“The spontaneous uprising of the snake people!”

At these words, the accomplished Indian classical dancer Anjali (Anne-Marie Gaston) led myself and another neophyte dancer to present a choreography of the invocation to Patanjali to our then visiting teacher, Richard Freeman.

So long ago now!

This memory resurfaced when I was recently reading Richard’s exposition on subtle anatomy: “the cobra hoodie”. Imagine an accomplished siddha sitting in padmasana. Now conjure up an image of a cobra, rising from the nest of his coiled tale, charmed by musical vibrations. The yogi’s cross-legged seat is the coiled nest of the cobra’s tail. The mula is the end of the snake’s tail. The sinuously curved spine arises from padmasana. The siddha mirrors the intent focus of the cobra with his steady, fixed gaze and attitude of deep listening. The cobra’s hood fans out on either side of its head like a bandshell – a focused acoustic space.

The root of the tail is silent, while the cobra hood fans out to incorporate infinite vibratory manifestation. Two ends of one entity!

Anantaya nagarajaya namo namah. 

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The Mantra of the Breath…

In his recent publication The Art of Vinyasa, Richard Freeman (with Mary Taylor) explores the practice of superimposing mantra on the breath.

“Using a mantra gives the mind, which sometimes needs to be employed, a task that reminds it of the bigger job at hand – to concentrate on listening – so that its natural tendency to wander is quelled.” (p.15, The Art of Vinyasa)

Centered in the Anahata or heart chakra,the inhalation is naturally expansive. When inhaling you might envision a lotus blossoming in the heart center. The exhalation provides a counterpoint to this expansion: the sitting bones root and there is a corresponding lift of the center of the pelvic floor. The exhalation has its center in the Muladhara, or root chakra.

We can superimpose the mantra sa ham (or so’ham) on the breath cycle, with the syllable sa on the inhalation, and the syllable ham on the exhalation.

These seed sounds contain the essence of the opposite part of the breath cycle: sa, applied to the inhalation,  contains the essence of the exhalation; ham, applied on the inhalation, contains the essence of the inhalation.

1024px-yin_yang-svgIn the Taoist symbol of the yin/yang, the black, yin side contains the white seed of its opposite, yang, and the white, yang side contains the seed of its opposite, yin.

Similarly, when using the breath mantra, we are superimposing the essence of the inhalation on the exhalation, and vice-versa. We pour the inhalation into the exhalation, the exhalation into the inhalation, with the whole process becoming more and more seamless…

In Sanskrit, sa ham means I am she and so’ham means I am he. He/she refers to the paramatman which one might also call God or Holy Mystery or the Ground of All Being…

The Quality of Drishti…

In The Art of Vinyasa, Richard Freeman discusses the importance of the drishti, or gaze, in āsana practice. He mentions the eight traditional gazing points and then presents a metaphor for the quality of the gaze.

He invokes the image of an infant who gazes at something intently, yet without any judgement, or without even the sense of the object being separate from him/herself.

This is the quality of drishti that a refined āsana practice – or meditation practice – requires.

Hari Om : )getty_rm_photo_of_baby_eye

Breathe…

(The following directives for cultivating Ujjayi  -“victorious”- breathing are taken/inspired from Freeman’s The Art of Vinyasa)

1- Sit straight. Imagine a plumb line through your central axis that continues down to the earth’s core.

2 – Cultivate a happy belly – like Ganesha’s!  It should be entirely free of constriction. Sitting up on something like a block will facilitate this: knees should be below the hips.

3 – Imagine the heart as a lotus floating upon a still pond.

4 – root into your base by becoming aware of the loose diamond formed by the two sitting bones, the coccyx, and the pubic bone. Allow the muscles of the pelvic floor within this diamond to tone.

5 – Breathe through the nose.

6 – Maintain a steady drshti. Drshti is gazing rather than gazing at something. Cultivate a soft, steady drshti.

7 – Release the soft palate; soften the tongue. This encourages a release of discursive thought.

8 – Let your attention rest on the stream of the breath. Let it be smooth and steady.

9 – Listen. Allow the breath to unfold.

10 – Close the vocal chords a tiny bit, as if you are whispering ahhh to your beloved.

11 – Feel the expansive pranic pattern on the inhalation.

12 – Feel the contractive apanic pattern on the exhalation.

13 – You may choose to superimpose a mantra on the breath cycle:

sā ham (translation: I am she); ham sa (translation: swan); so’ham (translation: I am he). The “he” and “she” refers to the paramātman , which is pure consciousness and which circulates in an open central channel. Sā/so are on the inhalation; ham is on the exhalation.

[…] “Ashtānga Vinyāsa yoga is just this: simple ujjāyī breathing with a little movement tossed in.” (p.13)

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never say never…

…or “over my dead body” or “when hell freezes over”… because you never really know, do you?

My dear husband is dealing with diabetic peripheral neuropathy and has discovered that regular exercise helps a great deal to alleviate the symptoms. I encouraged him to join a gym once the winter weather put an end to his biking to work. And then, over the holidays, I decided that it would be more motivational for him to go and work out if we went together. So… I did the thing that I had always said I would never do, and bought a gym membership!

The thing is, I thought I would find it tedious  – all those people running on hamster wheel-like contraptions – but my experience has been quite the opposite. I like it.

I like it!

Not only do I find the circuit of machines designed to strengthen all major muscle groups a helpful adjunct to my asana practice, I actually find myself enjoying some introspective moments while working out.

There has been an increase of activity at the gym lately: the usual January fitness resolution phenomenon, I guess. Last night I was very aware of this energy as I pursued my own workout. All these embodied souls drawn to move from a place where they felt stagnation of some sort into something new. People of all different ages, body shapes, and physical capacities daring to move out of the “known” into uncharted territory.

It is so beautiful.

It is so beautiful, this universal dance that we are all a part of – this dance that draws us, inevitably, into the heart of divine love and bliss.

Hari Om!

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“The Art of Vinyasa”

My copy of Richard Freeman and Mary Taylor’s The Art of Vinyasa arrived this week! Although I haven’t had time to read it through yet, what I have read looks really excellent. The introduction alone has left me with so much to ponder. Here’s a taste:

“Somehow […] our perception of self is released just long enough for us to feel intimately connected to everything and everyone else, and the underlying field of kind, openheartedness that is our true nature naturally arises. […] conscious awareness is […] the residue – from practicing yoga […] as an art rather than as a means of attaining this thing or that.” (p.1)

“The vinyāsa process is to allow the arising of oppositional forces, contexts, and perspectives, and at just the right moment – before a story line  or movement pattern is allowed to fully manifest and wander off – to consciously introduce the balancing counterstep to harmonize the field.” (p.3)

“On the deepest level then, we can see that yoga is relationships with other beings, with friends, family, coworkers, pets, bugs, the world at large, our community, and the environment.” (p.4)

Richard and his wife (Mary Taylor) have co-authored the book, and their son created some of the illustrations – so it would appear to be a real family affair!

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Yoga: The Practice of Myth and Sacred Geometry

I happened upon Rama Jyoti’s Vernon‘s book (title above) recently in a favourite bookshop. As I read the introductory sections, I am bowled over by her deep insight. I would like to share a few brief excerpts:

On āsana:

In each āsana […] there is a seed center or bindu. If we internalize the consciousness in āsana, we will find this bindu, out of which the āsana organically unfolds.

On teaching:

Joyously share with others the riches you yourself have found through Yoga. Teaching is simply the outgrowth of our own experiences. […] In moments of doubt, do not dissipate the positive forces of energy in feelings of unworthiness, remorse, or self-pity. Remember, you are a necessary part within the cosmic machinery.

On prānāyāma:

In āsana, it is on the inhalation that the ego, ahamkāra, asserts itself. If we inhale as we move into an āsana, then the ego is guiding us into the pose. On the exhalation , the ego relinquishes itself. Thus, if we move on the exhalation […] we are not moving with the self-will but instead let the divine will move us.

Hari Om.

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