No Clarity, No Direction: No Problem.

Krishna and Arjun on the chariot, Mahabharata,...

Krishna and Arjuna on the battlefield

Who is ? I don’t know. He’s an Indian dude with wisdom to share. I’ve very much enjoyed two of his posts on elephant journal. The latest one (No Clarity, No Direction, No Problem), in particular, speaks to me, as holidays approach, and I have no plan 8 months after quitting my job (yikes). I am in perfectly fine spirits (we’re getting a dog! I have time for yoga, to cook, to sleep!), but boy oh boy do I want to do something. What? how?

Mr.  calls this the “Arjuna syndrome”, these moments in our lives when the only thing the brain is filled with is confusion, frustration and dejection. Continue reading

Letting Go (of Wall Street)

While bombshells fall in the yogaworld I am stuck in my head. I wonder: should I open up a yoga studio? I love the idea of starting a business; I love yoga. I need a job.

Could this be me someday?

I don’t have a yoga following, let alone much teaching experience, but the school won’t be about me. It would be about the teachers (from all styles! Ashtanga, Jivamukti, Iyengar, Kundalini, you name it, even pilates!) and the community. It would be a business. My neighborhood has been gentrifying, needs “services”, and could possibly support a studio. I am excited about marketing, sales, HR policy, e.g. running this as a for-profit venture with philosophical, spiritual, physical benefits. I continue to think.

But my insecurities and fears stand in the way. Am I good enough? Do this in New York City, where yoga studios are like Starbucks, one on every corner? Gamble with our savings?

Anything gives me self doubt. I compare myself to others.

For example–the Wall Street Journal profiled this 32 year old guy, a former investment banker now Hindu monk, who recently led a meditation session at the Occupy Wall Street protests. He’s got an MBA, like me, but was more “successful” in the business world than me (he was investment banker at Bank of America), and, having quit the corporate world (as I did) seems to be more committed to his dharmic path (he’s a celibate monk at a Hindu monestary in the East Village, giving talks about mindfulness at Citi and B of A, while I sit around doing very little). I think, I am so cautious; others are not. Why do I think I can do this? What to do?

My mantra these days has been to soften and be receptive, and when I do this, I find his teachings instructive. He says: don’t allow fear, ego and selfishness to stand in the way of making the right business decisions.

Technology with a heart

John Friend makes some amazing claims about his new wide Manduka yoga mat. “If you’re on a mat that you just stick to and you feel stable, you just go inside. You actually can have an inner opening from a piece of rubber, on your floor. I’m proud to say that everything about this mat will lead to the very essence of your heart.” 

(me: I have a Jade yoga mat. After a while the rubber falls apart, but it’s my fave for grippiness.)

via yoganonymous

Simple Things

I’ve renewed my appreciation for Yoga Journal in the course of writing this blog, I’ve discovered a treasure of knowledge in the website’s archives. Although I find the blogs less appealing, I might rethink that opinion due to this lovely YJ blog post called Simple Things. The author writes that, as her yoga practice matures, her attitude about it gets simpler. She writes:

I am less concerned than ever about where I place my mat in class, what I’m wearing, whether or not I’ll ever do a handstand without a wall (OK, I still dream about this one), and whether home practice is better than class. I have cared deeply about every one of these, but they’re receding in the rear view mirror.

What I do contemplate now, on and off the mat, are things like this:

Open is better than closed. Open body, open mind, open heart. Not always easier, but always preferable.

Discomfort goes away when I don’t meet it with resistance. 

Pushing doesn’t work. Google Sisyphus.

Accepting what is grants me immediate freedom. All of a sudden my head is 90 percent quieter.

Joy makes me healthy.

And as always, love wins.

Making meditation less scary

I am a stuggling yogi. I like the physical practice but understand that this is just the tip of the iceberg. In particular: meditation. It is scary, boring, of dubious value, and I fear failure.

Stop my mind from its constant buzzing and worry and fear? Not in this lifetime.

But this blog post on elephant journal–called 5 obstacles to meditation— makes me feel more hopeful. The author is a retired Yale prof of medicine and psychologist who I think studied with Jack Kornfield, a leading US authority on meditation. (Kornfield’s book, A Path with Heart, was required reading for my yoga teacher training and references a Yale psychologist who becomes a skillful meditator). Seth Segall writes:

Can we let go of expectations that our minds will always be clear, calm, and steady? No matter how much practice you have had, it’s unreasonable to expect anything else. After all, our minds, like everything else, are affected by causes and conditions. Can we extend compassion and lovingkindness to ourselves in such moments?

It’s said that when we practice meditation we are actually practicing three separate skills: 1) staying with the object of meditation, 2) recognizing when we’ve drifted off, and 3) returning to the object without fuss or judgment. When we have a “good meditation,” i.e, when our concentration is good and we’re able to stay with our object of meditation, we are developing the first skill. When we keep drifting and returning, even if we do it 100 times in a sitting, we’re developing the second and third skills. These, in fact, may be the most important skills in terms of improving our daily lives: recognizing when we’re no longer present and returning to mindfulness.

The poet William Blake wrote in the Marriage of Heaven and Hell that “if the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.” Keep watching your mind just as it is. Turning poison into wisdom is the path of the Buddhas.

20 minute relief from neck tension

Despite doing yoga for 10 years, and better posture, a stronger core, and
Trapezius Gray409.PNG looser hips, hamstrings, and shoulders, I still suffer from chronic neck and shoulder tension. [Don’t get me wrong: the yoga has provided enormous benefits for my other ailments, especially my back.]

Why do I still hold so much tension? I don’t know, but I am trying to figure it out. In the meantime, while I get at the long-term causes, I’ve discovered the glory of the tennis ball + acupressure on my trapezius muscles (“traps”). This releases the tightness in my neck and shoulders for a glorious few moments like nothing else ever has. My neck feels lighter, longer and my chest open. Different from a standard neck rub, I use static pressure, no kneading, on my knots until the tension drains away. I can reach the knots on my shoulder/upper back with my own hands, and do this when I’m out in the world, but I prefer the tennis balls because: 1) they allow my whole body (arms and chest) to relax open with gravity, and 2) I can reach otherwise inaccessible parts of my mid back and along my spine. Continue reading

More inconclusive scientific evidence on yoga

Yoga has helped me manage chronic neck pain. Now I feel like Wonder Woman, strongFile:Invisible Plane.jpg and ready to fly, and have become a yoga proselytizer. To strengthen my case as yoga ambassador, I continue to search for unassailable, scientific, randomized proof that yoga is good medicine. Unfortunately, I can’t find it. [There may be a yogic lesson in this but that is not the point of this post.]

This point of this post is to share a NYT blog post which reviews a recent survey of studies on yoga for management of chronic and acute pain. The report, in which a team of researchers sifted through 10 randomized clinical trials involving hundreds of patients, concluded that, while yoga has the potential for alleviating pain, a definitive (scientific) judgement is not yet possible.

Why is a judgement not yet possible? I can’t say. The report says that 9 of the 10 studies suggest that yoga does lead to “a significantly greater reduction in pain than various control interventions such as standard care, self care, therapeutic exercises, relaxing yoga, touch and manipulation, or no intervention.” Nine out of ten sounds pretty good to me.

I can’t access the report (and am happy for that, because then I’d have to read the thing) to read the details so I will throw my hands up, continue to search, and do more yoga.

What is yoga? Iyengar.

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. –attributed to Albert Einstein via the internet.

I don’t know if Einstein said this for reals, but it speaks to me. I can’t explain yoga, or the importance of asana in yoga, simply. Sad, and not for lack of effort. Therefore, in addition to looking within, I look to masters for their wisdom. In the below clip from 1976, BKS Iyengar drops some knowledge relevant to these two questions: What is yoga?, and Why Asana? I’ve transcribed the quotes below.

Based on my limited study of the Yoga Sutras, Iyengar’s definition of yoga is familiar. I get it intellectually, but I don’t get it in my bones. This is not his fault. His style isn’t simple, exactly, but it is clear and dramatic. His style also includes an amazing pair of tiny and bad-ass plaid yoga “pants”.

What is yoga? In order to experience…total freedom [in body, in mind, in the self itself], Indian sages and saints introduced…yoga. Yoga is a union with the body and the mind, mind with the soul so that man…lives in a state of peace and poise…Yoga is a means for freedom, and yoga is the end of freedom itself. Yoga means complete… sublimation of the ways of thought which move in various directions. …Man…when he stills the wandering mind…experiences the self which has no color, no form, no shape. In order to experience that self, yoga has various steps for physical, moral, intellectual, and spiritual discipline…

Why asana? In order to… conquer this inner oscillation of the self with the mind, we have to come to the concrete: the body, which is the temple… the vehicle of the spirit…As long as the body…is not kept healthy, clean, pure and holy, the mind is not released from the bondage…If this body is abused or negleted, we are neglecting the self, so we are neglecting our freedom…The body…has to be conquered so that the mind is completely freed from the attachment of the body and get itself attached to the self….The subtle body, which is the mind, cannot be known, cannot be seen, cannot be understood, so these asana are meant to conquer the known, so that the known dissolves in the unknown.