“Mechanism of Meditation” — lecture by Kausthub Desikachar, 3/15/12

The second of Kausthub’s lectures at the “Discover Yoga Anatomy” intensive at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, March 2012….

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Many people make claims about meditation, but still don’t  understand it.  They assume that TECHNIQUES are meditation. 

What is happening in modern day science and medicine is that they say meditation works, but we don’t want to understand WHY it works.  Books on this subject are merely guidebooks, they give no explanation as to HOW meditation works.  If we take a tool like meditation and become attached to it, there is no understanding.

WHY is more important than WHAT.

There are three domains of meditation in yoga, but modern yogis are concerned with bendy bodies, fancy clothes, and taking their pictures in front of waterfalls.  They should be applying for jobs in Hollywood, not in yoga.  Yoga is meant to be done as a meditative practice.

The first domain is that meditation is about helping us live our lives better.  We have daily activities, actions concerning the world, we’re part of a social eco-system.  Many times we do not deal appropriately with this eco-system because of our klesas — we make mistakes.  To help us see clearly, to improve our actions, meditation is done.

The second domain of meditation is to improve or regain our health because we get sick, whether it is body, mind, emotions, or spirit.

The third domain has to do with self-realization.  The difference between animals and us is that we are not only interested in eating and sex, but as humans we have the potential for self-realization.  We have the ability to question the meaning of life and our role in it, what we can give back.

It is my hope that there will be enough sanity in future yogis to move beyond the body and go inward.

So how does meditation work in these three domains, because it does not work the same in each.

For the first domain, yoga philosophy says that there is a process in which an action begets another action.  We hear or read something (knowledge) and that awareness creates a desire.  That desire creates an action, so we act from a place of desire.  The action is not the end of the cycle because there is a consequence.  The consequence leaves an impression on us, good or bad.  This is where mistakes happen.

Meditation works here by addressing the source:  is your awareness right or wrong?  Our knowledge is not based on a fact but what we are drawn to.  We have the illusion of clarity, we see what we want to see, not what is really in front of us.

In meditation for this domain, the practice is designed in such a way in order to give us clarity of perception.  It takes us to a neutral space, not from a bias.  Meditation can influence how we see things, i.e. with greater perception of clarity.  In that way, our responses in life become more appropriate — this is the opposite of what we usually do, how we usually react in and to life.

In the second domain, it is given that the mind controls the body.  For example, we have a nightmare and truly believe that whatever is happening in the nightmare is actually happening to us, we have a physical reaction to the nightmare  — that is how strong the mind is over the body.   In the same way our mind can influence us in a positive way.  Modern science is finally seeing this.  When the mind moves into nirodha samskara (YS Ch. 3), the mind becomes stable.  Meditation helps us change the patterns of the mind which can thereby change the patterns of the body.   In yoga philosophy, diseases and health are seen as nothing other than a set of patterns.   Patanjali introduces the concept of yoga therapy in the second and third chapters of the Sutra-s.   The mind is very powerful — there is a reason why it is said “mind over matter” — because the mind can literally change matter.   This seems paranormal, but it is not.

The trouble is that we always want things to change quickly, but change takes time.  The mind is linked with the senses which are linked to matter.  What is held in the mind moves towards what holds the senses.   We have seen what could be called miracles at the Mandiram, when all we do is show a person how to breath, how to meditate, when they came here and could not even lift an arm.

However, the same thing won’t work the same way with everyone.  The stupidity of modern times is that everyone is the same — we want the same prescriptions.  The same focus will be different with everyone.  A metaphor for this is that the same food will be cooked differently whether it is cooked in an electric oven or a traditional tandoor — same food, different result.  How your mind is will affect what the change is.  Giving the same medicine to everyone and expecting the same results is ridiculous.

Patanjali said that each of us has different kinds of mind — which mind that holds the object of meditation will affect the change.  The standardization of meditative practices is rubbish.

The third domain is the spiritual domain.  The exploration of our potential is the spirituality contained in the Yoga Sutra-s.

We all have within us seeds that are dormant, seeds that will grow.  Meditation in the spiritual domain is like a dry field with seeds — prana is equivalent to water for that field.   The prana will irrigate that mind field so that our seeds will sprout.

But we trap ourselves.  We are ignorant of our seeds.  We don’t nourish them because we don’t have the patience.

We don’t want to be who we are, we want to be someone else.  We think being different is somehow better.  This is where acceptance of ourselves is so important — a mango can never be a papaya.  We have to start accepting who were are and stop rejecting who we are.

The river of prana must water the deep levels of the mind, but remember that we also have negative seeds.  Besides the beneficial seeds, a field also has poison seeds, weed seeds — we have to accept both.  We do not have authority to judge ourselves or others.

If prana is remaining in you, it finds you worthy of something — look at the positive, not the negative, because no one is perfect.

“Transformation in Yoga Philosophy” – a lecture by Kausthub Desikachar, 3/7/12

Krishnamacharya

This is the first of four posts on lectures given by Kausthub Desikachar and A.G. Mohan during my two trainings in India during February and March.  I will say, yet again, that I have been blessed beyond belief to have been introduced into the Krishnamacharya lineage as early as I was in my teaching career.  Even after 10 years of teaching, these last two trainings confirmed (again) how vast yoga is, that no matter how many people I have studied with, there is always so much more to learn.  I will never call myself an expert.  It is an honor and a responsibility to be a representative of this lineage.  I hope I can always convey as authentically as possible what I have learned via my trainings in this tradition.

For those who don’t know, Kausthub is the son of T.K.V.  Desikachar, who is the son of Krishnamacharya, the grandfather of modern yoga.

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Transformation begins with a serious practice of yoga.  Throughout the lecture Kausthub emphasized a serious practice of yoga — yoga beyond asana, yoga that is more than skin deep.  He said that according to some ancient texts there are four stages of transformation, other texts talk about 7 stages.   In his lecture he dealt with the Upanisads and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika that talk about our personal transformation having four stages.

It is Kausthub’s belief that not even 5% of people practicing yoga today are in the first stage of transformation, i.e , the state where prana begins to move fluidly in the body (prana being the life force, not merely the breath as is frequently taught in modern yoga.)   He said that most yoga practitioners don’t know what prana really is because they only know asana.  This knowledge of prana does not come from a casual yoga practice; it does not come from a practice that is only about the physical.  Transformation begins when your yoga transcends the body.

The first stage of transformation is when prana flows smoothly throughout the body.  Our perception become very sensitive.  Patanjali speaks to this in YS 3.36.  Our senses change, everything heightens, our sensations are beyond memory and all these happenings really can’t be explained in tangible terms.

At this stage it is very common for people to stop their yoga practice because their entity is so different now, it is discomforting, it is out of the norm.  Our perceptions are altered on a deeper level and this changes our relationships with people, with partners, and sometimes people want to change jobs.  However, Kausthub said that this is not the time to make dramatic decisions.

At the second stage of transformation, there is an identity crisis.  We start feeling like crap.  Our internal drums are beating and there is a loud noise inside us that disturbs our structural foundation, the way we have been accustomed to for so many years.  Our mental patterns are challlenged, our outlook changes, but again, try to make no changes….yet.

This is another stage where people leave their practice, we want to continue but we can’t because things are even more discomforting.  This is the time to especially sustain the practice.  Kausthub said that it is at the end of this second stage that collapse often happens and depression can set in.  The ancient yogis said LET IT COLLAPSE.  Just as an old building starts to collapse, no matter how much you try to prop it up, it’s not the same.  Let it collapse and then build a new foundation for a new building.  This is progress.

The third stage is when new patterns start to manifest, the new structures are built.  Let whatever is new come up slowly, don’t grasp.  It is only by not grasping do these patterns sustain themselves.

The fourth stage is freedom, not bound by any patterns, but this is a stage that few people reach.  It is difficult in modern times because we are still attached to so many things.

There was a different teacher-student role in every stage of transformation.  That is the way it was in the olden days as my teacher Ramaswami calls the ancient times which is very different from now.   In the olden days, yoga was taught one-on-one, teachers did not teach to 300 at a yoga conference.  There was absolute trust between teacher and student and the teacher was the platform of support for the student when the student’s structure was changing.

Kausthub believes that model is seriously lacking in modern yoga.  Back in the day this teacher-student model was taken for granted but nowadays it is not consistent because there are too many styles of yoga and many of the giants of yoga who could lead people in these transformations are now dead.  As for yoga teachers nowadays, Kausthub said that if anyone tells you something is absolute, like “this pose will always help X”, “this pose will cure X”, “X pranayama will change this”, know that it’s bullshit because nothing is absolute.  Every mind, every body, every day is different.

  The tools of yoga (asana, pranayama, meditation) don’t have power on their own; their power comes from the way they are practiced.  He gave an example of child’s pose:  it’s called child’s pose because it’s so easy a child can do.  Do it over and over without any emphasis on the breath or mental awareness and it’s just movement.  But taking 15 seconds to do it with emphasis on the breath and mental awareness has power because you are releasing your prana in a totally different way.

Don’t evaluate your yoga by your level of flexibility or your ability to get into a pretzel pose — only evaluate your yoga by the transformative effect it has on you.  When someone asked Kausthub “how do I find a teacher like you are talking about?”, he said “instead of looking for a teacher, ask if YOU are ready to be a student.  Seek to be a student first, then you will you find your teacher.”

Referencing current problems in modern  yoga, Kausthub said the main problem, in his opinion, is that anyone can be a yoga teacher nowadays.  Everyone wants to be a teacher but there is no accountability.  Of course training is important, but being a good teacher is not about how much you know but is about your transformation.  A serious question to ask is:  if someone is going through these stages of transformation, and their teacher just graduated from a 200 hour training, how in the world can a newbie teacher cope with the questions that student will ask if the teacher herself has not experienced those stages yet?  In the olden days, a teacher always needed their own teacher before they could call themselves an ACHARYA, and that practice no longer exists in modern yoga.  Because anyone can call themselves anything nowadays!  Look for a teacher who has a current relationship with a teacher, but focus on the teachings, not the teacher.  Kausthub said his father and grandfather were not perfect men, they were not perfect teachers, but they had a passion for the teachings.  That is what makes a great teacher.  Freedom is not about being perfect, it’s about making friends with your imperfections.

Making a veiled reference to Friendgate, Kausthub said this is not the first time yoga has faced difficulties.  If the spiritual teachings are valid, yoga will sustain; if yoga is merely a fashion, it will not sustain.   The teachings are much larger than any crisis modern yoga is currently experiencing.

who’s afraid of the big bad guru?

It has always struck me how Western yoga peeps are afraid of the word “guru.”  I’ve gotten into it with a well-known yoga blogger about the use of the word guru, her argument being that somehow there is something inherently bad or negative about the word.   We give words their power.   There are different definitions for guru:  venerable, weighty, teacher, dispeller of darkness.  In Buddhism a guru is seen as a teacher or a spiritual friend.  So many connotations on such a simple word yet so many problems associated with it.  That’s what happens when we look outside ourselves for our identity.  We become lost and confused.

I was happy to be in India when the John Friend scandal broke.  Yawn.  That’s when the discussions of guru began.   I have no problem with so many seemingly intelligent people calling him a guru.  But I think the entire debacle raises questions on WHY so many people got hood-winked.  What does that say about them?  What were THEY lacking in their lives that they entrusted their identities, indeed their yoga souls, to someone like Friend?  People can argue that we all have the need to belong to a group, we all need to feel wanted, praised, loved, but at what price?  Just because the Kula Kids gave up their identities to a charismatic charletan, does not make the concept of guru bad.

I have been called a guru, albeit in India, and I don’t have an entourage like Friend.  When I am in India and people find out I am a yoga teacher they automatically ask “who is your guru?”  People have touched my feet in India, especially at the Kumbh Mela.  I know that would shock people here and the first time it happened I was taken aback, but I realized, that’s what people do.  I did not automatically think that I am any more special or more important than they are.

Kausthub Desikachar spoke to us twice during my training this month and he spoke about the teacher-student relationship.  He said yoga students should look for a teacher who has a current relationship with a teacher, but to focus on the teachings, not the teacher.  He told us that people would always tell him how wonderful it is to have Desikachar as a father, how wonderful it must have been to have Krishnamacharya for a grandfather, that they must have been the perfect teachers.  He told us, no, they were not perfect men, they were not perfect teachers, but they were passionate about the teachings, that the teachings of yoga are much more important than Krishnamacharya or Desikachar.  Kausthub said that if one reads the Sutra-s carefully, Patanjali did not say if we practice authentic yoga that we will not have any problems, we will only have less klesas.   Freedom is not about being perfect, it’s about making friends with your imperfections.

I read on a yoga teacher’s website the other day that she is an “expert in all things yoga.”  Wow.  Does that make her a guru?  Instead of wanting to learn more about her, that makes me run like hell.  I have never heard the teachers at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram say they were experts in anything.  In fact, in spite of some of them studying with Desikachar for 10 or more years, during my training they said they are still learning from him, from each other, and from us, the students who come to sit at their feet.   Humility bespeaks a true yogi.

So put down that smartphone, look someone in the eye, and listen mindfully next time they speak to you.  That person might be your next guru.  Not the rock star yoga teacher you idolize at the yoga conference, not the yoga teacher you pay thousands of dollars to for a teacher training, but your next door neighbor.  Or a homeless person.  Or a domestic violence survivor.

I am blessed with serendipitious meetings when I am India and one of them was during my last weekend in India.  In a land where even the beggars have cell phones, this man does not have one.  He does not do email and he did not know what Wikipedia was until I told him.  He is a wealthy man, a movie distributor whose father was a famous film director in 1950s Bollywood and whose mother was a well-known musician who played at Woodstock.  Yet, one of the most unassuming men I have ever met.  We talked about the cell phone phenomena, about how people feel lost without them, AS IF constantly checking emails and Facebook and Twitter gives them their identity.  He said, “I see people all the time in restaurants, they are out together but not talking, they’re always checking their phones.  Nincompoops.”  He said they were missing life, missing connecting with someone who could be their teacher.  A guru.

My friend said he does not allow people to make or receive calls when they are in his flat, only in emergencies, only if it is an absolute necessity.  He makes them go outside because he finds it rude and distracting.  This, in a country where there are more cell phones than toilets.  I’ve decided that next time I am talking with someone who is more interested in swiping their smartphone or checking Google Maps, I’m going to stop talking and wait for them to practice mindful listening.

We spent 17 hours together during my last weekend in India.  No computers, no phones — only walking, talking, drinking tea.  And always mindfully listening to each other’s guru.

Because you never know who that might be.

back in the U.S.A.

with statue of Patnajali, finally bought after 7 years of going to KYM

Back from India with a good case of reverse culture shock.  It’s not fun, I feel like hiding in a closet for about a month, besides which I have a horrible cold from breathing the recycled air of 500+ hacking, sneezing people for 18 hours flying over 2.5 continents and an ocean.   But I’m already planning my 7th trip so stay tuned for details — I have already booked March 11-15, 2013 at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram to bring people for private classes — 5 minimum, 8 maximum.  Let me know if you’re interested because after that week I am planning to teach a yoga retreat in Varkala, Kerala.  Throwing it out to the Universe and we’ll see what gets thrown back.

My yoga trainings were amazing.  I completed Modules 1 and 2 of Ganesh Mohan’s yoga therapy training and because he’s such an amazing teacher that combines the best of East and West modalities, I’ve decided to complete all his modules.  I will take Module 3 here then return to India next year for Module 4.

The course at KYM, “Discover Yoga Anatomy”, was equally amazing.  After going to KYM since 2005, the senior teachers know me and I can no longer hide in class — I get called on now!  The course drained my brain because it definitely was an “advanced” training.  For example, we had a course on “Yoga Anatomy in the Classical Texts”, a course where we discussed various aspects of Chapter 3 of the Sutra-s (among other texts).  We tore apart YS 3.26-27-28:  what was Patanjali really speaking to?  Do you take what he said literally or is the north star a metaphoric reference?  Where is the north star in our body, what does it represent?  Loved it — yoga more than skin deep.  I feel grateful and blessed to have been introduced to the Krishnamacharya lineage via Srivatsa Ramaswami when I first started teaching — it is both an honor and responsibility to be a representative of this tradition.  SRI GURUBHYO NAMAH.

Yoga more than skin deep, beyond asana… what a concept.  I realized in India that the more I study in this lineage, the more I am a yoga freak at home.  A stranger in a yoga strange land.  As hippies were called “freaks” back in the day, I feel even more so like a yoga freak now.   It contributes immensely to my reverse culture shock.  I was happy to be in India when the John Friend story broke and was amused by all the blahblahblah about it.  I spoke with a KYM teacher about what is called yoga in America and she just shook her head.

In Kerala I was offered a house and garden to convert into “Sama’s Yoga Garden” — “you could do whatever you wanted, let me get that house cleaned up for you, Shakti”, as a new friend called me and reminded me of my essence, daily.  Sigh.  I could have stayed for at least three more months.  A teaching in attachment and letting go.  I saw for the first time in 6 trips that I could very well split my time equally during the year between India and here.  Yes, it is possible because it feels so right in spite of Ma India’s warts — my trip started out a bit rough, but I eventually realized it was me, not India.  Another teaching on having no expectations and letting it all go.  I think once I learned that, that set up the scenario for the rest of my trip, things I experienced and who was brought into my life.  Serendipity is a wonderful thing.

I actually cut my trip short, changing my flight to return 9 days earlier.  I was supposed to end my trip in Varanasi but one day I had a major epiphany that I don’t need to go there because everything that is there in that holy city is already inside me.  Stop searching.  Just.  Stop.  “You know your dharma,” the Voice told me.  Shut up and do your practice.

That was one lesson Bharat Ma taught me on this trip….know your dharma.  “Do your best and let the rest go” was something Ganesh told us.  It became my new mantra.  And as it turned out, I received an email from someone who has offered to help me find a place to bring yoga to the underserved.  My dharma.  We’ll see what transpires.  Things happen when you let it all go.  As I said, we shall see what the Universe decides to throw back at me.

Ganesh’s delightful father, A.G. Mohan, came to talk to us twice and Kausthub Desikchar gave us two lectures.   I took lots of notes and will blog about their talks.

But for right now, this yoga freak is getting back into my closet.

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PRODUCT REVIEW

Hugger Mugger sent me the Earth Elements Mat to road-test in India.  I wanted a thin travel mat that could hold up to my sweaty hands and I am happy to report that it fit the bill.

I thought it would be problematic because when I first started to use it my hands were sliding.  But the longer I used it, the surface “roughed up” a bit after which I had no problems whatsoever (and I was in weather that was over 90 degrees every day and very humid….with daily power cuts so no AC, no fans.)  I have the 3mm mat and although it is thin, it still cushions my bones.  It is thin enough to fold up and put inside a backpack for traveling, which I did more than a few times.  It is so light you can hold it with one finger.

If you want a great travel mat without paying a huge amount, check out this mat.  It gets a ringing endorsement from Metta Yoga, as did their Sattva Jute Mat I used last year.