An hour prior to our test, we received a final lecture, emphasizing that the four positive bhavas were central to all the concepts taught here, and everything stems as a result. It was nice to confirm what I had already suspected (that attitude dictates action and therefore results), but in a very simple and straightforward manner.
Our final exam was tougher than I expected. It was an objective test of our knowledge of the concepts we had learned (names and effects of yamas / niyamas, meaning of sutras, psychological effects of asanas). However, the grading was pretty unique: we self-corrected our own papers, and never had to submit them anywhere, and everyone got a certificate. In other words, the test was purely an exercise in svādhyāya and karma yoga! In retrospect, it made a lot of sense: worrying about results distracts us from simply taking the test to take the test.
Besides, the test was only a small portion of what was to come. Apparently, we were the first 1-month batch in several years to be invited to present a program of events for the graduation ceremony, likely because of our diverse backgrounds and skill set. I mean, we collectively represented Japan, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, India, Iraq, Germany, France, Belgium, Finland, Sweden, UK, USA, and Argentina! And some mad skills were offered! (photo credits: Farah and Karin)
One of my realizations here is that connecting with my classmates was a huge part of the experience for a couple of reasons: learning how others learn the material is vital to understanding how yoga is disseminated, and sharing our diverse energies in the same room created an electric atmosphere that sparked vibrant discussions before, during, and after classes. It’s also nice to observe how aligning our frequencies for 1 month, while coming from such diverse backgrounds, can result in so much co-creation, balance of opinion, learning how to live and love each other, and accept ourselves for who we are. and that’s the lesson of the day!
(of course, the real lesson from my yoga course is that it’s all in the mind – stay tuned for more…)
I’m developing a theory of the nervous system as an antenna. This is probably not an original thought, but I’m exploring it from my own perspective (physicist, patent attorney, musician, yogi). Anyway, I wrote the following piece about 3 years ago, and am posting it here as a preview of my upcoming theory (no promises on when it will be ready).
Can you read people’s minds? Do you get “signals” out of thin air? Thoughts that materialize into reality seconds, hours, or days later? What about dreams of events, people, situations that contain elements of the past, yet may hint at the future?
I’m particularly interested in the “signals.” What type of signals do you receive? Do you act out of instinct, turning around just in time to see your friend enter the room? Is it a mental tic, insisting that it needs to be acted on? Or is it a mere whisper of a suggestion, willing to be ignored, maybe even forgotten by the time it is real? How much do you trust this feeling to be true? If it was clear as a bell, how much would you attribute as hindsight?
If you’ve recognized and acknowledged your ability to observe happenings beyond the realm of our basic senses, have you noticed any patterns of behavior of this extra-sense? Do you practice this process? What methods do you use to tune into your surroundings? How far do you think you can take it? Where is the balance between developing this “muscle” and overexerting it to the point of exhaustion? Do you find your yoga and meditation practice having a positive effect on your extra-sense? Alternatively, what other methods have you used to exercise this extra-sense?
Our basic senses are only limited in their function by the apparent ability of the brain to process their input. The eye “sees” only a fraction of the available electromagnetic spectrum, known as visible light. Similarly, the ears “hear” somewhere between 20Hz and 20,000Hz. Dogs can hear and smell far better than us. Reptiles see infrared. Bats build images with their echoes. It is said that animals can “sense” fear. Considering that our bodies undergo subtle shifts in chemical balance depending on our emotional state, what exactly are the animals picking up on? Can we humans, as distant relatives of most other life, pick up on these with our senses? Can we practice sniffing like the dog, listening like the cat, seeing like the snake? And if so, can we clear up the smoke around the concept of extra-sensory perception, and start focusing on how to harness these new skills?
This is it! The last day of the 1-month TTC course at the Yoga Institute in Mumbai, India! Tomorrow, we have to give a written exam, and then get awarded our certificates. I’ve also set up a show with my new band (of sorts), including gypsy-jazz violinist Martin, and sultry jazz/classical singer Karin – we’ll be the first 1-month batch to put on a show in several years!
Anyway, we started the day with a simple concentration exercise: read a passage from one of our textbooks, and write it out in 2 minutes. We first performed this exercise as is, and then repeated it (with a different passage) after 1 minute in sukhasana. Everyone performed better the second time, with the moral of the story being that specific yoga asanas can increase our concentration powers.
Coincidentally (or not?), the passage I copied the 2nd time was a summary of yogic concentration! Here’s what I wrote: “Concentration is the essence of yoga. Anything that does not bring our mind to a state of concentration is not yoga. To improve concentration, one must first rid themselves of Kleshas. This can be done by practicing Yama and Niyama. Concentration can further be developed by performing specific asana and pranayama. Concentration cannot be achieved by simply sitting still with the eyes closed – yogic principles must be observed. People with sanskaric imprints (read: karmic baggage) may have trouble developing concentration.
It turned out that the topic of the day was the spine! We went into detail about the components of the spine, the main causes of back problems, and the ideal asanas for improving the strength and flexibility of the spine.
I asked the teacher why there was no emphasis on core strength, particularly the abdominal region, and she said that most of these asanas also strengthen the core. Yet, I haven’t heard from this institute must about the role of the abdominal muscles in maintaining proper alignment, something I’ve heard a lot about in my experiences in the west.
Martin, James, and I attempted to perform sutra neti today! Basically, we acquired some surgical tubing, sterilized it, inserted it into our nostril until it reached the throat, and pulled it out of the mouth. This is a powerful variation of the regular old jal neti we’re doing every day.
In hunting for the tubing, we ended up coming late to the next session, which was explaining the senses (Indriyas), and specifically, the human organs of sense (Gnanendriya) and action (Karmendriya), with a sanskrit focus that I’m going to abstain from typing out tonight 🙂
There was a further elaboration on the Bhavas, or attitudes in life that this institute takes very seriously. Basically, a bhava is an attitude of the subconscious mind that is based on patterns of though, and that results in patterns of actions. For instance, a person that typically lives in one or more of the negative bhavas (adharma, agyana, raaga, and unaishwarya) will have a negative outlook, complain a lot, be unhealthy, and will tend to create problems out of opportunities. Whereas, a person that practices one or more of the positive bhavas (dharma, gyana, vairagya, aishwarya) won’t complain, will have healing qualities, live a simple guilt-free life, and is a problem solver, i.e. converts problems into opportunities. We covered some rules for living with Bhavas, including the dharma or duty-minded bhava, which must involve living by a code of conduct (i.e. yama, niyama), maintaining a balanced state of mind, and a positive outlook on any situation.
Now, I’m going to review for tomorrow’s exam! Stay tuned for a final post evaluating the test, graduation, and my thoughts on this 1-month TTC program in general.
Full disclosure: I skipped out on Day 22, instead using the daytime to finish a project for work, and using the evening for a mini-reunion of the cousins in the area. Let me tell you – after a steady diet of sattvic food, a spicy biryani will do a number on your stomach!
So I copied some notes from a friend, and here they are (PS, my notes will be provided in parenthesis):
(She wrote) We only had a lecture for like half an hour in the afternoon. we were left to ourselves for much of the day 😐
Pranayama is a traditional science which teaches us how to maintain our rate of breath as per the necessity of the activity, be it physical or mental. It is also the control and regulation of bio-energy. (I love how they call it bio-energy here)
- Pregnant ladies, seniors, children below 12, BP patients should not hold breath
- Not more than 30 rounds and if single pranayama then 10 rounds; in between 2 pranayamas practice normal breathing.
- Learn from a knowledgeable person.
- No pranayama after asana, just relaxation.
- We should not feel tired after pranayama.
- disease free life (rog mukt jivan)
- concentration levels improve
- blood circulation to overall body
- increases capacity of lungs
- intake more oxygen
- mind will be calm and quiet
- develop respiratory muscles
- control BP
- effective means of awakening prana
- spreads through the body through neural network (love this part)
- capacity of all organs and brain is activated.
The regular rhythm for pranayama includes four stages: Pustak (inhalation), kumbakha (retention), rechak (exhalation), and shunyak (suspension of breath). As mentioned before, the ideal time to perform these is at 4AM, a time called Brahma Mhuratha in Sanskrit.
Also, our variation of OMs can also be considered pranayama.
Classification of Asanas
There are 84 original asanas
28 are meditative postures (we have done about 10 this month).
56 are cultural or traditional
Of these 56:
I. For Spine: a) upward stretch (talasana, yashikasana, parvatasana); b) sideways; c) torsion; d) backward; e) inversion
II. For Extremeties or Joints (fish pose, gomukhasana, hastamatsyasana)
III. Abdominal compression asanas (forward bending)
IV. Relaxation asanas
Also, Pratyahara is the bridge between the external (yamas, niyamas, asana, pranayama) and the internal (dharana, dhyana, samadhi).
The course is coming to an end! We spent most of the morning reviewing the basic asanas taught at the yoga institute. Here is a list of all asanas, and other practices we’ve learned here (all links go to images):
- Standing Poses:
- Seated Poses
- Pronate Poses (lying on stomach)
- Supine Poses (lying on back)
- Equal breathing
- Intercostal breathing
- Clavicular breathing
- Diaphragmatic breathing
- Alternate nostril breathing
- Jal Neti
- Kapal randra dhouti
Of course, we only covered about 1/10 of these today, since the review was performed by the students, for the students! In other words, the instructor typically calls on students one by one to demonstrate and “instruct” an asana. I used to get annoyed at the mistakes some of my fellow-students made, but quickly realized that I can’t treat them all like experienced teachers, and everyone’s on their own journey. A lot of them aren’t planning on being teachers anyway, and are only here to develop their personal practices.
We also had a lecture on Confidence, and how trust/faith can boost self-esteem. Also, recognizing the divine nature in others can make you more confident! I think this may be because we realize that Hey! I get to talk to a divine being all the time, and they actually appreciate what I have to say, so I must have something valuable to offer! Or something like that…
Short Saturday! We started with an elaboration on the four pillars of yoga: ahar (diet), vihar (recreation), aachar (routine), and vichar (thoughts). There are specific rules associated with each practice; for instance, vihar must be performed every day and with a joyful attitude, must be self-involved (i.e. not entirely external, like watching TV), non-competitive, and time-constrained. Our lecturer also confirmed something I’ve been practicing for a while: do not eat fruits after meals! Since fruits digest faster than other foods, they will rot/decompose while waiting their turn behind the rest of the meal. Fruits are best eaten on an empty stomach or between meals.
Then, we ate lunch, relaxed, and went home!
Today started with an aura viewing exercise! Well, I got to class late, and just in time for the aura exercise. I’ve done this and several other exercises many times before, but it was fun to watch everyone try, and to listen to the several oohs and aahs, as well as the frustration of those that couldn’t. The best part was, although I regularly practice aura viewing, something about everyone consciously performing the same activity really took it to the next level for me. I was seeing energy everywhere and for hours after the exercise! The lesson was that while I’ve typically considered aura viewing an advanced or esoteric practice, our teacher made it seem entirely accessible to everyone, which is part of my yoga goal (to make it accessible to everyone), which in turn helps me develop my own skills further.
We followed it up with a final lecture by the queen bee, where she asked us if we had any remaining questions based on what we had learned. After a couple of students asked for clarification on some philosophical and emotional practices, I had a teaching related question: how can I fuse some of these basic concepts into my class for western students that typically seek a more physical practice? I got some excellent tips, including injecting bhavas for specific asanas, such as vayragya with savasana. She also emphasized my favorite principle, that your body is your best teacher! Brownie points for this one…
After lunch and relaxation, we had a lecture on more sutras including starting with chapter 2 – the sutras for the average student. As opposed to the sutras for advanced students in chapter 1. Patanjali apparently wanted to address the easiest paths to enlightenment first, and follow them with practices for those that need more help. We covered sutras 2-1 and 2-3, and I’ll simply post the text here as translated by Satchidananda, and let you figure out (and comment!) on your own interpretations:
2-1: Accepting pain as help for purification, study of spiritual books, and surrender to the Supreme Being constitute Yoga in practice.
2-2 (just FYI): They help us minimize obstacles and attain samadhi.
2-3: Ignorance, egoism, attachment, hatred, and clinging to bodily life are the five obstacles.