Rox Does Yoga

Musings on Everything Yoga

Books: The Art of Happiness, by H.H. the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler May 27, 2014

The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for LivingThe Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living is based on conversations that Howard C. Cutler, MD, a psychiatrist, had with the Dalai Lama over several years. The author’s introductory note states that the purpose of the book was to collaborate “on a project that would present the Dalai Lama’s views on leading a happier life, augmented by [Cutler's] own observations and commentary from the perspective of a Western psychiatrist” (ix).

Cutler chose to organize the book’s content thematically. The topics include the following:

  • Part I: The Purpose of Life (hint: it has to do with happiness)
  • Part II: Human Warmth and Compassion
  • Part III: Transforming Suffering
  • Part IV: Overcoming Obstacles
  • Part V: Closing Reflections on Living a Spiritual Life

Each part except for Part V is comprised of three or four chapters discussing related topics. Cutler will often introduce a topic by giving a brief overview of the Dalai Lama’s thoughts, then will delve into the psychology behind the issue before returning to H.H.’s viewpoint and suggestions for dealing with the issue. Overall I feel like Cutler succeeds in meshing the sometimes very different viewpoints of Tibetan Buddhism and Western psychiatry, and I enjoyed the stories that both of them had to offer, but there were times when Cutler just didn’t seem to get what the Dalai Lama was saying and vice versa. In those instances, I was more interested in hearing the Dalai Lama’s viewpoint and just wanted Cutler to stop harping on whatever it was already, but overall this was pretty rare; I tended to enjoy both viewpoints.

One thing that I found interesting was how the Dalai Lama talks about eliminating negative states of mind. Just as in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the Dalai Lama agrees that one of the best ways to eliminate these states of mind is to think of positive ones instead. For example,

“When talking about eliminating negative states of mind, there is one point that should be born in mind. Within Buddhist practice, the cultivation of certain specific positive mental qualities such as patience, tolerance, kindness, and so on can act as specific antidotes to negative states of mind such as anger, hatred, and attachment. Applying antidotes such as love and compassion can significantly reduce the degree or influence of the mental and emotional afflictions” (239).

This passage comes in Part IV, Overcoming Obstacles, in Chapter 12, Bringing About Change. This view fits in so well, to me, with Patanjali’s words in Sutra II.33: “When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of.” I was really impressed and excited that Buddhist thought on this topic meshes so nicely with the yoga sutras.

The Dalai Lama’s wisdom is practical and straightforward; you can tell that he himself practices the same techniques he recommends. The book also includes instructions for several meditation practices (like this one), written in the Dalai Lama’s own words from transcripts of his talks. These are scattered throughout the book, as this isn’t intended as a meditation manual, but it’s nice that they’re included in places that make sense thematically.

Overall, I really enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about the Dalai Lama, one of the holiest and most revered people alive today, and to understand his perspective, his kindness, and his compassion.

 

Saturday’s Workshop at Dragonfly Yoga February 24, 2014

Filed under: teacher training,yoga,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 12:10 pm
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On Saturday I went to a yoga teaching workshop at Dragonfly Yoga Studio in Doylestown, PA. Dragonfly has a totally different structure to their yoga teacher training program than East Eagle Yoga does: at EEY, the YTT program is a 10-month, very structured program that begins in March and ends in December, but Alexis has made the program at Dragonfly a lot more flexible. At Dragonfly, there’s a three-hour workshop every month, and the topics are decided in advance. You pay for each workshop as you go; if you want to complete a 200-hour certificate, then you need to do all of the workshops (as well as other requirements), but they can be done out of order and over the course of a longer period of time depending on your schedule and desires. And the workshops are open to those who are not on the path to RYT-200. I was able to sign up and attend Saturday’s workshop even though I already have my RYT. Because the topics of each month’s workshop are set in advance, I can pick and choose depending on my own interests and the places I’d like to develop in my own practice.

I think the difference between the two models is pretty fascinating. At EEY, you have the benefit of traveling through the program with a group of other students who are on the exact same path, and there’s a lot of benefit to having that backup and doing it together. It’s also nice to have the structure and to know that these are the things I need to do and as long as I do them, I’ll be done by this date. I could imagine that for some people, the more flexible arrangement could mean not ever finishing the program; however, for people with busy lives, the added flexibility would be really appealing. And it certainly seems like the students in Dragonfly’s program have bonded, even though they’re all at different stages of the training; starting and finishing together isn’t a requirement for team-building. Plus Dragonfly’s model allows them to pick up random extra students like me along the way. They made an easy $75 from me on Saturday for something they were doing anyway!

And I really enjoyed the workshop, too. Here’s the description for Saturday’s class:

Unit 2 (February) – The Prana Of Yoga: Chair Asana /Presentation of Opening & Closing/Bandas/Presentation of Yogis/Types of Hatha Yoga

Sure, some of the content was material I’d learned before, but my YTT was three years ago now and it’s always good to have a refresher, plus different people teach and interpret yoga concepts in different ways. Looking at the full list of Dragonfly’s workshop topics, I think I’d find something interesting and new almost every month.

Since it was my first session, I had no homework to prepare, but the other students had to make presentations based on their reading. Each person presented on a yogi or yogini that they’d researched, as well as on a different type of hatha yoga. I remember the research presentations from my YTT and I really enjoyed it then, and it was no different this time – everybody presented on books I hadn’t read and people I’d heard of but didn’t know much about! I now have several new books to add to my reading list, all suggested by people with whom I share a common interest, which I find to be the best recommendation.

The main part of the class was taken up with chair asana, a topic I’m really interested in but haven’t studied at all. Alexis set up the class in an interesting way: each student was assigned an asana to study and write up, in the same way that I used to do for the Pose of the Month during my YTT, but the difference was that in addition to examining the primary version of the pose, each student also had to look into how the pose could be done using a chair or using the wall. Then each student had to teach the pose and its variations to the class. I thought this was a really cool way of structuring the lesson, making the material easier to remember than if it had just been a lecture. I feel like I learned some useful information about chair yoga and I have some ideas about how to convert other poses using a chair as well.

Overall, I really enjoyed the workshop. Just as important is the fact that all the logistics worked out well: Dragonfly is in Doylestown, quite a hike from my house, but I was able to drive up to my parents’ house and drop off YB for the afternoon, then pick her up on the way home and have dinner with her and my mom. This was a perfect arrangement because (1) my husband F then got the whole day to himself, and (2) YB and my mom adore each other and had a great time. So I had nothing to feel guilty about in taking the afternoon for myself! And I can check three contact hours off my requirements for renewing my Yoga Alliance registration. Win-win. I’ll definitely be going back to Dragonfly later this year.

 

On Cultural Appropriation, Part 2 July 25, 2013

Filed under: reflections,yoga,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 12:44 pm
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Last week, I posted my initial response to s.e. smith’s article “Like it or Not, Western Yoga is a Textbook Example of Cultural Appropriation“. I limited my initial response to a discussion of my own practice of yoga for physical and spiritual health; in attacking the appropriation of yoga by Western culture, smith’s article felt like a personal attack as well, whether it was intended that way or not, since my yoga practice is such a big part of my life and is woven into many different areas of my life. In processing what smith had to say, I had to think through how it affected me personally first. Today, I’d like to consider the larger issues that smith brings up.

I think smith is largely objecting to the commodification of yoga in Western culture, and there I think smith has a point. However, if you look at the history of yoga in the US, it was brought here not by people who wanted to sell it, but by people who believed in it and wanted to share its message. Religions, and religious practices, have a tendency to grow beyond the people who originate them. When Christianity started spreading to the Greek and Roman population a few decades after Jesus’s death, the original Jewish Christians really had to think about the meaning of their faith, but considering that Jesus said “spread the good news,” the spread of Christianity was unavoidable, and considering how he made an example of himself by having all kinds of people over to dinner, you can assume he would have wanted all those converts to be welcomed. Buddhism spread from its roots in India eastward into China, and while I’m not well informed on the subject, I’m sure Indian Buddhists, Chinese Buddhists, and zen Buddhists in Japan  all have some different religious practices within the same religious tradition. And it’s not as though Hinduism has tried to stay separate and apart. For example, in the late 1800s, Swami Vivekanda traveled the world and preached his message, making a huge impression at the Parliament of Religions in 1893 and really bringing Hinduism onto the scene as a major world religion (which it already was, of course, but his work brought recognition and interest from outside India). After Vivekananda, a number of teachers and yogis strove to promote yoga in the US, most of whom set out to do the work from an altruistic perspective. It could be argued that the spread of yoga as a practice beyond its Hindu roots was perfectly natural given that that’s what religions do, and given that Hindu yogis and swamis either traveled to deliver the message themselves or were happy to participate by preaching to those who wanted to bring it.

Over time, however, yoga has become a product to be sold. The majority of those in the yoga community would agree with smith that that’s not a positive thing. Yoga was never meant to be big business by those who wanted to share it in the first place; there’s a difference between people using the popularity of yoga to make a quick buck and people who’ve made yoga their life’s work. In India, the ancient yogis or wandering sages (sadhus) depended on charity for their livelihood: common people knew that if you didn’t provide for the sages, then they couldn’t live the lives of study and meditation that they were being called to live – they couldn’t search for wisdom, and therefore wouldn’t be able to share and teach that wisdom. It was understood that charity and hospitality towards the holy men was required. In modern times, yoga and spiritual guidance don’t require wandering the countryside barefoot, but they don’t pay for themselves either. People like my teachers N and J at EEY aren’t making tons of money on their business; I’m sure they’re happy to be paying their bills, but they didn’t get into yoga with dollar signs in their eyes. They teach yoga because they feel called to do it.

smith looks at the commercialization of yoga from one large-scale perspective, without taking into account all the individuals that make up the whole. So many books and products and classes exist for the yoga market, so many people wanting to make money, but there are also so many well-meaning people genuinely trying to do good work, who believe in the power of yoga to help others, even if just for the physical benefits. I don’t think you can talk about one without the other. But even recognizing the fact that yoga didn’t originate in the US for commercial gain and isn’t being used that way by many who “sell” it, what we need to address is what should be done about it. smith makes us all feel guilty about buying a new mat or getting a class pass at our favorite studio, but what alternative does smith offer?

I can understand why smith, after some soul searching, decided to abandon a personal yoga practice. But I don’t think it’s viable to give up every good thing that comes from a non-European heritage, or to assume that the presence of those things in Western culture must be classified as “cultural appropriation” in a negative way. After all, the USA is a melting pot: people from many cultures came here in the hopes of building a better life, bringing all their history and traditions with them. If Indian Americans are practicing yoga traditions here, then they are American traditions, and if we say they are not American traditions then I think we’re devaluing those people and their experiences. They, like all other Americans, are part of this country.

In some of the comments on smith’s article, people were making statements to the effect of, “Oh no, yoga is a form of cultural appropriation? Do I have to give up Chinese food too?” Which is ridiculous: sweet ‘n’ sour chicken does not equal a spiritual practice. But those commenters do have a point. Yoga, like Chinese food, is here to stay in Western culture. It’s not everything it could or should be, but it’s here. You can give it up, like smith did, the same way you’d give up wearing fur or eating factory-farmed beef: as a form of protest. Personally, though, I don’t think it’s in the same category. If you attend a yoga class, even a really Westernized aerobic power yoga class, you’re not participating in violence being done to a living creature in the same way you would by eating a steak or wearing a fur coat. The comparison just isn’t the same.

If we try to practice ahimsa, or nonviolence, then we abhor not just physical violence but all violence, so we have to ask whether we are engaging in some sort of violence by appropriating the spiritual practice of another cultural group when we attend that yoga class. Does my practice of yoga represent a form of violence if no member of the injured group knows about it, or would care or feel injured if they did know? Here’s another question: does the act of two men getting married somehow injure my heterosexual marriage? Or, more to the point, does my engaging in heterosexual marriage, or choosing not to do so, have any effect whatsoever on homosexual people who aren’t permitted to marry? smith strikes me as the sort of person who would abstain from a desired legal heterosexual marriage in protest until all gay people can get married too, but in the end, that protest would only help the movement for the 30 seconds it was a headline, or not at all. Ultimately that sort of protest would only hurt the protester.

In my opinion, since yoga is here to stay in the US and isn’t going anywhere, it would make a more powerful statement to practice yoga in the way you would like to see it practiced. Teach yoga in the way it should be taught. Show people what yoga really means by your example, and continue to seek, learn, and expand your knowledge about the history and true meaning of not just the physical asanas but the deeper spiritual practice. Instead of opting out of something wonderful just based on principle, be a part of the community and a voice for change.

 

On Cultural Appropriation, Part 1 July 18, 2013

Filed under: reflections,yoga,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 2:32 pm
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So here’s something that’s been bothering me for a while. I read this article by s.e. smith: “Like it or Not, Western Yoga is a Textbook Example of Cultural Appropriation“. Coincidentally, the open letter “Why I Don’t Want to Talk About Race” also showed up in my news feed last week. Reading these two pieces in close proximity really got me thinking about something I don’t think about very often (and definitely not as often as I should): my identity as a white person and how it affects my perceptions.

The cultural appropriation article bothered me very much, because I love yoga and genuinely hadn’t considered this issue before. I looked up the term “cultural appropriation” and found that Wikipedia has a very nice and detailed article with lots of examples. My initial sense was that smith’s article is pretty biased and doesn’t tell the whole story; smith’s bio on xojane describes smith as an “agitator” and someone who likes to “rile people up while also informing them about ongoing issues in the world around them”, so I’m going to assume that was intentional. I certainly feel riled – and although it’s not a pleasant feeling, I have to grudgingly agree with smith that getting riled isn’t a bad thing and often is a good and necessary thing. Being riled made me ponder this issue a lot this week, which can only be good for myself and my yoga practice, but I wanted to spend some time thinking over the perspective that smith is putting forth, because I do think smith’s perspective is biased.

The first issue I wanted to investigate with myself was whether my own yoga practice is culturally appropriative (is that a term? it is now). Am I personally offending Hindus everywhere every time I roll out my mat? After thinking about the issue from a variety of angles, I decided for myself that no, my yoga practice in itself isn’t offensive. My asana practice isn’t only a part of my physical fitness routine, it’s a part of my spiritual practice, and I approach that spiritual practice as respectfully as I can. I completed my yoga teacher training at a studio where meditation, spirituality, and the ancient Hindu roots of yoga are emphasized; I’ve read several of the sacred books that discuss yoga and I plan to read more. I may not be as informed or educated about Hinduism as someone born to the faith, but I’m working on it.

Spirituality isn’t (or shouldn’t be) limited by the color of one’s skin or one’s country of origin. The religion I was raised in never really resonated for me, so I needed to reach farther to find the path that did. Should I be limited to only Christian spiritual practices because I have white skin? Are my spiritual practices fake or empty in some way because I wasn’t born to them? That seems unnecessarily restrictive. The Wikipedia article on cultural appropriation notes that elements borrowed from other cultures “can take on meanings that are significantly divergent from, or merely less nuanced than, those they originally held”, and cites Native American traditional spiritual practice, among others, as an example. For myself, I do my homework and try to learn what yoga really means. That was part of why I undertook a yoga teacher training in the first place: to learn more about the spirituality underlying the physical practice, and to do so in a structured way. For smith to discount “everybody and their mother” for undertaking yoga teacher training is to discount a lot of honest, and earnest, searching, and a lot of people who genuinely want to learn the history and deeper meaning of their yoga practice.

Ultimately, unlike smith, I’ve decided that my personal use of yoga to improve my physical and emotional health and as a key part of my spiritual practice may be “cultural appropriation”, in the technical sense that I have appropriated these practices from another culture, but it isn’t cultural appropriation in the negative sense that smith means. I have never pretended to have all the answers, or to call myself a Hindu or an expert in Hinduism. When I have to call myself something, I call myself a Unitarian Universalist and I acknowledge my strong interest in Eastern religious practice. I think that’s an honest assessment and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I read, I research, I constantly try to improve my understanding. I learned what karma yoga means and I try to practice it. I’m doing my best.

However, yoga as it’s used and practiced in Western culture is not the same as yoga as it’s used and practiced by me personally, and I do agree with smith on a few points, which I’m going to have to discuss further in a separate post. Check back next week for more.

Side note: I fully recognize that this post itself may reinforce the depth of my cultural appropriation and entitlement to some readers. I read about a cultural issue and immediately looked at it from my own, privileged perspective, not the perspective of the minority; I did not consult with any actual live Hindus in the writing of this post; I am self-centered and I use the word “I” a lot. To which my response is: it’s a blog, it’s supposed to be self-centered; and smith didn’t mention consulting any actual Hindus in that article either. We are two white people writing about how white people feel about other cultures! I can’t go too far down this track or I want to punch myself, but I have to conclude that I am trying in good faith to explore and to understand, and that has to be good enough for now. Actual Hindus reading this, please know your opinion would be welcomed.

 

Quote of the day: Buddha lives in the present moment July 30, 2012

Filed under: yoga lifestyle,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 10:16 am
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For my birthday last week, my husband gave me (among other things) a magnet with the following quote:

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.”

- Buddha

This is exactly what I was talking about last week – that I’m a better mom, and a better overall person, when I stay in the present rather than replaying moments from the past or worrying about problems that might arise in the future. Hooray for the Buddha for saying it so well (and hooray for my husband and his prescient magnet shopping).

 

Today’s quote: My religion is kindness. May 10, 2012

“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”

- H.H. the Dalai Lama

In all of the political and social hubbub going on in the US right now surrounding the issue of gay marriage, one of my friends shared this lovely quote from the Dalai Lama. It’s such a wonderful thought that warms my heart.

Last fall I had what was a big revelation for me: for yogis and for Buddhists, religion, spirituality, and faith is a personal issue. Christians have it on good authority that they should preach to others – Jesus specifically said to go out and spread the good news, after all – but in Eastern religions, there’s no such mandate. Yogis and Buddhists, in an ideal world, just go about their business, conducting their lives according to their own beliefs and without any imperative to share their faith, although they may if they wish, if they’re approached by someone who genuinely wants to know. I love this concept, that belief is a personal matter. Think about any conversation or argument. We get so focused on making our point, making the other person see things our way. When we remove that desire to win the argument, then that frees us up to behave differently. When we don’t have to convince the other person, we have more freedom to see things from the other person’s perspective. We can act more kindly. It’s a quieter sort of faith system: you don’t have to prove the strength of your conviction to anyone but you.

I think much of what’s wrong with my country right now can be traced back to a need to proselytize. There’s a difference between sharing your ideas and telling someone about your beliefs, and forcing someone into following your beliefs. Many people get hung up on the idea of converting others, enforcing their own values, winning an imaginary war. But what’s the point of that if you hurt other people in the process?

I think Jesus’s phrasing is interesting because with news, even good news, you can take it or leave it; you can allow it to affect your life, or, like a story about a puppy rescued from a well, you can think, That’s nice and move on. Jesus just said to spread the news, he didn’t say to impose it. The counterargument to that would be, I think, that in other places in the Bible Jesus says that he’s here to make a new covenant, to which my response would be, first of all, show me the spot where Jesus says who can marry whom, and secondly, wasn’t his big new commandment about loving others? Don’t you think Jesus would be on board with the Dalai Lama’s statement here? Jesus certainly acted as though his religion was kindness. I wish that concept, the way Jesus behaved, was valued and acted upon more often in some Christian communities.

Can you imagine if we all loved our neighbor unconditionally and treated others as we would want to be treated, the way Jesus told us to do? Can you imagine what would happen if we all decided that our religion was kindness?

 

Swami Vivekananda featured in WSJ April 3, 2012

Filed under: yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 1:32 pm
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My father-in-law pointed me towards this great article in the Wall Street Journal Magazine: What Did J.D. Salinger, Leo Tolstoy, Nikola Tesla and Sarah Bernhardt Have in Common? Answer: Swami Vivekananda!! I was really excited to see such nice coverage of Vivekananda in such a major venue. The article describes Vivekananda’s history and the many people he influenced. Lots of photos, too – definitely worth the read!

 

Yoga and Sex Scandals March 2, 2012

Filed under: reflections,yoga,yoga lifestyle,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 1:30 pm
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Did anyone see this recent New York Times article about yoga and sex scandals? On one hand, it’s interesting to see collected in one place a listing of yogis who’ve been involved with such scandals – I’d heard about Swami Rama, but not Satchidananda, and I hadn’t heard about John Friend yet. (I guess I was more interested in reading their works on yoga and spirituality than in what they might have done behind closed doors – which is the perspective that I think most educated yogis will have – although I cannot imagine being part of a close-knit spiritual community when such a horrid act is suspected of someone so admired and trusted.)

On the other hand, sexual scandals can occur when any individual is put up on a pedestal. Tiger Woods, anyone? Too much power can go to anyone’s head. Of course such a thing is only compounded when it occurs in a spiritual community. I’ve read about Tibetan monks who let themselves get out of hand, even giving up their vows to get married, and typically we think of them as above that sort of thing. There are also countless stories of Christian preachers who took advantage where none should have been taken, and we won’t even discuss Catholic priests. William J. Broad, the NYT author, makes sex scandal out to be something unique to yoga, and in no way is that true.

Broad also suggests that, in addition to sex scandal being a yoga thing, it’s due to yoga’s roots in tantric theology. He really manages to dumb down (or sex up) tantra and the theories behind it. Having written an entire book about yoga, one would assume that Broad has read the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and hopefully the Bhagavad Gita, which are the books that I was taught are the foundation of yoga. I’ve read them too, and read two different translations of each, and I found no kinky sex stuff. And believe me, if there is kinky sex stuff to be found, I’m somebody who will notice it (see my review of Moola Bandha: The Master Key, a review which I know I wrote but somehow seems to have been infiltrated by a 13-year-old boy there at the end). There ain’t no kinky stuff in the Yoga Sutras, so I must make one of the following conclusions: (1) Broad is mistaken that tantra is the founding system that produced yoga, and yoga arose out of just plain ol’ Hinduism, or (2) tantra is a much wider system, encompassing much more than the sex Broad so readily brings up. Either way, he’s doing his readers, and the NYT readers, a disservice.

On a related subject, wait a sec, wasn’t William J. Broad the same guy who wrote the inflammatory article “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body“? Why is the New York Times accepting multiple articles from this biased author? Because controversy sells, I guess? (And apparently because he’s won some Pulitzers? :) ) It’s not selling to me, I can tell you that; I won’t be buying Broad’s book and one would think I’d be in his target audience. I heard an interview with him on NPR not long ago and was struck by how different he seemed “in person” over the radio than he did in the body-wrecking article; he talked candidly and thoughtfully about how an injury made him rethink and restructure his yoga practice, but these articles make him seem like an anti-yoga crusader. That sucks because based on the NPR interview I have the feeling I’d have some good conversations with Broad in person (I tuned in mid-way through and was frankly surprised at the end when they announced his name – “Wait, that‘s the yoga-will-wreck-your-body guy?!”), but if these articles are examples of the sort of writing in his book, I feel offended and will never read it. Here’s a summary of the NPR interview and a link to listen to it – I’m struck by how different Broad’s tone is in these quotations compared with his own writing in the NYT. Anyway, if Broad’s a science writer, why is he writing articles about yoga and sex scandal anyway? Writing one book about yoga and science doesn’t make one an expert in all aspects of yoga, especially not in yoga spirituality. If you’re looking for a semi-to-non-expert, you might as well hire me, New York Times. (Psst, I’m available.)

Here’s another response to the sex scandal article (the punctuation and grammar are less than stellar, but the writer is clearly coming from a passionate interest in yoga and spirituality, and I happen to think (although it hurts me to do so) that the finer nuances of apostrophes are not an essential component of a yoga education). Anyway, just another set of thoughts from someone who appears to know a little more about tantra than I do. (Believe me, I’ve got some tantra books on my reading list for this year!)

 

Misc updates February 27, 2012

I taught my first prenatal class at EEY yesterday. It was awesome (or, at least, it seemed so to me – I hope my five students also enjoyed it!). I focused primarily on standing postures and included plenty of squatting poses as well; I’ll try to post the full sequence later this week. I felt confident teaching and the class seemed to flow really smoothly. Next time I want to walk around more, and also encourage the students to use a blanket as a prop or cushion (since personally I am far more comfortable these days sitting on a blanket/cushion than I am on a hard floor, and this class is based pretty much entirely on my own experience). I definitely need to do more research, watch a few more videos, maybe get a book, and hit another few prenatal classes myself, but I’m really happy with this beginning. And today my arms, hips, and thighs feel sore, which is a good sign. I hope my students aren’t suffering too much soreness, especially since some of them are still dealing with morning sickness!

When I thought about it, I was surprised to note that this is the first time in a while that I’ve taught yoga to students I don’t personally know in some way. It’s also the first time I’ve taught at EEY since graduating from teacher training. I was nervous, but not overly so, and I don’t think I seemed nervous; once I started teaching, I felt confident and like I had something valuable to share. This was a great feeling, and reminded me of how much I love teaching yoga! The Sunday morning timeslot for this class isn’t ideal, but I’m so glad I made room for it in my schedule and my life.

Unrelated to how awesome teaching yoga is (or perhaps tangentially related!), I just read this article by Mike Lux titled “What Bible is Santorum Reading?” This is not a political blog, but just last month I blogged about how frustrating I find it that many people who claim to be Christian do not seem to support the values that Jesus describes over and over again in the Bible. Mr. Lux makes a much better case, citing the specific number of times that Jesus told his followers to do things like help the poor, and providing examples from the Old Testament as well. I really appreciated his article so I wanted to share.

 

Books: Karma-Yoga, by Swami Vivekananda: My Response December 13, 2011

I recently summarized and commented on Swami Vivekananda’s book Karma-Yoga. Although the book is based on lectures given by Vivekananda over a century ago, it feels incredibly relevant and important to me today, and I wanted to comment on what touched me so much about this book and what seemed so important about Vivekananda’s words on work and duty.

First, I identify as a Karma yogini (which is why I chose this book to read rather than Vivekananda’s books on Jnana yoga or Bhakti yoga). I feel that the ideals of karma yoga that are outlined in the Bhagavad Gita are really beautifully explicated in this book; the Gita tells us to be unattached and to work without regard for the results of our actions, but Vivekananda begins to explain how we’re supposed to manage that. He sets the case for Karma yoga as the yogic path that is most accessible to anyone – a Jnana yogi has to study and use logic and intelligence, a Bhakti yogi relies on love and devotion, but a Karma yogi mostly just has to show up, and keep showing up. I have always had a high regard for the virtue of showing up, whether it’s for work, for appointments and events, for classes and study, or, on a larger level, showing up for your life. If you think about it, a lot of people don’t put in the effort to show up for life, not truly. Many people coast along, just getting by, then wake up when they’re 50 and wonder what the heck happened. A Karma yogi makes a commitment to show up every day and be truly present in the work they do.

This book gave me a way of looking at my own life that really meant a lot to me. I’ve received a lot of blessings in my life, I’ve worked really hard, and I’ve also been incredibly lucky. My life is pretty fantastic, but just like anyone, I have parts of my life that are less than ideal. This book gave me a window into how to negotiate my way through those things. For the past five years, I’ve worked in a job that I don’t particularly like. Sometimes I get angry about that, or frustrated, or all worked up; I’ve tried to combat that by reminding myself how lucky I am to have a job at all, let alone a job that pays well, with good health insurance, with colleagues that I like and respect. Reading this book has given me another way to manage my day-to-day frustrations. I’ve started trying to treat my job as my Karma-yoga duty, at least for right now. I have a family to support and a home to maintain, and it’s my duty to go to work and to do my very best while I’m there. By getting worked up and frustrated about my job, feeling trapped by my job, I’m just getting more and more attached to it. If I practice non-attachment, the work goes more quickly and it affects me less. I’m able to leave my work at the office more readily, which allows me to more fully enjoy my home life, which is what really feeds my spirit. This doesn’t mean that I give up on the dream of finding something that suits me better, but it does mean that I feel more peaceful in my day-to-day life. Feeling more peaceful means that I have more of myself to give to my family (and I whine a lot less), and I’m better able to do my work when I’m at the office.

When I read the Bhagavad Gita, I understood the concept of Karma Yoga, but it never really clicked to me how to make that an everyday part of my life. I thought of the larger scale implications of Karma Yoga, but not the small scale ones. Reading Swami Vivekananda’s book has really helped me to understand this better and to apply it to my own life. I’m only at the start of this practice, but just reading the book gave me a great sense of relief, and the lessons that Vivekananda teaches are ones that I want to cultivate.

 

 
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