dharma talk: Michael Stone

What a surprise it was to receive an email from Michael Stone, author of Yoga for a World Out of Balance: Teachings on Ethics and Social Action.

Michael told me that he likes this blog (and it always does this old English major’s heart good when published authors tell me they like my writing – he thinks LYJ is “not simply the repetition of familiar yoga cliches”) and asked whether I wanted to contribute to the conversation about his book.

I am sorry to say that I have not yet read the book, but I’m getting a copy from the publisher. When read, I will review it here. I am especially interested in his book that will come out in September Freeing the Body, Freeing the Mind. The subject is one that is near and dear to my heart, the yoking of yoga and Buddhism:

“Buddhism and yoga share a common history that goes back centuries. But because yoga and Buddhism came to North America from Asia as two separate traditions, their commonalities in the West often seem invisible. Most people choose to study either yoga or Buddhism and generally don’t combine the practices. Michael Stone brings together a collection of intriguing voices to show how Buddhism and yoga really do share the same values and spiritual goals.”

In my humble opinion, Patanjali could not have written the Yoga Sutra-s without being a bit influenced by the wandering Buddhist monks during his time. When I sat in my Sutra-s classes I would think “yes! and Buddhism says….” Then in any Buddhism classes I would think, “yes! and the Sutra-s say….” In my own mind, there was never any separation of the two philosophies. As they say in India, “same same but different, madam!”

For those of you interested in this idea, read Chip Hartranft’s translation, The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali: A New Translation with Commentary.

Here is an exceptional video of Michael Stone. It’s about 30 minutes long, so make some tea, pull up a comfy chair, and listen to a dharma talk on things such as the Self, karma, transcending patterns, and meditation. I like the reference to “heat” in the title since I always tell my students how yoga marinates and cooks us!

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=10336462&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1

Michael Stone Dharma Talk: Let the Heat Kill You from Centre of Gravity on Vimeo.

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the retreat, part 2: Yoga Dawg goes legit!

I have finally found some time to write a a bit about my second 10 day retreat for my Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation training at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. You can read about the first retreat in October, 2007 here.

We had the same teachers from last year except for Stephen Cope from Kripalu. I missed him because I love his style. In his place was Chip Hartranft who wrote The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali: A New Translation with Commentary which is the version of the Sutras we are using for this training. In his book Chip skillfully shows how the buddha-dharma can not be separated from Patanjali’s yoga philosophy.

My interview with a yoga teacher was with Chip and I loved his style as much as I loved Stephen Cope’s. Chip is sweet and down-to-earth and the real deal in my opinion. We were both sorry that our 15 minute talk seemed to end so quickly. I look forward to seeing him next year as he will be one of the teachers leading asana practice, along with Jill Satterfield.

The guest yoga teachers for this retreat were my teacher, Sarah Powers, and Judith Lasater. It was good to see Sarah as she is my teacher for yin yoga together with Paul Grilley when they come to Chicago. We did a yin and yang practice with Sarah and restorative yoga with Judith Lasater. I will say that after spending two days with Judith and her style of yoga, I wanted to leave the retreat — more on Judith’s classes in my next post.

Anne Cushman, who wrote Enlightenment for Idiots (see my sidebar), is one of the coordinators of this training and she led us in classes and also gave a talk on yoga. Although it was a mostly silent retreat, I thanked her for sending me her book and she told me she was going to quote YogaDawg in her talk — so that’s how YogaDawg became legit, his book quoted at a yoga and meditation training. I was amused when I saw students furiously writing down his words about yoga students, and I wondered whether they realized it’s yoga satire….after all, Lindia is YogaDawg’s evil yogini sister, bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha (that was supposed to be an evil laugh.)

Anne opened her discussion by posing the question: how does asana practice help mindfulness practice? she said because everything — meditation, pranayama, Patanjali’s and the Buddha’s words — are used in the service of waking up. she said that yoga was never supposed to be for anything other than awakening and seeing the world clearly as it is. that is enlightenment.

in the retreat asana practice cultivates a deeper exploration of our emotions, mind states, and body and breath. we use our asana practice to explore our relief from suffering, to bring us ease, and to explore the Four Noble Truths in relationship to our practice and therefore our life. yoga is life — Krishnamacharya knew this when he said “breath is central to yoga because it is central to life and yoga is about life.” practice is life and our life is the practice. yoga has the toolbox to bring us blissful states but the problem comes when we think that’s the only thing yoga can do, i.e., when we use yoga as a quick fix. what do we do when there is no quick fix? what are the larger principles we can bring to our asana practice?

Anne named four things:

1. bring the quality of metta (loving-kindness) or self-compassion to your practice. she said that sometimes metta was more important than mindfulness because we are judgmental about our practice. we forget that we are already complete and as yogins we have too much internal criticism about our practice. when we practice self-compassion our mindfulness will flourish naturally.

2. remember to use asana practice AS IT IS; know the difference between goal and intention. be present and develop a new relationship with WHAT IS. be willing to be present in your practice and transformation will occur. use your asana practice as a counterpose to the culture at large where we are pressured to constantly and continually become “better” because it is never good enough to be just as we are.

3. don’t use your asana practice as a way to support your conditioning — use it to counterbalance and transform your conditioning. Anne gave the example of Type A personalities always doing the same type of practice which supports their conditioning instead of transforming them into a less agitated Type B. if you live your life in constant agitation, don’t do a practice that will agitate you even more. be flexible with your practice, not dogmatic. As Jack Kornfield writes in A Path With Heart, mental flexibility is one of the marks of spiritual maturity. embrace the yin along with the yang.

4. most importantly, use your asana practice as a means to get in touch with impermanence. our bodies are changing every day even though we act like they aren’t. all of us will die yet we live as if we won’t. use your asana practice to recognize the changes in your body while at the same time celebrating it and appreciating it.

Anne reminded us that our asana practice is a constant dance between form and formlessness. as yogins we devote ourselves to the study of form and to being healthy, but at the same time we must realize that the forms we turn our bodies into are impermanent, one asana flows into another, as do the seasons of our lives. embrace the two truths of form and formlessness at the same time and always remember that it’s just a pose.

This second retreat was a mixed bag for me, good, bad, and indifferent, yet I experienced some epiphanies. I used to tell my students that a wise-ass Buddhist once said, life sucks, but suffering is optional. I now realize that life is suffering, pain is optional — big difference, think about it.

During a meditation practice on forgiveness, I finally forgave the alcoholic yoga studio owner, I no longer feel the rage. actually, the forgiveness was ultimately for me, not her. I forgave her for myself, to relieve MY pain over being betrayed. self-compassion is a wonderful thing.

the entire trip was a lesson on impermanence. before the retreat I spent five days with a friend exploring the Big Sur area. as it turned out, we cheated death by a few days because when we left, Big Sur went up in flames. the restaurant and the store that we went to and the Tassjara area, all were engulfed in wildfires that are still being fought.

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