Aparigraha

I wrote the following essay in June 2014 for an assignment during my Yoga Therapy Training at Niroga Institute in Oakland. More recently I had the chance to discuss the meaning of Aparigraha with the incredible group of women that comprise Samyama’s Book Club. We’re reading Deborah Adelle’s book The Yamas and Niyamas. We cling to more than those things that fit in our hands. We cling to ideas. To emotions. To states of being. Aparigraha reminds us to step back. To soften our physical and spiritual on things that are simple paper tigers.

 

IMG_0179For the past seven days I have been living the lesson of aparigraha, the fifth of five suggested restraints known as the Yama that Patanjali invites us to practice. An individual who practices aparigraha neither hoards nor clings to possessions, individuals, ideas or ways of being.

Attachment in the form of too many possessions clutters our physical space. We can practice aparigraha in our home environment not by choosing the life of an ascetic (which to me is clinging to a way of being) but by mindful consumption: having what we need but no more, not always buying new, reusing and recycling. I live in a small studio apartment and yet I find my emotional attachment to objects that serve no purpose prevents me from letting go.

Attachment to individuals clutters our thought processes. It can rob us of our autonomy and blur the line between truth and fiction. My friend left for a ten-day visit to see his parents in Israel last week. It was our first time apart for an extended period and his absence, rather than creating space, actually filled my head and heart with stories of my own making. Until I made a conscious effort to step back from the habit of ‘spinning stories’ did I become grounded and focused.

Attachment to ideas clutters our objectivity. The yoga studio where I attended my very first yoga class in 1984 and where I have been teaching for eight years is closing next week. I am attempting to transfer my classes and students to a studio I’ve been teaching at for sixteen months but recently my attachment to what I believe should happen built a wall that prevented me from seeing how it could happen.

Attachment to our way of being clutters our experience of the world. We cling to the words and phrases we use to describe ourselves. Of all the ways attachment might manifest, perhaps our attachment to how we see ourselves is the most important to consider as it relates to yoga therapy.

A client in chronic pain may be afraid to release their attachment to the pain they experience because it is their pain that defines them. Who are they if they are not the individual who always hurts?

As yoga therapists it is important to understand the client’s attachment to the story about their injury and pain. At the same time we must not develop an attachment to the desired outcome. As yoga therapists we might release attachment to the notion of a cure and perhaps shift our focus toward helping the client detach from the story.


Meditate on This: Alan Watts on Nothingness

But to me nothing

-the negative, the empty –

is exceedingly powerful.

-Alan Watts

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In my asana practice it is the space between the poses that holds meaning for me.  Like the space between notes or the space between thoughts – it is precious.  There is space between silence and sound, too.  I experienced this recently when co-teaching a Deeper Realms event at Samyama Yoga Studio.   As we settled into our yin shapes Lindsay Armien chanted.  It was beautiful and resonant but when she finished and the air settled there was a stunning transition – like that moment the sun sinks on the horizon.  All that was left was silence.  And it was beautiful and resonant, too.


Say What? Verbal Cues in Yoga Explained

IMG_1323We’re in our first downward facing dog of the day. I ask students to soften their knees, extend through their spines and then to straighten their legs. When I see too many students fidgeting – ‘walking’ their dog by bending one knee and then the other – I gently remind them to find the stillness in the pose and to appreciate the geometry of the shape. And then I say this:

“…and now press through the pads of your fingers….”

I wish I could count the number of times I offer that simple cue each day. What’s easier to count is the number of times I’ve explained why. Because I don’t remember ever saying why. But it’s simple, really:

I’m trying to protect your wrists.

Pressing through the pads of the fingers and along the outside edge of the thumb helps to distribute our weight evenly across the hand. It prevents us from collapsing our weight onto the heel of the hand and into the wrist joint. In that way, it takes pressure off the wrist.

When we press through the pads of our fingers our forearms engage. There’s an incredible sense of power and lift through the arms that opens the armpits, assists in extending the spine and supports our efforts to lengthen the neck and move the ears away from the shoulders.

Pressing through the pads of the fingers offers an anchor. We ground through the fingers in order to lift. And once we lift we can distribute the energy of downward facing dog along the back line of the body and down the back of the thighs until we find those other bright anchors – the soles of our feet.

When we press through the pads of the fingers our arms are firm, our chest opens and our awareness is drawn to the front line of the body. Our heart can melt toward the floor, our abdomen can be active and we can gently draw up our kneecaps. And then we discover the balanced relationship between the strength of our quads and the stretch in the hamstrings.

And that’s why I offer the verbal cue “…press through the pads of your fingers….”

I told you it was simple. I’m trying to protect your wrists.


Meditate on This: Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese

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You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.


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.