Safety in Moderation? Brahmacarya.

IMG_0200The yamas and niyamas are introduced in the second book of Patanjali’s sutras.  This book, Sādhanapādah, offers instruction as to how we might cultivate the quality of attentiveness in our practice.  Brahmacarya, our fourth of the five yamas, is the virtue of self-restraint.   But its more complicated than that.  This self-restraint asks for celibacy in the single person, fidelity for the married.

But it really couldnt be all about sex, could it?

Judith Hanson Lasater wrote a series of beautiful essays about the yamas and niyamas.  She breaks down the meaning of brahmacharya like this:

The actual definition of the word, she writes, is based on the translation of the syllables of the word.  Brahma comes from the name of the deity Brahma; char means to walk and ya means actively.  Thus brahmacarya means walking with God.

Yet I still find this yama far more complex and nuanced than ahimsa (non-harming), satya (truth-telling) and asteya (non-stealing) – especially when I try to place brahmacarya in a 21st century context.

It’s one thing to be called to celibacy but what about sexually active individuals who are not married yet in a loving, committed relationship?  Are they to be denied a yoga practice?  And by ‘yoga practice’ I mean one that is not limited to asana.  A living, breathing, walking-in-the-world yoga practice.

And assuming Lasater’s deconstruction of the word is correct, what does this mean for individuals who don’t believe in a god?  Is belief in a deity a pre-requisite?

I am in a loving, long-term, committed relationship with an atheist to whom I am not yet married. Once deeply religious I am now agnostic at best.  But our yoga practices are thoughtful and strong.  Is it possible they are fraudulent?

TKV Desikachar’s translation speaks of the vitality and strength we can gain through self-restraint and moderation.  Framed like this, brahmacarya has more resonance for the 21st century yogi.  It becomes something I can happily embrace and apply to my daily practice.  And yet this lightweight acceptance of simple moderation seems a little too easy.  It lacks power of a disciplined approach.

What if the celibacy were asked to practice has less to do with our relationships with friends, lovers, husbands and wives and more to do with unbridled compulsion, selfishness, blind ambition or extremes of emotion?  If I consider these ideas and pay attention to how I walk through life I can become aware of when I am compulsive, selfish, ambitious to the point of unfeeling blindness and over-reactive.  I can pay attention.  I can step back.  I can moderate my behavior. 

I can see my world with clear vision. 

The promise of brahmacarya.

As yoga teachers, a personal practice of brahmacarya energetically influences our students.  Our clear-headed and calm demeanor will instill a sense of trust.  Furthermore, our practice of brahmacarya will encourage the same attitude of restraint and moderation in our students practice.

Most of all, our practice of brahmacarya will conserve our energy.  That means well be able to teach our last class of the day with the same open heart as the first.


Asteya

pinkeyeglassesAsteya is the third Yama, or social observance, in Patanjali’s Sutras.  It means ‘non-stealing’.

Superficially asteya is a concept easy to grasp yet there are greater depths to explore beyond the simple idea of not taking what isn’t yours.

On the gross level we can steal another’s belonging.  On a more subtle level we can steal another’s time.  If we interrupt a conversation we are, as Nicolai Bachman writes in his volume about the sutras, stealing attention.

Pulling the veil back further we recognize that covetousness and envy are also forms of thievery by the manner in which they tarnish attitudes and dull joy.  Both Bachman and scholar IK Taimni draw our awareness to the truth that when we embrace asteya we rise above our basic nature.  When we are honest and honorable we nourish the heart and soul.

And that is why asteya is important to me.  I want to live an honorable life.  I try to not steal joy, celebration or even sorrow and pain from others.  I don’t take what is not mine.  I avoid feelings of envy.  I listen without interruption.  Usually.  But I am not perfect and this is a practice.

What resonates for me most as I practice asteya and non-stealing is my relationship with time.  I place huge emphasis on arriving where I am needed on time.  To that end I am especially cognizant of beginning and ending my classes and private appointments with clients on time.

Anything less?  That would be stealing.


Satya or Who I Am and Why I Am Here (and There)

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In between my last post on ahimsa and this one on satya I have enrolled in Blogging 101, a free tutorial offered by WordPress. After almost a decade of riding roughshod I’ve decided it’s time for me to tighten up my cinch and re-group.

I write (somewhat inconsistently) two blogs. Practically Twisted is devoted to yoga. It is my ‘business blog’ – the one where I advertise classes, repost current research on yoga, share articles I find of interest and support fellow yoga teachers.

I began my other blog, The Well Seasoned Yogi, more recently. It is the one I write for fun. I post recipes, discuss my adventures with menopause, and examine the pros and cons of everything from detox diets to juicing. I allow myself to go a bit off-topic with this blog. The boundaries are fuzzy compared to the parameters set for Practically Twisted.

My goal for both blogs, in addition to honing my written word skills, is to create a virtual community. It’s also a means to communicate with my current students and a tool for finding new students and clients.

On Practically Twisted I am currently working through the yamas and niyamas with a series of short essays. Todays post concerns satya – truthfulness.

Satya

The truth is mutable.

Two individuals stand in the same large gallery. In the center of the otherwise empty room an accordion screen draws a zig-zagged pattern from corner to corner. One individual stands to the far right and sees a screen with two pink stripes. The other, in the far left corner, sees two blue stripes. Two individuals stand in the same room at the same time. They are looking at the same object yet each sees something different.

The truth is mutable.

There is a playful, shifting fickleness to the truth. As our perspective changes, our truth changes.

But when we consider satya we move beyond the simple command to not bear false witness. Satya is more than choosing to speak the truth. Satya resonates beyond the spoken word.

We must hold truth with tenderness. The container is fragile and when navigating the hard surface of life it is easily broken and abandoned.   The shallow truth as we consider it in the West has a façade lined with unmet expectations. But satya has a depth of meaning that is both layered and potent.

And yet the meaning can shift and change. It all depends upon where we stand.


Ahimsa

Images from the 1970’s have been running on social media in response of PBS’s series on the decade.  One image inspired this poem:

Local Graffiti

Ahimsa

Violence is a small thing.

It is a girl child running through the jungle, arms stretched out

mouth open in silent cry, clothes seared from her body.

It is a small thing.

Violence is an act of war.

It is a jetliner ripping a skyscraper in half. It is men detonating the bombs they strap to their bodies. It is women being gang raped on the back of busses.

Violence is the sting of a mother’s slap on her young son’s frozen cheek.

Non-violence begins when I remember that violence doesn’t ask for much.

Because violence is a small thing.  

Violence begins when I wake to curse the haggard reflection staring back at me.

Violence ends when I wake and offer thanks for my humble life.

Violence begins when I whisper secrets that belong to someone else.

It ends when I sit in quiet contemplation.

Violence begins when I fill my eyes with gratuitous images.

It ends when I change the channel.

Violence. Non-violence. Ahimsa. Himsa.

Two sides of the same coin that we toss into the air without a second thought.


Responsibility

IMG_0097Over the past few weeks we’ve been enjoying a discussion about alignment in the studio classes I teach at Samyama Yoga Studio. At the end of my morning class last Monday a student approached as I was packing up. “So what you mean is,” she said, “is that it’s my responsibility?” We both laughed. “Yes, I suppose it is.”

She was beginning to realize that although as a teacher I have a huge commitment to keeping not only her but all of my students safe on their yoga journey, at the end of the day it is their journey – not mine. And to that end, as her practice grows and shifts, while I will remain observant and vigilant, it is ultimately her responsibility to be present during her practice, in her body and with her breath. It is her responsibility to remain in the moment.

We decided it was a bit like being a passenger in a car. We can make the same trip again and again as a passenger, never really paying attention to how we arrive at our destination. And then the day arrives that we’re asked to take the wheel and we have no idea of where we’re going.  Setting the intention to remain present during our practice – of owning our practice – moves our yoga journey ever forward.

You’ll find me at Samyama most days.  I teach Shakti Reboot – a gentle Hatha Flow – on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8:15 to 9:15. On Tuesday and Thursday from 11:30 to 12:45 you can join me for Movement as Meditation. This is a functional yoga class that supports relief from chronic pain, sleeplessness and anxiety. On Tuesday evenings from 7:30 to 8:15 and on Friday afternoons from 1:30 to 2:45 I offer Pure Yin. Remember – your first class at Samyama is always free (and if you don’t have a mat, we’ll give you one!).


Movement as Meditation: A Therapeutic Approach

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There was a time in my teaching journey when my classes consisted predominately of demonstration, repetition and analysis. I was a strong advocate of perfect alignment. It was what my teachers taught me and to this day I encourage individuals new to yoga to spend time studying lineages that encourage strong alignment. Practicing safe alignment early on a yoga path is like practicing piano scales. Once you know them you are free.

As my practice (and my body) changed so did my teaching. My hard, straight edges have softened. My teaching has a flow and an emphasis on breathing with that flow. I still offer alignment cues but the days of strong hands-on adjustments have disappeared. I’ve shifted my awareness from the external form of an asana to the internal. I no longer consider how I look, I consider how I feel.

Beginning on Tuesday, May 5th I am offering a new class at Samyama Yoga Center. We’ll meet each Tuesday and Thursday from 11:30 to 12:45. I’m calling it Movement and Meditation. Our intention will be to examine how our asana practice, in conjunction with our awareness of breath, can draw us toward a flow state as described by positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. After a short opening meditation we’ll transition toward sequences that move through active and passive shapes and encourage a sense of peaceful presence. We will also consider the clinical applications of this practice and how it might bring relief to chronic physical pain, anxiety, sleeplessness and mild mood disorders.

I hope you’ll join me.

Samyama Yoga Center
Tuesday and Thursdays from 11:30 to 12:45 beginning May 5, 2015


Patience is My Practice – Sometimes

IMG_0697Im not the most patient individual in the world.  Or universe.  I try.  Its part of my practice.  But at my weakest moments, when life is too full and I feel overwhelmed by it all, I can be an impatient, humorless and cantankerous grouch.

Case in point:  a recent any interaction with a nationwide cable company that shall remain nameless (Comcast).  During the move in February my beloved NCLP – a man of seemingly infinite patience without a cantankerous bone in his body – offered to deal with installing wireless in the new condo.  As it happened, I was present when our technician arrived.  A lovely, intelligent and engaging gentleman, he had the wireless up and running in minutes.  As the technician was leaving I kindly asked begged him to take with him two cable boxes (who needs a television when theres free Hulu?) and the modem that had just been replaced by its smaller and speedier cousin. He was sympathetic but could not help.  The equipment would stay with me.

A few days later, while standing in my storage unit determining how to stack the detritus of life from which Ive yet to find the courage to part, it hit me.  Literally.  Looking back, my reaction to being bonked by a cable box was extreme.  But I can tell you it felt great.

After letting loose with a few expletives and without taking a moment to consider the ramifications of my actions I picked up the box, walked the few yards to the garbage dumpster behind the Chinese restaurant, and threw the damn thing away.

And now, two months later, my impetuousness has come back to bite me in the tuckus.  The cable company would like their box back.   Theyve been calling repeatedly and until today Ive avoided admitting the pickle my lack of patience has created.  This morning I drove to the local Xfinity Emporium (ironically and with a healthy bit of snark I parked at the ATT shop next door).  I handed in the old modem.  I tried to return the new cable box but it was refused on the grounds that the box – all shiny silver and still shrink wrapped – is part of my bundle.  Dont ask.  Finally, the customer service rep (who was desperate with allergies but really a very nice woman) asked about the missing cable box.

I dont know where it is.

You should really try to find it.

I think it got lost in the move.

You should really try to find it because youre being charged for it.  Once you return it all that money will be credited to you.

Im not going to find it.  I couldnt quite summon the courage to confess to Comcast how their box met its end.  How much will I be charged?

One hundred sixty-two dollars.

Can I just pay for it now?

You should really try to find it.

She seemed so nice.  So certain that surely the cable box was in a closet somewhere and not littering a landfill.  I just didnt have the heart to tell her and so I thanked her and said goodbye.  Im down one modem but theres a cable box in the back of my car that I will not be throwing in a dumpster no matter how many times it falls on my head.  Its going right back into my storage unit.

As for the money my impatience has cost me?  I have a bucket full of change that Ill take over to the Coinstar machine at Mollie’s.  I was hoping to treat my NCLP to a nice dinner on California Avenue but I suspect there’re just enough quarters in that bucket to cover the cost of that poor cable box.

Patience is my practice, and there was a time in my life when I would have blamed the technician or the customer service rep before even considering that I am the one responsible for my actions and my reactions.  I’m grateful for that understanding.  I’m grateful that I can find humor in this latest adventure in Comcastland.  I’m even a bit grateful that it’s going to set me back one hundred and sixty-two dollars.  I’m not certain why.  

Maybe the next time I feel full and overwhelmed I’ll remember to step back and breathe.