Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Practicing Satya and Ahimsa at Work January 16, 2014

Filed under: yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:30 pm
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Lately I’ve been thinking about my own behavior and wanting to get better at practicing kindness, and going along with it, the intersections of satya and ahimsa. Back when I first began my yoga teacher training journey, I thought a lot about satya and ahimsa, but then the topic sort of fell off my mind’s back burner and I hadn’t considered it in a while. Lately, though, I’ve been noticing myself engaging in some inappropriate behavior and comments, especially at work.

For example, one of my colleagues in my office – we’ll call him Larry – has a droning, lengthy way of talking that makes him difficult to listen to, and he’s in a position where he periodically conducts trainings, all of which seem to do in an hour what could have been accomplished in 20 minutes with time for questions. This would be bad enough, but Larry is also not a very friendly or nice man, and my friends who have worked with him more closely report that he’s also not very good at his job. However, not even all of this taken together is justification for making fun of him behind his back. I’ve caught myself saying some rather cruel things about Larry when he comes up in conversation, just for the purpose of getting a laugh. No one deserves to be the butt of a joke – who knows what’s going on in Larry’s life that makes him act the way he does? And all of the things I’ve said about Larry may be technically true, but did they need to be said? Or did they need to be said that way? Practicing satya demands that I be truthful, but it doesn’t demand that I say every truth out loud; practicing ahimsa means not letting violence into my speech. This is one of those instances where, if I don’t have anything nice to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all.

One of my colleagues at another company, Bob, sent an email asking about a project. I had told Bob about the project back in May and we’d even paid Bob’s first invoice for work on this project, so I got annoyed. Instead of just giving Bob the information he needed, I dug up the earlier correspondence and forwarded that along too, and then sent an email to another involved editor at my company, basically saying “That Bob! He needs to get his act together!” Now, maybe Bob did need to get his act together – it seems that there was something incorrect in his records, which was why it didn’t come up when he looked for the project – but there was no need for me to act the way I did. Everybody makes mistakes, and Bob is no exception. I should have just given him the information he needed in a non-judgmental way. And the extra email to my coworker was completely out of line. Again, practicing that balance of satya and ahimsa would have helped me here – delivering the truth and no more, in a kind and compassionate way.

I think part of this issue stems from my own uncertainty in my job. I was moved to another group last summer, and we’re still shaking out some of our roles. Sometimes I have a lot of very important time sensitive work to do; other times I am processing invoices or doing other basic work because our group doesn’t have an editorial assistant; still other times, I am waiting for work to be given to me. I am supposed to have my own projects, but because of my boss’s deeper involvement in the overall product, much of the workflow is still tied up around her and has to go through her first; often I feel like I am waiting for her to give me tasks to do, which is frustrating because I’m used to working independently. I think I’ve been taking this frustration out on others – putting down people like Larry and Bob to make myself feel more secure and more important.

But the office isn’t a playground, and this behavior is childish. What I need to do instead is to open myself to learning new things – if I can learn more about what my boss does on our overarching product, I’ll be able to work more autonomously and will be able to help her more with her heavy workload, balancing out the work between us. Opening my heart and practicing humility on the larger scale, practicing satya and ahimsa in the short-term – these will help me to navigate these challenges and respond to my colleagues with the compassion they deserve.

 

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.

 

Man of the People May 23, 2013

Filed under: reflections,TV — R. H. Ward @ 12:40 pm
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Recently F and I watched an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called “Man of the People.” In this episode, the Enterprise is transporting Ramid Ves Alkar, an ambassador and peace negotiator, along with his elderly mother, to a war-torn planet. When Alkar’s mother dies en-route, he remains calm and composed, and no one thinks much of it since she seemed to be old and sick, suffering dementia. Then Counselor Troi starts exhibiting strange behavior: acting angrily and maliciously, dressing seductively, making inappropriate lewd comments to other crew members. When she begins aging prematurely, the crew discovers that Alkar has created a psychic and empathic link with Troi: in order to stay so tranquil in his work at the negotiating table, he dumps all his negative emotions into Troi, and the onslaught is killing her. Captain Picard discovers that Alkar has done this many times, and the woman they thought was his mother was actually just his latest victim. Alkar argues that his success in negotiating peace is worth the women’s sacrifice because millions of people will be saved from death in war. The Enterprise crew disagrees and finds a way to break Alkar’s link with Troi. The overload of negative emotions rebounds onto Alkar, ending his life.

From a yogic and moral perspective, there’s a lot going on in this episode! Many people would agree with Alkar that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. However, Picard disagrees, saying, “You cannot explain away a wantonly immoral act because you think that it is connected to some higher purpose.” As Captain, Picard’s primary responsibility here is for the safety of his crew member, but Picard also refuses to let Alkar continue using others; when the Enterprise crew makes their plan to save Troi, they know that Alkar will choose another “receptacle” for his emotions, and they keep that woman’s safety in mind as well. They must rescue Troi, but sacrificing another innocent person is an unacceptable alternative, even if it means that Alkar will be unable to negotiate a peace treaty for the warring factions. Compromise isn’t acceptable here. Picard acts in keeping with the yogic principle of ahimsa, or nonviolence.

From a yogic perspective, I’m interested in Alkar’s chosen method of dealing with negative emotions. While we can’t create a psychic link and channel our emotions directly into another person, most of us do have some experience with pushing negative emotions away so we don’t have to feel them, or taking our hurt, fear, or anger out on another person with negative consequences. It’s perfectly natural not to want to deal with dark emotions – it’s not fun! But learning how to be with our emotions, how to experience them and then set them aside, makes us stronger people, calmer in the long run, and better able to enjoy happiness when it comes our way.

Alkar had chosen to work as an ambassador and peace negotiator, which is a noble aim, but it’s telling that, with an entire galaxy to explore and the meditation techniques of thousands of races to choose from, Alkar instead chose to oppress another person to accomplish his goals. Alkar tells Picard, “I get no payment. I have no power base, no agenda. I’m willing to risk my life simply to help others,” and Picard responds, “Do you think that makes you appear courageous? Because you’re mistaken. You’re a coward, Alkar. You exploit the innocent, because you’re unwilling to shoulder the burdens of unpleasant emotions.” Cowardly and selfish, Alkar is not the hero he thinks he is. He took the easy way out of dealing with emotion, unconcerned about the harm it did to others. Meditation is difficult, and learning to deal with strong emotion is difficult, but in the end, the rewards are far greater.

 

WWJD May 2, 2013

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:28 pm
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I was looking through my list of things I want to post about someday, and I came across the following link: Just Because You Love Jesus Doesn’t Mean You Have to Disrespect the Buddha, Dishonor Muhammad or Disregard Moses. Brian McLaren wrote that article to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11, but it’s just as valuable today – perhaps even more so, in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing. I’ve seen a lot of hateful press about Muslims recently, stories with strongly worded headlines above photos of wounded people. It’s propaganda, and it saddens me. After the bombing, the city of Boston came together in pride and strength, and the rest of the US sent our support and love. Now a few weeks later, that community feeling has degenerated into hatred for those who follow the same faith as the bombers. After a wound or a scare like this, it can be painfully difficult to be open-hearted, but Jesus, Buddha, and Krishna alike would call us to that challenge. I hope to see more articles like McLaren’s that make us think about what Jesus truly would do and say if he were here today and inspire us to be gentler and kinder.

 

 

 

Profound Wisdom from Bob Ross April 18, 2013

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 2:29 pm
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In a week in which some really horrible violence happened in Boston, and in which a large portion of the US Senate voted to support violence, I think it’s a good idea to revisit the words of someone with a gentle spirit: Bob Ross.

Not long ago, I posted about a great inspirational Bob Ross video. Yesterday I saw this collection of 20 Essential Life Lessons from Bob, complete with quotes and images, and I knew I had to share. I hope it makes you smile and think peaceful thoughts about happy trees and beautiful safe places.

 

 

Food Update: The High Price of Quinoa January 22, 2013

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:32 pm
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This is really disturbing: Can Vegans Stomach the Unpalatable Truth About Quinoa?

As a vegetarian, one of my guiding principles has been ahimsa, or nonviolence. It began to seem more and more wrong to me to fuel my body on another creature’s pain and death, so I eliminated all beef, pork, and poultry from my diet (although I still eat fish, eggs, and dairy products, first because I believe that it’s healthiest to make these sorts of drastic changes gradually, and then also because I got pregnant and didn’t want to lose the protein and other nutrients when my body most needed them). Not eating meat, I’ve naturally been exploring other foods like beans, chickpeas, couscous, and quinoa. Granted, I don’t buy quinoa often because it tends to be pricey, but I’ve loved it when I’ve eaten it. And through all of my vegetarian journey, I’ve been proud of myself for  identifying and sticking with a change I wanted to make to my behavior based on what I believed was right.

Now, according to this article, the farming of quinoa is seriously damaging the people in Bolivia, making it hard for them to afford a food that’s traditionally been a staple of their diet and pushing them towards unhealthy mass-produced imported foods. Since I began my vegetarian journey on the principle of ahimsa, I find this really upsetting. The West’s hunger for this new exotic food is obviously doing violence to these people. There are a number of non-profits who work in urban communities in the US that don’t have access to healthy fresh foods, and I believe in that mission, so it seems two-faced to support an industry that deprives people in another part of the world of healthy fresh food.

I’m not going to say that, based on this one article (which is pretty subjective, honestly), I’m never going to eat quinoa again. I think if you take to heart every story you see in the news about food, you’ll end up living on water and cardboard. But I do hope to do some more research on this issue, and to think more about it. Since becoming a vegetarian I’ve leaned towards locally grown or US-grown foods anyway, so if I try to continue following that path, I’ll eliminate much of the problem (and that goes for asparagus too, which now I’m also concerned about). But because vegetarianism began for me as a moral choice rather than a health choice, I owe it to myself to examine my assumptions about the food I eat and the impact my food has in the world, regardless of whether it’s an animal product.

 

Bob Ross as Guru August 3, 2012

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 10:16 am
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Today I wanted to share this video, which actually made me tear up a little: Bob Ross Remixed.

I grew up watching Bob Ross paint on TV. I even took a Bob Ross method painting class when I was 12 (my oil painting still hangs over the mantel in my parents’ house). I’ve always loved Bob’s calmness and gentleness, how every element he adds to a painting just makes it a happier place. I never met Bob, but watching him on TV, I always had the sense that he genuinely cared about me, that he believed I could create something beautiful. I think he did feel that way about his viewers and that’s why he appealed to so many people and is still so beloved years after his death.

Watching this video, it struck me that one could do worse for a spiritual guide than Bob Ross. He encouraged people to use their own creativity, to create joy and good thoughts. He said there are no mistakes, just happy accidents. At least in his television persona, he feels like the human embodiment of ahimsa, or nonviolence. We could all do a lot worse than to emulate Bob’s kindness and apply his words of wisdom about painting not just in our creative projects but throughout our lives.