New Growth in 2019

Busy Busy, Busy…

Lately, I have been consumed by starting a landscaping business, too busy to make music or work on my website. I started this new landscaping business and am working now as a designer landscaper in Sacramento. It’s hard work, but certainly pays the bills in a way that I don’t think yoga ever could. The only rich yogis that I’ve ever met are the Jois’ and they have an incredibly tightly run business in Mysore, India.

Landscaping is my Future

I love yoga and I might love making music even more. I am continuing to teach indefinitely, but as I said in my last article, I do have to scale back my yoga teaching from 8 times a week to 5. Teaching 5 yoga classes every week will still give me the opportunity to improve my teaching while doing a full time landscaping gig.

Creation is the Priority

I’ve always loved making stuff. These new planter beds that I have built in old Roseville are some of the coolest I’ve ever seen. I am learning how to create high quality, long lasting landscapes. Learning is my priority and I’ve gotten good at using concrete and also at working with dirt and grading, plants, drains, and the whole process of putting together a nice backyard. But I also bought a guitar recently and have started playing, learning chords, and am going to start learning some songs soon. Even though I am busy, I am busy doing stuff that I love so I always have more energy! Until its time to fall asleep.

The Cost of Artistry

Honestly, life has been completely exhausting lately. I fell asleep at 9:30 on New Years. I had a couple beers, but man I can’t party worth a shit anymore! But I guess thats a good thing! I like waking up early anyways, so heading off to work at 5 or 6 isn’t a big deal at all. Only I have a really hard time staying up later, which is pretty weird for me. I’ve had mild insomnia for as long as I can remember. My New Years resolution is to work on staying up later, so I can have more social fun time! Also, to play a few shows in 2019, something I didn’t get a chance to do in 2018.

Finding Balance between Passions

My yoga practice has actually been revitalized in a big way by landscaping. I need it to take care of my joints and relax my muscles which get overworked on the daily from using power tools and you know, repetitive pounding motions. I think I have found a trifecta of things to do that I love!

Looking Forward to 2019

Expect more landscapes, different mediums of sharing my art and blog articles in 2019! Apologies for not writing in a while, but I’m excited to continue blogging. See you on the yoga mat…

Thanks for reading,

Elliot

Patanjali

"Patanjali Statue" by User:Alokprasad - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Patanjali_Statue.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Patanjali_Statue.jpg#/media/File:Patanjali_Statue.jpg

Patanjali was the author of the Yoga Sutras, one of the most influential yoga texts in the modern world. Despite what modernized and idealistic yoga blogs and sites will tell you, it was most likely a group of people who lived about 1600 years ago, but could be as old as 2500 years. I say that it was likely a group of people because of the amount of knowledge contained in the sutras and the way that people functioned in groups thousands of years ago. We like to attribute knowledge to one author, rather than recognizing the multitudes of authors, time periods, and influences that a piece of work contains. This is particularly true of the Christian bible.

Patanjali is the not father of modern yoga. That title can be given to Krishnamacharya. Patanjali was more of a founder; the group of people took works from their respective time period and before, then compiled them into digestible teachings that students and teachers could reference on their yoga journeys. He created a framework that Krishnamacharya would later use to create the modern poses, sequences, and specific techniques. Where Patanjali’s yoga begins is in the traditions that Krishnamacharya learned from his father and his father before him. Until yoga became modernized and everyone could start a daily practice of yoga.

As humans we love to idealize about the past and one figure completing this vast amount of infrastructural work for practitioners of yoga, but Patanjali is not a figure that we need to deify or put on a pedestal. There were likely multiple people with the name and likely multiple people who authored the yoga sutras. However, Patanjali’s work on the sutras is enough to keep us busy thinking about our own humanity instead of focusing on the origins of the text, because Patanjali did not seem to claim any credit for the contemporary authors of the yoga sutras.

The 196 sutras, or short teachings from the yoga sutras are fantastic in their comprehensive philosophical scope. They are also written in Sanskrit, which is a great administrative language and is very specifically used in philosophy. They were, however, lost to time in the 12th century until the 19th century when they were revived by modern Indian scholars. During the 19th and 20th century the texts rose in popularity and prominence over the Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Vasistha, and other literature on Hatha yoga.

There are four parts to the yoga sutras:

  1. Samadhi Pada – describes oneness with the divine and Samadhi
  2. Sadhana Pada – describes practices and Ashtanga
  3. Vibhuti Pada – describes “supernatural” effects of yoga
  4. Kaivayla Pada – describes moksha, liberation, or enlightenment

Each of the four chapters is an invigorating review of conscious experience and systematic functionality of the human mind. The second chapter is probably the most concrete in terms of advice for actually practicing yoga, rather than philosophy and it is where the eight limbs of yoga or Ashtanga is explained.

Ashtanga is not only a system of acrobatic yoga propagated by Pattabhi Jois, but a philosophical system for achieving Samadhi and Moksha, also known as enlightenment. The eight limbs of yoga are described as scaffolding, or a framework for ascending into the heights of the yoga of knowledge, or Raja yoga, which BKS Iyengar described to be infinite. The eight limbs are as follows

  1. Yamas – ethics and restraints
  2. Niyamas – virtues
  3. Asanas – physical postures
  4. Pranayamas – breathing exercises
  5. Pratyahara – sense withdrawal
  6. Dharana – single pointed meditative focus
  7. Dhyana – meditative awareness of oneness
  8. Samadhi – unison and oneness with the divine in bliss

These are the scaffolding that Patanjali assembled to assist individuals in realizing their self. Many of these concepts cross-over into Buddhist ideals of meditation, as you may have already noticed. Once the self is realized, liberation and freedom from the cycles of death and rebirth is afforded to the practitioner.This modernization of Hinduism was very well received in the western world.

In reviewing the history of something as old and popular as yoga it is important to understand that we have only theories and hypotheses about what was happening 1500-2500 years ago. No one really knows the group who made up the author named Patanjali, how old they are, how they compiled their information, or what exact sources they used. Instead we can guess, which is more fun anyways.

You are the Guru

Patanjali Statue from the Jois Shala

Over the past few months of practicing in a traditional ashtanga setting, in what many people consider to be ‘classical yoga’ with a guru, I have come to the conclusion that the idea of having a ‘guru’ or single appointed teacher is outdated.

This is not to say that the old method of learning spiritual ritualistic techniques for calming the nervous system should be ignored, but in today’s age we are spoiled. We have the internet, multiple sources of information on everything from the endocrine system, to fluid cavities and storages annexes in the body, to advanced mechanical movement analysis from people like Leslie Karminoff (http://www.yogaanatomy.org/) and Ray Long (http://www.bandhayoga.com/).

It is important to have someone supervising you when you first start practicing yoga simply because it is going to be awkward. You’re going to feel weird and use muscles you normally don’t use. It’s also good to have someone who can observe your postures over time, so teachers, in general, are still very useful. But the idea of “having a guru” can be a limiting belief, can be an excuse to shove off responsibility, and can detract from your self knowledge about your humanity. When you write a solid research paper, you don’t use only one source, right? Though, there may be one source that stands out above the others, especially for the individual sub-topics you are interested in. You use the collective data as a whole to inform yourself so you can critically argue your point of view.

In other words, you are going to have favorites, teachers you like more or less than other because that is simply the way diversity and your brain works. But its an illusion. A part of the maya we are born into when we arrive. But the variety of teaching methods and different perspectives add accumulatively to the whole of your knowledge, especially with proper discernment and decision-making for what is important to you. No one else can decide this for you, not even a guru. You have to make those decisions.

Guru’s have been incredibly useful in the past. Think about the relationship between Socrates, Plato, then Aristotle. Transfering knowledge in the student to teacher fashion, 1 on 1, seems to be the most effective form of learning, for anyone. Being able to imitate makes doing things so much easier and it is essentially how we learn from each other. Have you ever had a friend with a different vocabulary that you pick a few words from and then notice yourself using? Our brains are always trying to copy, to compete, it is simply the way the brain functions. It helps to keep us alive.

So knowing this 1 to 1 relationship is key to learning, why can’t you have multiple teachers? Obviously, you will get some conflicting information, but that is a good thing! You want to be able to sort through things yourself and arrive at your own conclusion.

Maybe you want it easy so you decide to only learn from one teacher. Don’t you see how this can be limiting? Every instructor is going to have very different life experiences that you can learn from, different experiences in yoga that you can learn from, and definitely experiences that can teach you. In fact, you should consider everyone to be your teacher, in one way or another.

So in this way, we are all gurus and at the same time none of us are. This doesn’t mean everyone is going to be amazing at teaching yoga, but everyone knows things that we can learn from.

So we can consider individuals as one part of the collective guru, that is really inside of you and could probably be equated with Jung’s unconscious mind (yes, things are happening in your brain right now that you are not aware of). And with this comes a need for intense discernment, in the same way that you choose the food that will taste/feel best you have to choose the sources of information that have the most truth in them. This is how you gain valid knowledge, rather than running in circles choosing one person after another to think is the right one.

It’s up to you. It’s all in your head anyways, so use your intuition to feel what is right. Balancing between delving into a teachers system and maintaining your personal practice is always great, as is balancing between practicing by yourself and with some friends. Do what you want. your teacher doesn’t add validity to your yoga practice, because it’s all on you! With that said, if you have a great teacher, enjoy it cause that shit is the bomb too!

It’s probable that Patanjali was actually multiple people who worked together to create a common knowledge of yoga. This sounds more realistic than what the sacred texts say about Patanjali, being one man and inventing tons of yoga poses and ayurveda and all that other stuff one person was supposed to have done. If you ask me, sacred texts are all big marketing schemes for organizations to grow their influence (governments, churches, nobility, etc). You don’t see Jesus writing shit down in the bible stories. If you look at every major cultural movement in history, there are lots of people involved, not just one person leading it. Where would Dr. King be without Malcolm X and Rosa Parks? They happen in waves, with lots of groups of people involved, that’s why they are so enormous. If you’ve ever read Malcolm Gladwell, he has a great book called the Tipping Point that talk a lot about cultural movements.

So yoga is a cultural movement just like anything else. Just do what feels right and don’t put too much stock into one person. Who knows whats going to happen with them anyways? Who knows what their life is like? Yoga teaches you to take responsibility for your self so you can self-manage. Take advantage 😉

Practicing Ashtanga with Saraswathi Jois

Saraswathi_Jois_Shala

Tuesday marked the final day of my practice at the Pattabhi Jois yoga shala (kpjayi) with Saraswathi Jois. I feel extremely lucky to have been able to spend the last couple of months practicing with her and exploring the lineage of Ashtanga yoga.

Learning there was a bit of a unique challenge in my case because I have practiced for five years before I even got to India. There were certain asanas that I hadn’t done regularly and certain asanas that I was very proficient at in the advanced and intermediate series, but didn’t practice because of how late they are in the series. Even the first day was weird. Saraswathi belted out some commands to me, which I tried to enact (her english is not amazing) and we got up to the Maricyasanas. I worked through them for a while then a couple weeks later moved into kurmasana and supta kurmasana and Bhujangasana and was able to work on the finishing sequence since the beginning of practice. Eventually, 25 breaths of headstand are pretty much effortless.

My daily practice has completely transformed and now I have something to work from. I deviate into variations and stretches that I am craving and work in back bends and some of the intermediate series at the end. Soon, I will start working on the first few poses of the sequence (I’ve been working on Pasasana for over a year, except while in Mysore). And as much as I want to say that I do not care about progression, I do care about deepening my Samadhi and I find that new poses and deepening certain existing postures is a part of that. Supta Kurmasana taught by itself has deepened my practice in many ways, same with the Maricyasanas, so I am grateful for having the opportunity to learn them.

I didn’t get to drop backs or Setu Bandhasana, but that is fine with me. I will work on the intermediate series and the primary series, maybe I will even come back. I enjoyed the alone time and the doing nothing but writing a little, making some music, and making room to practice yoga every morning and meditate during the days. Having experienced the atmosphere of India I can really understand how yoga came about and why it is so powerful for the human body. History I’ve been reading makes a lot more sense now after seeing the environment that Indians live in.

Saraswathi is traditional and you really can’t blame her for that. She teaches the sequence the way it was taught to her and she is a powerful voice for many things, but ultimately you have to regulate your own injuries if the (re)occur. So with the Ashtanga practice in general comes an enormous responsibility to know your own anatomy and to increase your awareness for the functioning of your body. Without a heightened awareness, you can easily injury your knees, shoulders can get used to being hyper-extended in down dog(this happens a lot), and muscles can be easily strained. In doing yoga, you are increasing your sensitivity to your body, especially in a practice as intense as Ashtanga. This allows your to better manage your body, which increases the steadiness of your mind, because your are more aware of the consequences of your actions and of the actions of your environment, which have direct effects upon your body.

So ultimately Saraswathi wakes up early and facilitates the yoga of her students and is very committed and so are her assistants, but the Ashtanga yoga method is usually not suitable for beginners. Especially when you are older, you should have pretty much mastered sun salutations and at least practiced most of the postures. Also knowing and using yin yoga can be a great addition to an Ashtanga yoga, even though it isn’t prescribed by the KPJAYI.

If you want to take a couple of months off, practice a yoga practice that you conform to and focus on those postures for a few months while quieting your mind, the Ashtanga Institute is a great resource and so is Mysore, more specifically Gokulam.

Gokulam is an amazing place, a quiet repose in the midst of a semi-busy city that supposedly is a prototype for southern India. I didn’t get to visit too much else, but Mysore itself is an amazing city, full of animals and wildlife and scooters. The pollution there is bad as well, but I am told that as far as India goes, the pollution in Mysore is minimal.  Basically I didn’t have to wear a mask every day and the streets were walkable, though just barely.

The yoga institutes are hidden away from the city in much quieter Gokulam, with plenty of facilities to practice yoga quietly. It was an experience I will remember as having quieted my mind, as well as given me some great experience with yoga’s history.

So if you are looking to come to the source to practice yoga as it has been taught for the last five decades or so, Saraswathi is great. Ensure you know the sequence, at least the beginning and end, when you arrive. You can also take your time to learn, they are very accepting at the shala, but keep in mind that personal attention from the teachers isn’t something you should rely on. But if you need more, Saraswathi is the one to go to simply because she has fewer students and you are learning the method and not a teacher.