Happy 10th Anniversary AASY!

On Saturday, April 22, 2017 the Ann Arbor School of Yoga celebrated its 10th anniversary with a party. Each Spring Laurie celebrates the schools anniversary with food, art and entertainment. This year the food came from Jerusalem Garden, the cake from Zingerman’s, the art was Quilts by Pat Holly and the music was Indian Fusion played by John Churchville’s group, Sumkali.

The Asana hall was decorated with large quilts and Indian fabric. Laurie greeted everyone and led the Invocation to Patanjali. She then produced an easel and a marker asking the group for suggestions describing what yoga has meant to them. The responses were: Quiet, Community, All Encompassing, Discipline, Gratitude, Focus, Resource, Spiritual, Balance and Gear-Head. A woman drew applause using all the words in a sentence right away.

Laurie introduced this years exhibiting artist, Pat Holly, who spoke to us briefly about her works.

Then we headed down for dinner. The entry passage downstairs had more small quilts which were beautifully intricate and colorful.

Circular tablecloths spread on the floor with elegant place settings, flowers and an anniversary post card greeted the guests. The post card is lovely every year and some yogis have a card from all nine of the previous anniversaries! (Upstairs, in the outer room, there is a framed matted assembly of all these cards made by Alexa Lee!)

Diners enjoyed falafel sandwiches, hummus, pita bread and salad. A large cake for dessert was off to the side. Students, instructors, family and friends, and the musicians who’d play later, all ate together. The room rang with chatter and laughter.

When it was time for dessert the cake from Zingerman’s garnered a LOT of attention. A trained panda would not have enjoyed a more attentive audience. The cake perfectly depicted the practice room upstairs, in detail, complete with wood floor, teaching platform, and a human figure executing Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward dog pose) on top! Yoga mats, blocks, and bolsters rendered in sugar were present and the teaching figure looked a lot like Laurie! It was almost a shame to cut into the cake. Almost.

While the guests finished dinner the musicians went upstairs to prepare for their performance and were playing their welcome music when the congregation headed back upstairs into the hall.

The 5 Piece Group, Sumkali, led by John Churchville, played Indian Fusion Music using the teachers platform as a stage. Large beautiful quilts hung to each side of the stage and fabric draped the wall behind the musicians. The lights were dimmed except for the stage. Perfect. The group performed as a 5 piece with Tabla, Violin, Guitar, Bass, and a Vocalist. They played one piece that used the Beatles “Come Together” as a theme in the middle. Fusion indeed.

Mr. Churchville said Musicians enjoyed playing to an audience interested in Indian culture and really enjoyed playing in the great room.

The band played 9 songs that went by all too quickly. Party guests helped clear the great room as they do after every yoga class and the evening was complete.

Review, Reconsider, Reflect!

Last week in our classes we reviewed asanas from many categories and also challenged our understanding and endurance in our inversions.

It’s very easy to become inspired and motivated with new and interesting poses to study.  It is definitely necessary to attempt new things to remain fresh in our efforts!  But the fragrance of the subject starts to permeate our effort with repeated investigation into things to which we have already been introduced.

We are told in Sutra 1.2 that Yoga is the stilling of the movements of consciousness.  Sutra 1.12 tells us that practice (Abhyasa) and detachment (Vairagya) are the means to get the job done.

These two pillars, this two fold approach, repeated inquiry into the movements of consciousness and the nature of those movements; coupled with a cultivated attitude of disinterest in things that obstruct our effort to still the mind, are the two fundamental essential ingredients.

Abhyasa is more than just practice.  It’s a specific type of practice, an activity that strives to understand and then still the movements of consciousness.  This implies we must be objective towards the activity of practice, always a bit removed from the subjectiveness that may come.  While practicing we are to study the mind, body and breath like impartial scientists.  

Vairagya is more than just being detached.  It is a specific type of renunciation where through will power we wean ourselves from cravings, and desires of all types, even the noble desires are checked.

Practice without the restraint of detachment for any rewards, can become too emotional, too prideful or dejected, like a scientist that is so invested in a particular outcome that she misses the big discovery revealed by her experiments.

By reviewing often the poses we have already started to know we can look for what we may have missed, what sort of “attachments” we may have assigned to our work thus far, and hope to unearth even more of the subtleties of the nature of our roiling consciousness.  If we understand it well, we may be able to quiet it down and get that reported glimpse of the soul!

Transforming the Fire!

Last week we all dived into back bend asanas in class.  Backbends (front openers) are difficult and stimulating – a great tonic for artic winter blues!   The warming stimulation to the body, and mind, is obvious when working these poses.

The philosophical lesson within this category of asana is complex and rewarding.  There is fear to overcome, especially if there exists a vulnerable condition in the low back or neck.  Careful attention to technique regarding those areas is needed. We learn to overcome fear by practicing with strong attention to detail and demand of ourselves a communication between vulnerable spots and our intellect.

Also the stimulation may bring on a less then desirable condition in the nerves.  We are reminded to strive to reach a sattvic state of mind, not one of hyper stimulation.  Re-read our Philosophy Corner discussion titled  “Nature and Soul… and how they try to connect“ to review the concepts of gunas.

The stimulation of the rajasic qualitiy of our nature is needed to attempt backbends, and we try to use just enough effort to get the job done, but not overdo and create an imbalance.  Using asanas with a rajasic (fiery) effort to oust sluggishness (tamasic quality) is very effective.  Then we must watch for how to transform that fiery nature into a still, stable, and alert consciousness (citta).  At that time there may be a clearer connection to our souls within.

What would that be like? No waves in consciousness!

This past week while we worked hard again on our standing poses we reviewed the definition of Yoga as put forth in Patanjali Yoga Sutra.  Patanjali in the first few Sutras actually uses Yoga as a verb.

“Yoga is the cessation of movements in the movements in the consciousness.  Then, the seer dwells in his own true spendour.  At other times, the seer identifies with the fluctuating consciousness.”  BKS Iyengar translation of Sutra I.2-1.4

Cessation or at least control of, or restraint, in the wonderings of our consciousness is what we actually try to practice!  Standing poses – while facing stiff muscles and joints, and balance difficulties – require a very steady will and mind!

The assumption here is that we, the practitioners, are deep down true enlightened “seers”!  And it’s only when we don’t have good control over the layers of our consciousness that we consider ourselves defined by our current troubles, or difficulties.

There is an occasional glimpse of that clear, still soul within…..

 

Equanimity in Effort

Last week we investigated the few Patanjali Yoga Sutras that specifically speak about asana.  To quote BKS Iyengar directly from his translation and commentary in II.46 – II.48

“Asana is  perfect firmness of body, steadiness of intelligence, and benevolence of spirit. Perfection in an asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached. From then on, the sadhaka is undisturbed by dualities.”

Well! That is certainly a tall order. 

But as we worked through some difficult forward bends, inversions, and arm balances we did get a great chance to face the need to become more firm in our body, steady in our mind, and to watch out for anger, or frustration or pride in our spirits.  It’s unlikely we will actually “perfect” an asana.  But at times there are glimpses of spreading our awareness so equitably across the shape of an asana that our effort hints at transforming towards effortlessness.

And it does seem at those times in practice that a relationship with a more intimate inner “self” is being nurtured.  As body, mind, breath and spirit are united troublesome dualistic perceptions begin to dissolve.

Kriya Yoga – How we should act!

Last week we looked at the 5 Niyama’s listed in Patanjali Yoga Sutra II.32. They are concepts as well as things to be practiced!

sauca  –  (cleanliness) , purity of the body, mind and behavior which results in a disinterest of sensuality.  Then the drive towards a spiritual outlook is nurtured.  Plus sauca transforms a wandering mind into a joyfull awareness that is needed to realize the Self.

santosa – contentment which is achieved by discipline practiced of sauca which then brings a type of benevolent consciousness that when developed leads towards tapas

tapas – fervent disciplined practice that burns away all impurities and further sparks us towards spirituality              

svadhayaya – objective study of the Self, and the “little self”  in reference to some higher authority.  When we practice svadhyaya we are told we will develop an understanding of, and communication with, our chosen deity.

Isvara pranidhana – surrendering all yogic practices to the Lord will bring us closer to a unified state of Samadhi

We noted that the last 3 niyamas listed above are also considered the 3 components of Kriya Yoga, or the Acts of Yoga. Kriya Yoga is the first idea put forth in the second chapter of the Patanjali Yoga Sutra, the Sadhana (practice) Pada.

As we worked on forward bends and arm balances and other difficult asanas it became clear that a “clean” approach to the practice would result in optimal cleansing results, which inspires a sense of contentment.  The challenges of practice, especially new and difficult asanas, needs a strong sense of discipline (tapas), objective study (svadhayaya), and a surrender of ego and desire to the Lord (Isvara pranidhana).

Yamas to help guide our behaviour

This third week of our session we focused on back bending asanas, and the overall universal techniques to proceed safely with backbends: always elongate the low back with some awareness and control of the firm abdominal cavity, emphasize the coiling of back ribs to the front, challenge the upper back to arch more than mid or low back.  And we dug into the stiffness of the thighs, and front abdominal area.

All of this coupled with consideration of the Yamas.

Ahimsa – the practice of not-causing-injury.  And if adept at this practice all hostilities will be given up in our presence.

Satya – non-lying, and searching for objective truth.  When truthfulness is confirmed in our behavior on all levels we receive positive fruits from our actions.

Asteya – Non-stealing, even giving up all craving of all things beyond basic needs.  If then, precious jewels will come our way!

Brahmacharya – extreme respect for the “creative force” in life.  If we understand and don’t abuse this aspect of life we will be full of vigor and vitality, and knowledge

Aparigraha – non-hoarding and non-coveting.  If we truly have and want only what we need at the time we need it, we are freed from fear and insecurity, and are then privy to the knowledge of why we are here, how we should live, and what our past, present and future life means.

Often when I’m faced with a challenge or situation where things clearly are not going well I try to review these five yamas.  If I had applied one or more of these “restraints” could a better result have occurred?

 

Nature and Soul… and how they try to connect.

This past week we discussed the yogic outlook on the structure of the universe.  Recognizing there are two distinct aspects, the natural world and the spiritual world that can be called Prakriti (nature) and Purusa (soul).

The yogi endeavors to unite the two for clear understanding and connection to Purusa.     Part of the details regarding this project is to recognize that things in nature, (including our own selves and minds), can be calm and balanced or quite disturbed and murky.

We discussed the Trigunas – qualities of nature which are sattva (illumination), rajas (active), tamas (dormant or inert).  Knowing about these qualities, and recognizing the need to balance rajas with tamas to reach a balanced calm state is a basic precept of why we practice.  If they are balanced we may be able to view the Soul clearly.

We worked hard in standing forward bends to use the stability needed, and the fluidity required to calm the experience of these asanas towards a quiet experience.  And…well with screaming hamstrings or wobbly balance there is always a lot of obvious reasons to carry on with our practice!

 

Here We Are, Doing Yoga… but Why?

Opening the Jan 2015 session of Classes at AASY was a wonderful homecoming after a long Holiday Season break.  Classes began with a short conversation regarding “Why” we are here doing our yoga.  When  I asked the students what brings them to class and to their home practice many different answers were shared.  Quite a few reported the initial reasons they were attracted to the study were not actually the same reasons they continue.  We must be doing something right!

The practice and study of Yoga should be transformative and so as we develop and mature in our practice the attraction to, and effects of, our practice will evolve.

So with an opening week of classes where stiff cold hips were visited by moving fluidly into leg positions that led to forward bends, and some standing asanas paired together to continue the idea of fluidity and stability we began a new year of ongoing study.  Some folks really liked the double block work we did in Adho Mukha Svanasana and Sirsasana (other’s not so much).  But on it goes as we continue to ask ourselves why we study and practice, and what happens when we do.  And who exactly, which layer of who we are at any given moment, is practicing?  And can our practice transform us towards understanding ourselves more intimately and honestly?

Of course it can, how could it not?

 

 

Ann Arbor Chronicle covers AASY event

The Ann Arbor School of Yoga community is interested in learning to live artfully, and also supports the arts!  We’ve enjoyed supporting different arts groups in our community.  Recently we had a stimulating evening of yoga and film.  Local online magazine  Ann Arbor Chronicle sent a reporter.  Read her account of our event at

http://annarborchronicle.com:80/2009/08/20/ann-arbor-film-festival-stretches-out/