September in Ann Arbor is the New Year, when most of us rearrange our schedules with great plans and goals. My hope for all of us at AASY is to have a very satisfying year of practice and study. The subject of yoga is so huge, and encompasses so much, that at times it is a daunting endeavor. The biggest benefit is that the study of yoga organizes our self cultivation. It disciplines us towards better health, calmer nerves, sharper intellect, and content spirits. Our studies provide a pragmatic system for this self cultivation. As we exercise our limbs, joints, muscles and lungs we develop our sense of balance with respect for agility, strength and endurance. And even though the qualities of balance, agility, strength and endurance seem on the surface to be physical skills, they extend to our management of personal maturation. We grow emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. Our families and friends appreciate and benefit from our efforts as well – we become the stable, strong, reliable, creative and fun people in their lives.
The first 4 sutra’s in the Patanjali Yoga Sutra explains our mission and what we can expect to gain, without really giving away all the mysteries we practice to reveal. The definition of “Yoga is the cessation of the movements in the consciousness”, (PYS I.2). We are promised that if we succeed in this quieting of our chattering monkey of a consciousness “then, the seer dwells in his own true splendor”, (PYS 1.3). And we are warned that when we have not quieted that pesky mind we are left with, “other times, (when) the seer identifies with the fluctuating consciousness,” (PYS1.4).
We still have the big job of finding out for ourselves who exactly is our own Splendid Seer. The technique is to discipline, stabilize and quiet the mind to start the hunt. The snake pit we might fall into is false identification with the unstable mind. The search is the fun. The insights are hopeful. The challenge is rewarding.
Welcome back, looking forward to our Fall 07 Session together.
3 Replies to “Searching for the Seer”
It’s been a while since this blog has seen any action, so I will try and restart it.
One of my challenges as a student has been keeping humble and quiet (neither are in my nature). And after almost 6 years of regular practice, I have lots to say, some of it useful and I am sure some just dead wrong.
I have had in mind for a while a series of pieces on yoga practice from the perspective of a stiff, male student of Iyengar yoga, covering topics in a way that I have not seen elsewhere. Perhaps this will generate comment from Laurie and others.
So my first topic — three tips on how to practice at home. We’ve heard lots of tips, but maybe not these (or in this way).
1. Trick yourself into starting each practice. When I began years ago, I did so my telling myself to take 10 minutes and work on 3 poses that I learned in class. Once you start, you feel better. 10minutes becomes 20 or more, and you’re off. And start no matter how you feel that day. If you wait till you’re rested and ready, you will never practice.
Even now, when I can practice at home for 90 minutes or more, my mind can’t comprehend in advance practicing that long. So I often start with one pose and see where it leads. When I started, that one pose may have been Trikonasana (triangle) or Dog pose. Now it’s Yoga Mudrasana (legs in half lotus, bending forward — a great hip stretch and groin deepener). This often leads to all sorts of additional work (or not).
2. Keep it basic. For a stiff person, yoga is a humiliating, discouraging enterprise that drives away lots of men. The “basic” home practice alleviates this problem (at least between classes) and builds results. Two examples. Urdvha Hastasana (“hands up” basically) and Vrksasana (tree) lead to a real nice handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana). And Virabadrasana I (Warrior I) stretches the hip flexors and leads to all manner of back bends and dropping back. I’ll spend half a home practice sometimes just doing Virab I for this reason.
3. If you can get started at all, pick a theme (any theme). Laurie covers this well, but my early list was: standing poses, twists, forward bends, balance poses, hip openers, long holds, short holds with movement, shoulder work, and strength work. With a theme, you don’t have to make lists or work very hard. Just apply stuff from class within each theme. Make any theme you want.
Okay, enough talk for now. I have lots of other topics in mind, like “why practice Pranayama?”, “how to learn headstand away from class,” “practicing on the road,” “practicing through an injury,” “a modified padmasana cycle for stiff hips and touchy knees,” etc. But I can also go back to being quiet if you all prefer!
Your essay reminded me of a conversation I had this weekend with a long-term friend that I see about once a year. She was asking if I still was “into” yoga. I told her that I had gotten back into yoga a few years ago after a long hiatus. She looked at me puzzled and said, “Hmmmm, ever sense I’ve known you, you always got into yoga ‘positions’ in the morning and at night. I thought about it for a minute and then realized that she was right. Even during the many years when I wasn’t taking classes there were a few poses that were intuitively so helpful to me upon rising and before sleeping that I went into them without even thinking about it. So, although I did take a leave from the important disciplines of learning and practicing, yoga was still there in my life in some small yet significant way. I guess I didn’t have to go back to yoga because it was right there waiting for me to embrace it again.
While I am searching I am also wondering. If I quiet my chattering monkey, will the war stop? If I quiet my monkey will that generate world peace and an increase in my student load? How can I keep my monkey quiet when there are so many issues to be attended? How do I quiet the monkey if he/she is invisible to me, making noise but not available for interaction? So much to think about!!! I can’t wait until next class when the loudest thing my monkey will be chattering about will be physical pain and limitations with both of his (her?) eyes on the clock trying somehow to make it faster yet slower at the same time. Why can’t my monkey just accept things as they are and mindfully go about the business of living? My monkey tells me he/she has the answers to my questions, but now I am not so sure. I’ll be looking for the anwers in class next week!