Friday, July 29, 2011

Action! Intrigue! More exclamation points than an Aquabats! Album! It’s: A Bonus Post!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The parable I have been using in classes this week has many different versions—I have heard Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist retellings.  My particular retelling is inspired by the version in Swami Muktibodhananda’s (a disciple of Swami Sivananda) translation of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika:

Once upon a time, in India, a hermit lived alone on an island, spending his days practicing his yoga and worship as instructed by his guru.  One day, a pious and learned Brahmin rowed to the island to visit the hermit.  Although the hermit obviously had immense faith and love for the Lord, the Brahmin was horrified at the way in which the hermit was worshiping.  His asanas were incorrect, his rituals were filled with errors, and his chanting was off key.  The Brahmin instructed the hermit how to correctly perform worship, and the Hermit was truly grateful for the guidance, for his only desire was to worship the Lord. 

As the Brahmin rowed away from the island, several hundred yards out to sea, he heard the hermit crying “Sir Wait!”  The Brahmin turned to see the hermit running on top of the water towards the boat.  Reaching the boat, the worried hermit said “Kind sir, I have forgotten what you taught me.  Do I do it this way or that?”  The astounded Brahmin looked at the hermit, who was standing on top of the water next to the boat, and said “I assure you that what ever way you are practicing, you are doing it correctly.”  The hermit, greatly relieved, thanked the Brahmin and walked back over the water to his hermitage and continued his worship.

When we practice with faith, we are doing it correctly.

“Whatsoever form any devotee desires to worship with faith—that same faith of his I make firm and unflinching.” ~Bhagavad Gita, VII.21 (Sivananda tr.)

“F___ the naysayers ‘cause they don’t mean a thing / This is the style we bring.”
~ 311 “All Mixed Up”

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Just Show Up

I’ll admit it, I watch, and enjoy “Celebrity Rehab.”  Without going into any of the details (so that VH1 does not get their suing pen ready), one counselor said, describing recovery: “You’ve just got to show up.”

Just showing up is a measure of success.  Making and honoring the commitment to practice.  Showing up even when there are no signs of progress, and a million little reasons to be somewhere else.  Show up and you have won.

Patanjali states that “The suspension of these fluctuations [ie Yoga, cf. I.2] is through practice and detachment.” (PYS 1.12, Gregor Maehle, tr.) We succeed in our practice by repeatedly doing those things which still the fluctuations of the mind and repeatedly avoid doing things which cause these fluctuations.    Repeatedly = showing up again and again.

For most of us, showing up in our yoga practice translates into unrolling the mat. This simple act is often the most difficult part of the practice.  Try something.  Unroll your mat at home:  in your room, in the living room, or where ever you spend most of your time.  Unroll that 12 square feet of colored and textured pvc and let it stare at you.  Do you keep peeking over at it even though you are trying to do something else?  Do you purposefully avoid looking at it due to guilt?  Are you tempted to just do one teeny pose? 
No, this is not a paid advertisement for Manduka, but buy one! It will be the last mat you ever buy, they have a lifetime guarantee!

Every time we show up, we create an impression.  A vibration.  Consistent practice creates stronger vibrations where we practice—we are actually perpetuating our own motivation the more we practice.  That is why our mats command so much of our attention.  Unroll it and you will be drawn like a magnet.  To keep these vibrations contained, Swami Sivananda recommends “Have a separate meditation room and keep it under lock and key.” (#5 of his 20 Important Spiritual Instructions).  This may not be practical for all of us, but don’t we create a separate 12 square foot room every time we unroll our mats? Don’t we cringe if someone carelessly steps on our mat at the studio?  Haven’t you noticed a difference in your practice when using a community mat (how could I forget that?!! Well, we all do from time to time) or when breaking in a new mat?

Unroll your mat.  Do one teensy pose, do two hours of poses, sit still, breathe consciously.  I don’t care what you do.  Show up and unroll your mat.  That is a complete practice.  Let it sit open and try not to be motivated. 

Need some motivation to get to the mat?  Session 1 of my Student Training Program is coming soon!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Guru Purnima

"The best form of worship of the Guru is to follow his teachings, to shine as the very embodiment of his teachings, and to propagate his glory and message."~Swami Sivananda

This week contains 3 events which are somewhat related.  July 14th is the anniversary of the Maha Samadhi of Swami Sivananda, the full moon is the anniversary of the birth of Pattabhi Jois, and it is also Guru Purnima, the celebration of the teacher.

"Gu" means "darkness," and "Ru" means "One who removes."  A Guru is one who removes darkness; one who removes obstacles from your path.

Guru Purnima is also a celebration of the sage Vyasa, who re-organized the Vedas to make them easier for humanity to memorize, chanted the Mahabharata to Ganesha, and wrote a commentary of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras which serves as the basis for all commentaries on this work.

I personally cannot say that I have someone who I would consider my Guru, however, my whole study and practice of the science of Yoga keeps returning to 2 people, Swami Sivananda and Pattabhi Jois.  My first book on yoga was Yoga Mind & Spirit by the Sivananda Vedanta Center.  Most of my svadhyaya is based upon the works of Swami Sivananda, and the best part is that so much of his written work is still freely distributed here.

 My asana practice has been concentrated in the Ashtanga Vinyasa method as taught by Pattabhi Jois.  It took several years of dabbling in this method before I actually buckled down and committed to learning and practicing the Primary Series.  Several months of 6 day a week practice later, I was able to move beyond trying to understand the method let the practice be my teacher.  Once I did, I found the practice which was right for me.

On Guru Purnima, Swami Sivananda recommends:
  • Wake at Brahmamuhurta (4 am)
  • Meditate, do Japa, pray to the Guru
  • Bathe, worship Guru or picture with flowers, incense, and camphor
  • Fast, or take fruit and milk only
  • Make fresh resolves
  • In the afternoon, sit with other devotees and discuss the glories and teachings of Guru
  • Alternately, observe silence and study
  • At night assemble again, sing the Names of the Lord, and discuss the glories and teachings of the Guru
Whether you observe in this way or another, honor your teacher through your practice.  Make every practice session your Guru Purnima.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Student Training Is Coming! More Details


Deepen your practice with a locally trained teacher who is dedicated to your development during and beyond the program.

How it works:

The Student Training Program is a four part workshop offering.  The sessions are progressive yet stand alone--take all, some, or one and your practice will benefit.  Each session will focus on a different aspect of the practice, providing an historical/mythological foundation, an opportunity to dissect poses so that you can find what works for you as an individual, and breathing and meditation exercises. Students are encouraged to bring and ask questions—this is an opportunity for you to grow YOUR practice. And yes, there will be homework.

In addition to the workshops, I will provide access to numerous FREE resources which supplement the program and provide the opportunity to explore the subjects more deeply, should you choose. There are no books to buy.  All you need to bring to the sessions are: a mat (the studio does have community mats), something to write with and write on, and an open mind.

This course is designed to complement the practice of all levels: from very beginners through advanced practitioners.  You don’t need to be flexible, strong, or know your asana from your bandha.  All you need is the ability to say maybe.

Program Objective:

To provide students with the opportunity to grow and connect more deeply with their practice in a safe, non-competitive, and supportive environment. 

Program Overview:

Session 1: Yoga From Then to Now: A Living History  Saturday August 20th 1:30-3:30

Knowledge Practice: This session will provide an historical context for why we do what we do in our physical based yoga classes.  We will introduce some of the mythological figures who are frequently mentioned in classes (why is there a dancing elephant on the wall?), introduce some Sanskrit, and answer the question: What is this Vinyasa thing?     

Physical Practice:  We will break down the Sun Salutations and a few standing poses, providing several variations (with and without props) so that you can create a short, complete practice which you can take home.  Following the physical practice, the art of conscious breathing and sitting still will be introduced.

Session 2: I Don’t Know My Asana from my Bandha  September 17th 1:30-3:30

Knowledge Practice:  An introduction to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the centuries old handbook which serves as the basis for every Hatha Yoga class (any class based on postures and breathing is Hatha Yoga regardless of brand name).  Hatha Yogic practices are designed to move energy within the body.  We will discuss how and why this is done before practicing some of the techniques.

Physical Practice:  We will create a series out of several of the specific poses mentioned in this text, providing several variations for each so that everyone can find a place in the postures to practice.  The practice of bandha and mudra will be introduced.  Following the physical practice, we will practice a specific breathing technique and sit for meditation.

Session 3:  The Yoga Sutras: 8 Limbs and then Some  October15th 1:30-3:30

Knowledge Practice: The goal of Hatha Yoga is Raja Yoga, and Raja Yoga is spelled out by Patanjali in The Yoga Sutras.  Who was this Patanjali, what are the 8 limbs, and how are they represented in our physical practice?  We will discuss these questions and how the 8 limbs (representing only a very small fraction of the work) relate to the Yoga Sutras as a whole. 

Physical Practice:  Seeing things from a different angle: an inversion primer.  Previously we have learned to move with the breath, bend forward, backwards, and side to side.  Now it is time to turn our world upside down.  We will work into shoulder stand, head stand, hand stand, and forearm balance—gradually, logically, and safely. I will show you that you can practice these poses without a wall.  Why are these poses so vital to physical practice?  Come and see.  Inversions are a powerful primer for breath control and meditation.  Breathing practice will incorporate retention before sitting for meditation.

Session 4: Stories from The Ramayana and The Mahabharata  November 12 1:30-3:30

Knowledge Practice:  Humanity’s oldest (The Ramayana) and longest (The Mahabharata, which contains The Bhagavad Gita) Epics present all of the most ancient teachings in the form of stories which are accessible to everyone and transcend cultures.  A great number of poses which we practice regularly are based on characters who appear in these works.  A basic outline of both works will be presented, and specific tales will be told during the physical practice.

Physical Practice:  Every pose has a story, and is a direct link to history.   We will use the stories to explain and dissect the poses, "going deeper" with understanding. Many poses will be arm balances and inversions, however, all will be broken into segments so that every student can gain enjoyment and benefit from their practice.

Your Instructor:

Ron Hayes is thankful for the opportunity and volition to practice.  Ron is a Certified Yoga Instructor, who completed his 200 hr training at Satya Yoga Center in Rhinebeck, NY, and has taught locally since 2007.  The seed of practice was planted within Ron in his early teen years when his aunt took him to see a psychic.  The palm reader said: “You need to learn to stand on your head.”  Some fifteen years later, Ron was the only student to attend a yoga class in the middle of a blizzard.  The instructor asked: “Do you know headstand?” From that one question a casual exercise blossomed into a consistent spiritual practice.  Ron practices the Ashtanga Vinyasa System 6 days per week and continually studies The Ramayana, The Bhagavad Gita, The Yoga Sutras, and the writings of Swami Sivananda.  Ron offers his practice to his students to demonstrate that by saying "maybe," things that once seemed impossible can be come a reality.  And yes, he really can do his job standing on his head.

“Do your practice and all is coming.” ~Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

Please CONTACT ME for more information.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

This Thing Called "Vinyasa"

Vina vinyasa yogena asanadin na karayet” Oh yogi, do not do asana without vinyasa
~Vamana Rishi, Yoga Korunta

One essential argument for the benefit of learning from books which I left out of my last post brings us to this week’s topic:  this thing called “Vinyasa.” 

The Ashtanga Vinyasa system popularized by Pattabhi Jois and his family was taught to him by his Guru, Sri Krishnamacharya.  Krishnamacharya learned this system from—you guessed it, A BOOK called Yoga Korunta by Vamana Rishi.  This work is said to be 4,000 years old.  When Krishnamacharya found the last remaining copy of this work in the Calcutta library, it was bound together with Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras; the two treatises are physically and philosophically linked.

What is unique about the Ashtanga Vinyasa system is that it allows the student to practice all 8 limbs at the same time, perfect for those of us who cannot spend 20 hours a day practicing asana, meditation, study, chanting, etc. Think of it as the drive thru of spiritual practice—same substance, same results, yet quicker service so more guests can be accommodated. 

In this system, asana (postures), pranayama (breath practice, including bandhas [locks] and mudras [seals]), and pratyahara (sense withdrawal, ie focusing the gaze), limbs 3, 4, and 5, are practiced together, which lead, over time, to concentration (6), meditation (7), Samadhi (8).  Yama (1) and niyama (2) flow from pratyahara.  Of course, the “machine” only works if all the parts are practiced together.

Vinyasa is often referred to as “movement with the breath,” and vinyasa practice has become generalized to mean any flowing physical practice.  Neither of these is accurate.  Vinyasa means “the breath and its associated movement.”  For instance, there are five vinyasas in triangle pose (trikonasana), the second and fourth are the state of the pose.  Surya Namaskar A has nine vinyasas.  During the state of the asana, the gaze is focused toward a prescribed location (the top hand in trikonasana, the 3rd eye (inhales) and tip of nose (exhales) in Surya Namaskar).  Ujayii pranayama without retention is performed throughout.  The posture purifies the body, the breath purifies the nervous system, and the gaze purifies the mind.

The  poses of the vinyasa system have been laid out for us to provide specific effects on the body.  Korunta means “grouping.” The effectiveness of the system is not a result of any individual posture; rather the benefits come from the sum total of all the parts.  Just like Patanjali, Vamana created a synergistic system—a practice of union, not segmentation or separation. 

Pattabhi Jois likened the practice to a mala (in fact, the closest thing we have to the Yoga Korunta is his work Yoga Mala) where the body is the prayer, the asanas are the beads, and the breath is the thread linking them together.  This metaphor is a direct connection to Krishna’s statement in The Bhagavad Gita: “All this is strung on Me as clusters of gems on a string.” (XII.7)
When the system is practiced as a whole and sustained over a long period of time, there is a profound effect. What appears, at first, to be an intensely physical practice becomes a meditation practice uniting the body, breath, and mind, allowing us to realize, even if just for a fleeting moment, that we are a small part of something larger.

Want to learn more about the Yoga Korunta and the Yoga Sutras?  Consider my Student TrainingProgram, coming this August.