Wednesday, July 29, 2009

to do or not to do?

What is the key to being motivated into action (or inaction)? It seems like it should be so simple; you either want to do something or you don't, then you either do it or don't. Simple, eh? Then what's up with all the unfinished (and un-started) projects?

Primacy of the body: all action is an expression through our body, usually in response to our body. Our attachment to the senses seems to be the starting point for most action or inaction. In all living creatures and plants, desire and aversion are associated with sensory experience. The basic motivation for all organisms is pain avoidance. All organisms try to move away from painful experiences and toward comfortable and pleasurable experiences. Even non-sentient (or low-sentience) organism move toward food and away from injury (pain). This is easily observed in microbes and plants, as well as higher creatures. This is a basic operation for survival and the reason for pain.

But it gets a little more complicated when we add a brain. The part of the conditioned mind that arises from the central nervous system can imagine pleasure and pain, and so act in anticipation. But often the conditioned mind mis-associates behaviors as painful or pleasant. We attach to imagined ideas about sensual fulfillment or potential injury (physical or emotional) and act as if the experience were real, rather than imagined. Still that doesn't explain how we can imagine a particular action for a desired outcome and still not act, or worse, do something we imagined we didn't want to do.

The simplest explanation is our habit-molds or 'samskaras'. Our karmic conditioning creates these samskaras and then we usually react to external events and stimuli from habituation rather than genuine volition. Our conditioned mind being the wonderfully complex thing it is, we imagine that our reaction was a choice. One of the benefits of a regular meditation practice (according to the Dalai Lama) is that we begin to see 'the gap'; that brief moment between an event and our habituated reaction. The more clearly we experience 'the gap' the more able we are to choose our response (free will volition) instead of unconscious reaction.

But what about the things we imagine we want to do but then don't? Even if my inaction is an expression of some samskara, shouldn't my awareness of that empower me to act?

One of my students is a brain researcher. She has been studying people with Parkinson's disease. A common problem for Parkinson's patients is an inability to make themselves perform certain tasks. They can usually do queue driven tasks, but then may be unable to perform a self initiated task. The example she shared with me was about a client going to catch a bus. Once started, he was able to walk to the bus-stop (queued action, one foot after the other), but once the bus arrived he was unable to get off the bench and onto the bus (self-initiated, need to get started). Wouldn't that be horrible - knowing that you want to move, your body is capable of the movement, but you just sit there.

Is that really that much different from having a list of things I think I want to do, and still not doing them? I hope you weren't expecting an answer here. Now I need to look at my to-do list and see what I will do.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

To Blog or Not to Blog? That is the question.

Greetings and Salutations, dear reader!

Today was semi-typical. I started my morning a little late (I didn't get out of bed until almost 6:00), but still got some quality time on the cushion. After opening my mandala I did tattva shuddhi and Rudi's toilet exercise and double-breath before heading downtown for my 8:00 yogasana class. I teach a morning class at AINH on Tuesday's and Thursdays. (Mondays and Fridays I teach a 10am class - and Saturdays and Sundays a 10:30 am class - at the YMCA.) I was back home before 10:00.

I spent the rest of the morning and the first part of the afternoon switching between catching up with my email and trying to figure out how to access a remote database using php with xml and soap. Soap is new to me (there must be a joke hiding there;-) and xml is not my strongest skill. Around 2:00, after too many seemingly unproductive hours I decided to grab a bite and make a cup of coffee.

After lunch I was planning to spend a little time memorizing some more puja mantras and practicing my anashtup before getting back to the web programming, but instead I sat down at the keyboard and tried to write a new entry for this blog. I don't know how it is that some people find the time to write a nice long blog post every day; I will be happy when I'm getting at least one out every week. I started to write a brief auto-biographical sketch, but then suddenly it wasn't so brief (and I only got started). I decided that what I was writing didn't belong in this blog. Maybe some bits or pieces, but mostly I think I might have just started my memoir.

By then it was 4:30 and I had to start thinking about my evening class. Tuesday and Thursday I have a 6:30 class at the YMCA. On Monday and Friday evenigs my YMCA class is at 7:00. Sunday evenings I have a 7:00 class at AINH (I also teach a 4:30 class Monday and Thursday at the VA hospital) I was going to do a quick chakra meditation, but was distracted into visiting with my housemate untilit was time to go. I hit the road for the YMCA around 5:30. After gas and all, I got there a little after six.

I really enjoyed the class. I love my students at the Y, and this evening I took a completely different approach to sequencing than usual. I try to mix things up and have a lot of variety in my classes, but at the same time I try to keep the class familiar. But tonight I just came in from left field and skipped my usual preliminaries. The class was challenging, but everyone did well and after class I heard a lot of compliments on the class (maybe more than usual;-) so everyone had a good time, even if I did push them a little.

On my way home I stopped at a friend's house to drop off a newspaper article I thought he would enjoy. We visited for awhile and I finally got home about ten. I checked my mail and then set out to write this post.

So now it's 11:20 pm. Another day has passed. I am going to do my dhautis and trataka, re-establish my mandala, then nidra until dawn.

Shanti Shanti Shantih
- Yogakriya Nadananda

Friday, July 17, 2009

Teacher vs. Therapist

I am a yoga teacher (at least that is the role in life that I choose to self-identify with ;-). Primarily I teach yogasana (the physical movements and poses of hatha yoga), meditation techniques, and the basic yoga philosophy (as I see it ;). I gladly share, whenever I am given the opportunity, almost everything I know about the theoretical bases, traditions and myths of yoga, Sanatana Dharma and tantra. Sometimes I imagine my knowledge is vast, but more often I realize how little I know. Sometimes I imagine that I have somehow risen above it all, but most of the time I know how deluded I am.

My yoga is not just a type of physical exercise. Everything in life is part of my yoga; I endeavor to be continuously aware of my practice in this moment. Everything I do, and everyone I interact with, is for the sake of my practice and is a tool for positive transformation. I do not always remember this - often my samskaras express themselves without my intentional awareness, but hopefully I notice that on later reflection. This process requires constant evaluation and self-analysis (hopefully not judgmentally).

Although my transformations are internal, my practice is external - both in private and in my interactions with others. Internally I am analyzing my thoughts, feelings, and actions, and I monitor my physical health and well-being. Because I project my internal world outward, I am frequently performing the same kinds of evaluations on others. Because I am a teacher I often share those observations with others - sometimes prescriptively. Often times a student will ask for guidance or advice, but because of my world view and beliefs about the "core problem," my prescription is always the same, regardless of the current problem: Do more yoga; meditate more; practice centered presence and perpetual-mantra (second-attention). I am not a therapist, psychiatrist, doctor or counselor - I am a yoga teacher.

- Nadananda

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Pujari Training

I've been studying the proper practice of puja (worship) for the past month. Tonight is our written exam, so today I am studying for the test and getting together all my puja materials.
I am surprised at how challenging the class has been for me. When I decided to take the class I imagined I would be able to slide right through it. For the past several years I have been doing a daily personal Siva puja that I had put together based on what I knew and what I had observed in India, so I imagined I knew something. From my current studies I now know that I knew almost nothing about puja. I am also delighted to discover that studying puja is an excellent sadhana for me right now.

The basic puja theory has been easy enough for me to grok, but my sanskrit pronunciation is atrocious - and we want to use correct sanskrit for the puja (ritually very important). For all of my years of studying and reading sanskrit words I've never really learned to pronounce sanskrit correctly. When I was studying ideas and practices the sanskrit was just in my head -more visual then aural - I seldom spoke sanskrit out-loud and when I did it was mostly asana names without much attention (lazy sanskrit). Now as I try to pronounce the sanskrit correctly I get tongue-tied and stumble through it. I think the process might be easier if I didn't have years of bad habits; but I'm loving the challenge and looking forward to deepening my sanskrit pronunciation and understanding.

But pronunciation isn't the challenge for this evening - it's a written puja theory test. ;-)

I am so grateful for all my wonderful teachers;
"Long life and health to our wisdom masters ..."
Shanti Shanti Shantih
- Yogakriya

Just Getting Started


I feel like Steve Martin in "The Jerk". "I really AM somebody!" Here I am with my very own blog! This is either a good thing or just another way to burn time.

My intention is to use this forum as a journal. I endeavor to live as a modern yogi, but what exactly does that mean? Perhaps recording my trials and tribulations (and my boons and exaltations) will help me to deepen and perfect my own practice.

If you are reading my blog I hope you find it informative and entertaining. Please comment freely and feel free to contact me.

Hari Om Tat Sat.