body consciousness: a discussion


There were so many comments posted to Body Consciousness that I thought I would turn them into an entirely new post. my readers’ comments are too insightful to be ignored.

talk amongst yourselves!

Steven:
Maybe it’s just wording, but I disagree with “Yoga was meditation and meditation was yoga, no duality.” If they were the same thing, there would be no need for two words. Also, from what I’ve learned, yoga has been a preparation for meditation, and thus separate. Obviously very interrelated, but separate nontheless. Your point remains, though, that the asana practice has become very separated from the meditation practice in the West, but still, even if some people never find or care about the non-physical part, many will, and that’s good. It sure would help if yoga instructors would stop yammering quasi-spiritual stuff through savasana and allow more than 1 minute of silence to clear the mind!

Sama:
asana + pranayama are prerequisites to meditation according to the lineage that I follow. not just asana. and is not asana practice a moving meditation? I suppose it depends on what your definition of meditation is.

come to one of my classes. I don’t yak during savasana. but even if I did, would you be able to observe the external sounds and not react to them, engaging in pratyhara with equanimity?

thinking more about your comment, steven….

have you ever done walking meditation? is the meditation separate from the action of walking? and if you are walking, are you JUST walking? or is your mind “in here” instead of “out there”?

gartenfische:
This is so insightful (and yeah, we’re thinking along the same lines!). I know that we Westerners—me included—are way too head-oriented. It’s why yoga and meditation are so important for us.

I think that yoga and meditation are different, but that yoga (asana, that is) can be a meditation.

I am not a teacher like you, but as I practice longer, I see how asana, breath, the bandhas, the driste, all lead one into a meditation. Presence is so, so important—inhabiting each pose, as Pattabhi Jois says (Iyengar says this, too, and I’m sure the other great teachers); otherwise, like you said, it’s just acrobatics.

Yoga is such a gift. I am so grateful for teachers, like you, who bring it to us here in the West—we so, so need it!

Sama:
the thing is, gartenfische, each time I come back from my studies in India, the more I feel like an outsider here, in the western yoga world.

Kate Holcombe, a teacher in San Francisco and who has studied extensively at the same school I do, has said that for a long time she hesitated calling what she does yoga because it was so different from what is practiced in the west.

I now know what she meant.

gartenfische:
So is there a way to bring more of the true yoga into the West, or is it hopeless?

Most of my teachers are, at least, trying to be very true to the Indian teaching (Annie Pace, especially).

Even if it is not yoga as it is supposed to be, I have known a lot of growth and healing as a result of my practice, and I am grateful for it. I don’t know—I may never get to India.

Sama:
gartenfische, I am in no way saying that the yoga I study is the way it’s “supposed to be”! that would be so autocratic! and no way am I saying that all yogins/yoga teachers have to go to India to study! HA! India is definitely not for everyone! however for me, the first time I put my foot on indian soil, I felt like I had come home.

I just know that what I study there resonates with me and it is a traditional style. for example, when I’m there I study chanting, pranayama, meditation, asana theory, etc. and from my teachings I’ve come to realize that (for example) pranayama is taught indiscriminately here in many classes I’ve been to, like an afterthought, or with no purpose. A teacher will announce “ok, let’s do kapalabhati” in the middle of the class. I can tell you after my first training, I immediately stopped teaching that pranayama in group classes. that’s just an example.

my classes are always asana/pranayama/meditation. of course, YOUR yoga is what resonates with YOU!

gartenfische:
I have the same hesitations about pranayama, but I think they came from reading something several years ago that warned that it should not be taken lightly and that beginning yoga students shouldn’t do it at all. I have heard of teachers teaching it indiscriminately (it seems) and I’ve wondered if they know what they are doing.

Earlier, I was reading about pranayama in Light on Yoga. He recommends Nadi Sodhana Pranayama for headaches, but elsewhere, he talks about supervision by a guru or teacher being necessary to practice pranayama. So I don’t know if it would be okay to try it as a remedy when I have a headache. Probably not. I have noticed that even ujjayi breathing helps, though

Sama:
yes, I agree about having a qualified teacher to teach pranayama. another thing that is never taken into consideration regarding pranayama in group classes is the dosha, or the body type, so to speak, of each student.

a certain pranayama might be appropriate for one student while it may completely agitate another student, in a group class. how does a teacher know the dosha of each student in a group class? just like yoga, pranayama is not one size fits all, so that is why I believe pranayama is indiscriminately taught in western yoga classes.

also, regarding the bandhas: Krishnamacharya believed that bandhas should not even begun to be taught unless the student can comfortably inhale 10 or 12 counts, and exhale 10 or 12 counts. now tell me how often a teacher in a group class will announce “engage mula bandha!” or whatever bandha as if every student knows what she/he is talking about!

this is why I have said time and again what I have been taught: personal transformation can begin in a group class but is accomplished in a one on one relationship with a teacher.

and THAT is the difference between east and west as I see it.

gartenfische:
Mula bandha is a common teaching in Ashtanga, including with the teachers who study in India. I am NOT saying you are wrong! There just seem to be different “rules” coming from different teachers.

But it is confusing for people, because we don’t know! All these teachers are teaching pranayama and then other teachers say they shouldn’t be. Then everybody’s teaching the bandhas and others say no.

Sama:
I know that mulabandha is common in astanga — altho I’m not an astangi, I did a workshop once with Manju Jois, Guruji’s son. what I am saying that things like pranayama and the bandhas sometimes are taught indiscriminately or not deeply enough. and Krishnamacharya was Iyengar’s teacher AND Patabhi Jois’ teacher, so how THEY interpreted his teachings was up to them!

Nadine:
I for one, totally agree with your post (as I would!)
I am so tired of that other yoga, that is in fact not-yoga.
And the hotpants/ flashy yoga gear that goes with it. Why are people so very very afraid to face themselves, unarmed, undressed (as it were)?

Sama:
yah, what’s up with the hot pants?

9 thoughts on “body consciousness: a discussion

  1. Hehe, I’m all about the hot pants! 🙂 On a more serious note, I’m glad you posted this, as I wasn’t following the thread of comments, and it brings up something I’ve been thinking about lately. Specifically, what is yoga and what is it’s purpose? I’m pretty open minded, and even if people are practicing just for fitness, I don’t have a problem with that, provided people aren’t getting injured due to poor instruction or delving into things they’re not ready for. However, my understanding of traditional yoga is that it is preparation for meditation. The asana and the pranayama serve to focus the mind, and once one is truly present in the practice, the focus on the asana can be removed, thus totally clearing the mind. Therefore, yoga is not meditation in motion (although I like the sound of that!), but merely one step away from meditation. I’m not up on my gurus, but someone once said that if we could truly be present and focus, the asana would be completely unnecessary. Other approaches to meditation focus on the breath without asana in order to clear the mind for meditation. Thus asana, pranayama, mantras, etc. are all pathways to meditation, and therefore separate from it. As long as you’re focusing on anything, you’re not meditating because your mind is one step away from being truly clear. I have yet to achieve this, but I have enough trouble just being truly present in my yoga practice!

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  2. interesting comment by Steven!In some forms of meditation, though, you do focus—or focus is too strong a word, but you do pay attention—for instance, to the breath. I am not sure that the mind ever becomes truly clear in the sense that there are no thoughts or sensations (at least I don’t think it ever will for me). I’ve been meditating daily for six and a half years and I am not close to truly clear. But I am much better at watching the thoughts come and go, not getting attached. It’s amazing the changes this kind of mind training brings about in daily life, though—so much easier to let go of stuff that I wouldn’t have been able to let go of a few years ago.I refuse to buy into the whole yoga as a fashion show, yoga as an industry thing. I wear functional yoga clothes, not cool.

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  3. “As long as you’re focusing on anything, you’re not meditating because your mind is one step away from being truly clear.”what is “truly clear”? Self-realization? enlightenment? Buddha became enlightened by watching the breath, nothing more, nothing less and that is possible for everyone in this lifetime. that is my training. “Buddha” means “awakened one” — awake, present, and aware, nothing more, nothing less. thoughts will always be there, it is fruitless to try to stop them. even buddhist monks who meditate 6 hours a day have thoughts. however, it is your choice not to become attached to them and the movie that is constantly playing in your mind whether it is regretting the past or anticipating a future that has not happened.as for a “focus”, the focus is the breath, the focus is a mantra, the focus is a physical sensation. as soon as there is no focus, that is when the mind wanders and the monkey starts to jump from tree to tree.

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  4. Thank you, Linda. I appreciate your clear-headed explanation. I was trying to go there, but didn’t quite manage it! Plus, while I watch the breath during meditation, I was not sure whether there are other forms where you don’t focus on anything at all—which, as you said in your last paragraph, would simply lead to the monkey mind taking over (so I guess the answer is no).A friend of mine once said about meditation: But why would I want my mind to be a blank? People who do not meditate do not really get it, they have a misperception about what it is.

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  5. GF, that is the biggest misconception about meditation: that the mind is a blank, no thoughts at all. that is impossible because that is the nature of the mind. meditation IS one-pointed focus. It is clearly spelled out in the 8 limbs of yoga, the last steps toward samadhi:1. Pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses in order to still the mind. 2. Dharana – concentration.When Dharana is achieved, it leads to the next step. 3. Dhyana – meditation is that state of pure thought and absorption in the object of meditation. There is still duality in Dhyana. When mastered Dhyana leads to the last step. 4. Samadhi – the superconscious state. In Samadhi non-duality or oneness is experienced.<>“meditation is that state of pure thought and absorption in the object of meditation”<> — how can there be “absorption in the object” if there is no focus?

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  6. Perhaps my understanding of meditation is flawed then, and meditation is in turn a step toward Samadhi. I think my understanding of meditation is really Samadhi according to what you described Linda. That makes meditation somewhat less elusive then!

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