Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Ma Durga Navratri

What it could mean to live in a world of duality as a practicing yogi

“Truth has no tradition. It cannot be transmitted.” –J. Krishamurti

Reflecting on our recent national, regional and local dramas with ethical complaints surfacing about Supreme Court nominees, senior Iyengar Yoga teachers, media moguls, family members, and who knows who all else, I find myself reflecting on sutra  II.35 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras:

Dicussing this sutra with friends yesterday, I’ve spent the last day wondering why we speak at all. 99% of the time, speech has some egotistical motivation, or is just filling space/time with inane observations—“Hot again, isn’t it” “Yeah, and humid too”.

A civil society, a democracy which is based on non-sectarian principles of respect for everyone’s chosen religion (or none), has to follow principles of fairness. Due process for those accused and for those accusing. Fairness for those who are wronged and those who wrong them. Problem is that every single religion has their own teaching about how to deal with moral infractions. Many of them reach similar conclusions.

Nevertheless, if we are to live in a culture, a HUMAN UNIVERSE, in which this principle of fairness—DUE PROCESS—is offered to complainer and complained-about, to accuser and accused/plaintiff and defendant, petitioner and respondent, to use legal terminology, we have to put aside our separate agendas about “Ultimate Truth” or “Religious Values” which may or may not be shared by all parties involved.

Due Process has a long legal history, which I won’t go into here. What I found reassuring about the Senate confirmation hearing process was that it gave both parties a chance to be heard, not only by the committee, but by the whole nation.
This large audience has been commenting and reeling since last week, and at least has led to a further investigation.

I have reread our IYNAUS By-Laws and reread the Pune Constitition on our precedures for dealing with ethical complaints. I was on the original IYNAUS board when accusations against Manouso Manos first arose and was part of the team that spoke with him personally. Manos’ subsequent therapy, B.K.S. Iyengar’s advice to our community that we ALL accept a period of touching only arms and legs after getting permission to touch was accepted as a viable solution to the complaints.

Now that other allegations have arisen, some recent, some from past years, we have gone through our process again,. I am assuming that this process followed  the procedures outlined in the By-Laws and the Pune Constitution, but honestly, I have no way of knowing for sure.

What troubled me about the breaking of news about these new allegations, specifically the one from Anne West, is that Certified Iyengar teachers were petitioned as a group to send supporting letters and emails to IYNAUS and to Pune.
I question that this was a fair request and whether it afforded the complainant, Anne West due process, while her complaint was being investigated. I also question whether Pune has to be involved at all unless and until our own internal procedures have been followed, or possibly even after that.

One of the concerns when allegations first arose in the late 1980’s was that our impecunious nonprofit service/educational organization –IYNAUS—could be sued by someone who had been through our process but found it unsatisfactory. I am not a specialist in sexual harassment/abuse law. I don’t know if we have a practicing attorney member of our association who is.  Yet, this remains a real fear if we do not ensure that our internal procedures offer due process to all parties.

These are my questions today. Do our procedures need to be refined/rewritten? Can we find a way to lead the way in the yoga community in creating a fair and safe forum for students and teachers alike? Would this help avoid litigation that could be costly/possibly fatal to the financial health of our nonprofit association?

I could not agree with my colleague Hong Gwi-Seok more: it appears to be true that we have allegations that a Certified teacher/member of our community believes to be true of inappropriate touching and we have a denial on the part of the senior teacher complained about. This  can lead us to a place where we see that two seemingly contradictory truths exist side by side: inappropriate contact occurred, AND the accused is capable of brilliance in teaching.

We have guidance going forward:

And go forward we must.

Perhaps the Sri Argala Strotam for Ma Durga can also offer sustenance (and highly recommended is Krishna Das’ version of this—“The Beautiful Song”): 

Rūpaṃ dehi jayaṃ dehi yaśo dehi dviṣo jahi*
Grant us your form (Liberation), Grant us victory, Grant us welfare, remove all hostility (negativity).

Jai Ma Durga!

Querétaro México, 10 octubre 2018


Friday, August 17, 2018

"Guilt Weakens the Mind"--Prashant Iyengar

Our session with Prashant-ji on July 20, 2018

My friends, students and colleagues from México, Marina Navarret , Loreñia Trueba, Krista Baldini and Eduardo Mata and I were fortunate to have a session with Prashant outside of class on this auspicious day. What follows is my later transcription of the conversation.
I’m also recommending that you read James Murphy’s summary of Prashant’s teaching from his first ever “ex-tensive” in Pune last year. Here is the link:

First Question (Loreñia):
What are the signs of education?

A: You yourself will know whether you have education or not. There are no exams in relationships, nor are there exams in yoga.
He said something about mother exams and daughter exams, jokingly. We do not have exams to be in relationships.

Nerves or breath will give signs of education. For example, consider a baby learning to eat or walk, or a runner checking her watch to see that 10 minutes remain of her one hour run. The baby has internal signs of education, the runner checking her watch, is using an external sign of progress. Consider also the yogi/ni practicing asana with a timer checking to see how much time remains of a long hold instead of meditating/feeling/discovering “what happens when I hold this pose this long?”

Second Question (Loreñia):
What is meant in II.33 by “pratipaksha bhavanam”?

A: When anger erupts in life, you can’t use pratipaksha bhavanam. Contrast this with a walk towards your rival’s house for a discussion. In this scenario, you CAN prepare and use the technique of pratipaksha bhavanam.
Related Question: How can we prepare for the emotional rollercoaster of the romance of a romantic movie or the horror of a horror movie? Implied answer: We can’t. We are at the mercy of the moviemaker/actors/music, etc.

Prashant mentions that his father wrote Light on the Yoga Sutras for non-academics, not for scholars.

Third Question (Eduardo):
How can we deal with the feeling of guilt in our lives when it arises?

A: When we are admonished, it is an opportunity for learning and reforming our actions. When we dwell on admonishment, it is like a dog licking his own vomit.  By dwelling on the feeling of guilt, we WEAKEN THE MIND.

Good company can help with guilty feelings. The sangha is very important. Also, going into nature, going to temple. Do passive poses for better understanding of yama and niyama. Do backbending poses to counter tamas. Do pranayama practice when you are NOT testing your lungs (i.e. do not do a strong pranayama practice when the lungs are compromised for any reason—physical/emotional or otherwise.

Discussion of food “ahar”—we eat grass eaters, in contrast to the tiger, who eats a goat, but does not become the goat.

There is “food” for all the senses.

Fourth Question (Loreñia): Why go INSIDE for answers to important questions? Why not seek answers in relationships/interactions with people?

A: Prashant gives the ingredients in the chai/tea as an example. Body/breath/mind are kneaded together; they cannot be separated. Some actions have to be coordinated and must happen in succession, others have to be synchronized, and have to happen at once. He gave the example of contraction then suction in pranayama. Yoga is by happenings, not by doings. We have to know the difference between reason and logic. These things, by implication, we have to know from the inside. Doubtless (this is Peggy speaking now), there are ways that our journey inward will support and nurture our relationships with nature, other people, animals, the outer world in general.

At this point, my notes are generalized. I remember asking Prashant myself about appropriate yoga practice for different ages at some point, and loved his answer that we are not female or male, old or young, etc. when we practice. We are consciousness itself.

In pranayama practice, we empty the back. Furthermore, as he noted in a class later in July, the back has no nadis. They are all toward the front body.

Ap kriya is not a reference to physical water (perhaps to the concept/experience of moist flow itself).

A chakra is not a wheel but a junction of prana nadis. All chakras are in the spine.

Our job is to empower you.

In yoga practice, body and breath become subjects.

Example of trikonasana: legs straight? Waist turned? Arms straight?—the body is knowable. Then: How is breath flowing? Then breath becomes an object. In trikonasana, what mind state am I in?

We see in Chapter IV, Kaivalya Pada, of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, that man can be object, subject, and/or instrument. We see that the mind can be a mansion of mirrors. The brain creates AND receives reflections.

There is soft flute music playing. The concept of mirror neurons occurs to me. Perhaps we are mirroring his understanding; I for one hope so.

Example of the cat in front of the mirror. The cat sees another cat. The cat is not confused. I can be ego or not ego, therefore I am and I am not. When I look at my reflection in the mirror, I know that what I see is not me. Prashant implies that our study of yoga through its eight limbs can lead us to clarity in understanding our own consciousness, our own mind/body/breath complex, our own mansion of mirrors.

Deep bows of thanks to you, Prashant-ji.