practice

Being a "Good" Yogi

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How do you measure the efficacy of your yoga practice? The answer to this question is often only thought of in terms of flexibility and strength but that is not a measure of a yoga practice, it is only a measure of an asana practice. Asana is only one branch of yoga and if that is all you are doing, I hate to break it to you, but you are not doing yoga, you’re just exercising.

 

The modern yoga industry sells this version of yoga idea to make it more “palatable” for the masses, more salable, more commercialized and easier to reap a profit. This is a gross appropriation of an ancient practice for the commercial industrialized world. A “palatable” yoga practice is as far from yoga as yoga can get.

 

Yoga is a spiritual practice. Spirituality like yoga is also marketed to the masses in a “palatable” way, as a thing that makes “life all good”. But calling life all good is just spiritual bypass. Life isn’t always all good. Sure, from the spiritual perspective it’s all divine, but that’s not all good. Sometimes the divine shows up in shitty ass ways. Take the 400 years of white supremacy that makes up the backbone of the democracy we call America; it’s shitty and it’s an invitation to doing great soul-searching work; it’s the divine showing up say look here and do the work here. Spirituality is not about transcendence of the world but deeper involvement in it. Spirituality is the act of recognizing our ego is not in control, something bigger is dealing the cards, and our response to the hand we get dealt is where the work gets done; that is where the human evolves, that is where a better world is created – internal and external. That means acceptance, accountability, commitment, awareness, forgiveness, compassion, and most of all love.

 

That awesome pose you can do doesn’t mean shit in the face of life – ugly, real, honest life; that picture of you in some awesome pose just means you can do some awesome pose. If you use the journey into and out of the pose as a reminder of how to face and dance with life off your mat, it means more. If you can use the pose to remember that life isn’t comfortable and the way you choose to perceive the experience you are having in your mind, a choice that may or may not disturb the resonance of peace and love in your heart, then it means more; to explore the boundaries of your fear and your relationship to courage while there, and to continue - not despite the adversity but in the face of it - then it means more; to explore the nature of your willingness to reckon with self-accountability while rumbling with the self-aggrandized ignorance of your beliefs, it means more. If you’re only striking some awesome pose for that great Instagram shot and more followers, it doesn’t mean shit; and it certainly does not mean you’re some advanced yogi.

 

Sure, I can do some pretty big asana poses but my ability to do those poses is not my measure of the efficacy of my yoga practice. I measure the efficacy of my yoga practice in my capacity to sit in the company of myself when I’m feeling fucked-up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional without asking those things to change, but rather addressing myself there with more compassion, love, accountability, courage, and forgiveness. I measure the efficacy of my yoga practice in my ability to be compassionate towards others who are living human lives; ignorant, self-aggrandized, shut down, and afraid. I measure the efficacy of my yoga practice in my ability to be more like my hero’s, people who have stood or still stand with love and courage in the face of adversity for the sake of the greater good. People who lead and have led the way for the rest of us to follow. The list is long and the majority of them are people of color.

Having flexible joints and muscles doesn’t mean you have a flexible mind; doesn’t mean you can rid yourself of a destructive belief for one that is life enhancing. Having strong joints and muscles doesn’t mean you have strength of character nor the ability to be in the presence of difficult people or experiences without getting taken out by them. Strong and flexible joints and muscles are not measurements of a strong yoga practice, nor a strong spiritual practice, they are only poor imitations. If like me, you are a white yogi and you want to be a “good” yogi in the world today it is time to educate yourself on white supremacy; have difficult conversations about your complicity and privilege with yourself and others; stand for something bigger and more life enhancing than your desire to nail that press handstand and do it in public. Let your conviction and commitment to a cause greater than yourself be a measurement of your yoga practice no matter how many followers or students you gain or lose; no matter how big your poses get; no matter how much anger and grief you have to sit through; let your flexibility of mind, strength of character, and spaciousness of spirit speak for you.

With Love, Allways, In All Ways, For Giving, In Joy,

Genevieve

Crystals and Ruts

            Words have power. Words are a form of energetic vibration which modulate other energetic vibrations. This is what makes mantra so powerful. The repetition of a vibration changes the vibration of the one repeating it.

            Many people are now familiar with Masuro Emoto, the Japanese scientist who studied the powerful vibrational relationship between words and water. He photographed water in crystalline forms after it had been in the company of a word for an extended period. The vibration of the word, even without being spoken, was powerful enough to leave a mark on the crystal. His experiments explored a variety of words, higher vibrating ones such as love and caring as well as lower vibrating ones such as hate, and stupid. The higher vibrating words made more beautiful and elaborate crystals, while the crystals of the lower vibrating words were almost always fragmented and incomplete.

            In one of his books he discussed an experiment completed by school children in Japan. In the experiment, the children put into three jars a generous amount of cooked rice. The jars were sealed and left by the door to the home. Each day, as the children would enter and depart from the home they would greet one jar with kind and caring words, another with cruel and hurtful words, and the third with no words at all. Because the rice had been cooked it began a fermenting process in the jars. The jars that were spoken to kindly took the longest to ferment and grow mold. One would expect that the jars which were spoken to with hurtful words would ferment the quickest, however, that is not true. The rice which got no attention at all fermented rapidly, while the rice that was spoken to with cruelty took a week or so longer to rot. Words have power.

            It is valuable to acknowledge from this experiment that when no energy is given to a thing, whether high in vibration or not, that thing loses vibration rapidly. It is also valuable to recognize that words of lower vibration will increase the rate of decay of an energy that is already compromised.

            The mind is fallible, humans are fallible. Take for example the availability heuristic which is a judgment bias. Quite simply it is a mental shortcut that the mind takes to resolve a problem based on the information that is most available to answer that problem. For instance, recall your assumption that the rice spoken to cruelly would be the quickest to ferment in the argument presented above. Based on the information that was presented to you before the results of the experiment it was an easy leap to decide that the vibration of cruelty would be more harmful than the vibration of indifference. However, your assumption was not evidence that cruelty was more harmful than indifference. Rather, it was just your mind using the information most readily available to it to quickly leap to a judgement. To avoid the failings of the availability heuristic we must ask ourselves how reliable is the information we are working with?

            Words not only enhance and deplete energetic vibrations, they also create illusions and delusions. The availability heuristic is a form of delusion. It is the formulation of a belief based on incomplete or false information. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali these kinds on mental delusions are addressed:

Yoga Sutra 1:9

ŚABDAJNĀNĀNUPĀTĪ VASTU ŚŪNYO VIKALPAH.
An image that arises on hearing mere words without any reality [as its basis] is verbal delusion.

            Verbal delusions and judgment biases are valuable for contemplation because, while the creation of the belief or understanding of the situation is merely a delusion it will leave an impression on the mind, much like the water crystals of Masuro Emoto. The practice of yoga is about so much more that moving the body into strange and interesting shapes. Beyond the impressions of comfort and discomfort, like and dislike, is the opportunity to explore the ruts carved out by the delusions and misconceptions of the human experience. Getting to know the trappings of the mind and the minds ability to liberate itself from those trappings is the great gift of yoga. To know the power of the vibration of the words that move through you and to use those words mindfully, like planting seeds, pulling weeds, and watering a garden.

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The Force is with You

 The mind is fallible. More and more this is being proven by science. Biases and cognitions which enable the mind to think quickly also disable the mind from thinking logically, rationally, and with accuracy. This is not all the time, but probably, most of the time.

            Many spiritual teachings speak to the fallibility of the mind. This is fascinating in many ways as most spiritual schools have been around for centuries and these scientific discoveries that prove the value of their teachings have only come about in recent decades. For example;

Yoga Sutra 1:8 Viparyayo Mithyananam Atadrupa Pratistham

Misconception occurs when knowledge of something is not based upon its true form.

            A simple explanation of this Sutra is to consider a time when you saw a figure in the dark that looked like a person looming creepily in the shadows. In fear perhaps you recoiled, asked someone else to awake and go look at it, grabbed something to protect yourself with, and then hid. I have done this. Then perhaps you or the someone whom you awoke turned on a light only to find it was a coat hanging just the right way with a hat and shadows dancing to create the illusion of danger. This is an exaggerated example but I think you get the picture.

            In the world of psychology and behavioral economics cognitive biases are the realms of thought that lead to deviations from good and rational judgement, i.e. lead to misconceptions. The list of currently known and confirmed cognitive biases is too long to include here, but is easy enough to research on your own if you are interested. What is interesting about this research is the evidence that it is a part of the neural wiring of the brain to make jumps that lead to error. Even more interesting is the capacity of the brain to become aware of error and reset its course to clarity.

            This is where yoga or any mindfulness practice comes in. A consistent and committed pursuit toward more mindfulness and therefore away from failures or missteps of cognition can and will lead to less misconceptions. Patanjali's sutras recommend eight steps toward this goal.

  1. Yama :  Ways of being with community
  2. Niyama :  Ways of being with self
  3. Hatha Yoga :  Asana
  4. Pranayama :  Breathing exercises, and control of prana
  5. Pratyahara :  Control or withdrawal of the senses
  6. Dharana :  Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
  7. Dhyana :  Devotion, Meditation
  8. Samadhi :  Union with the Divine/ Ultimate Liberation

            The pursuit of step eight as well as the course set by all eight steps aw a journey away from misconception and disabling cognitive biases is a life long, or even multi-lifelong journey. How many successes you achieve, or how many times you misstep along the way are easy distractions, yet not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to know yourself. To know you are human and therefore fallible and imperfect, and to also know that in the company of your imperfections you are also Divine and perfect. To live in this world of paradox, misconception, and unanswered questions, and to find peace in the midst of torrent that is life. This is the ultimate aim as well as the gift of the work. 

With Love, always, in all ways, for giving, in joy!

Genevieve