Monday, May 30, 2016

Siddhartha: A Yoga Therapy Perspective, Releasing the Guilt of the Past

  QUESTION: Siddhartha’s transformation is the ability to embrace his own history, to see that everything he had done and been was a necessary part of his awakening. This ability to release the guilt of the past is an essential part of the healing process. How can you support your yoga therapy students and clients in coming to peace with their own history?

In the three Yoga Therapy sessions I have performed using the IYT Protocol there are many questions about personal history asked to the student. The time we spend going over personal history confirms the importance of our personal story. Our story is our journey, our journey is who we are.  We can’t change our story or our journey we need to make peace with it in order to grow. I would share with my students, when I was young I wanted life to be linear I believed in destinations but as I age I see life is more circular or sometimes even without a geometric equivalent.

I often think about this quote from Maya Angelou “Oh, I’ve lived a roller coaster life, there has been this disappointment and that satisfaction, and then it begins all over again. Or maybe it’s one of those terrible rides that not only goes round and round, but also dips at the same time.” I would tell my students we can’t change the past, we can only accept the past as the past, and try to leave the past in the past.  The only thing that is real is the present moment. We don’t want to be stuck and non-reality. Non-reality is everything that isn’t the present moment.

“Yes Siddhartha,' he said. 'Is this what you mean: that the river is in all places at once, at its source and where it flows into the sea, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the rapids, in the ocean, in the mountains, everywhere at once, so for the river there is only the present moment and not the shadow of the future?'

'It is,' Siddhartha said.'And once I learned this I considered my life, and it too was a river, and the boy Siddhartha was separated from the man Siddhartha and the graybeard Siddhartha only by shadows, not by real things. ... Nothing was, nothing will be; everything is, everything has being and presence.”

All parts of our journey make us who we are.  If we left a part out we wouldn’t have been ourselves. My mother often talked about the Robert Frost poem The Road Not Taken in response to me ruminating over making a decision or second guessing a decision I had already made.  She explained with every path we take there are many paths we don’t take and all of those are lives that may have been viable and interesting but they are no longer our path.  Siddhartha could have obeyed with father stayed with his family and never went to the forest to live with the samanas. Siddhartha could have stayed with the samanas for the rest of his life, but he didn’t.  Siddhartha could have been the follower of the Buddha Gautuma, but he chose not. Siddhartha could have spent his life in the town with Kamaswami and Kamala, but he didn’t.  He took the path the seemed right to him and the time. 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

For me sometimes there are two paths sometimes there are even many options. I try to follow and advise others to follow the path of the heart. Carlos Castaneda in the Teaching of Don Juan explains “Before you embark on any path ask the question: Does this path have a heart? If the answer is no, you will know it, and then you must choose another path. . . A path without a heart is never enjoyable. You have to work hard even to take it. On the other hand, a path with heart is easy; it does not make you work at liking it.”

In regards to Siddhartha's circuitous path and his acceptance of the nonlinearity of his life this passages is the one that strike me the most.

"How strange his life had been, he thought. He had wondered along strange paths. As a boy I was occupied with the gods and sacrifices, as a youth with asceticism,,,, I’ve learned to conquer my body. I then discovered with wonder the teachings of the great Buddha. I felt knowledge and the unity of the world circulate in me like my own blood, but I also felt compelled to leave the Buddha and the great knowledge. I went and learnt the pleasures of love from Kamala and business from Kamaswami. I horded money, I squandered money, I acquired a taste for rich food, I learned to stimulate my senses. I had to spend many years like that in order to lose my intelligence, to lose the power to think, to forget about the unity of things. Is it not true, that slowly and through many deviations I changed from a man into a child? From a thinker into an ordinary person? And yet this path has been good and the bird in my breast has not died. But what a path it has been! I have had to experience so much stupidity, so many vices, so much error, so much nausea, disillusionment and sorrow, just in order to become child again and begin anew. But it was right that it should be so; my eyes and heart acclaim it. I had to experience despair, I had to sink to the greatest mental depths, to thoughts of suicide, in order to experience grace, to hear OM again, to sleep deeply again and to awaken refresh again. I had to become a fool again in order to find Atman in myself. I had to sin in order to live again. Whither will my path yet lead me? This path is stupid, it goes in spirals, perhaps in circles, but whichever way it goes, I will follow it.”

As for transformation, Carol Myss, I recall saying in a lecture on spiritual alchemy that in order to have gold in our lives we must be willing to let go of some lead. I see the lead as the ability to release guilt of the past in order to fully embody the present. Tadasana is my favorite pose to use to teach about being in the present moment. I have people plant their feet on the ground first leaning forward (that is the future), then leaning back (the past), then leaning to the right (the masculine), then to the left (the feminine), then I ask them to plant themselves in the present moment to inhabit the here and now.

The Buddha is quoted to have said, “The past is already gone, the future is not yet here. There's only one moment for you to live, and that is the present moment.”

Deepak Chopra also reaffirms, "In every moment we have the opportunity to awaken. To let go of whatever fear constriction and stories are running through our mind as we become fully into the present moment. And it is only in the present moment that we can experience happiness.

In order to heal we can release the guilt of the past and embrace the present moment. Healing is a present moment activity.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Exploring the Poses: The Warrior Archetype and Yoga

(all quotes are from the Four Fold Way unless noted with the author’s name)
Believing you can be perfect is the fatal imperfection,
Believing you’re invulnerable is the ultimate vulnerability.
Being a Warrior doesn’t mean winning or even succeeding.
It means risking and failing and risking again, as long as you live …
- Richard Heckler, In Search of the Warrior Spirit.

During a modern vinyasa yoga class we are taken through a series of poses known by the names of warrior.  These poses include Warrior 1, 2, 3, humble warrior, exalted warrior, reverse warrior and so on.. A colleague at work once expressed to me his lack of understanding of why yoga would have poses called “warriors” when it was supposed to be a peaceful system of movement.  My teacher, Joseph Le Page, renamed all the warrior poses Hero in his book, The Yoga Toolbox.  For me, I never had a problem with the poses being called warrior.  I thought of the disciple and duty of the samurai and the idea of exploration, journey and quest. I remember Shiva Rea in a workshop asking us to pull back our bows and stand strong in Warrior 2.  I felt like the Goddess Artemis/Diana getting reading for the hunt.  I understood warrior as a way to tap into my personal power. I have just read the book

“The Four-Fold Way: Walking the paths of Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary” and the book his helped me further my thoughts about the Warrior poses and why I love them more and really enjoy their names.

Warrior Poses are strong poses that demand complete attention. As we hold longer and deeper we must chose to be present.  Sometimes my teacher will challenge us further by asking the class to close their eyes.
“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.
“Can’t you?” the queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again, try again, draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said. “One can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
- Lewis Carroll
When we hold these Warrior poses over time and get stronger we realize that many things we thought were not possible can begin to become possible.  We realize that we have personal power.  “The principle that guides the Warrior is showing up and choosing to be present.” First there is presence. Then comes the lifting the arms, followed by planting the feet.  We continue by making sure the position is balanced.  And we test our stamina by holding the pose as we strive for our personal healthy alignment. “The developed Warrior shows honor and respect for all things, employs judicious communication, sets limits and boundaries, is responsible and disciplined, demonstrates right use of power . . .”

Different Warrior Poses and Variations: Warrior 1

This is a pose of discipline. We plant the back leg down with the foot at an angle, the front knee is over ankle, and the arms are up to the sky. “The word ‘disciple’ actually means ‘being a disciple unto oneself,” When we are disciples unto ourselves, we honor our own rhythm, our step-by-step nature…Discipline and responsibility are the Warrior’s tools for honoring structure and function.”
Sometimes we enter Warrior 1 from standing in Tadasana or Mountain Pose. Tadasana is a standing meditation. The pose expresses the concept I am here and I am ready. “. . . it is not uncommon in these (Shamanistic) societies for individuals to pray for long periods of time in a standing postures during vision quests…. (standing meditation) is used in martial arts, spiritual practices and the military as a way of reinforcing and coalescing the three universal powers of presence, communication, and position, which allows us to connect with the greater being who we are.””
 “The Warrior demonstrates the willingness to take a stand. This is the capacity to let others know where we stand, where we don’t stand for, and how we stand up for ourselves. Think of Surya Namaskara B when you step the leg forward from downward facing dog into a low lunge and then raise your arms and chest into  Warrior 1.  This is a big dramatic stand.  You need the flexibility to steep your leg through the strength to rise the torso up, and the commitment to lift the arms over head. My favorite variation of Warrior 1 is when we put our hands in prayer overhead thanking the divine for her help in our lives.

Warrior 2

 “. . . outwardly, he stands in physical readiness for any call to service, and inwardly, he strives to fulfill the Way . . . Within his heart he keeps to the ways of peace, but without he keeps his weapons ready for use.”
Warrior 2 is a pose about respect.  Respect comes from the Latin respicere to be willing to take a second look.  In Warrior 2, the body is facing one way but the head looks over the shoulder.  We are not stuck or limited to one particular point of view which would have the head facing in the same direction as the chest. We are multi-dimensional beings willing to face one way and look the other. “If we want to access the Warrior archetype and become effective leaders, we must be willing to look at our many real abilities rather than focus on just one or two parts of who we think we are.”
This pose is also about understanding what we want. “When we say “yes” when we mean “no” we lose personal power and become victims or martyrs.”  In Warrior 2 we align our feet, legs, arms and become stable and lastly we set our gaze.  We take responsibility for our body making it stable and secure. “Responsibility is not only the ability to respond to what comes toward us, it is also the capacity to stand behind our actions and to be responsible for all that we do or don’t do. … Our ability to respond impeccably and with integrity to the events we create brings is into the Warrior’s arena.”

Exalted Warrior/Reverse Warrior

Similar to the Bodhisattva Vow in Buddhism in which we don’t choose our personal enlightenment but instead stay on earth to help others achieve enlightenment“. . . the Warrior’s task to become visible, and through example and intention to empower and inspire others.”  The Warrior is not just working alone and taking all the credit for his/her successes.  In Exalted Warrior pose we exalt ourselves to god and bask in her presence.  But in this pose the bow is an upward bow instead of one in which we lower ourselves.  This is a bow up to heaven.  The hope is that our reverence and beauty in the pose will inspire the reverence and beauty in others.

Humble Warrior

In contrast to Exalted Warrior, in Humble Warrior we bow down low. We show ourselves as flexible and strong, with a willingness to humble ourselves.  We do not lose our strength or power through this act of humility, it is part of what gives us strength and power. We also interlace our fingers and bring our arms over head showing we are without physical weapons instead we are here to be the instrument of service.

Warrior 3

In Warrior 3 we begin to fly.  Balancing on one leg on the ground and one in the air we begin our launch. In this pose we know that impossible things can happen.  In Warrior 3 we learn to transcend the body and transcend any fear about the necessity to be grounded.  We let go over our attachment and soar towards higher and loftier goals.


“The archetype of the Warrior requires us to use power in an enlightened way that incorporates integrity, alignment of speech and action, honor and respect, and serves humanity fairly and justly.”

As we practice these poses, we can explore the boundaries of our body, mind and heart. We don’t have to consider the warrior as an aggressor but think of the warrior as an explorer of our internal universe.  In Warrior we plant are feet on earth as we reach for the sky.  We strive to be secure in the foundation of who we are as we invite personal growth and transformation. We reach, exalt, humble ourselves, inspire and honor. We keep our intention and sense of self as we journey through life open to all possibilities.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Siddhartha: A Yoga Therapy Perspective, By The River

Part of the Practicum to be a certified Yoga Therapist for Integrative Yoga Therapy is to do some journaling from questions from Herman Hesse's Siddhartha. Here is my attempt to answer question A.

a) In the chapter, By the River, Siddhartha becomes depressed and almost commits suicide. He then has a vision that transforms his life and sets him on a new phase of his journey. Many of those who come to you in yoga therapy will be in a situation not too different from Siddhartha. They’ve lived their lives according to a certain set of beliefs and these have become questioned, often in the face of illness. Have you experienced a major turning point like this in your life? Have you also seen it in your yoga students? Describe one of these experiences.

I first want to give the context of the Chapter, By the River.

“He wished passionately for oblivion, to be at rest, to be dead… Was there any kind of filth with which he had not besmirched himself, any sin and folly which he had not committed, any stain upon his soul for which he alone had not been responsible? Was it then still possibly to live? Was it possible to take in breath again and again, to breathe out, to feel hunger, to eat again, to sleep again… Was this cycle not exhausted and finished for him?” pps.87-88

"Then from a remote part of his soul, from the past of his tired life, he heard a sound. It was one word, one syllable... the holy Om, which had the meaning of..."Perfection"." pg 89

In 2011, I was hired for the Set Decorator position on a very big budget TV show on a major network.  It was the first time in my life that I had secured such a prestigious position. There were many people with more experience than myself who had been up for the job but I was the one chosen.  It felt like I had received the fruits of what I had been working towards for the last fifteen years of my life.  I was the Set Decorator on a big network TV show. This was what I thought I had always wanted.

But straight out of an episode of Fantasy Island my fantasy of being a Decorator on a big TV show was in fact a nightmare.

 I was working 20 hours a day, I  got shingles from stress. No matter how hard I worked I couldn’t seem to get the work done.  I first lost ten pounds and then I gained 40. A big budget meant big expectations and I was much more of manager of labor and resources than a creative person which I thought I was hired for.  I had no kind of life. I was completely exhausted, on edge and overworked. and I had work related nightmares when I finally did go to sleep.

Then, all of the sudden, the show was cancelled.  It was also rumored that the episodes I had worked so hard on were not going to even air.  There had been a regime change at the network and the new regime didn’t want anything to do with the old one. All the projects from the old regime were being shelved. I couldn’t believe it.  I had worked so hard, even sacrificing my health for something that wasn’t even going to see the light of day.  And why had I worked so hard? I didn’t love the material, I didn’t even like the job.  My supervisors were incredibly difficult to work with.  And now that I had received my fantasy I didn’t want it.  Was this what I had been working for all these years?

“There is perhaps nothing worse than reaching the top of the ladder and discovering that you’re on the wrong wall.”
― Joseph Campbell

I hadn’t enjoyed my career already for ten years.  But I had convinced myself if the budgets were bigger, if the projects were prestigious, if had more crew, then everything would be better.  But here I was on the bigger, better, prestigious project and it was worse than the little jobs I had been embarrassed about working on.  On the little jobs at least I was creative. Here I had to delegate all the creative aspects of my job in order to be available for meetings, tech scouts and managing personnel.

And was that what my life was going to look like now? Working 16 to 20 hours a day for the rest of my life? Why does film and television have to always be so hard?  Why can’t we work an 8 hour day like most people?  Why is 12 hours the bare minimum?  I had given up so many things already for this career, I had given up having children,  having friends, yoga, and even my own health to step up to the impossible expectations that seemed to be always demanded of film and television production people.  I had kept telling myself it would get better, it would change, and instead it kept getting worse.

I knew the expectations of TV and Film would never change.  I would have to change. I would have to change careers.  I would have to take breaks and I would have to say “No.”  And my breaking point was that I had worked so hard for a project that wasn’t even going to be seen.

No, this Film/TV life was never going fulfill me.  I was never going to be made whole by dressing sets. God hadn’t put my on this earth to work so hard decorating imaginary places for imaginary people there must be something else that I could do.  Something I could do and feel good about that wouldn’t leave me sick and exhausted.  I needed to search for that.