I’m incredibly humbled to have been featured in the New York Times on January 19th, 2019. The way the story came about is quite simple. The NYT contacted the Veterans Yoga Project wanting to pen a story about how yoga and veterans, but especially how veterans become yoga teachers and why. Then the author came to one of my classes in Huntington Beach for a quick interview. The following week a photographer came and shot the class. I promptly forgot all about it until one day my mug appeared int times. Please enjoy this as much as I’ve enjoyed serving.
I spent a powerful weekend at Baptiste Yoga San Francisco located in the beautiful former military reservation known as the Presidio. This was a great opportunity to connect with my Baptiste Community. The Baptiste Methodology as created an enormous source of Master Teachers that continue to spread the practice of Baptiste Yoga. This weekend specific training is the Baptiste Foundations response to a need in the veteran, active duty and first responder community. While this demographic is NOT separate from our larger society they are sometimes treated as such which furthers disconnection. We always come from we are all connected. Below is the explanation of what the intent behind this FIRST EVER Unbreakable training.
The Unbreakable Training exists to train yoga teachers to teach Baptiste Yoga to veterans and first responders. Participants will be taught how to use the Baptiste Methodology to adapt Baptiste Yoga to work for any veterans and first responder yoga class.
The Unbreakable Training will teach people how to lead powerful classes that have a positive impact in a veteran's physical body, mental and emotional wellbeing. The training will provide powerful tools through Baptiste Yoga in managing stress, anxiety and more. The training will also provide information as who why and how these tools can empower veterans and first responders who have experienced trauma.
It was lead my fellow veterans and brothers Sean Silvera and Dan Nevins. Boom. Love it!
As some of you know I’m the Chief Operating Officer for the Veterans Yoga Project. We held a terrific event and raised about $2000 in a quick two hour period. It was held at Yoga Tribe in Huntington Beach, CA. I just wanted to drop some pictures into a blog post. So grateful and thankful for an opportunity to serve. Thank you to Mike Lee aka @1360films for taking such great shots.
Guest Post. Thank you Meera Watts
5 Ways You’re Making Yoga Ineffective
Yoga isn't as complicated as you think. Once you get the flow and harmony throughout your body, you'll be able to perform the poses effortlessly.
The problem, however, is that getting to that point isn't easy. If you're a beginner, you'll face a lot of things that can make you think that yoga isn't working for you.
If you are curious to know, below are the 5 most common ways beginners mess up their yoga routine.
1. You're pushing too hard
In most exercises, feeling a bit of pain or discomfort is normal, particularly if you're doing an intense routine. That, however, doesn't apply to yoga.
In fact, if you feel physical discomfort while staying or maintaining a pose, you should take that as a sign that something is wrong.
You can think of it this way:
Yoga is meant to give you a sense of calmness and connectivity between your mind and body. It's something you can't achieve or perfect in one day.
So, take things slowly and listen to your body.
Continue to practice your poses until your body gets used to them. If you are having a hard time keeping them, don't feel awkward about modifying the poses. Eventually, you'll find them easier to work on.
2. You're too conscious of others
Don't feel intimidated by yogis who look like they mastered every pose and move. The truth is that they started out just like you- stiff, struggling, and doubtful.
Whenever you feel the urge to compare and look down on yourself, take a deep breath and focus on your movements. Don't stop just because you can't get a pose done and don't hold back just because you can't keep up with the rest of the class.
Yoga is for everyone so, stop thinking that it's not for you.
3. You're not wearing the right pants
Yoga pants aren't just for looking great in your class. Wearing them during your practice can make it easier for you to complete a pose and transition to the next one.
You see, wearing clothes that are too tight or too baggy can get in the way of your movements. The same thing can happen if you wear pants that are too revealing. Instead of being able to focus on your poses, you'll be distracted by how much of your skin is showing.
Before you get to your class, ensure that you are wearing yoga pants that fit you perfectly. Make sure that they are made from a really comfortable fabric, too. The last thing you'd want to happen is to feel itchy and irritated while doing your poses.
4. You're too serious
While yoga requires commitment and discipline, it doesn't mean that you can't have fun. The truth is that yoga can actually help you realize your happiness and move away from things that are stopping you from achieving that.
In your practice, find what works for you but be sure to balance the pleasure you get with the effort you're putting in. For example, you can play a music in your class or practice in silence as long as you don't end up getting distracted.
5. You eat before coming to class
Going to your yoga class with a full stomach can spell disaster.
It can make it uncomfortable for you to do your poses. Apart from that, a full stomach will also require an increase in blood supply for digestion. This can mean having less blood supply to your muscles, putting them at risk of fatigue and strain.
Instead of having a full meal, pick something that's easy to digest but won't leave you short of energy. You can go with a piece of banana or a piece of toast with peanut butter on your way to your class.
Yoga is effective whether you are trying to lose weight or you just want to get a more toned body. However, although it's effective, it doesn't mean that you'll get its full benefits right away or without exerting effort.
You need to be consistent in your practice and be disciplined in following the poses correctly. With these tips, you should be able to easily get started on the right track.
Meera Watts is a yoga teacher, entrepreneur and mom. Her writing on yoga and holistic health has appeared in Elephant Journal, CureJoy, FunTimesGuide, OMtimes and others. She’s also the founder and owner of SiddhiYoga.com, a yoga teacher training school based in Singapore. Siddhi Yoga runs intensive, residential trainings in India (Rishikesh, Goa and Dharamshala), Indonesia (Bali)
This is an analysis of chapters 5 & 6 of the book Yoga and the Luminous
Chapter five of Professor Christopher Chapple book deals with Patañjali’s take on Meditation or the “Undoing the thinking Self.” He acknowledges the ‘ordinary’ person to be a thinking being, with societal encouragement using your thoughts, and to even have reverence for said thoughts. Sage Patañjali takes another tack arguing that thought should be suspect and otherwise used sparingly. Ordinary thought moves one toward the ego and away from the higher plan of true existence. Patañjali agrees the highest thing a human can achieve is self-mastery of thought, thus his definition of Yoga is “suppression of thought, the restraint of mental fluctuations” (61).
To attain a true stability detaching from thought is accomplished within the yogic system organized in the Yoga Sutras by Patañjali. The sutras contain the eight limbed path or ashtanga yoga in which numerous techniques are unfurled. The aforementioned suppression of thought is the goal and as Chapple states this process “involves the joint application of practice and release from desire, a diligent distancing that reminds aspiring yogis not to forget the goal of quilling thought and advises a holding back from throwing oneself into passionate activity” (62). The two part systems of ethics, yamas and niyamas are also found in the “earlier renouncer systems” of Buddhism and Jainism.
To get a handle on the five varieties of thought defined as, “true cognition, error, imagination, sleep and memory” the five disciplines of ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya and aparigraha are employed to mitigate excessive entanglements with daily life, “reminding one that true identity” cannot be sought in external stimuli and satisfaction of desire. With dedicated practice the knots of attachment will unravel and eventually the yogi begins to ascend to a higher consciousness which is the promise of the yogic path. Brahmavihāra means to have a mindset of non-separation from others found in the yoga sutra and in Buddhist teachings as well. We find equanimity in all things, recognition of individuality, happiness for the successful, compassion for the wounded and for those not acting appropriately cultivating feelings of “non disgust.”
In the eightfold scheme, the niyamas are also a set of five observances to further the goal of stilling the mind. They are śauca (purity), santosa (contentment), tapas (austerity), svadhyaya (spiritual study) and isvara pranidhana (devotion to a higher ideal). These practices are done in concert with the aforementioned yamas and in fact as one ascends the eightfold path each layer begins to merge into each other. As the practitioner a leads life of virtue guided by the yamas and niyamas, the body as a temple or vehicle of transformation is then toned in the third stage of asana. Breath regulation or prānāyamā is now possible with a fit physical system allowing facility to withdraw the mind from sensory experience. This withdrawing experience contained in the the fifth stage is where significant power of the yogic system can be discerned. Chapple writes when disengagement or attachment to the things of the world asserts “energy centers of the heart, throat, forehead can be felt, power is gained that is no longer theory, notion or opinion, but a direct experience that can inspire the reconstruction of self-identity” (64).
The “inner limbs of yoga” are the last three layers of the path. Dhāraṇā, dhyāna and samādhi. This phase starts with the capacity to become super concentrated. Dhāraṇā derives from the verbal root of dhṛ meaning “to hold.” Through this process of concentration one begins to develop a relationship with the object of concentration. An intimacy is cultivated, and the mind enters a state of meditation or dhyāna. The author explains this state is an “unspeakable sense of focus” (65), a state where distraction is not present, zero mind turbulence. At this level of practice one achieves the state of samādhi. Patañjali defines this state of being as “the diminishment of mental fluctuations, like a precious or clear jewel assuming the color of any near object” (65). This stage is the culmination of Patañjali eightfold path. Samādhi itself contains differing levels of absorption. Chapple characterizes engagement with “gross object (savtarkā), free of gross object (virvitarkā), with subtle object (savicārā), and free of subtle object (nirvicārā)” (65). Moving further into the psychic structures of the mind (buddhi) a mind purification process is completed and one is now in the state of nirbīja samādhi.
In chapter six, entitled Luminosity and Yoga, Professor Chapple teases out themes of light and luminosity connected through the four pādas in the yoga sutra. Light is seen as a “root metaphor for the process of yoga attainment” (71). The main thrust of this chapter asks the questions can one stay actively entangled with worldly affairs? Is the world compatible with nirodha (restraint) and kaivalyam (isolation)? Chapple states the yoga sutras present a more robust account regarding these questions than generally is acknowledged and yoga’s ability to blunt one’s karmic load while “seeking a state of transparency and luminosity” (72).
In pāda one of the yoga sutra, Patañjali sketches a theory of knowledge to guide the practitioner. His emphasis is abhyāsa (practice) and the cultivation of dispassion or vairāgya. With the numerous tools of yoga Patañjali suggests, constant practice and dispassion the aspirant can discern puruṣa. Chapple notes we see a distinct theme occurring throughout the text, where things are nothing more than the differing combinations of the gunas. First starting from heavy (tamas), quickening with the passions of rajas and into the lightness of sattva. In the moment the gunas are transcended, “a disassociation” from “this lightest state of purity is achieved with the goal of luminosity shines and prakṛti is held in abeyance and, the witness consciousness stands alone” (72). Chapple goes on to explain four other instances where the witness consciousness is revealed.
In the second padā, sādhana padā, Patañjali essentially summarizes the Sāṃkya philosophical system. Chapple lays the groundwork in this section in connecting the relationship between the “process of seeing, the seer and luminosity.” This interplay between seer, seen and objects existing only for the benefit of the seer is at the heart of the Sāṃkya system. As he says the “seer is to literally cast a light upon the things of the world” (74). In a truly juicy piece of philosophy, Chapple explains that in Sāṃkhya and Yoga, the steering currents of karma “exists in the seen, not in the seer” (75). The ego claims its prominence dictating personality, but personality can only be uncovered in the presence of the “unseen seer.” The second pāda also contains imagery of light. Purity or śauca, and breath control in prānāyamā, the fourth limb in the the system “holds the distinction of bringing one to the point of perfect sattva (75). To purify means to discontinue engagement of things that are physically attractive, with this upgrade comes a panoly of benefits, which create a feedback loop moving the practitioner into the realm of the luminous. The student increases her range of sattvic influences, generally flourishes on a deeper plain, masters the sensory inputs, and finally finds “fitness for the vision of the self” (75).
In pāda three: The Shining, we travel into the world of samādhi. “When the purpose--that is, all things exist for the sake of providing experience to the seer--is known, then a crystalline luminosity, a seeing-things-as-they-really- are takes place” (76). When samādhi is bolstered with dhāraṇā and dhyāna it “is referred to as saṃyama.” The application of saṃyama allows the seer to tap into numerous powers or siddha-s that the author describes as “helpmates” to those who practice yoga. Professor Chapple describes philosophical elements of the sutras in terms of a distinction between “pure puruṣa and perfect sattva” while acknowledging puruṣa cannot possess anything, even knowledge at this level of samādhi. He says this distinction “allows a process of alluding to an elevated state of consciousness without allowing anyone to claim it” (76). In the later portion of pāda three, the discussion swirls around the practitioners increasing sattvic nature, dovetailing with ever subtler stages of samādhi such as nirvicāra samādhi where saṃskāras are held in check. The seeker continues to level up in each stage of samādhi, mastering one's senses, mind and emotion until the seeker reaches kaivalyam. “In the sameness of purity between sattva and puruṣa, there is perfect aloneness (kaivalyam)” (78).
In the fourth pāda: Luminosity, Professor Chapple details the inverse process of evolution leading to luminosity proposed by Patañjali. Patañjali describes the concept of prayojakam, “The initiator”, that is described as a “special relationship” between a purified sattva of prakṛti and puruṣa. This is a type of dance between prakṛti and puruṣa where the mind, buddhi is bathed in sattva which is in prakṛti form. Patañjali describes this beautifully by saying “the one mind among many that is distinct from activity” (78). This portion of the dance is associated with kaivalyam. Chapple then states “All mind is in some sense active but this “one mind” is like puruṣa and hence pure.” Professor Chapple continues the discussion by invoking a classic proof given in the Samkhya Karika, giving proof of puruṣa and tying it back to Patañjali. Patañjali suggests the minds attitude toward objects is but “anticipation” or a “projection.” This give and take between the object seen and the seer, reveals that the object has no capacity to illuminate, but only through the seer can the object take shape. Patañjali states “The fluctuations of the mind are always known due to the changelessness of their master, puruṣa” (79). The recognition that one really does not see, the reflexive grasping ceases, and in turn the ego is eliminated. In a heightened state of awareness, this letting do and “cultivation of self becoming”, the yogi attains a liberated state called dharma-megha samādhi. This is a state where all the “unvirtuous activities” have been eliminated, and what Vyāsa referenced as “living liberation.”
Chapple concludes this chapter by asking the question does this state of living liberation entail a rejection of the world? The practices of yoga has provided the tools to ascend through the layers of the two lower gunas into a beautiful sattvic state, but does this mean rejection of materiality as many commentators of Hinduism proclaim? He writes, “Yoga does not reject the reality of the world, nor does it condemn the world, only the human propensity to misidentify with the more base aspects of the world.” (82).
Chapple, Christopher. Yoga and Luminous: Patanjali's Spiritual Path to Freedom. State University of New York. 2008.
Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2, Verse 24 reads:
Sthitaprajañsya kā bhāsā
Of him who is steady of insight, what description?
Of him who is steadfast in deep meditation, Handsome Haired One (Krishna)
Sthitadhīḥ kĩṃ prabhāṣeta
He who is steady in thought, how he should speak
Kim āsīta vrajeta kim
How would he sit, he should move how?
How does one describe him who is steady of wisdom,
Who is steady in deep meditation, Krishna?
How does he who is steady in wisdom speak?
How does he sit? How does he move.
This concept of Sthita-prajña is so profound and beautiful it gives me goosebumps. Separating the words out, sthita means a steadiness or stillness and prajña can be viewed as consciousness. Put together the meaning is a stable type consciousness.
Captured in this one sloka is perhaps the entire end state and function of the yoga system. In the Yoga Sutras Patañjali writes in 1.2, yogaḥ cittavṛtti nirodhaḥ. Union, consciousness, fluctuations of mind, restraint. The parallels between sutra 1.2 and sloka 2.54 are significant.
However, in the BG, Arjuna is asking questions of Krishna on how to attain these states of being. These questions come on the heels of teachings given to Arjuna and implied in the questions contained in 2.54. It’s implied that Arjuna has grasped the wisdom handed down by Krishna or he wouldn’t possess the wisdom in the first place to ask such penetrating questions.
In the first two questions Arjuna is asking, at least in yogic terms very practical questions. What does a person “look” like in steadiness? In a state of Sthita-prajña? And what does a yogi “look” like when absorbed in a state of samadhi? Two sides of a coin. How does one’s consciousness behave when seated in a state of samadhi versus one’s consciousness remaining active in the world? This is what is meant by using the Sanskrit word Sthitadhīḥ. “Man of steady thought” in comparison to “of him who is steadfast in deep meditation” or samādhisthasya. In this I believe meditation and samadhi are synonymous. Arjuna is asking how does one know when they attain the highest of spiritual states, the inward journey vis-a-vis a state of Sthita-prajña outward looking.
Krishna provides a solid answer in 2.55.
When he leaves behind all desires
Emerging from the mind, Arjuna
And is contented in the Self by the Self
Then he is said to be one whose
Wisdom is steady (sthitaprajñastadocyate)
In this, Krishna is emphasizing two crucial points in understanding the state of sthita prajña. The first is the major affair of all humans and that is to not only get a handle on the thorny issue of desire, but to renounce it all and take refuge within yourself. When citta (mind) is disconnected from desire, fluctuations cease. Krishna continues on in the next several verses in conversation about the many states of desire and their antidote of wisdom resting in Sthita-prajña.
This is just a tiny dose of the wisdom contained within the Bhagavad Gita. Time to practice.
We Need Sleep
Mary Lee is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck.com. She specializes in sleep's role in mental and physical health and wellness. Mary lives in Olympia, Washington and shares her full-sized bed with a very noisy cat.
Sleep may be a necessary biological function, but it can still be a challenge for many people to get a full night’s rest. Everything from stress to an unpredictable work schedule may stand in the way of getting seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. As sleep becomes more elusive, many people find their stress levels rising. Without sleep, handling and dealing with stress simply becomes more difficult. But, there are steps you can take to increase the quantity and quality of your sleep.
Sleep deprivation permeates into all facets of your health. The brain uses sleep to cleanse out toxins and prune pathways and connections built throughout the day. Without adequate rest, reaction times, reasoning skills, and critical-thinking abilities start to go down.
The immune system uses sleep time to heal and restore the body. Not only can it not get important repairs done, but it cannot work at full capacity without enough rest. Consequently, the body becomes more susceptible to colds and infections, which tend to last longer because of a tired immune system.
Lack of sleep also affects your appetite. Studies have shown time and time again that sleep deprivation causes the hunger control hormone ghrelin and the satiety hormone leptin to get released in different amounts when a person has gotten less than five hours of sleep. With hunger up, the body also craves high-fat, sugary foods, and the body’s ability to resist those foods goes down. Sleep problems are often accompanied by unwanted weight gain and obesity.
With so many parts of the body affected by sleep deprivation, it should come as no surprise that stress levels rise with sleep loss. Irritability, aggression, and agitation become a more common response. Overall sleep deprivation leaves people vulnerable to more illnesses like depression, anxiety high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, dementia, and diabetes.
Some people may believe they don’t have the power to change their sleep habits, but every individual can make changes towards better sleep. It starts by creating a bedroom that is completely devoted to sleep. It should not be a multipurpose space. The mattress should support the preferred sleep position, which should not cause any aches and pains in the morning. At night the room temperature should be cool (somewhere between 60-68 degrees) with little to no light and sound.
Discipline and personal habits before bedtime can have a big impact on sleep quality, too.
Turn Off Screens: The bright light from e-readers, smartphones, televisions, and laptops can make your brain believe it’s daytime. It can cause a delay in the release of the hormones that make you feel sleepy. Shut off the screens at least an hour before bed to keep your brain and body on track.
Create a Bedtime Routine: A bedtime routine should relax the mind and body in preparation for sleep. Meditation, gentle yoga, reading a book, or a warm bath are all good ways to release stress before getting into bed.
Keep a Consistent Bed and Wake Time: The body relies on circadian rhythms to establish a sleep-wake cycle. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day helps the body know when to start and stop the cycle.
Interpreting the Image of the Human Body in Premodern India
The journal article penned by Dominik Wujastyk was published in 2009 in the International Journal of Hindu Studies. The author begins structuring his analysis by introducing postmodernism as a metaphor to speak of “discourses, textualities, inscriptions, readings, and deciphering” (189). His point is to lay the groundwork as an analytic tool in discussion of the current schism between Ayurvedic and modern medicine. Furthermore he uses postmodernism to draw contrast to a commonality across ancient Indian philosophy regarding the sames revulsion between the disconnect between body and mind or “breaking link” with the “identification with embodiment” (abhiniveśa)(189). In fact, much Indian philosophy is geared toward dispelling the disconnect. What follows is a discourse to mark the boundaries in pre-modern Indian literature regarding different bodies. To note that a “meditating yogin (cakra) would talk in a completely different way about his body than a surgeon” (205).
Wujastyk notes beginning in India’s earliest period that the body is a vehicle of exterior consciousness leading into the subtle interior body. In fact, Sanskrit embodies many terms denoting this interior exterior relationship. He states the Sanskrit term deha and its grammatical root could be conveyed as the “body as an external coating or covering” (190). Furthering his analysis, Wujastyk discusses the Taittirīya Upaniṣads which posits the five bodies or “ātmans” which we know as the manomaya kosha model. This model posits the self as the locus whereas in the later Tantric traditions the anatomical “map” changed. This anatomy “mapped the body as the locus of spiritual energies and points of graduated spiritual awakening” (190).
The author moves the discussion by surveying the various intellectual disciplines and religious conceptions of the “different imagined bodies” in premodern India noting the richness of both the visual representation and the depth of the Sanskrit language to draw out subtleties. In the second part of his piece Wujastyk accounts for the “encounter between Āyurvedic anatomy and early colonial European anatomy” in which “radically different body conceptualizations are simultaneously held in unacknowledged cognitive dissonance” (191).
The author survey’s nine separate concepts of body types within the premodern Indian corpus. I will list them respectively: The Body of Sacrifice, Body as World, The Upaniṣadic Body, The Jain Body, The Buddhist Body, The Tantric Body, The Yogic Body, The Wrestler’s Body and The Medical Body.
Beginning with The Body of Sacrifice the author states that concepts of anatomical body actually come quite late in Indian philosophy. First notions of the body come in the form of texts, specifically the Ṛg Veda as a Hymn. “Hymn to Man presents man as the original sacrificial being whose body is divided as a primal creative act” (192). Scholarship is divided on whether actual sacrificial killing indeed took place. Any sacrificial killing was of a ritualistic nature and not to scientifically dissect a body. The Vedic point of view is a sacrifice is a vehicle to heaven, the rub is the person who want admittance to heaven performs the sacrifice.
Body as World narrative can be seen in the Caraka Samhita which asserts whatever is found in the world can also be found in the body. This texted is quite detailed in explaining the elements of water, fire, air and ether as bodily moisture, bodily warmth, breath and ether in cavities respectively. The author gives a short explanation of The Upaniṣadic Body. The early Upaniṣads begin to develop ideas on bodily functions and their nature. Reflections concerning breath and breathing are drilled into by categorizing five types of breath based on location and function. Later Upaniṣads develop ideas of physical states that accompany meditation exercises, along with hierarchies of sleep and walking.
The Jain Body is noteworthy for the complexity with the imagery of a giant man. The vertical axis of the giant man “corresponds to various levels of divine, human, and hellish habitation” (196). The Jain tradition asserts “karma is a semi-material substance” that clings to the soul and carries actual weight. The author writes about the most striking premodern imagery is the apophatic body of the Jain saint who has cast off all corrupting karma becoming a pure being. In The Buddhist Body conception history shows Prince Siddhattha Gotama’s life was upended when he encountered four bodies. The bodies of the dead, poor, old and sick. The author also details a contrast with the Jain saint in that these two traditions view the body as irrelevant.
The Tantric Body rooted in early tantric texts becomes more prominent during the first millennium CE with depictions of the tantric view that “the body as the locus” housing six wheels of energy arranged vertically along the central axis of the spine called cakras. This model of the body was build upon in numerous yogic texted and is an example of a non-anatomical formulation of the body that views the body as a vehicle to move mystical energies to become awakened.
The Yogic Body shares a likeness to the tantra conception of the body but is based upon Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras which is largely a “psychological and spiritual text” (200). Details on āsana are non existent in the sutras with the main features germane to quieting the mind to achieve higher states of consciousness. However in 1903, Haṃsasvarūpa Mahārāja takes a stab at a literal interpretation of Yogic and Tantric physiology via text and illustration demonstrating the physical reality of the cakras and energy channels. He labors to marry the western anatomical model and the Yogic body as understood centuries before. Wujastyk notes the “serious attempt at an integrative approach to understanding the world” (203) that Mahārāja attempted.
Moving onto The Wrestlers Body the author states the tradition of gymnastics and exercise training are very old in the Indian corpus and can be related to yoga, martial arts and asceticism. The author speaks to the body of the “martial arts gymnast” as understood in a concept called marmans. A medical text in 600 CE relates that marmans are a “point that pulsates irregularly and which hurts when pressed” (204). Marmans are considered a type of pressure point but if wounded would lead to death. Wujastyk then debunks the notion that marmans can be traced to Ayurvedic texts which he says now “has been conclusively quashed” (204).
The narrative begins to accelerate where the body images begin to merge with the medical bodies. Ayurveda is the chief discourse regarding the emergence of anatomical renderings, although this is provocative in that Francis Zimmerman sees nothing “real” in Ayurvedic anatomy. Wujastyk states that the “Buddhist interpretation of the body, in which process is privileged over substance” can account for Zimmerman opinion. We also see a historical shift where ideas from Persian anatomy emerge in India in the early eighteenth century.
A major advancement springs up in 1898 when Muralidhara Sharma, a royal physician produces an addition of the Śusruta Saṃhitā that included an unprecedented number of medical images. Some of these same images are used in Ayurvedic literature to the present day. Sharma’s analysis is there is no divide between Ayurvedic and the English anatomy. Another leap forward takes place in 1913 when Gananath Sen publishes “The Body Revealed.” The use of Sanskrit was a “deliberate act aimed at reaching as wide of a medical audience as he could” (214). Sen was a nationalist and used this medical platform in an attempt to recapture some of India’s past glory.
At this point in our Tour-de-Force of body image history, a divergence begins to appear. The attempted marriage of Ayurveda and western anatomy begins to run afoul. Quoting Wujastyk, “a deeply flawed epistemological situation in which two quite different and essentially incompatible anatomical models of the body are held in mind at once, in acquiescence to schismatic worldview” (217). This is evidenced by imagery that shows Ayurvedic skeletons with no narrative surrounding the image, or worse Sanskrit labels are cut out and pasted to the skeletal sketches which have no contextual meaning whatsoever. There was a loss of interest in comparing or contrasting these two models of medicine at this point. This duality is a function of the difficulty in meshing these two systems in one overarching way to analyze the human structure.
This push and pull, east and west vacillation seems to be a historical trend. In the early 20th century efforts were made to provide fresh material, both visual and descriptive narratives of anatomy that took into account both Ayurveda and western medicine. This integration was a major push at unification which is active to this day. However in the inter-years Ayurveda again was pushed to the sidelines in lieu of western methods. To sum up where we are today, please listen to the follow quote:
From one perspective, the inner state of Ayurveda (today) is a picture of struggle to establish epistemological identity and retain integrity. From another, it is a picture of unhappy compromise with modern medicine seeking justification in terms of modern medical theory and its parameters, and trying unsuccessfully to prove itself to be scientific (221)
Wujasyk, Dominik. “Interpreting the Image of the Human Body in Premodern India” International Journal of Hindu Studies, Vol 13, Number 2. 2009, pp 189-228.
"I think it truly remarkable that two separate civilizations, the Greeks and those who theorized in the Upanishads, both used the metaphor of the chariot and charioteer to drive similar points. This metaphor is powerful at demonstrating the complexity of the interplay between, the mind, body, intellect, soul, senses and how desire interferes with all of these component parts."
Strength thru Discipline
Yoga: The Path to Self Mastery
My belief is all modern forms of leadership are predicated upon high levels of Self-Mastery. The value of Self-Mastery vis-á-vis leadership simply can’t be overemphasized. When contemporary leadership models are parsed, accounting for linguistics, they all share a strong likeness to the system of yoga, that ancient science, philosophy and art of self-transformation. Author and retired Navy SEAL Mark Divine likes to say that yoga is the “oldest form of personal development” and Leonardo de Vinci said “One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself”. In this essay I conceptualize Self-Mastery as the basis for a flourishing life, arguing that yoga is the most refined pathway to Self Mastery. I walk the reader through the nuances of saṃskāras as the double edged sword that sets us back, but also spurs the yogī toward liberation. Working with the Patañjali’s 8 eight limbs of yoga, I conclude that Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras is the guide with the precise efficacy to achieve Self-Mastery. I then discuss, compare and contrast the Authentic Leadership Model and the Transformational Leadership Model to the Yoga Sūtras. Establishing that these modern leadership theories are a repackaging of ancient yoga concepts demonstrating my thesis that out of the numerous systems of self development one could follow today, yoga is the clear choice.
Before a person can lead anything, a company, family or any entity they must first have the temerity to lead themselves. Any objective analysis would conclude we are our own worst enemy. The undisciplined is a rudderless ship at the mercy of the tide, while the disciplined captain harmonizes the forces. Self-Mastery is about taming, harmonizing and expansion. We can learn to master a topic, a musical instrument or a process for example, but Self-Mastery is to be in command of every aspect of one’s life. Another way to look at it is to master oneself ‘is to fully grasp who you are are at a very subtle level’ (Gabriel, Chopra Center). Or as author Satinder Dhiman wrote Self-Mastery is full “integration of human personality” (43). The yogic path to Self-Mastery is one that cannot be de-coupled from the spiritual path, however one has no chance of spiritual mastery without its precondition of Self-Mastery. The path to Self Mastery is impossible until you develop a deep relationship with yourself, and in turn other relationships are free to blossom. There will always be degrees of resistance in life until liberation. Resistance is a propellent for growth, but for many it’s regressive. Yogic discipline erodes the regressive side of resistance, turning it from foe to friend. This is not to imply that everyone has a civil war raging inside, but it does underscore opposing energies. Polarity must be recognized as without “opposing forces, how could there be room for mastery of self as a difficult condition to attain?” (328, Campbell). In other words, if it were easy everyone would be a master. In this paper I use the terms Self-Mastery, self-discipline, self-regulation and yogic discipline interchangeably. Clarification is provided where needed.
Self-Mastery is envogue, especially in the management literature. The modern world is buzzing with stimulation, outpacing the brain’s evolutionary timeline with the shear load of information and cultural expectations of ambition. I believe it’s imperative that discipline become embedded in the cultural DNA for a flourishing planet. Self-Mastery is not new. The Stoics grappled with discipline as a virtue, Plato wrestled with ‘reason, spirit, and passions, St Paul with spirit and flesh and Freud’s dramatis personae’ (328, Campbell). Self-Mastery is the path to liberation (literal and figurative), releasing us from the chains that bind of us down. The ability to discipline ourselves is the worthiest of goals as it encompasses all notions of restraint such as self-discipline, self-transformation, discipline and mental toughness. My thesis is that yoga provides the deepest well to drink from to guide us to true flourishing by leading a disciplined life, positioning the sādhaka (student) with leadership capacity and eventually self-transcendence.
Georg Feuerstein in his seminal work The Yoga Tradition wrote “Yoga is a spectacularly multifaceted phenomenon, and as such it is very difficult to define because there are exceptions to every conceivable rule” (3). Feuerstein does narrow down a foundational concept that are found in all yogic systems, that “they all are concerned with a state of being, or consciousness” (3). That yoga, deriving from the Sanskrit root yuj meaning “union of the individual self to the universal self.” The idea of an ultimate reality or some primordial soup is baffling to the western mind. “The existence of absolute reality within each person is Hinduism’s most fundamental truth and the basis of its teachings on happiness” (Schoch, 70). My intent in this paper is geared toward the western mind, a mind culturally inclined to tune out when confronted with the languaging of some of yoga’s more esoteric concepts, and thus missing out on deep truths and a sure pathway to freedom. In terms of guiding a practitioner toward Self-Mastery, my belief is the yogi must be aware of the ultimate goal of self-transcendence without getting bogged down into the why’s and how’s of such a concept. Talk of liberation at the outset is premature. Just know that as you climb the ladder of Self-Mastery as Patanjali unfurls it in the Yoga Sūtras, self-transcendence will become less of a concept and more of a creation.
Let’s first consider how we became flawed in the first place. Tabula Rasa is an ancient phrase describing the mind as a blank slate at birth. As one experiences life “impressions” are created via sensory experience which in turn shapes character. A person can have events befall them, creating psychic grooves, leading to poor decisions cascading into dukkha (suffering). Yoga has similar notions but goes deeper and arches back into past lives as well as current experience. “In classical yoga every action (karman) leaves an impression (saṃskāra) in the deeper structure of the mind (citta) where it awaits its fruition in the form of volitional activity” (Whitcher, 601). The Yoga Sūtras speak to the “forms” of memory and impressions and that there is a “causal relation even among births, places and times that are undisclosed” (Whitcher, 601). We may not remember our past lives or are conscious of any karmic “residue” from these past experiences, but according to yogic philosophy karma is the culprit influencing a person’s current actions. Yet, yogic philosophy does differentiate between “operative” and latent afflictions (kleśas). “Under the influence of afflictions (kleśas), the impressions and memories of a person then form “subsets” of saṃskāras known as karmic deposit or residue (karmāśaya) which in turn becomes operative” (Whitcher, 602). The triggers that operationalize karmic forces are beyond the scope of this paper. Just understand that these afflictions dictate how a person shows up in the world, creating or dissolving certain personality traits (vāsanās). If one wants to gain Self-Mastery have a sense that you reap what you sow.
Self-Mastery is the process that slows the moving train of karmic deposits and begins to reverse the damage. The yogic antidote is attainment of samādhi (The eighth and final act on the path). “As the mind becomes purified of affliction-and the saṃskāras and habit patterns/personality traits (vāsanās) which sustain that affliction-it becomes capable of a steady “flow” toward the “good” meaning a “flow” of discernment from which an identity shift can take place” (Whitcher 612). In other words as one approaches samādhi, yoga becomes a blocking mechanism (of corrosive afflictions) as a flow state asserts. How does one achieve samādhi? Self-Mastery is step one.
Intrinsic to humans is the desire to achieve or transcend to something bigger or greater. This is why I believe Self-Mastery is so compelling to so many. Most people just don’t know where to begin their journey. Patañjali’s eight limbed path is the framework best suited for the Self-Mastery project. Patañjali was an Indian sage with an unparalleled intellect. He compiled the Yoga Sūtras between the 2nd and 4th century CE into 195 aphorisms. Iyengar calls them “concise and compact.” He goes onto explain in Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, “they are compiled in such a way as to cover all the various facets of life, exploring each in depth” (xvii). Yoga is a cause and effect relationship with oneself and “a true friend to those who embrace it sincerely and totally” (xxvi). As westerners, we see this “friend” manifest predominantly as the physical practice of āsana, the third stage on the eight limbed path. It may seem irrational to begin at the third rung, but as B.K.S Iyengar articulated clearly that we are all a project, and encoded into this “project is an attention to the self, and a path to enlightenment is mapped through the body” (Lea, 76). Yoga meets us where we are and culturally speaking the physical is the current locus.
The modern form of āsana would not be recognizable to the ancients. In fact, it wasn’t until the Haṭhapradīpikā in the fifteenth-century that postures other than seated postures were articulated (Mallinson and Singleton, 87). In the early yogic texts āsana came to be known as a sitting position or “to take a seat” and only later was complexity added including fluid movements. In the text Roots of Yoga, the authors point out that in Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras, “the earliest text to give systematic description of an eightfold yoga practice, āsana is a way of sitting and the third of the eight auxiliaries necessary for mastering yoga” (86). Patañjali gives no further instruction in terms of āsana other than to say “that in order to practice breath-control and, by implication, the meditative techniques of yoga, the yogi’s āsana should be steady and comfortable” (86). It would appear that proficient āsana is a precondition for the fourth limb of prānāyāma or breath control. The marriage of āsana with its significant health benefits and the relaxation components triggered by control of the autonomic nervous system are obvious benefits that are tangible immediately. These physical benefits can happen in real time and are not tucked away in an obscure primordial ether or fleshed out only in a challenging philosophical treatise. If one wants to achieve Self-Mastery, gain control of your physical body.
The first Yoga Sūtra is to “calm the fluctuations of the mind.” To be disciplined means to be calm in stormy conditions. A person that is constantly acting out is not only creating mental turbulence immediately but also creating a ripple effect via the previously discussed saṃskāras. The world is full of lure and temptation or in yogic terms afflictions. The gathering of afflictions is caused by avidyā or ignorance. “The external world lures the seer towards its pleasures, creating desire” and “the non-fulfillment of desires in turn creates pain, which suffocates the inner being (Iyengar, 24). This is precisely why Patañjali’s first disciplines are the yamas (discipline) and niyamas (restraint).
The eight yogic disciplines begins with the five yamas: ahiṁsā (nonviolence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacarya (continence, sexual restraint) and aparigraha (non-covetousness). These disciplines are combatting our lower level nature, contained in our limbic or reptilian brain. Author Georg Feuerstein says the yamas “are intended to check the powerful survival instinct and rechannel it to serve a higher purpose, regulating the social interactions of yogins” (246). It makes perfect sense that the ladder to mastery would begin with the obvious things that trip us up. These restraints on behavior are straightforward, and universal to all major religions, but terrifically challenging to adhere to. To those who master the yamas numerous good flows. A vigor to the sexually restrained (not repressed) person, a less hostile world surrounds a less hostile person, a certain kindness begins to flow via speech as kindness begets kindness. If one wants to achieve Self-Mastery learn to harness the passions.
When the yogin has moral discipline, energy is set free to allow the practitioner room to begin an inner harmonizing process. Iyengar notes that “observance of yama brings about niyama, and the practice of niyama disciplines one to follow the principles of yama” (31). This feedback loop is self reinforcing. The second limb is the niyamas and contain five elements of self-restraint. Śauca (purity), santoṣa (contentment), austerity (tapas), svādhyāya (study) and īshvara-pranidhāna (devotion to the lord). This is the level of the ladder where spirituality begins to take hold in the journey toward Self-Mastery.
As one continues to practice, yoga dissolves old saṃskāra patterns replacing with fresh purified impressions. Purity is equal to cleanliness both inside and outside the body. Santoṣa is “diametrically opposed to our modern consumerist mentality, which is driven by the need to acquire ever more to fill the inner vacuum” (Feuerstein, 246). Note those who have obtained a respectable level of Self-Mastery nearly always lean toward minimalism in my experience. The content yogin is equanimous in all circumstances. Tapaṣ lands squarely in the self-discipline wheelhouse. It’s meaning is austerity, purification and heat to produce energy that “yields the elixir of high awareness” (Feuerstein, 247). Svādhyāya is about self-knowledge and study, especially study of the scriptures. This is where the yogin gets to know herself in the spiritual sense. Lastly is īshvara-pranidhāna or devotion to the lord. This is to be interpreted as a surrendering to god or what Feuerstein has interpreted as “the multiple coalescing transcendental Selves (puruṣha) (247). If one wants to achieve Self-Mastery let the yamas and niyamas be your North Star.
As one gains control of their life, each level begins to blend into one another. This is especially true with the fourth limb of Prāṇāyāma, coming on the heels of āsana. Prāṇāyāma is yogic breath work. It’s understood that breathing is partially a physical act, that the body must be in excellent physical condition to leverage the incredible forces a strong prāṇāyāma practice creates. We literally draw energy from breathing, thus the spine, back, lungs and all associated breathing apparatus must be toned to create the conditions for transformation. Iyengar states that at first the inflow and outflow of breath is irregular, but when “ease is attained, the breath must be regulated with attention. This is prāṇāyāma” (33). From the western perspective we are gaining control of our autonomic nervous system that evolved over millions of years to keep the body in perfect homeostatic balance via its sophisticated feedback mechanisms. From the eastern perspective prāṇāyāma is harnessing prāṇa or life force, bio-energy made up of the five elements of earth, water, air, fire and ether. By gaining control of our breathing, we bring numerous elements under our command resulting in Patañjali’s first task which is to calm a turbulent mind. To achieve Self-Mastery, one must not be a slave to the emotions by turning the mind into a “fit instrument” (Iyengar, 33).
Through the first four limbs energies are consolidated and the yogin is pulling in the same direction on the journey to Samādhi. Pratyāhāra is the process of shutting down outside stimulus or a “complete state of sensory inhibition” (Feuerstein, 250), or as Feuerstein further explains that many texts compare this process to a turtle pulling back into its shell. As the yogin collapses inward the mind which acts as a bridge “between the senses and the soul, frees itself from the senses and turns towards the soul to enjoy it’s spiritual heights” (Iyengar, 34). This is precisely what is meant regarding the impossibility of decoupling Self-Mastery from spiritual mastery. If one wants to attain Self-Mastery tune out to tune into your true nature.
The last three limbs on the path are so interrelated that there is a Sanskrit term encompassing all three, called saṁyama. Saṁyama is the third and last tier toward self-realization and at this juncture Self-Mastery is nearly complete in the contemporary western sense. The sādhaka is operating at a high level. Dhāraṇā, is a one pointed focus of concentration, dhyāna is meditation made possible by all the previous layers of practice, and finally samādhi which is considered full integration. One is now a true leader as Self-Mastery has been achieved. In the conquest of the self we find that our “lifelong journey is not toward power but toward perfection. In this journey a leader must ceaselessly deal with the rigours of self-conquest” (Chatterjee, 53).
Contemporary scholars have shaped leadership thinking by creating models to chunk down the complexities of human behavior so it can be contextualized and trained. My purpose is to connect yoga as the path to Self-Mastery and as a system of leadership, asserting that both yoga and leadership are impossible without Self-Mastery. Both modalities are good bedfellows in that when we practice yoga we recognize yoga intuitively, but it’s difficult to define. Similarly leadership has a history of being definitionally difficult, but we know it when we see it. Yoga and leadership share an evolutionary quality as they interact with the environment. Like yoga, leadership shares shifting emphasis because factors such as growing global influences and generational differences reshape the field. Leadership will continue to have different meanings for different people. Sounds a lot like modern day yoga.
One way to conceive leadership is as a process or trait “whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal” (Northhouse, 5). I believe that leadership has universal appeal just as Self-Mastery is an equally compelling desired end state. My first step in framing leadership is conceiving it as a set of traits. In the early 20th century similar trait theories were called “great man” theories as numerous examples of great men and their charismatic ways could be pointed to. Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi or Napoleon Bonaparte are examples, and in the 21st century we can point to Barack Obama. We could also cast an eye to India with its plethora of Guru’s. Early on it was thought a leader was born with a secret sauce of traits, but research is finding this to be false. Leadership characteristics can be taught, tested and adjusted while in the flow of leadership. A survey in 2006 “found that charismatic leaders consistently possess traits of self-monitoring, engagement in impression management, motivation to attain social power, and motivation to attain self-actualization” (Northhouse, 20). It is important to note here that a leader that excels in one situation may falter in another due to some underdeveloped trait or skill. A self-disciplined leader would foresee a situation not suited to their skill set or value system. For example a charismatic yoga leader would not do well if asked to lead a ICBM missile silo crew.
A trait that is aligned well with yoga and leadership is the trait of emotional intelligence. Daniel Goleman created the construct in identifying emotional intelligence as someone who is personally competent consisting of “self-awareness, confidence, self-regulation, conscientiousness and motivation” (Northhouse, 28) and linking to skills of social competence to include empathy, communication and conflict management. A disciplined leader will analyze their own traits vis-á-vis the organization or community they are a part of. This approach is used for self awareness and personal development. If one were to train with Patañjali’s eight yogic disciplines it becomes crystal clear that all the necessary pieces of being an impactful leader are trained and mastered in yoga. While this essay is mostly geared toward Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras, I would be remiss in not mentioning the Bhagavad Gīta.
The Bhagavad Gīta offers many life lessons applicable to modern leadership. “The Gīta unfolds as an infallible guide for those higher order individuals who externally live a life of full-engagement with the world, while internally always remaining steadfastly anchored in the wisdom of their Higher Self” (Dhiman, 46). A leader sets the tone for the entity they are leading and by extension if one is undisciplined an unwholesome atmosphere will seep into the culture. The Bhagavad Gīta is specific in counseling taming an unruly mind as all evil finds its genesis in selfish desires, and a selfish person is unable to lead others effectively. An analysis of the Bhagavad Gīta is beyond my objective here, but one could live by the teachings of the Bhagavad Gīta and achieve Self-Mastery.
By definition the Transformational Leadership Model’s (TLM) main objective is to change and transform people. It’s interesting to note that the TLM shares many of the same traits already discussed, especially charisma. The leadership literature often uses TLM and charisma synonymously. Sociologist Max Weber “was first to describe a special gift that certain individuals possess that gives them the capacity to do extraordinary things” (Northhouse, 188). The crucial difference between the TLM and describing a leader as charismatic is TLM requires a set of strong morals, whereas Adolf Hitler was described as charismatic. History abound with charismatic leaders with blood on their hands. However, charisma is not required to be a transformational leader as the leader is not the focal point. A “transformational leader motivates followers to do more than expected by (a) raising followers levels of consciousness about the importance and value of specified and idealized goals, (b) getting followers to transcend their own self-interest” (Northhouse, 190). The TLM leader is follower focused and must be viewed as competent not necessarily charismatic. The leader must be a role model that followers can look up too. It’s easy to see how the serious yogin, trained to not be attached to outcomes, and a thorough grounding in the yamas and niyamas could operate within this framework. Gandhi is consistently mentioned as a transformational leader and is well established he read the Bhagavad Gīta daily as part of his svādhyāya.
I now turn to my favorite leadership model, the Authentic Leadership Model (ALM). This model shares numerous factors with TLM, but is centric to developing the leader over the course of a lifetime, similar to yoga in that abhyāsa is a critical ingredient. ALM is seen as a “pattern of leadership behavior that develops from and is grounded in the leader’s positive psychological qualities and strong ethics” (Northhouse, 256). Four categories have been identified: self-awareness, internal moral compass, balanced processing and relational transparency. The eminent leadership theorist Bill George in 125 research samples found the significant driver in an authentic leaders is the desire to serve others. George succinctly said the authentic leader has heart, understands their purpose, values relationships and has uncommon self-discipline. “When tested in difficult situations, authentic leaders do not compromise their values, but rather use those situations to strengthen their values” (Northhouse, 259). Again we see the theme of Self-Mastery present here as most everyone is motivated, but when motivation fades it’s self-discipline that picks up the slack.
In conclusion, I find the yoga system as structured in Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras as the surest path to Self-Mastery. I’ve also stated that Self Mastery is a worthy target reversing karmic deposits leading to a true flourishing. I’ve argued that the Transformational Leadership Model and Authentic Leadership Models are systems of yoga cloaked in modern day language. A significant shortcoming of all leaderships models in my research is none of them mention physical fitness as a primary pillar of leadership. This deep flaw is precisely why yoga, Self-Mastery and leadership are one beautiful triad creating stability, strength, transformation, flourishing and ultimately self-realization.
Freedom’s genesis is discipline. A beautiful life is within the grasp of all with a self-disciplined practice. The counterintuitive nature of freedom flowing from restraint is tough to swallow. It’s the element that allows the student to appreciate the fruits of abhyāsa and remain above the fray, clear headed and with a full heart. I will restate my belief that union of self is best achieved via the eight yogic disciplines as sketched by Patañjali’s in the Yoga Sūtras.
- Northhouse, Peter G. Leadership: Theory and Practice. Sixth Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2013.
- Chatterjee, Debashis. Timeless Leadership : 18 Leadership Sutras from the Bhagavad Gita. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/LMU/detail.action?docID=827081.
- Whicher, Ian. "The Liberating Role of Saṃskāra in Classical Yoga." Journal of Indian Philosophy 33, no. 5/6 (2005): 601-30. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23497010.
- Lea, Jennifer. “Liberation or Limitation? Understanding Iyengar Yoga as a Practice of the Self.” Body and Society. Vol 15(3): 71-92. http://www.sagepub.co.uk/JournalsPermissions.nav.
- Feuerstein, Georg. The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice. 3rd.rd. Chino Valley, Ariz. Hohm Press, c2008.
- Schoch, Richard. The Secrets of Happiness. New York, NY. Scribner. 2006
- Iyengar, B.K.S. Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. Hammersmith London, HarperCollins, 1993.
- Mallinson, James and Mark Singleton. Roots of Yoga. UK. Penguin Random House UK, 2017.
- Dhiman, Satinder. Holistic Leadership: A New Paradigm for Today’s Leaders. Palgrave Macmillan. ebook. 2017.
- Campbell, J. and Kudler, D. (2012). Myths of light. Novato, Calif.: New World Library.
I conducted a field study in a lineage I was not familiar with at all. READ MY FINDINGS!
In this field study I visited the Sivananda Vedanta Yoga Center in Marina Del Rey, California on two separate occasions. Once to attend The Durga Puja or Navaratri in October and then on November 28th, 2017, I attended a 90 minute āsana class taught by our good friend Joseph Cadiff. The ceremony and the āsana class were wonderful experiences but outside my normal yogic wheelhouse, especially the puja ceremony.
To say the puja ceremony was outside my comfort zone would be an understatement. Please don’t assess my reaction in terms of your own background, but from the perspective of my own. Given that I spent 20 years in the U.S. Coast Guard as a self described Knuckle Dragger, it’s a miracle that I’ve ever stepped foot in a yoga room more than once. To consider my evolution from Knuckle Dragger, to yoga student, to a studio work-trader, to evolving into a rootin-tootin bonafide yoga teacher, and now graduate student in said discipline without losing my essence is amazing. Just as I was resting on my laurels comfortable in my power yoga world, full of sweat and loads of eye candy, I’ve come to learn there is another colorful yoga world in Sivananda Yoga, and apparently that color is yellow.
This was the first thing that hit me when I came through the door at the Sivananda Vedānta Yoga Center. I said to myself “man is it yellow in here. Was I supposed to wear yellow? I don’t think I own anything yellow.” Feeling as out of place as Johnny Cash would, I did the rookie move, I arranged myself in the back bleachers. Once settled in I started to feel a calm as I looked around and saw some of “my people” present. I don’t recall at this late date as to whether I purposely didn’t do any research into what I was getting myself into or not, but I do love to attend a movie without knowing squat about the plotline. This is my way of avoiding picking up incorrect notions or judgements about the situation at hand. And here is the situation.
A puja ceremony is a traditional worshipping ceremony in tune with Bhakti Yoga or the yoga of devotion. I grew up in the Catholic church which is heavy on ceremony, with specific actions taking place each Mass, including my own father hurdling threats of punishment if I didn’t sit still. One of my first recollections was connecting the puja ceremony to my experiences in organized religion. We sing in the Catholic Church and we sang in the puja ceremony. We had a leader in the church, the priest, and we had a leader at the puja ceremony. Funny for me to note that I was amused in the most loving way that our “priest” dressed in yellow was chanting yogic scripture in a heavy asian accent. This is totally in sync with the Vedānta notion of diversity leading to unity. I loved it!
Quoting from Sri Swami Sivananda, this festival “lasts for nine days in honour of the nine manifestations of Durga. During Navaratri (the word literally means "nine nights") devotees of Durga observe a fast. Brahmins are fed and prayers are offered for the protection of health and property.” As I learned more about the ceremony’s intention I was warmed to learn that we are worshipping the Divine Mother. Durga represents Mother. The relationship one has with one’s mother is so special. Think Forrest Gump and what his “Momma” did for him. This type of relationship is absolutely worthy of formal expression. This is not the emphasis in the Catholic tradition, nor is dousing the baby Jesus in warm milk might I add.
Hinduism believes God is present within each and everything that exists. This is very powerful and the reason being the use of deities, imagery and certain types of clothing. One of the aspects of the puja ceremony I was not prepared for was pouring milk over Shiva and then rinsing with water. This process is used for “receiving god as our guest.” All participants got in line and while the room vibrated with chanting all poured and rinsed their heart out. When it was my turn I recall feeling a little nervous as you’re supposed to pour with your right hand and support with the left hand. Considering that I’m left handed and theoretically I was receiving god I didn’t want to be the one to spur God away with my shaky hand. When it was my turn, my vision collapsed to the task at hand and I remember a huge smile pasted across my face. I felt the love, I really did.
Settling on the Tuesday 10:30am āsana at the Sivananda Vedānta Yoga Center for my second visit I had no idea (once again) about what to expect. I turn to our colleague Joe C, who is in the know, asking for clarification and he says “I’m teaching that class.” What are the chances. Of course I was a little more comfortable this second visit as it was a smaller gathering and of course I know Joe. The room was lit up yellow in the beaming morning Los Angeles sunshine as I arrived. I was greeted by a woman named Om Kari who gave me a little background on the organization, especially about “The Farm” in Grass Valley. In strides another delightful person who introduces himself as Vishnu Prem which means “Cosmic Love.” I don’t skip a beat which tells me two things, that I’m now a true Californian and I’m less of a Knuckle Dragger now.
Joe did take a few moments ahead of time to give me a brief on what to expect as he understands my world of power yoga and that his class would be in the Sivananda tradition. Joe explained that the class is intended to not spike heart rate, but all activities are centered on calming and tapping into the subtle body even though we plan to move. We began with a few minutes of relaxation followed by 3 Oms. Then Joe’s sweet baritone sang out leading us through a prayer to invoke the Gurus’ and teachers’ blessing. This helps to set the mood and mindset for the remainder of the class. Next we did two basic prānāyāma breathing exercises, Kapalabhati and Anuloma Viloma followed by Sun Salutations. Between each sequence we spent time in savasana preparing for the next phase of the practice. Our next task for 12 basic postures followed by a 10 minute savasana and final prayer.
The beauty of this practice is its simplicity and straightforward nature. In the world of yoga I’m used to there seems to be an emphasis on having a good time and the layering on of complexity within a sequence or a pose. I am certainly guilty of this. I think from the teacher's standpoint, If I were to teach the class Joe taught over and over again it would become stagnant and boring to me. However, from the student perspective this course of instruction is as healthy as I could imagine. Someone who does this practice daily will be picking themselves up off the floor at 90. If someone took my class daily they would likely be in a wheelchair by 70 (Just kidding of course).
This leads me to placing this Sivananda Yoga within the context of the flow of yoga today as I understand it. Unfortunately within the yoga world that I have been baptised, this practice would still be considered fringy. It’s entirely possible that the culture of Los Angeles is such that a practice such as Sivananda Vedānta Yoga can thrive. I acknowledge that the point is not to necessarily pack a studio room constantly, but there is the reality that us teachers must make a living, this means pulling clients in and retaining said clients. It clearly is in the best interests of studios to differentiate, this is healthy for the industry. After my visits to the Sivananda Vedānta Yoga center I’m of the opinion that this style’s compelling virtue is that it is literally “old school.” Like vinyl and flip phones making a come back, maybe Sivānanda yoga will become all the rage.
I recently did a workshop called "Yoga as Self-Mastery." Really it is more of a presentation/lecture type thing which can be tough for people to sit for so long. The overwhelming feedback was that this workshop should be done over a 3 day period in a retreat format. It is always a challenge for me to balance "academic" info pertaining to the subject matter and actual hands on training or simply moving the body. For example if the workshops topic is the Eight Limbed Path I don't want to use the time to do an asana flow. It's easy to find a yoga class, it's not easy to find deeper yoga training. Below is the topics we covered.
The true yogin is a Master of everything in his or her own life. To be a Master of your own Self is to fully understand who you really are and integrate all components of your humanness. Without a dedicated practice there can be no Self-Mastery. Yogins already practicing asana have taken a first step toward Self-Mastery, now it's time to learn the methodology behind Self-Mastery via the Eight Yogic Disciplines as outlined in the Yoga Sutras. The Eight Limbs are the Master Key to understanding the system of yoga. In this workshop you'll develop skills and acquire tools that will guide you into boldly being of service for your yourself, community and your business/family life.
WE WILL COVER:
Eight Yogic Disciplines
Yamas- Self disciples/restraints on behavior
Niyams- Spiritual observances
Asana- Seat, posture, practice of postures
Pranayama- Expansion of vital energy through control of breath
Pratyahara- Withdrawal of the senses
Self-Inquiry & Drishti
Template for creating a morning ritual
Goal Setting w/suggested template
We will tie it all together by discussing/analyzing the Authentic Leadership Model to drive the point that yoga is a complete system of personal development that has real world impacts.
Please keep a sharp eye for a retreat that I'm hashing out.
How does yoga reduce stress? A systematic review of mechanisms of change and guide to future Inquiry
Yoga is morphing into something much greater than a mere physical fitness regime. It is now being used to administer remedies in clinical offices the world wide. It’s efficacy for stress reduction is intuitively understood but remains poorly studied and understood in the western sense. The authors of this study searched databases conducting systematic reviews of other studies conducted targeted toward measuring stress management/reduction outcomes via the practice of yoga. The authors noted positive effects such as self-compassion and salivary control helped to regulate stress. However, given the numerous studies only seven mechanisms were identified that play a recognizable role in yoga and stress reduction.
This study was conducted by Kristen E. Riley and Crystal L. Park both working in the Department of Psychology at University of Connecticut. In this study from Health Psychology Review, 2015 the authors posit the mechanisms in which yoga impacts driving direct health benefits such as positivity, self-compassion, inhibition of the posterior hypothalamus and salivary cortisol levels. The researchers conducted research on existing studies to flesh out the ways in which (if at all) yoga reduces stress. Differentiating between psychological benefits versus more concrete measures such as bio-markers called “mechanisms.” The authors give a thorough explanation/definitions of stress, does yoga reduce the same, proposed mechanisms both biological and psychological, methodology, search criteria and finally synthesis and results.
This is an effort to create a snapshot of where research stands in terms of the efficacy of yoga and stress. As yoga continues to penetrate deep into the western mind empirical evidence is crucial if yoga is to gain respect as part of the healthcare system. Stress is a true killer, thus a sustained effort linking stress reduction to yoga is important as I believe the price point for a yoga intervention vis-á-vis our current HMO system is the best course of action.
The authors found 926 abstracts and filtered these down to 5 for systematic review. Weighed 4 for biomarkers and 3 for psychological mechanisms. It would have been best to have studied 6 total for an even comparison. The psychological mechanisms weight more toward the social sciences versus hard sciences making these factors more subjective. The studies used Hatha yoga as the controlling factor. This is a methodological flaw as Hatha could be as strenuous as a Bikram style yoga class or a gentle flow. Effort was made to compare “expert” yogis to new students without defining each, nor the complexity of asana for each. Results could be incorrect based upon whether inversions were offered to experts, where new students lack to skill to invert for example.
Biomarkers were used to success in measuring the HPA axis, baroreflex sensitivity and vagal nerve stimulation decrease. Specifically HPA axis showed positive endothelial function and release of nitric oxide. Endocrine response showed stress reduction measured by plasma cortisol levels and reduction in inflammation. Even short term yoga intervention demonstrated “increased activity of antiviral interferon regulatory factor, both associated with chronic stress” (382). One criticism I have is they used a study from 1983 using the hypothalamus as the mechanism. This study is to old in my view to be credible, supporting the idea that fresh research is sorely needed.
In conclusion, much more rigorous research needs to be done. Accurate control groups need to be setup to differentiate the styles of yoga and the level of practitioners. Yoga and stress reduction could have a tremendous impact on society, but the research needs to be methodized to include the fuller system of yoga to include the entire eight yogic disciplines of aṣtanga yoga. Siloing off different components of yoga, i.e. meditation, āsana or prāṇāyāma is too narrow in my view.
Kristen E. Riley & Crystal L. Park. How does yoga reduce stress? A systematic review of the mechanisms of change and guide to future inquiry. Health and Psychology Review. 15 April 2015.
I had the honor to record some of my stories on the Purple Podcast. Check it out!
I had the honor of being on the faculty for this awesome Baptiste Program held at Soul Yoga and Wellness in Santa Rosa, CA. As yoga teachers our ability to "listen" to a student is a key component to assisting the student to higher levels of yoga practice. A great yoga class is partially predicated upon the conversation between student and teacher. When a class has 50 people or more for example, how does the conversation take place? This is the art of teaching. It is possible to assist a student to greater or lesser depth in a pose as a teaching tool to speak through that student to the rest of the class. The trick is to ascertain trends specific to that class in asanas and give tools in the moment that make an immediate difference. This is very challenging to do. Folks will think a teacher is multitasking. But really what is happening is as a teacher gains years of experience teaching and practicing yoga sequences flow takes over and becomes second nature. The teacher can focus less on the mechanics as that part of the brain is on autopilot, and direct attention toward the art of listening and giving tools. This is what it means to move toward mastery.
How our mind perceives our body actually has a physical effect on the body. The mind is plastic and so is the body. Yoga helps to constantly reshape toward optimal functioning and it is our job as teachers to remind students constantly to clear the baffles so the mind and body communicates effectively. Most of the time we are not aware of what our mind perceives of our body unless of course we place our attention on the body. This is the yogic practices of dharana (focus, concentration) and dhyana (maintaining a focus, meditation). Teachers are constantly directing students to tune back in to breath as a pathway to body awareness. Also called drishti.
Learning to assist creates flow in a class adding to the experience and hopefully inspires students to keep coming back to the practice. As teachers we become more intimate with our students and this will speed up students capacity for deeper practice. Below is some notes taken by one of the students during the workshop. It just gives you a sense on the types of things a Baptiste Program would focus on. Although this is targeted toward assisting the whole is the goal in Baptiste and thus the Baptiste Methodology is always front and center.
Actions of Artful Assisting
- Attune to the student ( energy, breath, assist, appropriate for level of practice)
- Assist from your True North Alignment
- Align center to center
- Enter and exit with ease
- Be clear and purposeful
- Create flow
- Assist from the ground up
Types of Touch
Skin- Fingertips to indicate attention and direction. Impacts form.
Bone- C-shape hands to grasp and move bones. Impacts alignment.
Muscle- Palm with steady pressure. Impact action.
- Feet/Legs: Setting a strong foundation, knees straight and not hyper-extended, Internal-external rotation of femur as needed for the purpose of the pose.
- Hips- Neutral and balanced, round lower back for backbends, “hollow out” low back for forward fold
- Supine- Flexion, extension and rotation; ascension, and extension before rotation
- Arms- Shoulder integration with external rotation of humerus, shoulder blades pulled in towards spine, upper arm bones back.
- Do not pull shoulders back in upward facing dog
- Do not press shoulders down in down dog
- Do not pull on hands to open shoulders
- Do not pull hips up in bridge or wheel
- Do not press hips down in hip opening
- Do not press Thoracic spine down in forward folds
- Do not press feet down in inversions
- Do not press hips toward head in deaf man’s pose or plow
- Do not increase twist in supine twist
- Do not force anything
Types of Adv. Assisting
- 3 point Assist
- Prop Assist
- Partner Yoga Assist
- Thai Massage (muscle compression/ Joint traction)
- Transition Assist (enable movement to advance pose)
Hey Yoga Tribe,
I set up my little Canon GX7 Mark 11 and filmed about 30 minutes of one of my last classes that I taught at Frequency Yoga San Rafael, CA. I intended to film the entire class but I think the camera may have heated up and shut itself down. However, this particular class was really memorable with terrific energy and students that have attending my class for years. Please consider subscribing to my Youtube channel by clicking here.
This is a super powerful video. The images are better than words.
Please support the Veterans Yoga Project.
As an aside, as I move my life to Los Angeles this May (17) I will be shooting a vlog on my christianallaire.com website and youtube channel. Please follow along and subscribe.
I'm pleased to announce that I will be moving to Los Angeles to attend Loyal Marymount University's Yoga Masters Program. So so JAZZED!
On January 14th I had an inspiring experience teaching at the YJL conference in San Francisco. The event was held a the a Hyatt Regency along the San Francisco water front. It was pretty crazy to walk in and see my head on a poster board. First time for everything!
We had a great attendance for the free class, about 60 people or so. I'm super grateful to my 3 assistants from Baptiste Yoga San Francisco and all the super from my home studio in the city.
Here are some pictures from the event. Christian Allaire Yoga is thriving!
Christian Allaire Yoga. Veteran Turned Yoga