Friday, November 7, 2008

Patanjali Revisited

Should the people who thought up get the Novel Peace Prize?
As I began the clicking of the mouse that would lead to this post, I was beginning to get back into a bit of temper. As I had already come through a very great deal of temper over the previous morning hours, I wasn't looking forward to a rerun. And then, as the Blogger mechanism began to unfold before my appreciative eyes, I felt myself relaxing. Ah, the release that Geeta Iyngar speaks of in the latest issue of Ascent, the quarterly published out of the Yasodhara Ashram at nearby Kootenay Bay, although she was really speaking of release in a tense muscle, not a tense soul.
The source of my winter of discontent? The Yoga Journal, generally a most excellent and useful magazine, but annoying at the moment because there seemed to be difficulties in getting an email directly to the chosen target. In this case, either the EIC, Kaitlin Quistgaard, or the latest contributor to write about home practice and therefore the very real problem of motivation, Jason Crandall.
Oh well, happy fault. As was the case in at least half the plays I got involved in, I'll just have to let myself be dragged into the arena, through a knot hole, kicking and screaming. And then, as with the plays, I'll do all right, realize that I wouldn't have missed the new assignment for the world, and wonder what all the fuss was all about.
This means, because of the felicitous technology at hand, that I am now launching yet another yoga periodical, sort of, simply in order to say a thing or two not only in appreciation for the discipline, but also to point out a thing or two that most of its promoters do not.
For example, Jason Crandall, even though he is talking, along with the entire edition, about the most essential part of any undertaking, a home practice and the necessity of a modest but consistent daily schedule.
Do no modern yoga teachers realize the importance of starting in bed? I recently asked another expert this same question, and got looked at in wonderment. The bats of October have been put away for another year, but the image of the plate is still valid: the yoga establishment as I know it has got itself two strikes, but can it connect with the ball on the third attempt?
Although I first looked into yoga almost forty years ago, I only became acquainted with name of the alleged founder, Patanjali, some months back, buying a little book of his at our local very eclectic main street bookstore. As those who have read him know, he actually wrote down only one thing about hatha, or physical, yoga. He insisted that each and all asanas must be "stable and comfortable."
My, my, my. Such a rule for life, as well as yoga, and yet I wondered at the moment of reading this essential principle, and still wonder, how many yoga people, teachers as well as students, actually keep this rule throughout their yoga hours, beginning, middle, and end. I had only been familiar with the sage's words a couple of months when I ran into a young woman I'd come to know over the previous few years, a third generation member of one of Nelson's most famous athletic families, a soccer player, a student of the weight room, lately fallen in love with yoga, and studying it at the Coast. Her teacher, she said, in his competitive and ambitious youth had broken both his knees. I asked her if she had heard of Patanjali, and yes, she had, and I gather it was from her older, wiser, instructor.
I think I actually had my first spiritual encounter with Patanjali in June of 1990, although I had no idea then of who he was and why I would eventually need to know him. I assumed that my visitor was only the usual, that is, the Holy Spirit alone. For about a week, starting on the 10th of that month, each morning as I sat in my reading in my habitual corner of the living room I experienced this very pleasant suffusion of spirit within my bones and all the rest of me which seemed to have something to do with complete physical strength, perfect agility, and a general weightlessness short of actually being lifted out of the chair.
Being human, and up to that point concerned about fitness only in terms of hiking and running, I began to wonder if I would be able to take such a feeling to the roads. From the beginning of the track, in 82, I'd had a lot of spiritual encounters over the running, but none quite like this one. And the same spirit certainly did not show up to aid me with longer and longer runs, or more frequent runs, although I think there was a nice little bit of it in September of 98, when I put in the fortnight of short jogs, limiting myself to a half-hour only, but doing it every day, and realizing that I was indeed increasing my agility. Not long after that, as I have written earlier, came the gym, John Douillard, and the growing conviction that Western Athletics could only get stupider by ignoring the physiological wisdom of Mother Asia.
Having said this, I also suspect that the Asiatic schools can only suffer by ignoring what the West has done correctly, not only in the precision of its anatomical studies, but also in all those very knowledgeable trainers that colleges and professional teams employ to keep their athletes healthy.
And then all these schools, having shaken hands at happy hour together, can sit down and really get to the basics, which means Aristotle. I quote:

And because everything which has matter is moblile, it follows that mobile being is the subject of natural philosophy. For natural philosophy is about natural things, and natural things are those whose principle is nature. For nature is a principle of MOTION and REST in that in which it is. (Capitals mine). Therefore natural science deals with those things which have in them a principle of motion.

To be perfectly honest, this excerpt from the beginning of Aristotle's 'Physics" has actually come through Thomas Aquinas' commentary on that text, but of course the plain sense is not interfered with, nor the depth of the original vision diminished. And to be honest even further, let me admit that it took me some months - I've owned the book since the spring, I think - to find that pairing of motion and rest and be struck by its significance to my still on-going search for the various stretches esssential to my personal tights spots.
A different dosha than mine might be quicker to latch on to it. But I'm a pitta at any kind of physical exertion, to the degree that in order to educate me properly, the Holy Spirit is utterly ruthless, under the terms of his decades old contract with the mature mystic, and simply refuses to give me either physical comfort or a calm and creative mind at any point where I try too much or too quickly. I get a little room for trial and error, of course, just as a compass needle gets to swing a bit before it settles down and points north, but no more than that, before any sense of being centred is completely taken away.
This really happened over the weekend, following the first few sentences of this post, as I was getting better and better at understanding how to use my waking up at night to perfect the effects of the child pose, that which I finally realized was the real key to most, if not all, the problems brought on by the recent months of hard walking and a lot of sitting to read or write without enough stretch smarts.
A hard, straight, floor, with or without a yoga mat, will of course tell you more accurately about some muscle capacities than a slightly sinking mattress will, but the experience of these last few weeks of exploring this most comfortable and stable of options has convinced me that to ignore the natural genius of mattress yoga is to miss a huge essential. I may be waxing on over this concept for a while.
For anyone who does not know what the child's pose is, understand that it is simply a position in which you kneel on your shins, lower legs together, and fold your torso over your thighs, tucked up somewhat like a child in the womb, with your head resting on your fists stacked on top of each other. This for starters. As you stretch, your head naturally drops right down to the mattress and then you can put your arms any which way they are inclined to take themselves. It is the best place I know of to start gentle push ups, for example.
Most of us started life in a bed. It's as good a place as any to start getting into real shape, which always includes finding the balance between effort and comfort.

1 comment:

Southview said...

The best position you can hope to obtain is that comfort position just prior to sleep. You will not fall into sleep if you have not obtained it. So I submit that whatever position you obtain just at the point of sleep is the ultimate YOGA relaxation position.....but who can remember?