Sutra Discussion Sunday September 29

We’ll be meeting at 10:00-11:30 on Sunday September 29 in the “blue room” at YiY. Bring your translations as usual.

We plan to discuss sutra 2.49 starting on the fourth limb of Ashtanga yoga, pranayama:

tasmin sati shvasa prashvsayoh gati vichchedah pranayama

“Pranayama is the conscious, deliberate regulation of the breath replacing unconscious patterns of breathing. It is possible only after a reasonable mastery of asana practice.”
 Translation and interpretation by TKV Desikachar

You can hear our previous discussions on sutras at www.sutratalk.com.




Friday Discussion: Guy Donahue on Yoga Selfies

This is from his Facebook Post:

Yoga Selfie

For many years I have been railing against the yoga selfie culture. Although there may be some legitimate argument that photographic images of yoga postures can have an artistic or educational purpose, the intention is much more often driven by a desire to show off or for the purpose of advertising yoga instruction – this has greatly contributed to the commonly held misconception that the word yoga=asana.

What do yoga selfies have to do with yoga? Pretty much nothing whatsoever.

In a small attempt to counteract this trend I have decided to start posting yoga-Selfies (Selfie with a capital S). Yoga Selfies are an attempt to characterize the “true” Self as it is accessed though yoga practice rather than the narcissistic ego represented by the common use of the expression.

The dubious privilege of being on Facebook is the automatic generation of an Instagram account. I now propose to start posting weekly slokas from the Patanjali Yoga Sutra here: https://www.instagram.com/aysnyc/

~

The word yoga is synonymous with the word samadhi and is used mainly in two ways: either as union or as concentration.

Yoga as union means: union of the individual consciousness with the universal consciousness or union of the individual soul with the universal soul or god.

When concentration is the intended meaning of the word – as in the yoga of Patanjali and the eight steps of Ashtanga Yoga – concentration or samadhi means complete absorption of the mind on a single object or principle to the exclusion of all other thoughts, sensations or impressions – a one-pointedness of mind focussed on an object.

In this context, the word yoga is used in two further related ways – on the one hand there is a state beyond concentration, beyond one-pointedness of mind, in which the mind becomes empty of content – this is the higher level of yoga known as asamprajnata samadhi, and then there is also a method, or practice (sadhana) that precedes the state of concentration, a method that leads to yoga – the word yoga is also used in this context.

The most common method that leads to this second definition of yoga (concentration) is Ashtanga Yoga – not the Pattabhi Jois asana system, but the eight step path of yoga described by Patanjali.

Asana practice is one of eight steps that leads towards yoga, but by itself an asana or an asana practice is just a small movement in that direction and cannot, by itself, isolated from the other 7 steps of ashtanga, be considered actual yoga.

A “yoga selfie” is still more removed from actual yoga since it does not in any way even represent the practice or demonstration of a real yoga asana – but is nothing but posing for the camera with extraverted awareness as opposed to inward absorption.

Although photographs of yoga postures can be helpful as a teaching tool, they are most often have the opposite effect – they show what yoga is not and cultivate a wrong understanding of the practice, goal and meaning of yoga.

More often than not, yoga selfies are simply attempts to impress others, sometimes for no other purpose and sometimes as an advertisement for expert yoga asana instruction.

What is the difference between a contortionist and a yoga practitioner demonstrating a pose? Practically nothing. Although asana practitioners will argue that their intentions are different, they will struggle hard to explain how or why.

~

Although yoga is defined as concentration, this definition does not explain what happens as the result of concentration, or what the purpose of concentration might be.

In the third sutra of the Samadhi Pada, Patanjali explains that when concentration is achieved, the “Seer” is established in its own essence, while, in the fourth sutra, he explains that at other times the Seer is merged with experience.

The Seer is the Self, consciousness or true identity. The target of yoga is to know the Self. In normal experience, the Self is experienced as merged with the mind and what is contained in the mind, while in the state of samadhi, the Self is experienced as separate from the mind. While merged with mind in normal experience, identity is also thus merged with mind – the result is ego and loss of true awareness of Self or identity.

Why should we be interested in knowing the Self?

According to Patanjali, all our suffering derives from not understanding our true nature. From ignorance about our true identity, four further layers of misery are derived: ego, attachment, aversion and the fear of death.

According to yoga, the nature of the Self is immortal, it experiences no suffering or karma, undergoes no changes, is the epitome of pure consciousness and is of the nature of bliss, while the embodied mind goes through suffering, sickness and death and experiences anxiety, fear, ego, desire, anger etc..

Identifying oneself with the deathless spirit, rather than the fickle mind and pains and infirmity of the body is liberation itself. Through this realization a being can reside in bliss, deep wisdom and immortality.

Why is knowing the Self not the stated purpose of yoga practice?

Today few people experience this exalted state. While in ancient times the experience of samadhi was commonly experienced, because of our unhealthy lifestyles and habits, samadhi is no longer commonly found. We no longer know about samadhi nor how to achieve it and so it has been mostly ignored as the goal of yoga practice, while “perfection” of the body, being a modern obsession, has been put forward as the ideal of yoga.



Meghan Follow Up – 3 days later

This is a follow-up to Philippe’s post “Meghan’s Stroke (of luck)” from me, Meghan. I am still reeling from the experience.  In a 2-hour window, my brain function was severely deteriorated and then fully restored. As the drug tPA coursed through my arteries, busting-up the blood clots in my brain, I went from being essentially mute to fully articulate in a few short minutes.  As my 3-yr-old daughter says “It was going to be the worst day, but now it’s the best!”.

This next paragraph is going to read a little bit like an Oscar speech, so brace yourself.  To say that I am grateful to Philippe and his instincts, is an understatement. TPA is only effective within 3 hours of “last seen normal”.  I cannot underscore enough how much time is of the essence when someone is having a stroke. I am grateful to the proximity of YiY to a stroke center (!), to the availability of effective drugs, to the expertise of doctors, to my community of yogis and the Mama-Dream-Team who texted and emailed messages of support, visited me with jokes and treats, who babysat my kids and cooked for my family. The silver lining to a catastrophe such as this is that you realize how much you are loved and supported.  I am teary-eyed and overcome as I type.  

Here’s the situation now.  Once a person has a stroke they are much more likely to have a secondary stroke.  So, I am on blood-thinning medicine and statins for the rest of my life. The reason I developed a blood clot in the first place is unclear and the doctors are troubleshooting.  I will wear a heart monitor for a month to determine if I have an irregular heart beat that could be causing clotting. I will go for a mammogram to search for cancer which could also be the source of clotting.  I need to double-down on B-12 vitamins and take on a Mediterranean diet. I will meet with a cardiologist to discuss my PFO. That’s the little hole that separates the two halves of my heart– which is a totally normal thing so don’t make me feel weird about it!  They might surgically close it, but it sounds like not.   

From my minimal, but ongoing research, the articles linking yoga to stroke refer to arterial dissection of the carotid artery (the arteries on either side of the neck that feed the brain).  This was not the case for me. My stroke was not related to strain or injury in the neck. In fact, the neurologist at Kaiser took the time to painstakingly go through each of my many CT imaging scans with me so that we could be certain that I didn’t have any tears in the arteries of my neck.

Ipso facto, there is no restriction on my activities. Expect to see me cursing the bulky pendant of my heart monitor as I sun salute by your side.


Private Room in Palo Alto

Offering private room in a three-bedroom home in the Palo Alto Midtown area (about two miles from Stanford) in exchange for watching out for our Dad.  

Dad is an 87-year old MIT Engineer turned entrepreneur and widower as of a few years back. He lives alone and is relatively self-sufficient most the time. His favorite activity these days is watching basketball and football games. However, he occasionally needs a little help. Dad is quiet and pleasant to be with but generally prefers to keep to himself.  His short-term memory is significantly diminished.  

Tenant Responsibilities: 

  • Expect about 10-20 minutes a day
  • Confirm he is taking his Medication (minimal)
  • Reporting any noticeable changes concerning his behaviors or needs.
  • Assist with occasional errands such as driving him to the grocery store, to get a haircut or to a doctor’s appointment (for example) – he no longer drives.

Four siblings visit as much as possible and care dearly for his wellbeing.  Unfortunately, none live in close-proximity and Dad prefers not to leave his home of 50 years.  Therefore, responsible and caring eyes on him, daily, would provide a helpful resource for him and his siblings.

This is from a friend of Elaine’s daughter. Elaine and Ken are the first point of contact (elaine@theprocessworks.org, 650-494-0255; krechmer@csrstds.com, 650-856-8836). Please do pass this around, if you personally would recommend the person for the situation. Thank you.