa (practice) and vairagya (detachment). The third path is three steps, and is known as kriya yoga: tapah (heat – burning one’s desires through a fire ceremony), svadhyaya (self-study), and the already mentioned ishvara pranidhana. Still, as that is not an easy path, he also articulates the ashtanga yoga path. Asht=8; -anga= limb. There are actually 16 steps, if each of the five yamas and five niyamas is understood as a separate element.

Yamas: ahimsa (non-harming), satya (truth), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (celibacy).

Ahimsa – non-violence, non-harming
Not simply “don’t kill.” Assume that Patanjali knew his audience was likely composed of people who have already taken the path of yoga and the development of the mind and spirit. He wasn’t trying to convey solely “don’t engage in violence on others.” The instruction can apply to all of our relationships with all sentient beings. In that sense, it becomes an active practice, an active form of kindness. But there is a process of development involved. You wouldn’t ask a first-time student to move into revolved, bound angle pose. You start where you are. But the key is to avoid being complacent and comfortable where you are. Go to your edge. The same principle holds true in how you live the yamas and niyamas as how you practice asana.

You may start by being kind to your friends. This isn’t hard. Next, try being kind to strangers – persons whom you have no particular reason to like. Once you accomplish that, try being kind to those you affirmatively don’t like. This is harder because we usually have what we think are pretty good reasons for not liking someone. Even so, offer love, and not judgment in engaging with them. Then, take on extending your kindness to beings that are not the same as you – animal life. Picking and choosing what you are willing to practice and what you aren’t just reinforces the small “self.” Find your point of discomfort with these teachings and explore it. Patanjali offers this promise: “One who is established in ahimsa ceases to experience violence.” By becoming saturated with ahimsa, you change the world around you. Chris offered this insight from a Dyer address he heard recently: a study has found that the person engaging in an act of kindness experiences elevated serotonin levels in the brain. The person receiving the kindness also experiences elevated serotonin levels. But most curiously, even a person witnessing the act of kindness experiences elevated serotonin levels, as well. The act of kindness affects all three. Gina noted that some people are inclined to take advantage of expressions of kindness. Alanna responded by noting that there had to be lots of people who took advantage of Mother Theresa’s kindness, as well. But she didn’t let it bother her, nor did she let it interfere with her work to extend kindness to those in need. Alanna suggested that there were ways that we, too, could allow others to receive kindness from us, even at the risk of them wanting more. She noted, though, that kindness does not always equate to giving a person specifically what the person is seeking. We should use our understanding to sort out what the best response is to a situation.

If we were to see everyone as ourselves, we would cease to do harm to them. (Note, I’m not so sure of this, depending on what we understand “harm” to mean. There have been plenty of times in my life that I benefited from an action that, if viewed superficially, might have seemed “harmful.”) It is because we see others as different than ourselves that we’re able to harm them. Alanna stated that the principle is one to be applied to those not ourselves, rather than to ourselves. When we conclude that we should avoid harming ourselves, we end up giving ourselves permission to harm others for our own good. She stated that the most therapeutic thing for someone who is harming herself is to get her to be kind to someone or something else. She referenced the practice of sending dogs to prisons for obedience training, and the significant improvement in the lives of the prisoners who cared for the dogs. Note, thought, that being unkind to yourself is not at all a good thing. You can lock up nerve channels by doing so. Westerners tend to be rather self-destructive, so finding a way to reduce that is helpful. But we should not allow the principle of ahimsa to become a justification for inflicting harm or suffering upon others to justify ourselves. Anne suggested that we take the process in steps and try to be realistic about what we can do today. If strict vegetarianism is too much to contemplate right now, try following it at lunchtime. Alanna concurred, noting that extreme actions seldom produce long-term results, as they almost never last. Make changes because (and when) you believe in the principle directing the change, not because someone else told you to do so. Life doesn’t get any easier when you start to explore and practice yoga. In some respects, it gets decidedly harder.

Satya – Truth
How to make this an active principle: don’t apply this to “self” truth, which is invariably subjective, and equally certain to change over time. Apply it to the one truth – God. There are many ways to talk about the Truth, to experience it, to move toward it, but you can’t pretend to know how to speak about it. Even so, you’ve got to try. Any action, whether speech or otherwise, should be directing others toward that One Truth. Any communication should do nothing but uplift another person. Consider the effect of gossip or speaking ill of another person. Even if the other person has asked you for your thoughts, be cautious in stating negative impressions, as doing so will bring “down” the thoughts of the person to whom you are speaking. It may be that your subjective impressions of the yoga teacher you have been asked about will serve the other person very well, even if they did not serve you well. You can gain enlightenment through any relationship, since any expression of the other can become a vehicle for enabling you to perceive the fundamental unity of all beings. Patanjali promises that for one who is firmly established in satya, everything the person says comes true. Alanna advised that satya should be a function of ahmisa, or non-harming, and that any truth-speaking should be subject to the non-harming principle.

Asteya – Non-stealing
What are you not stealing? Steal as little as possible. Are you chronically late, stealing the time of others? Do you steal from the Earth? What can you give back? What can you stop stealing? Beth noted that this principle has led her to vegetarianism. Aminda provided a summary of facts relating to consumption in our society. Beth recommended The Food Revolution, by John Robbins, as worth reading on this score.

Brahmacharya – Celibacy
Alanna noted that some have suggested that the translation (or recording, not sure) of this was a function of a bunch of frustrated monks. One way of understanding this is that it applies to a particular phase of life, as one goes about learning the principles of yoga. She noted that you can extend that phase for long periods of time. It just depends on how badly you want the objective. Sex is an activity that can truly unite or divide people. If you’re going to do it, do it only to unite. Not doing so with that intention can create all kinds of trauma. Also, the fluids of sex can be important for giving you the strength needed as you seek to live the other parts of the 8-limbed path.

Aparigraha – non-hoarding
How much can you give back of what you own? How much stuff do you have in your basement?


Saucha – purity and cleanliness. Includes treatment of physical body. Cleaning your body makes you aware of all the things that you are not. It is a way to begin to realize that you are not your body. It is also helpful to listen to good music and to keep your mind elevated.

Santosha – contentment/equanimity. We can practice this by remaining centered when confronted by car accidents, experiences of extreme happiness or sadness. Note that this is different from repressing an emotional experience. Santosha is remaining centered while fully experiencing the happiness or sadness of a particular emotion-charged experience.

Tapa – heat; give up your desires to the fire.

Svadhyaya- self-study. Find a teacher

Ishvara pranidhana – give your efforts to God.

Asana – your seat, relative to the earth. You take on the form of the pose, whether a Tree, a Crow, a Warrior, or a Plank. Become the asana – become the world.

Pranayama, energy-restraint/ breath control. Breath is the one function of the autonomic nervous system that we can bring readily under the control of the intention of the mind. Because of that, it provides a direct link between the conscious and the unconscious minds. That is the first step in pratyahara – the beginning of meditation.

Dharana- attempt to meditate. Trying to use tools to focus the mind. The tools can include mantra, mala beads, vipassana techniques, the Tibetan Tonglen practice or others.

Dhyana- the ultimate meditation practice in which the mind becomes steady. When you are able to maintain the focus of the mind.

Samadhi- the experience of blissful union with all existence, the result of meditative practice, though it can arise spontaneously from other activities, as well.

We then moved to a practice of the corepower yoga series of poses from the integration postures through the Crescent Lunge/Crow series.

Following that, we began review of the Balancing series – Eagle, Dancer’s Pose, and Tree