18 Aug 2013

New routine:

Up 05:50-0600. Wash.

Meditation 06:10-07:10

Walk 07:30-08:30

Work by 09:00

Lunch 13:00-15:00

Work 15:00-18:00

Yoga 18:15-19:15

This worked really nicely for me today. The main change in the above is switching yoga from morning to evening. After my neck injury last week, I realised that it is safer to stretch later in the day. And I enjoyed the walk before work, energising me for the morning after lying down for one song. Total time to myself, without any spiritual discipline, just me and the world waking up, with the rhythm of walking.

Meditation. Yesterday:

Learning to back off and observe more cleanly. Notice the steering and controlling and naturally step away, yet still entirely aware of what’s happening. As learning takes place, a different quality washes over the brain, one of space, freedom and often blissful energy. But not fantasy – this is very real, as real as all the gritty struggles and torments one is used to.

Today:

Unsteady foundations, like the floor of Bath Abbey built on thousands of graves. In sitting still, there can’t help but be an exposure of this wobbliness, and in the awareness of it, it dissipates. On going back to the breath each time, an intermediate stage was discovered. One of rejection or criticism. ‘I don’t want to think about that,’ therefore: back to the breath. This isn’t right practice. Yet right practice exposes this wrong practice. Then, once things are smoother and steadier, move to the body. This took ages to move very far. As soon as attention moved to sensations around the head, more unstableness was apparent. Then a thought loop, then back to the sensation, instability gone, until on a new area. By moving slowly, eventually I got to the injury recovered neck. So tight! Before the time was over, I’d skimmed down the arms but by this time I was wondering about the US Open and Federer’s form. Could sleep and sleep after but going for a walk.

Only on the way back I started to notice them. Slugs. Every one or two meters a couple more, most of them were the little white ones. The road was damp after the night’s rain so probably they would be able to get across without dehydrating. I rescued one or two of them with small sticks and put them in the grass. And yet there were too many of them to save them all. It was very warm in the direct sunshine, at 8 a.m., a quiet Sunday morning except for the main road, cars firing along, Red Bull cans along the verges. I picked a couple of them up that had been left in the lane. The walk today, down past the old farm shop, past the cottage with the Aston Martin along Riversdown Road (a lane), then across the A272 towards Woodlands. In the half hour out I almost got as far as the old school. A kind of steamy air, and slightly misty along the straight road at Brockwood Bottom, the sun rays coming through the trees and the mist. Glad to be out, and be able to be out, before work. Stepping on acorns and hazelnuts, crunching satisfactorily underfoot, kicking fallen sticks off of the road, dead wood fallen during quite a stormy night, the wind up. This morning, much stiller and the summer drawing to an end.

Worked on organising Spanish translated books all day. The architect of the Krishnamurti Centre, Keith Critchlow, gave a tour of the building to guests and visitors. I joined the group for a while. He said that Krishnamurti said that if he were a visitor, he would sit in the quiet library and listen to the sounds of the fountain in the courtyard. Thanks to donations, the fountain will soon be restored after years of not working.

Evening yoga, the first since the injury. Was able to do a short headstand without a problem, and otherwise going steady and gently. Pauses between poses, rushes of energy making me yawn and sometimes scrunch my face up. At one point my arm shook like in meditation.

A clear, aware, grounded day, once the foundations had been set early on.

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10 Aug 2013

Woke at seven after going to sleep just after eleven.

Deep dreams these nights. Scenarios that last and last. I can’t leave them, even if I want to, and last nights was a continual getting ready to leave a hotel-like place, or maybe a hall of residence. But I was too drunk. Or disorganised. Long time periods would pass and I’d done nothing at all to prepare.

Sitting this morning was uneventful. Some unsettledness was close by, so I moved towards it, yet most of the time all was lost in little thought stories. However, a sense of deepening stillness behind the thinking bubbles. Sat in half lotus some of the time but soon got pins and needles so back to both feet on the ground, one leg slightly in front of the other, so that neither leg weighs on the other.

A simple yoga sequence today after the long review of poses yesterday. Shoulder stand, plough, forward bend. Repeat. Sit quietly. And that’s it. Some nervy sensations back of the neck. The flaw in today’s routine – straight into the shoulder stand with no warm ups. I should know that this isn’t a good idea, especially with my prone to be stiff neck, so suffering all day from very stiff trapezius both sides. 

Then an open day with absolutely no plans. Put together the walk video from yesterday:

A nap before lunch. A shortish walk with C in the afternoon, laughing together at many things. Otherwise, listening to music, and looking at suggestions from this Reddit post: What’s the one song you’d recommend for someone to listen to to get into your music genre? Most interesting for me was the chill wave, underground jazz hip hop and the chillstep. Watched some elephants on the telly. Incredible creatures! To bed early to continue reading the 60s yoga book.

9 Aug 2013

Woke at seven, after sleeping at eleven.

A good, satisfying meditation. Soon came the feelings of bliss, and a sense of light. Before long, there was that nagging feeling of looking in the wrong place or of neglecting something, so then I looked in that direction instead of the usual fritting about in thought, and there it was, the raw emotion of fear. So now that got bathed in the light of the mind emptied. What is the point of an empty mind and bliss when there is something left out? No, meditation has to include it all. It’s a total thing, or as total as it can be at any sitting, given that there are blind spots and deeper neglects waiting to be felt, addressed, acknowledged, listened to, unfolded, bathed. And then they are no longer what they were, what I thought they were, once met fully. So, to follow the nagging . It’s there waiting to be followed and soon, on the following of the gritty areas, even more ecstasy arises as the conflict dissolves. There’s the feeling, then the unfolding, bathing, and then passing beyond to newness and change.

Once I felt no more fear, I moved down into the body, as that has to be included too. I got as far as the stiff neck before the hour was up. What’s the good of a clear mind and heart if the body is still riddled? Again, include it all. No short cuts or fooling oneself.

I’m left with a curious longing in my heart. I’m following its lead as I begin today’s yoga.

Stopping in between postures is so important. This is when the energy of the posture can go to work on the system. I stop still for a minute and let everything settle down again , and for whatever has arisen to go where it wants to go. A strange pulsing at the base of the spine, rhythmical and pleasurable. Eyes fluttering. A little daydream. Pause. Then on to the next pose, steady and attentive.

I’m more and more interested in doing what is real and not what other people are concerning themselves a with. Not that what they are doing isn’t real, but my concern with their actions or opinions is immaterial and fading. Not to be self obsessed but our own selves are the important thing, how we are spending our on time an what’s going on within us. It’s easy to spend a lot of time concerned about others. No one needs your concern, even if they crave your attention.

At 11, out for a walk on the South Downs, continuing along the Allan King’s Way, the second to last stage. I parked up on Gander Down, where I got to last time, and hiked over the rolling countryside and down to Tichborne. From there it was a short hop over the A31 and further downhill to Ovington. Old cottages on the lane down to the river and the Bush Inn, in high contrast to lorry drivers shitting in the woods just above. A quick lunch in the shady garden then along the valley a bit on Lovington Lane, and left the King’s Way to head back to the Downs. The normally peaceful countryside now with bass on the breeze. The Boomtown Fair at Mattersley Bowl. After some shade on winding paths through woods, and back over the A31, my route took me into the car park. I had no idea it would. So there I was, hiking into the festival grounds. I explained to the security why I had no wrist band and where I wanted to go. It was like walking alongside some sort of prison. A trench had been dug outside of a high, green fence. A woman sat on guard high on a corner watch tower. Ska music early afternoon. The party one day in. Later, along the South Downs Way again, I met a few walking to the site. They had a ladder for the fence. Join us, they said. I forgot to tell them about the guard tower so I don’t expect they got in. Their van was parked near my car, scribbled graffiti and twitter accounts all over it.

A sleep back at home, then good to lounge about after the walking. Snippets of TV. Tyre walls on Grand Designs. An elephant mourning the loss of its friend. The brother in Little Miss Sunshine not speaking ‘because of Nietzsche’.  Uploaded this from our Swedish holiday last month:

Came back from a night in London with a foot detoxification bath thing. I’ve no idea what it’s about but I stuck my feet in for half an hour. The water stunk! It felt nice around my toes, like bicarb of soda. Even if nothing else happened, my feet felt really clean and light afterwards.

8 Aug 2013

Woke naturally just after 6.

I’ve been sitting consistently each morning, just haven’t been writing about it. It’s not easy to do, this waking up, feeling however you’re feeling, and instead of getting busy doing the day, just… ceasing. On the cushion. You and your stuff and your relation to it. The relation is the key. Or maybe the ‘you’. And the return of ‘yesterday’. There’s yesterday to remind you of things that perhaps you don’t want to be reminded of. Residues. Fifteen thousand yesterdays, maybe. There it is. And yesterday isn’t only in the mind, but riddled throughout the body. The past, held. And here you are, with the day ahead, the past inside, the breath happening right now yet affected by ‘later’ and ‘earlier’, the breath a link between mind and body. There’s still some shaking taking place, particularly the right arm, the over-busy right arm. And the neck. And sometimes the shaking overtakes everything until the whole upper body is a wobble. This is when the slight nausea comes and when all control ceases.

I’ve been redoing the Hittleman 28 day course to reboot my yoga practice. Straight after sitting, I’m focused and calmer, able to dive into the various stretches, pleasant to move after the stillness. It’s a very good, progressive course, varied in its asanas, without the obsession with standing poses of Iyengar, and absolutely no trace of yoga flow or vinyasasa styles. This is 1960s yoga. It ties in well with the book I’m reading: Yoga, Youth and Reincarnation, again from the 60s, before yoga became a big thing. The same results are mentioned and experienced from so many unrelated sources of so many eras. Unrelated practitioners and teachers, but common health-giving properties. I’m feeling fit and well and strong on it.

Much later on the local news: “Tomorrow, we’ll be looking at how yoga is helping former servicemen.”

When walking to the school, skirting around the podgy pigeons so they don’t have to fly away. Two meters is the limit. No sudden moves. Two young ones, looking slim like doves.

A young bunny having a good scratch behind the ears. My last day of looking after the chickens. Yesterday a hen died. Old age. Only three left now after the original 20. The cocky cock tried to sneak up on me from under the coop. But I had my stick and I saw his tactic. I held the stick out in front of me and he’s so charged that he’ll jump at it, trying to attack with his sharp spurs. When that failed, he started making some strange clucky sounds and then he took it out a bit on the mother duck. She shouted at him and then he went off looking for the other cockerel, the punky one, to pick on at the other end of the orchard. Any time a chicken feeds, the ducklings scurry over to pick up any pellets spilled from the chickens pecking at the feeder. It’s the mother’s second brood this year.

On a break, feeding the fish in the courtyard pond. The orange fish’s colour is fading on the head and underside. It happened while I was away a week and the weather got very hot. I read that changes in water quality can do it, or just old age. They feed more tamely now but still do the sudden darting away to avoid being eaten, I guess, swirling the food flakes behind them. No sign of the newts. How do newts get in a pond surrounded on all sides by a building?

Read online: “For every one human killed by a shark, there are approximately 25 million sharks killed by humans.”

An hour’s walk late afternoon,  over to Bramdean and back – along the ridge then dropping down to The Fox, armed with my bramble beating spear of a walking stick. Sunny, low 20s.

Steve Tyler on Top Gear. Hard to take my eyes of his face. What is it with this rock & roll long hair, shaman, things-in-hair look? Much of a cliche. Clarkson generally looking old and ill especially when pulling his daft faces. Last feature, James & Jeremy ‘reviewing’ caravan cars, those jacked up versions of regular cars. May called one “The Nisan Kumquat”. They joke that they are all the same. Clarkson: “James is in the wrong car.” He was. James: “Cock!” The Mazda perfectly happy to crash into a VW but not a hedge or legs, apparently a selective crash detector. Caravan racing: The Stig towing a suddenly one-wheeled caravan, sparks flying. Then some off road caravanning. May: “I’ve run over your left wall and your portable lavatory.” Then: “I was laughing so much I crashed into myself.” 

120825

The end of a three day weekend. Yep, my weekends always end on Saturdays. Supper of brown rice and leek fried in coconut oil. This after 20 minutes sitting, after an Iyengar class with Silvia who is still here on her summer visit. Busier classes now that people are back from the summer break – just the adults, with students here next week. I learn so much in an Iyengar class. The subtleties of a pose can be understood while the body is supported using aids, while feeling what the completed pose is like. The strain of moving towards a full pose is taken away, allowing the awareness to explore the anatomy and energetic movements of the asana you are in.

After class I was asking the optimum times to practice per week, having had a start-stop practice since the mid-90s and recently settling into a shorter session six mornings a week, plus a weekly evening class. She confirmed always to leave one day free from asana for the body to rest and assimilate, and recommended four to six times per week. The book Yoga: The Iyengar Way by the Mehta sisters was recommended for its practice programmes Not one review less than 3 stars.

It’s a cliche, but yoga practiced regularly will change your life. Bound to.

Otherwise, I’ve been at Brockwood since the walk on Thursday, not doing very much. Well, we are always doing something, no? My direction in what to do comes from learning about doing things that don’t affect negatively your next doings. This has been my learning for many years, from eating unhealthily today making me tired the next day; taking caffeine today meaning tomorrow I’ve go to do the same; high from drinking or drugs tonight meaning a slump tomorrow or longer; staying up late, grumpy in the morning; watching stuff for the sake of it, meaning the brain has to unwind it and body relax again. So, I’ve been learning about what makes me feel weller the next day, hour, moment. They say live in the now, not for the future, but I will not forsake the future for some weak gratification now. Sounds square but it really is not. I remember in my teens reading in a book about golf. It said the art of golf is to play the ball in such a way that it makes the next play the easiest. It’s like that. Not through resistance, will or effort though. Do and see, see and do.

Light on Life by BKS Iyengar – Chapter 7: Living In Freedom

Here is my last selection of quotes and extracts from Light on Life. In this final chapter, he’s writing about ethics, conceptions of God, truth, together with the full meaning of yoga.

The yogi is utterly disinterested but paradoxically full of being engagement of compassion. He is in the world but not of it.

Spiritual maturity exists when there is no difference between thought itself and the action that accompanies it. If there is a discrepancy between the two, then one is practising self-deception and projecting a false image of oneself.

Yogic knowledge is a centripetal force, for ever discarding the irrelevant in order to invest in search for the core of being where enduring truth resides.

Savasana is about relaxation, but what prevents relaxation? Tension. Tension results from clutching tightly to life–and in turn being held by the myriad invisible threads that ties us to the known world, the known ‘I’, and the known environment in which it operates.

To relax is to cut tension. To cut tension is to cut the threads that bind us to identity. To lose identity is to find out who we are not. Intelligence is the scalpel that cuts away the unreal to leave only the truth. As you are lying on the earth in savasana, do you not when the posture is harmonious and balanced, feel both present and formless? When you feel present yet formless, do you not feel an absence of specific identity? You are there, but who’s there? No one. Only present awareness without movement and time is there. Present awareness is the disappearance of time in human consciousness.

If you try to imagine time without using spatial concepts you will find it extremely difficult.

As a length of time, the present simply does not exist. How then can we live in the present? It is a paradoxical impossibility.

Dharma is about the search for enduring ethical principles, about the cultivation of right behaviour in physical, moral, mental, psychological, and spiritual dimensions.

The earliest Latin root of the word ‘religion’ means to be aware, and absolute awareness will never perceive difference or conflict.

The yogi cannot be afraid to die, because he has brought life to every cell of his body. We are afraid to die because we are afraid we have not lived.

One’s spiritual growth is only ever demonstrated by one’s actions in the world.

Ethics is the glue that binds earth to heaven. One cannot serve two masters. The only way human beings can reconcile the paradox of the demands of earth and soul is through the observation of ethical principles.

Cheats always lose. They are unmasked because they are transparently dishonest, deceive themselves, and fail in their human duty.

Action mirrors man’s personality better than his words.

It is better not to believe in God and act as though he existed, than to believe in God and act as if he did not exist.

Normally when we question anyone about whether he believes in God or not, we reduce God to a material thing. We reduce him to the level of matter, to something that can be believed in. Therefore it becomes a matter of belief. As the universe, which is beyond the reach of our consciousness, is unknown to us, so the entity that is God, which is beyond the reach of our consciousness, is unknown to us.

As has one increasingly feels the existence and pull of the divine, one’s actions more easily align with the ethical impulse of the absolute.

Spirituality is not playacting at being holy but the inner passion and urge for self realisation and the need to find the ultimate purpose of our existence.

Truth is an absolute of staggering power.

As yoga practice develops and the afflictions and obstacles to yoga interfere with us less, we begin to have some inkling of the glory of truth.

We should not use truth as a club with which to beat other people. Morality is not about looking at other people and finding them inferior to ourselves. Truth has got to be tempered with social grace.

Love is an investment, lust is a waste.

Ego is on an elastic and will always pull you back. Only the practice of meditation will eventually erode the attraction between ego and self-identity.

Surrender to God is not surrender to what you think God wants. It is not surrender to your conception of the will of God. It is not God giving you instructions. As long as ego persists, your interpretation of God’s wishes will be fragmented by the distorting prism of ego.

The ultimate reach of yoga is the total transformation of consciousness that pervades our whole being with awareness and that knows no frontiers.

My body and mind are the servers and followers of the soul. The unity of these three gives me the right to call myself a yogi.

The complexity of the life of the mind comes to an end at death, with all its sadness and happiness. If one is already free from that complexity, death comes naturally and smoothly.

Light on Life by BKS Iyengar – Chapter 6: Bliss – The Divine Body – Part 2

This full-on section relates to samadhi. Here are some extracts I selected from this second half of the sixth chapter:

From cosmic intelligence sprouts cosmic energy and consciousness, and from these devolves ego or the sense of self.  From the one root comes duality (which is the ability to separate), from duality comes vibration (which is the pulse of life beginning), from vibration comes invisible manifestation, and from the invisible comes the visible in all its glorious and horrendous diversity and multiplicity. This end product is what we take the world to be–our playground, our paradise, or our hell and our prison. If we misapprehend nature, take it at face value, through ignorance, then it is our prison.

Yoga examines in order to know, like science, but it wants to know in order to penetrate, to integrate, and to reconstruct through practice and detachment the perfection of nature’s original intention. In other words, it wants to reach the root and cut out the intervening turbulence. It does not want to be hoodwinked by nature’s appearance, but to adhere to its original motivation.

So many people approach spiritual growth as if it were a lottery. They hope that some new book or new method, some new insight or teacher will be the lottery ticket that allows them to experience enlightenment. Yoga says no, the knowledge and the effort are all within you. It is as simple and as difficult as learning to discipline our own minds and hearts, our bodies and breath.

When we are in the suspension of breath in the deepest meditation – a spontaneous, as it were, God-willed retention – we enter the black hole, the vortex of nothingness, the void. Yet somehow we survive. The curtain of time, time that inexorably brings death, is parted. This is a state of nonbeing, but a living nonbeing. It is a present devoid of past or future. There is no self, no meditator, no longer even any breather. What comes out of that black hole, that nothingness? Information. What is the information? The truth. What is the truth? Samadhi.

For the beginner, samadhi is an alluring subject. But there are reasons not to get fixated on it. The beginner can only conceive of samadhi as a glorification of the self he knows.

It is said that the meaning of life becomes apparent only in the face of death. At this point in practice the ego dissolves, or rather it gives up its impersonation of the true self.

In meditation, consciousness faces the soul itself. Samadhi is seeing soul face to face. It is not a passive state. It is a dynamic one in which the consciousness remains in a state of equilibria in all circumstances. The disturbances of the mind and emotions fade away, and we are able to see true reality.

After significant effort, a yoga practitioner reaches a state where some are some asana poses are effortless. What we achieve here externally is achieved through samadhi internally. It is an effortless state, where one experiences the grace of the self. This is a state of great bliss and fulfilment.

If anybody says, “I am teaching meditation,” then as a student of yoga I say, “It is rubbish,” because meditation cannot be taught it can only be experienced.

Sabija means ‘with seed’. What this means is that although the experience of bliss is felt, the seeds of desire remain in the ego as future potential. Even after the experience of samadhi, these seeds can sprout again and cause a relapse. The ego has not been entirely purified by the fire of the experience. This particular point on the yogic journey, although so elevated, is one of danger as it can become a wasteland in which the practitioner gets stuck. This state is called manolaya, which means an alert, passive state of mind. But in this context, it implies a complacency with what has been achieved and a tendency to slacken efforts to complete the final step of the journey. The yogi cannot rest on his laurels but must press on to the higher states of samadhi in which even the seeds of desire are burnt out from the ego forever and can never sprout or trouble him again. This is known as nirbija samadhi (seedless) in which the feeling of bliss is not dependent at all, even on a vestigial eager. This is the bliss of the absolute void, of nonbeing transformed into the light of being.

I can assure you that everyone seeks samadhi, and most of us seek shortcuts to get there.

People seek somebody through drugs, alcohol, the danger of extreme sports, the romanticism of music, the beauty of nature, and the passion of sexuality. There are 1000 ways and they all involve the transcendence of the suffering ego in a blissful fusion with an entity much greater than ourselves.

Change leads to disappointment if it is not sustained. Transformation is sustained change, and it is achieved through practice.

Dreams of the divine union, however high their aspirations, contain an element of fantasy. They may not be sustainable. We must have spiritual aspiration not spiritual pretension.

Yoga is solid. It is the path I know, the path I trod, the path I teach. Everyone desires relief from both the restrictions of personality and its impermanence. Everyone desires samadhi. From the dawn of his history, man has sought dangerous, shoddy shortcuts as well as noble ones. Called the hard, sustained progress of yoga a long cut if you will, but if it is a long cut, then so is the flight of an arrow.

 

 

120618 Inversions; The egress

All relaxed and floppy after this evening’s Iyengar class in Winchester. At one stage we used our bottoms to prop up a partner’s tummy in half moon (ardha chandrasana). This was a first. I didn’t have much of a tummy to prop up but it still helped get the correct torso rotation to the wall. Then I  hoisted a lady’s ample midriff using my bum. This is a great little class with eight regulars that I’ve been attending for over a year. The teacher is Sandy Bell, who is very knowledgable and gives so much guidance, including some fun partner work. The focus tonight was space between the hips and armpits, elongating, opening. It really helps to have a theme for each class, something I’ll look at when teaching again come autumn. I’m really hoping a visiting Iyengar teacher will stay at Brockwood over the summer as she did last year.

Summer… just a couple of days away. Today’s outdoors lunchtime conversation was also about yoga, talking about the benefits of inversions, and ones you can do without putting the neck at risk: down dog, legs up the wall, half shoulder stand, handstand – for example. No, legs up the wall isn’t a true inversion but has many benefits and is supremely relaxing. Some benefits of inversions: Cardiovascular; Mental clarity; Hormonal balance; Blood pressure regulation; Lymphatic drainage; Nervous system health. But lists of benefits aren’t so beneficial – one has to do it.

I’ll leave you with a picture of my fly – why not? THIS WAY TO THE EGRESS –>

Light on Life by BKS Iyengar – Chapter 6: Bliss – The Divine Body – Part 1

Selected extracts from the first half of the sixth chapter:

Let us therefore sift through everything, says yoga, every component of a human being that we can find and identify–our bodies, breath, energy, sickness and health, brain and anger, and pride in our power and possessions. Above all, yoga says, let us examine this mysterious “I”, ever present and conscious of itself, but invisible in the mirror or on any photograph.

What yoga means by ignorance can perhaps be best translated as nescience, which simply means not knowing. So to Hindus, the archenemy is a state of not knowing. What don’t we know when we are ignorant?  The answer is this: you don’t know what is real and what is not real. You don’t know what is enduring and what is perishable. You don’t know who you are and who you are not. Your  whole world is upside down because you take the artefacts in your living room to be more real than the unity that connects us all, more real than the relations and obligations that unite us all.  Perceiving the links and associations that bind the cosmos in a seamless whole is the object of yoga’s journey of discovery.

We are not required simply to adjust our vision, but to turn it inside out as well as outside in, a complete reversal. It means that ultimate truth is inconceivable in normal consciousness.

Only a life built on spiritual values (dharma) is based firmly in truth and will stand up to the shocks of life.

It is this the egoic “me” that does not want to die. This impersonation of soul by ego is at the base of all human woes, and this is the root of avidya (ignorance).

No lovers, servants, riches, cars, houses, or public acclaim can salve the wound of a dysfunctional relationship with our origin. Know your father, said Lord Jesus. By this statement he was directly addressing the problem of not knowing (avidya).

We all know the phrase concerning death: you can’t take it with you. This is true. I cannot take my ego beyond the grave, and I certainly can’t take my car, my land, or my bank account.

There is nothing wrong with shedding tears for ones we love, but we must know for whom they are shared–for the loss of those who remain and not for those who have departed.

We conclude that we must perpetuate ego at all costs, through dynasties, fame, great buildings, and all immortality projects aimed at cheating the grim reaper. What rubbish, says yoga.

Look for the light. Ego is not the source of light. Consciousness transmits the divine light of origin, of the soul. But it is like the moon; it reflects the light of the sun. It has no light of its own. Find the sun, says yoga, discover the soul. That is what Hatha Yoga means.

Discover what does not die, and the illusion of death is unmasked. That is the conquest of death.

We have to keep on questioning ourselves, or else transformation will not take place. Advance with faith, yes, but always call yourself into question. Where there is pride there is always ignorance.

Inside the microcosm of the individual exists the macrocosm of the universe.

The eyes are the window of the brain, the years are the window of the soul. This is contrary to popular wisdom, but when the senses are withdrawn (pratyahara) this is the true experience.

When we can play with the elements within our own bodies, with their own renewal and disproportion and rebalancing, then we are aware of nature at a level that is not apprehend double in the normal way it is supranatural, as normal consciousness is blind to it.

Light on Life by BKS Iyengar – Chapter 5: Wisdom – The Intellectual Body – Part 2

Selected extracts from the second half of the fifth chapter:

This is not yoga by the body for the body, but yoga by the body for the mind, for the intelligence.

The intelligence we are now developing depends upon emotional and moral maturity, the ability to value truth and respect ethical conduct, the capacity to feel love in its more universal sense as compassion.

The role of awareness is to fill the gaps that inevitably exist between the physical and organic sheaths of our bodies when we practice yoga.

The power we generate through yoga practice must become a coherent and indissoluble whole.

Energy and awareness act as friends. Where one goes, the other follows. It is by the will of awareness to penetrate that intelligence, is able to move into and occupy the darkest inner recesses of our being.

We say intelligence has insight. We should complement that by saying that soul has ‘outsight’;  it is a beacon shining out.

Considerable achievements also bring in their wake considerable dangers. An obvious one is pride–not satisfaction in a job well done, but a sense of superiority and difference, of distinction and eminence.

Yoga is an interior penetration leading to integration of being, senses, breath, mind, intelligence, consciousness, and Self. It is definitely an inward journey, evolution through involution, towards the Soul, which in turn desires to emerge and embrace you in its glory.

The pursuit of pleasure through appearances, which I connect here to superficiality of intent, is quite simply the wrong way to go about things. To pursue pleasure is to pursue pain in equal measure. When appearance is more important to us than content we can be sure we have taken the wrong turning.

High intelligence brings the gift of power, and we all know that power corrupts. When intelligence is corrupted it brings woe upon ourselves and upon the world.

If we live outwardly virtuous lives, it is easy to convince ourselves that there is nothing else wrong with us. Often this is the besetting sin of the puritan or religious fanatic. We often both suppress the truth and suggest the false. Ego aids and abets all flaws of intelligence.

Conscience hurts, it causes us pain. We say we are pricked by conscience. … That is because it lies of the paradox of what it means to be a spiritual being living in a physical body in a material world.

Paying attention in yogic terms is not concentration. True concentration is an unbroken thread of awareness.

In a perfect asana, performed meditatively and with a sustained current of concentration, the self assumes its perfect form, its integrity being beyond reproach. This is asana performed at the sattvic level, where luminosity infuses the whole pose.

I am practising asana but at a level where the quality is meditative. The totality of being, from core to skin, is experienced. Mind is unruffled, intelligence is awake in heart rather than in head, self is quiescent, and conscious life is in every cell of the body. That is what I mean when I say asana opens up the whole spectrum of yoga’s possibilities.

I have often said that yoga is meditation,  and meditation is yoga. Meditation is the stilling of the movements of consciousness. It is bringing the turbulent sea to a state of flat calm. This calm is not torpid or inert. It is a deep tranquillity, pregnant with all the potential of creation.

The yogi is journeying from the world of things and events, which are so joyful, painful, baffling, and unending, back to the point of stillness before the waves were ruffled.

Do not confuse aloneness with loneliness. Loneliness is separation from the cosmos. Aloneness is to become the common denominator of the cosmic all.

Is this the end? Are we there yet? No. There remains the ego, the self, the known self, the impersonator of the soul. He is the last actor to leave the stage. He lingers even for the very final handclap of applause. What forces him off the stage? Silence and retention of the breath.

Just as the cessation of the movement of thought brings purity to intelligence, so a motiveless retention effaces ego. What the practitioner eventually experiences is not that at some point he suspends the breath. He is no longer the subject, the agent. The breath breathes him. What this means is that at the highest level of meditation the cosmos breathes you.

The unpremeditated retention of breath after exhalation opens the gap in the curtain of time. No past, no future, no sense of passing present. Only presence.

The end of duality that comes from meditation is the end of separation and the end of all conflict. The yogi stands one and alone.

Light on Life by BKS Iyengar – Chapter 5: Wisdom – The Intellectual Body – Part 1

Selected extracts from the first half of the fifth chapter:

Our individual intelligence, though an essential rudder to guide us, is merely a puny offshoot of cosmic intelligence, which is the organising system of the universe. This intelligence is everywhere and like air we constantly bathe in it and imbibe it.

Intelligence is the operating system of cosmic awareness.

You can force a piano up three flights of stairs but you cannot force the febrile human mind to be still. All you can do is train it to be vigilant toward all that disturbs its equilibrium.

Memory for past, imagination for future. Squashed between the two,  we lose the ability to use direct perception on what really is–i.e. now, the present.

‘If it feels good, do it’  is not a maxim to be trusted in the long run. All philosophies recognise that a pleasure seeker will end up as a pain finder. The ancient Greeks said that moderation was the greatest virtue.

When awareness is linked to intelligence we are able to see with absolute honesty. When brain and body are moving in harmony there is integrity.

A cleansed memory is one that does not contain undigested emotions from the unconscious but that deals with feelings in the present as they arise.

If one feels heavy and dull after sleep then that sleep has been tamasic. Disturbed, agitated sleep is rajasic.  Sleep that brings lightness, brightness, and freshness is sattvic.

Peaceful deep sleep, experienced while alert and awake, is samadhi. When the mind is controlled and still, what remains is the soul.  The absence of ego in the state of sleep is akin to samadhi,  but it is dull and without awareness. Samadhi  is the  egolessness of sleep combined with the vibrancy of intelligence.

If we feed our minds on violent images, thoughts, and words, our unconscious will regurgitate them in disturbed dreams. Just as right imagination opens the creative mind, right sleep exhilarates the mind and brings alertness.

Often as students do savasana  or attempt meditation they drift into an agreeable torpor, as if they were swaddled in cotton wool. This is not the prelude to samadhi but to sleep.

Good sleep makes consciousness brilliant. Poor sleep leaves it tarnished.

We say,  “If only I’d known then what I know now.” But what we know now does not seem to stop this from making more mistakes. The yogic blueprint says that right knowledge and erroneous knowledge are two modifications, or states, of consciousness. By the practice of yoga we can lessen and eradicate misperception and wrong knowledge and again accurate perception and right knowledge.

An opinion is yesterday’s right or wrong knowledge warmed up and re-served  for today’s situation. So opinions are rooted in the past and our examination of memory has shown us that the past can be a minefield.

When what is wrong is discarded what is left must be correct. As intelligence expands in consciousness then ego and mind contract to their proper proportions. They no longer rule the roost but serve intelligence.

We are seeking to cultivate wisdom, to transform mental dexterity or cleverness, which all people possess in some degree, into the penetrating clear light of wisdom.

Light on Life by BKS Iyengar – Chapter 2: Stability – Part 2

Chapter 2: Stability – The Physical Body (Asana) – Part 2:

Here are some more extracts and quotes I found valuable in the second part of this chapter:

The mind does not balance when you force.

After reaching the final pose, one has to learn to let go of the effort and tautness of the muscles and shift the load onto the ligaments and joints so that they hold the asana steadily without even the breath causing the body to waver.

Focus on relaxing as you hold the stretch, not clenching, but relaxing and opening. This relaxes the brain as well as the body.

Notice your eyes as well, as you hold the stretch. Tenseness of the eyes also affects the brain. If the eyes are still and silent, the brain is still and passive. The brain can learn only when it begins to relax.

If the asana is done with continual reference to the back of the brain there is a reaction to each action and there is sensitivity. Then life is not only dynamic but is also electrified with life force.

One who knows the art of relaxation also knows also knows the art of meditation.

When an asana is done correctly the body movements are smooth and there is lightness in the body and freedom in the mind. When an asana is felt as heavy it is wrong.

Think of yourself as graceful and expanding however unlikely it may seem at the time.

When we lose this lightness our bodies shrink. The moment the body shrinks the brain becomes heavy and dull, and you see nothing. The doors of perception are closed.

We are seeking the balance of polarity not the antagonism of duality.

When performing asanas no part of the body should be idle, no part should be neglected.

Illustration: Tadasana (Mountain Pose) from Yoga Wisdom and Practice by BKS Iyengar

When the intellect is stable, there is no past, no future, only present.  Do not live in the future; only the present is real.

In asana, we find balance and integration in the three dimensions of space, but we also find balance and integration in the fourth dimension of time.

Many people focus on the past or the future to avoid experiencing the present, often because the present is painful or difficult to endure. In a yoga class, many students think they must simply grit their teeth and bear it until the teacher tells them they can come out of the asana. This is seeing yoga as calisthenics and is the wrong attitude.

It is not that yoga is causing all of this pain; the pain is already there. It is hidden. We just live with it or have learned not to be aware of it.

The goal is to do the asana with as much possible intensity of intelligence and love. To do this, one must learn the difference between “right” pain and “wrong” pain. Right pain is not only constructive but also exhilarating and involves challenge, while wrong pain is destructive and causes excruciating suffering.

If the practice of today damages the practice of tomorrow it is not correct practice.

When we extend and expand our body consciousness beyond its present limitations we are working on the frontier of the known toward the unknown by an intelligent expansion of our awareness.

When everything else is stripped away the essential is revealed.

The test of a philosophy is whether it is applicable now in how you live your life.

An asana is not a posture that can ever be assumed mechanically.

Practitioners of the asanas alone often forget that yoga is for cultivating the head and the heart.

You must purge yourself before finding faults in others. When you see a mistake in someone else try to find if you are making the same mistake.

In asana and pranayama practice we should have the impression we are working on the outer to get closer to the inner reality of our existence.

There is no such thing as a doorway that you can only go through one way. Yes, we are trying to penetrate in, but what is trying to come out to meet us?

The body is the bow, asana the arrow, and soul is the target.

How can you do asana with your soul? We can only do it with the organ of the body that is closest to the soul – the heart.

Light on Life by BKS Iyengar – Chapter 2: Stability – Part 1

Extracts from Chapter 2: Stability – The Physical Body (Asana)

It’s a long chapter, so this is Part 1:

Yoga is as old and traditional as civilization, yet it persists in modern society as a means to achieving essential vitality. But yoga demands that we develop not only strength in body but attention and awareness in mind.

Yoga offers us techniques to become aware, to expand and penetrate, and to change and evolve.

As you explore your own body you are in fact exploring the earth element of nature itself.

[One] must do asana not merely as a physical exercise but as a means to understand and then integrate our body with breath, with our mind, with our intelligence, with our consciousness, with our conscience, and with our core.

Yoga has a threefold impact on health. It keeps healthy people healthy, it inhibits the development of diseases, and it aids recovery from ill health.

You have to create within yourself the experience of beauty, liberation, and infinity. This is health.

As long as the body is not in perfect health, you are caught in body consciousness alone. This distracts you from healing and culturing the mind. We need sound bodies so we can develop sound minds.

Sensitivity is not weakness or vulnerability. It is clarity of perception and allows judicious, precise action.

The effects of impurity are highly undesirable. They cause us to develop a hard shell around us. If we construct a stiff shell between ourselves and the world outside our skin, we rob ourselves of most of life’s possibilities. We are cut off from the free flow of cosmic energy. It becomes difficult in every sense to let nourishment in or to let toxic waste out. We live in a capsule, what a poet called a “vain citadel.”

Central heating, air conditioning, cars that we take out to drive three hundred yards, towns that stay lit up all night, and food imported from around the world out of season are all examples of how we try to circumvent our duty to adapt to nature and instead force nature to adapt to us. In the process, we become both weak and brittle. Even many of my Indian students who all now sit on chairs in their homes are becoming too stiff to sit in lotus position easily.

Does not the American Declaration of Independence talk of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness? If a yogi had written that, he would have said Life, Happiness, and the Pursuit of Liberty.

If you say you are your body, you are wrong. If you say you are not your body, you are also wrong.

How does one find such profound transformation in what from the outside may look simply like stretching or twisting the body into unusual positions? It begins with awareness.

The sensitive awareness of the body and the intelligence of the brain and heart should be in harmony. The brain may instruct the body to do a posture, but the heart has to feel it, too. The head is the seat of intelligence; the heart is the seat of emotion. Both have to work in cooperation with the body.

The duty of the brain is to receive knowledge from the body and then guide the body to further refine the action. Pause and reflect between each movement. This is progression in attention. Then in the stillness you can be filled with awareness.

When we ask ourselves, “What am I doing?” and “Why am I doing it?” our minds open. This is self-awareness. However, it is necessary to point out that students should be self-aware, not self-conscious. Self-consciousness is when the mind constantly worries and wonders about itself, doubting constantly and being self-absorbed.

If you do not know the silence of the body, you cannot understand the silence of the mind.

When action and silence combine like the two plates of an automobile’s clutch, it means that intelligence is in gear.

The moment you bring attention, you are creating something, and creation has life and energy.

Extension is attention, and expansion is awareness.

Overstretching occurs when one looses contact with one’s center, with the divine core. Instead, the ego wants simply to stretch further, to reach the floor, regardless of its ability, rather than extending gradually from the center.

Always try to extend and expand the body. Extension and expansion bring space, and space brings freedom.

When there is strain, the practice of yoga is purely physical and leads towards imbalances and misjudgement.

Your energy extends through the tips of your skin and beyond. This is the secret that martial artists use to generate extraordinary force. They do not punch a brick, they punch through it. Extend the energy of the asana out through your extremities. Let the river flow through you.

Picture from B.K.S. Iyengar – Yoga Wisdom and Practice

Light on Life by BKS Iyengar – Chapter 1: The Inward Journey

Extracts from Chapter 1: The Inward Journey:

Most of us think of our “body” as simply our physical form—our skin, bones, muscles, and internal organs. For yoga, however, this is only the outermost layer of our body or annamaya kosa. It is this anatomical body that encompasses the other four subtle bodies, or kosas.

The demarcation of the different sheaths is essentially hypothetical. We are unique and integral. Nevertheless, in order to achieve the integrity and wholeness we desire, there must be communication from the inner to the outer and the outer to the inner as each sheath blends with the next. Only then are we bound together as one functional human being. If not, we experience dissolution and fragmentation, which make life uncomfortable and confusing.

[If] you too live and practice yoga in the right way and with the right attitude, far greater benefits and more radical changes will take place than mere physical flexibility.

We too are part of Nature, therefore constantly changing, so we are always looking at Nature from a different viewpoint. We are a little piece of continual change looking at an infinite quantity of continual change. Small wonder that it gets quite exciting. The most important thing we can learn about Nature is the inherent and innate laws by which it functions.

It is through the alignment of my body that I discovered the alignment of my mind, self, and intelligence.

I have purposely avoided until now using the usual translation for the non-physical reality as its mention usually stops people thinking for themselves. In Sanskrit, the word is Purusa. In English we can call it Cosmic or Universal Soul. The word Soul usually has such strong religious connotations that people either accept or dismiss it without reflection. They forget that it is simply our word for an abiding reality. It is logical but remains conceptual to our minds until we experience its realization within ourselves.

Everything that exists in the macrocosm is to be found existing in the microcosm or individual.

[The] demonstration of one’s spiritual realization lies in none other than how one walks among and interacts with one’s fellow human beings.

[We] discover ever more self-control, sensitivity, and awareness that permit us to live the life we aspire to, one of decency; clean, honest human relations; goodwill and fellowship; trust; self-reliance; joy in the fortune of others; and equanimity in the face of our own misfortune.

Self-cultivation through asana is the broad gateway leading to the inner enclosures we need to explore. In other words, we are going to try to use asana to sculpt the mind.

Breath is the vehicle of consciousness and so, by its slow, measured observation and distribution, we learn to tug our attention away from external desires (vasana) toward a judicious, intelligent awareness (prajna).

We may say that we want to reach the domain of the soul, but there remains a great tug-of-war. We neither go in nor out, and that saps the energy.

This process of relaxing the brain is achieved through asana. We generally think of mind as being in our head. In asana our consciousness spreads throughout the body, eventually diffusing in every cell, creating a complete awareness.

How to keep the brain cells in a relaxed, receptive, and concentrated state is the art that yoga teaches.

[We] all have access to a space, an inner space, where there is an end to duality, an end to conflict. This is what meditation teaches us, the cessation of the impersonating ego and the dawn of the true, unified Self, beyond which there is no other.

[A] word or action done to another is ultimately done equally to oneself.

Spirituality, as I have tried to make clear, is not ethereal and outside nature but accessible and palpable in our very own bodies. Indeed the very idea of a spiritual path is a misnomer. After all, how can you move toward something that, like Divinity, is already by definition everywhere?

Light on Life by BKS Iyengar

I am reading Light on Life by Iyengar, slowly and somewhat surely, as is my way. I thought I’d share some extracts and quotes as I read and practice. Whereas Light on Yoga looks in detail at the practice of asana, this book shows how yoga and life are one.

Introduction

When you and I meet together, we forget ourselves – our cultures and classes. There are no divisions, and we talk mind to mind, soul to soul. We are no different in our deepest needs. We are all human

Yoga is the rule book for playing the game of life, but in this game no one needs to loose.

When I say that yoga saved my life, I am not exaggerating. It was yoga that gave me a new birth with health from illness and firmness from infirmity.

Yogasana brought tremendous brought tremendous physical benefits and helped me to grow from a sickly child into a reasonably fit and agile young man. My own body was the laboratory, in which I saw the health benefits of yoga, but I could already see that yoga would have as many benefits for my head and heart as it did for my body.

You do not need to seek freedom in some distant land, for it exists within your own body, heart, mind, and soul.

110315 Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training; Seven Stars Yoga

Three times yoga: a session this morning running through this evening’s class; teaching this evening; then to Petersfield for a new evening class. The evening class was a new style of yoga to me, called Seven Stars Yoga. They are influenced by Chinese qi gong as well as Indian yoga, and we practised two routines, an hour in total. It was a good way to use and circulate much of the energy I get after teaching. And to be taught is always a treat. I’ll be going again. Unfortunately good venues are hard to find and the Petersfield Community Centre was a bit grubby, with icky bits on the floor. The music from the dance class next door didn’t bother me and the class itself was fun.

A friend asked why I chose Kripalu to train at. I said:

I looked around extensively over many months when I was looking for a course. I knew I wanted a month-long rather than over a couple of years on weekends. I wanted the immersive experience. So this narrowed it down. In my researching Kripalu kept coming up and so I asked around my yoga friends and while none had direct experience, they had all heard good things. The only thing putting me off Kripalu at that stage was the hugeness (and ugliness) of the building, and it was quite pricey. I was impressed at the website and curriculum and attracted by them saying it is not so much an intellectual course, and that there aren’t too many exams. So a kind of negative attraction in that sense, but I don’t like memorizing and theorizing. Then I saw they did scholarships and applied, and was granted 40% off, so that kind of sealed the deal. But mainly it was the feeling it out and the good vibes from the site. Their apparent professionalism, the fact that they were once an ashram and that they had a long history of YTT courses also counted.

I was not disappointed. There was a strong sense that while they were routed in traditions (particularly chanting) they were progressive. The course was beyond anything I expected. Way beyond yoga-yoga into experiential sessions, dance, and what they call meditation in motion. I would definitely recommend it. The days are long, but not as long as some YTTs. Importantly it felt like a really safe training ground, and they structure the weeks very well, lengthening each practice teach each week. And you only have to teach those to five people. The food is very good. And there’s a sauna and hot bath, which I used every evening. You get two yoga classes a day plus a whole bunch of posture workshops. Damn, I need to say something negative, but I can’t… Of course, you have to take in a lot of the ‘real self’ ‘true self’ yoga talk, but I kind of accepted where they were coming from. I went for the cheapest option, the dorm. The girls had sometimes twenty in a room, but we were only five. Sound.

I’d really love to do it all over again, a course like that.

Something is changing for me in yoga after all these years. I am no longer subtly afraid of it, nor am I as afraid of teaching. Which is a very big deal.

Steps stepped: 4705

110208 Alton to Selborne

Yoga when I woke up, then breakfast before driving to Selborne. From there I caught the bus to Alton so I could walk the first part of the Hangers Way back to Selborne. The path is 21 miles long and heads south and east from Alton to Queen Elizabeth Country Park south of Petersfield, so today’s walk was a third of the total. I expected the bus to be a mostly empty Tuesday morning rural bus, but no, it was full of teenagers headed to the college. That feeling of being watched as I looked for an empty seat, only one spare because the kids were sprawled over a couple of seats each. The first part of the walk was fairly boring, through the industrial part of town and over large fields. As it got hillier, it was more fun. It took about two and a half hours walking, with a couple of short breaks, sitting in the late winter sun. New growth pushing up in the woodland, the leaves of the bluebells. Keep it rural! Here’s the walk video I made:

Weekend Walk 24 – Alton to Selborne – Hangers Way from Duncan Toms on Vimeo.

This afternoon, resting, editing the video which takes an hour or so, plus export and upload time. Otherwise continuing looking at TVs and buying a Playstation 3. But this morning during yoga I saw through all this entertainment and constant occupation, to something simpler, purer, more in touch, real, whole. It’s a question of right action and what to do with my time on this earth, what to do with each day. At the end of it: ‘Oh, I saw some fine movies and played some games, rode some waves, made some good friends, loved and was loved, worked a lot.’ Well, maybe that’s what there is, but something else is touched upon when deep in a stretch or in relaxation. I can’t force it, but I can allow it to come. It’s not something more, but unrelated to all that I know.

Steps stepped: 14,706

110227 Yogi/Surfer’s Path

Back to the yoga with a delicious Sivananda session first thing. That routine really ticks all the boxes for me. This morning I was really feeling the sickness of the last couple of weeks and breathing with it. I felt energised and relaxed through the day, even though health hasn’t fully returned. Spending an hour or more on the mat is different from any other activity. Changes happen, things are learnt, just by gently watching and stretching.

Surfer’s Path magazine is full of wonderful images. Here are a few from the March/April edition that just arrived, as two surfer friends come to Europe for a visit from California:

100215 Feeling the fear and doing it anyway

It’s all caught up with me today, almost exhausted after the moving, decorating, the underlying emotions of C moving, the work on the flat here and this evening, the yoga teaching. I didn’t have much ooomph for the class but I enjoyed teaching it once I was there. Beforehand, as each week, the flight response so strong, the wanting to cancel, to walk away, to not bother, to find any excuse. But each week I go through with it and despite the nerves it does ease something deep inside that has long been fearful. I was very much in touch with this shameful fear on the yoga teacher course, often listening to a small voice asking why are we doing this, not wanting to it, wanting to stay with mother, stay safe, and not mix with these outsiders. To this I listened, I accepted, I loved. And now I am doing something I never thought I would be able to, something I have run from my entire adult life and most of my childhood. It’s hard but there is nothing else for it. And I get to share the thing I love, the thing I have stuck with longest in this life: yoga. I have total respect for this ancient art.

Steps stepped: 6044

The Brown Celtic Warrior

I look at the keys. I don’t know what to write.
They are not keys. They are lights on a screen.
Early morning. I wanted to stay in bed.
After two snoozes, some yoga.
Why are snoozes always nine minutes?
It’s interesting to do some yoga despite the reluctance.
Mostly in yoga I have gone with the reluctance.
But yoga is long-term, requiring a little regularly.
Some pratapana, some standing poses.
Warrior.
I don’t feel like a warrior.
My name means ‘brown celtic warrior’.
That’s funny.

Why do we divide life into the thing called good and the thing called evil? Is there not actually only one thing, which is a mind that is inattentive? Surely, when there is complete attention, that is, when the mind is totally aware, alert, watchful, there is no such thing as evil or good; there is only an awakened state.

– Krishnamurti