Food for the Mind (Yoga Philosophy, etc)

Contemplations on readings and yoga philosophy.

Gardening, Cleaning, Cooking (and Vinyasa Krama and Kali)

Vinyasa krama is the art of sequencing.  How a yoga practice or flow is sequenced can determine whether it is uplifting or inward going, exhilarating or calming.  When we are trained and attentive, we start to know the most optimal order to open our bodies and our focus to align with the time of day, the season, the weather, our mood, and our health.  This incredible art helps us be positioned and aligned in a way that we feel free in time and space, rather than being constrained by time and space.

This morning while I was out in the garden, I was thinking a lot about vinyasa krama and the goddess Kali — goddess of, among other things, time and change, and thus, of sequencing.  I woke very early, brought to consciousness by the long light of the solstice even through closed curtains.  As I went about my morning, rinsing the sprouts while heating the water for my morning coffee; cutting back the greens and herbs before starting breakfast; doing the major pruning and clean-up before doing more decorative garden work; finishing cooking before taking out the recycling; applying a facial mask before starting to vacuum; never walking up or down the stairs empty-handed; waiting to gather the bills until after I was clean and waiting for friends to arrive, etc., I realized how important sequencing is to the richness of my days.  By knowing the best way to order tasks for my needs, my day is simultaneously productive, unhurried, and enjoyable.

By the time my friends arrived around noon, I had meditated, taken care of the garden, gathered food for my own breakfast and to share with friends, talked to neighbors, cleaned the house and myself, done a little asana, written in my journal, and sorted the mail.  Had I not known from long experience and conscious attention how to sequence all the different elements, knowing which ones went together, which took longest, which ones if done earlier or later would create double clean up, etc, I would have been tired and the tasks unfinished.  Instead, after brunch, I came home to a tended garden, a freshly made bed, and time to enjoy a quiet evening.

These sequencing principles also apply for me on major projects at work.  If ordered one way, the work is exponentially harder, the deadline a fearsome thing; if ordered another way, everything comes together mostly as it should when it should.  When I order my work with attention (this assumes others cooperate with this endeavor), I have time to do a good, careful job and still take breaks, eat well, and leave the office in time to take or teach yoga class.

Whether you are doing your home yoga practice or cooking or working, choose to sequence the elements of your practice, your activities, or your day, with attentiveness, reverence, love, and respect, and Kali will support you and not show you her most fearsome face.

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Ganesha (Deity of the Marines?)

A senior colleague and I spent several hours today working together on a very challenging aspect of a long-term project.  When we were wrapping up for the day, I showed him a murti of Ganesha that another co-worker had brought me from the Norton Simon Museum when she had gone on a business trip to Pasadena, where our Los Angeles office is located.

I said that I do not believe in the Hindu deities as gods, but find them helpful for contemplation as archetypes (in the Jungian sense).  I said that being on this project has taught me much about yoga and about Ganesha.

“Ganesha,” I explained, “is not so much the remover of obstacles, but the one who places obstacles in your way to teach you the wisdom to grow and find a more enlightened path from having confronted the obstacles.”  “Oh,” said my colleague, “like the Marines:  adapt, improvise, and overcome.” “Well, sort of,” I replied, enjoying that we found a way to share laughter after our difficult afternoon.

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“I’ve Got My Life Back”

I was at a business meeting yesterday that started with people introducing themselves around the table.  The participants were all either members or staff of a prominent lobbying group or government officials.  One of the men said that he was now a consultant.  “I used to be general counsel of [lobbying group], and now that I am consulting,” he said, “I have my life back.”  The introductions continued around the table.  The new general counsel, when he introduced himself, claimed, “it’s my life he has taken to get his back.”

I found this all interesting in light of my blog yesterday.  These men are very successful.  They both are married with families.  They seem to be pleasant and smart.  Their definition of “not having a life” was not having failed to be fully engaged in doing what society expects them to do — they have clearly done very well indeed — but not having time to play golf or hang out in addition to being “successful.”

Is the difference between being male and female?  Or were the two different contexts of the same social, linguistic tic just exemplifying a the view point of a superabundant and privileged class that we are not living fully unless we do and have everything the collective society admires and we simultaneously feel like we have lots of leisure time to enjoy as we see fit?  It’s a hopelessly unrealistic standard.

Every moment we breathe and our heart beats, we are living.  One of the keys to tantric yoga is to come to a place where we are living fully and abundantly whatever we are doing, whether it is working or playing, being challenged or relaxing.  When we can do that, we realize we “have a life” and one worth living, no matter where we are in our journey.

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World Wide Knit in Public Day (and Vikalpa Samskara)

World Wide Knit in Public Day is this weekend — June 13th (and 14, 20, and 21).  What will you be knitting?  I have started a pair of leg-warmers.  The pattern was really for ankle warmers, but I have chosen to make them longer than the pattern suggested.  The nice farmers who raise the sheep, spin and dye the yarn, and sell it at the Dupont Fresh Farm Market, called them “yoga socks.”  The yarn is beautiful.  The sample pair looked like something I would want on my feet in colder weather.  The project was small enough to tuck into my carry bag.  Definitely a go for summer knitting (unlike the three-quarter finished mohair shruggy that has become a lapful of furry stuff).

“Why are they so short?” I asked.  “We had originally designed them to be longer, but our teacher said we might need to grab our ankles?” they explained.  “When would you do that, when it would not matter whether you were touching fabric instead of your skin,” I puzzled out loud, not out of criticism, but really wanting to know, thinking maybe in Pilates.  The farmers could not really think of a reason.  I bought an extra skein along with the kit to make the — oh, let’s call them footless socks — calf height.  The yarn has a bit of a stickiness to it, so they are not slippery.  They will be good to wear for yoga.

I’ve never knitted on double-pointed, size 2 needles, in the round before, though I happened to have four in the house (picked up at a yard sale for a $1 a decade or two ago and put in the sewing box).  I tend not to knit from patterns for whole projects.  So I had a little learning to do.  The pattern did not explain how to use the double-pointed needles; that knowledge was assumed.  I am not used to the contraints of following a pattern.  Doing so, on occasion, though, forces me to learn a new technique.  It took my a couple of hours to get into the rhythm, but now I’ve eased into the project.

I sometimes seek the same type expansion with cooking.  Though easily able to cook something delicious without a recipe with most ingredients, sometimes I pick out a complicated recipe just to expand my skills in the kitchen.

Yoga, most of all, benefits from a combination of free exploration and attentive development to the knowledge imparted by a teacher.  We are most full and expanded when we combine experience and teachings.  We receive the teachings and then we practice again and again to make it not just our own experience, but part of our being.  This process is called vikalpa samskara.

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“The Yoga That Destroys Sorrow”

“For him who is moderate in food and play, moderate in performing actons, moderate in sleep and waking, for him is the yoga which destroys sorrow.”  Bhagavad Gita, 6.18 (trans. Gitartha Samgraha, in Abhinavagupta’s Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita).

Food here, of course, is more than what we put into our mouth.  It is everything that comes in through the senses.  Play, too, is beyond what we do for “fun” in this society.  How much these words have kept their truth since written; what different meanings they carry in our time of technological marvels.  What does “moderation” mean to us?  Does moderation have an implicit relativeness?

Since I first read the Gita in high school, I have been contemplating this sloka and resonating with it.  Now, I come back to it over and over again, as my understanding of the rest of the text deepens and my practice grows.  It is still giving me food for thought. (Pun intended).

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“A Balanced Diet, in Moderation, Is the Best” (Yoga of Eating Part IV)

Geeta Iyengar, in Yoga, A Gem for Women, sums up the proper diet according to Ayurveda as follows:

“A balanced diet, in moderation, is the best.  Ayurveda says that the stomach should be filled with two parts of solid food and one part of water, and that one part of the stomach should be kept free for the movement of air.  Food which is not congenial to the system should be avoided.  Too oily, dry, spicy, and sour foodstuff are not good for the system.  A diet which is balanced, light, varied, and well cooked is ideal for health.”

In other words, to be healthy, we should eat fresh, varied, well-prepared, tasty food.  We should eat with sufficient awareness to know enough the effects of what we eat on our energy level, sleep, digestion, and ability to move and think that we know what is good for our system in small, large, or any quantities (and eat mindfully in accordance with that knowledge).  We should not eat to the point of fullness and beyond (this is a common suggestion in the West for losing weight, i.e., stop eating when you are full or right before — think getting away from the unrealistic American portion size).  Any other dietary practices should serve to find this place of moderation and enjoyment, the two real keys to health and happiness with and in eating.  Diets that take us away from balance will be hard to follow, unhealthy, and cause all sorts of other shifts in our mind-body.  What is best for you depends on your own knowledge of yourself and your environment.

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On Reading Patanjali (to help get ready for work)

This morning my sit was full of lots of random thought waves.  This was no doubt, in part, due to my having four meetings,  a call, and a lunch scheduled.  When I was finished, I went into the library, picked up the Christopher Isherwood/Swami Prabhavandananda version How to Know God and opened it randomly to see if it could help guide my thinking today.  I opened to  sutra I.40:   “The mind of a yogi can concentrate upon any object of any size, from the atomic to the infinitely great.”  My first thought was, “how nice.”  My second thought was, “I need to look at another translation; that does not sound quite how I’ve read it elsewhere.”

I opened my trusted B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali.  The translation there is “Mastery of contemplation brings the power to extend from the finest particle to the greatest.”

These translations are not so different from each other.  It was also most timely for me to read this classical sutra in connection with what I have been contemplating in the Pratyabijna Hrdyam.

I read the Isherwood translation as saying that as long as one concentrates as a yogi with full and loving attention, then all actions are in union (yoga).  I understand the Iyengar translation to say that mastering yoga allows one to perceive in the most individual, differentiated being or object, the infinite universal.  With that knowing, just as the Kashmir Shaivist teachings say, one is living liberated (jivanmukti).

However I read this thread of teaching, it is most relevant for how I live and what I must do today with the worldly commitments I have made.  With the intention to stay present with yoga concentration and aims, I now head to my day of meetings.

The sanskrit is: “paramanu parammahattvantah asya vasikarah”

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Food is the link between self and spirit (Taittreya Upanishad and the Yoga of Eating Part III)

The Self in man and in the sun are one./  Those who understand this see through the world/ And go beyond the various sheaths/ Of being to realize the unity of life./ Those who realize that all life is one/ Are at home everywhere and see themselves / In all beings.  They sing in wonder:/ ‘I am the food of life, I am, I am;/ I eat the food of life, I eat, I eat./ I link food and water, I link, I link./ I am the first-born in the universe;/ Older than the gods, I am immortal./ Who shares food with the hungry protects me;/ Who shares it not with them is consumed by me./ I am this world and I consume this world./ They who understand this understand life.’  Taittreya Upanishad, 10.5, trans. Eknath Eswaren.

As one who is immersed in the joy of growing, selecting, creating, and tasting food and studying and practicing yoga, it is no suprise that the Taittreya Upanishad (which Eknath Eswaren subtitles “From Food to Joy”) is one of my favorite readings.

The Taittreya Upanishad explains the five sheaths or koshas that make up the self — the food body, the energy body, the mind body, the intuitive body, and the bliss body.  What we take in with our senses and what makes us flesh and blood can, with right observance and practice, lead us to a consciousness of self as joy and spirit embodied.  This is the yoga of eating and of food.

For more details on the Taittreya Upanishad, please see Jon Janaka’s article, “I am the Food!”

Other sources:

Upanishads, trans. Patrick Olivelle (Oxford World Classics 1996)

The Upanishads, translated for the modern reader by Eknath Eswaren (Nilgiri Press 8th Printing 2000)

The Ten Principal Upanishads, put into English by Shree Purohit Swami and Wm. Butler Yeats (Faber and Faber, London, Reprinted 1952)

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Yoga of Eating Part I (what it is and what it isn’t)

Yesterday, a former student of mine stopped me in the hallway at Willow Street and asked whether the “Yoga of Eating” workshop I will be leading on June 13th  will cover Ayurveda.  “I will mention it,” I said, “but I will not be teaching it.”  I didn’t have time to explain further because I was about to lead class.  As far as I got was to add that I was not sufficiently trained to teach it.

Ayurveda is a wonderful science, and I honor and respect my yoga friends and colleagues who study, practice, and teach Ayurvedic principles.  Ayurveda is a much broader discipline than yoga, though, and is really medical practice rather than yoga.  Asana are among the practices that might be recommended by an Ayurvedic practitioner for a client or patient, but eating in accordance with the Ayurvedic principles is not the same as bringing yoga to how we eat.  For me, many of the principles of Ayurveda I have read or been taught are useful, but it has not resonated for me as a governing system, just as I do not believe in applying all of the principles of Western medicine to how I heal and nourish my body.

Bringing yoga to my eating, like bringing yoga to all of my life off the mat,  is both simpler and harder than being taught a science such as Ayurveda with fairly clear, but quite complex, do’s and don’ts and then following them.  For me, practicing the yoga of eating, is practicing conscious eating.  It is practicing reverance and moderation.  It is balancing nourishment and pleasure.  It is knowing deeply when the will to eat is serving us or getting in our way.  It is both simple and subtle.  It is easy to say, but deeply challenging and sometime complicated to practice — just like practicing the Anusara yoga principles of alignment.

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