Buddhism, chakra science, hot yoga, life, love, meditation, miscellaneous maunderings, Uncategorized, vinyasa yoga, western yoga, yoga, yoga science, yoga transformation

‘Hot’ Yogis and ‘Vinyasa’ Yogis

I spent about six years doing daily classes of Vinyasa yoga (well, Ashtanga to be more specific). Sometimes before my morning flow(s), I’d take a hot class. Recently (the last two years) I have been taking ‘hot’ (what used to be called ‘Bikram’) yoga classes almost exclusively. The differences between the two (and the people who gravitate to one or the other) seem at first glance substantial, but let’s explore this further…

During this time (mentioned above), I noticed some ostensible differences between those who regularly attend hot classes and those who attend ‘flow’ classes. Before I get into those perceived differences, let me first share my own experience, and then let’s focus on the commonalities between the two.

In my initial experience, I first found ‘hot’ yoga to be, well…too hot. It also seemed far too regimented to me, with a defined and basically never-changing sequence. How was one to find and express bhakti or samadhi under these conditions? Contributing to my initial reservations, Bikram Choudry had ‘patented’ this ancient warm-up sequence, and even the dialog associated with it. The fact he was later accused of violating the sexual spaces of his students somehow added (illogically or not) to my growing aversion.

After six or so years of Vinyasa, I sort of ‘forced’ myself to go and see what was up with this almost cultish group of people. I sensed that in avoiding these types of classes, or in my nascent ‘aversion’ to them, I was missing a key yogic lesson. So I decided to immerse in it, see what I could learn, what I could experience, what ‘truths’ (or insights) might reveal themselves to me in the course of this journey.

What I discovered was (as with almost all life)  not what I had expected or perceived from the outside looking in. At first, it seemed incredibly hard. Not the postures (essentially basic), but the durn old heat…the sweat dripping into my face and nostrils, pressing on me palpably, like a closely fitting (smothering?) hot air suit, or the embrace of the mythical Satan (or Looficer, as I prefer to call this idea, as the dyslexic satanists do). It was just so darn triggering…it reminded me of Djibouti, Somalia, Iraq, Kuwait, Quatar…super hot places (in the now common parlance of P.T.S.D. and ‘veterans issues’, it ‘triggered’ me…or tried to). I could feel my H.P.A. (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis fire up, giving me P.T.S.D.-like symptoms. I could feel my mind and memories (or my amygdala and hippocampus, to be more precise) trying to ‘go back’ to those memories, not all good.

It was hard to find time or ‘head-space’ (heart space) to be filled with gratitude, with devotion in the midst of all that heat and potential triggering. It was hard enough to stay focused, maintain my calm breath (and thus mind) and ‘do the drill.’ I was much more soothed by my home Kundalini or Yin practices. What was so good about this nonsense? Why was I even here?

The people seemed super-focused, almost grim in their concentration, determination, and almost religious attendance (and adherence to rituality). We didn’t ‘OM’ or talk about ‘spiritual stuff’ much, as we typically did in Vinyasa classes. The people seemed more there to ‘sweat it out’, more focused on using outer strength or Yang energy to get there, when Vinyasa is implemented by inner strength, by Yin, by allowing, not forcing or striving for some goal. They seemed to feel secure in the predictability of the sequence, in the ‘rules’ of hot. Nobody seemed to hug each other, or hang out sharing the bliss afterward, as they were apt to do in Vinyasa classes. They rushed in at the last minute, looking like someone who was grimly setting out to do an unpleasant job. They got the heck out of that oven the minute they could, as soon as class was over. It was a like a ‘fast food’ gym, done on a yoga mat. No enlightenment please, just here to lose twenty pounds or get in better shape (or maintain a good shape). It could have been hamsters on a yoga treadmill of effort without goals (or without meaningful ones)…or so it seemed at first glance.

Now bear in mind, these were my perceptions, and may not have reflected the actual reality. After all, I didn’t know these people, had no idea what their actual experience was. So I decided to have an experience of my own, find out what the deal was, come to know in the only way truly possible…through my own experience, and through sharing the experiences of others.

Soon the heat didn’t seem quite as bad…or at least it didn’t affect me as much. The pesky sweat coming off me no longer seemed like unwelcome and salty extrusions, but like holy rain. I had figured if I really had joy and peace in my yoga, I should be able to find it anywhere (or in any type of yoga ‘class’)…and did. Soon, the seemingly regimented sequence stopped becoming a limiting box, and became instead a expansive space from which I could find expression and personal growth and movement….while moving in the ‘constraints’ of the practice. Soon, laying in Savasana for fifteen minutes after class was not an ordeal, but a treat, as the room slowly cooled and wisps of cool, fresh air caressed my body as people left the room (and let cool air in).

Soon I found a lovely set of teachers who managed to bring a bit of joy, devotion , introspection, focus, or detachment  into what on the face of it may seem an unimaginative and uninspired sequence/paradigm. Really, they helped (guided) me to bring that bit of joy into it myself, inspired me to bring it, or gave good examples by bringing it themselves. Soon, I was finding as much focus, joy, and peace in hot sequences as I had previously in vinyasa sequences, or in my home practice.

It became really cathartic. Laying in a pool of sweat at the end, I felt drained…of impurities. I had sweated a gallon in an hour (or close, it appeared). I was getting ready to fill myself up with clean, pure water – like a little oil change for my body. Keep those cells filled with fresh water, dontcha know?

So I continued that way for a while until one summer day recently I walked into the studio and my body, mind, and spirit (and thus what seemed like the entire universe) told me it was too hot to do a ‘hot’ at 9AM on what looked to be a blistering day. Thus, I returned once again to my core vinyasa practice.

So there it is…my meager experience of a decade. Hardly much to base any firm judgments on, or reach meaningful conclusions. It was barely enough to skim the surface, to teach me that I truly don’t know, and that there are as many answers and paths as there are (or were ever) people. Still, I like to make observations and comparisons, if nothing else for the pure ‘fun’ of it, or maybe because as a writer and observer, these things come to the surface naturally, like little checkpoints of where I am at the time, like little rough maps of the world I constantly update and refine (and sometimes throw away and start over).

This brings us to the commonalities between hot yoga and Vinyasa yoga (and their adherents, insomuch as they stick to one or the other, which many do). Examining the commonalities is always a pertinent first step before trying to define apparent differences.

Both are a type of yoga, which is aimed at union…union of body, mind, and spirit, and union of individuals with a higher Self within (and which possibly permeates the universe). Union of thought, word, and deed.

Yogis see yoga like a lotus flower, with many petals. The physical practice (at its core defined as hatha yoga) is just one petal. Within this petal are the many fibers of the various physical practices; hot, Vinyasa, Kundalini, yin, traditional hatha, etc. Other petals of yoga are bhakti (devotion, praise, and gratitude), seva (service to others), among many others.

In our commercial-based western society, we perceive these as separate and distinct. We try to find the best petal, and throw the rest of the flower away. Many argue that only devotion, or service, or praise, or meditation, or physical practice is the real yoga. Each tries to create ‘product differentiators’ to show how their brand of yoga is better religion, theology, or exercise. Each tries to develop new ‘products’ (types of or interpretations of …or focus on one of the petals as the best one…to the exclusion of all others. Each yoga ‘product’ is tailored to meet the desires of untapped segments of the ‘market.’ It’s taken a path toward enlightenment (or at least improved control over/acceptance of/union of) body, heart, and mind and turned it into the business of yoga, the marketplace of yoga, a growth industry, a financial cash cow for the merchants who peddle it.

In reality, it is just petals on a flower. Each has something beautiful to offer, each is needed for a complete understand or practice of yoga, each has meaning and value only when taken in context of (and conjunction with) the other petals of the flower. With that said, I will nevertheless try to ‘differentiate’ between ‘products’ as an entertaining and possibly instructive game, or as a way to document my thoughts of today for later review and consideration. Here goes…

First, back to the commonalities. Hot and Vinyasa are both types of physical practice, and thus parts of the same single petal on the flower of yoga. Both rely on the breath to calm and still the mind, to control, relax, and energize the body/mind/spirit complex at various appropriate times. Both help increase physical and neurological well-being. Both bring us together not as athletes or people with some low goal, but as brothers and sisters, as aspirants in a lifelong practice with no definite or even achievable goal. We just point to the light and start walking…or dancing.

Both practices rely on the drishti (calm focus of attention, concentration, consciousness) to facilitate the physical and mental changes going on underneath the surface. In the ‘western world’, both are mostly taught by super-fit young twenty-somethings in tight, fashionable, and expensive yoga clothes.

Both are often praised (or feared) as a sort of cult, religion, tribe apart from the desire-filled, greed-based majority of the world. Both are greatly misunderstood – by yogis and non-yogis alike. Both can better be implemented (acted out or manifested, if you prefer) with gentleness and allowing than with effort or trying. There are so many commonalities, it would take a tome (and has) to begin to describe them all.

The differences is what we Americans generally like, though, what we focus on. Which is better for us? Which will fit our ideas or images of ourselves better, help us lose more weight or get closer to the Divine? I get it, and will play along.

In general, hot yogis seem to love (take sanctuary in) the predictability, in the ostensible regimentation. They seem to like the heat, the sweat, the effort as cathartic, as undeniable indications that they are doing something, going somewhere. They want and get results…now; a pile of sweat and five pounds of water weight (and associated toxins) lost.

Hot yogis seem to be more pragmatic and determined. The might even seem a bit more grim in their seriousness about their practices. They are almost definitely more perfunctory; they show up early, generally stay (and sweat) in the same place day after day, if they can. They take class at the same hour(s) each day, and want the same instructor on that day. Their routines seem to vary little…and they like it that way.

Hot yogis often seem to eschew the potential religious, theological, spiritual aspects of yoga, preferring instead the tangible efforts and rewards of the physical realm. To many, it is just exercise, and they like it like that. They don’t want to be pestered with pesky OMs and spiritual ramblings. They have to get to work soon, and they only have one hour to get down and sweat it out, get their workout in. They don’t want to trouble their mind with new concepts that may conflict with their world views, religious preferences (or lack of them), or whatever. They want it like they want it, and that’s that.

Now of course, trying to generalize people and categorize them is a fool’s errand, one which we authors seem to love engaging in, even though we know it for what it is. Maybe it’s simply fun and passes the time between yoga classes, hikes, and pedaling (or skiing or snowboarding or climbing or riding). But (feeling like the old prejudiced ignoramus who said -back in the bad old days- that all African Americans were lazy, or all Native Americans were drunks), I’ll continue, since I took this thread this far.

Vinyasa yogis seem more about the devotional aspects of the physical practice. They like to invoke the pranavah; to AUM (OM) together, or sing kirtan (songs of praise, often in Sanskrit) and mantras (healing or focusing sounds and vibrations). They seem to dig the variability of various vinyasa flows (sequences). They most definitely seem to like the fact they can flow and they (nor I next to them) gets covered in icky, unsightly (and possibly stinky) sweat.

Yet we yogis are about union. Yoga means union. We are not about division or distinction, not about discrimination or determination. We are about experience, the special intimate inner experience and transformation that only the individual aspirant can know (through their own direct experience, and shared with the experiences of others, without judgment).

While the two ‘types’ of yogis may seem different, in the end they are the same. In the end, their eyes shine and they hug me…and the world. In the end, they experience the almost magical transformation a continued yoga practice eventually brings. And funnt enough, those same dedicated Vinyasa yogis you see at 9AM every day may also be the dedicated ‘hot’ yogis you see at 6AM (or whenever) every day as well. Surprise, surprise.

Maybe we’re all just yogis after all, each on different parts of our personal paths. Maybe you are a yogi as well, even if you don’t practice (for the beginning and pre-beginning are also parts of the path). Maybe we’re all yogis of the sort, inextricably united by the primary engine of yoga…the breath, which we cannot escape sharing with the entire planet. Maybe we are not just 7 billion shipmates on a rock hurtling through space, bnut seven billion yogi shipmates, untied by breath, despite our apparent or ostensible differences, united in spite of them. United. Yoga. Mmmm. AUMmmmmm

 

‘…and the less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine…’

-The Indigo Girls

(c) 2016, Mark Francis Mullen. All rights reserved. Facebook or no other entity owns or is entitled to unassigned rights to this document. It may be shared for free (with credit given to the author), as defined in applicable international copyright laws. I in no way allow rights to this document by virtue of publishing it on the original ‘blogging website’ or subsequent ‘posts’ or ‘shares’ on Facebook or other social media.
Photo credit Radiance Power Yoga (I’m pretty sure)

 

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the Dream

I dream, I dream…

In it, we flow together in the majestic cathedral of Nature. We sing and dance…in joy, in gratitude, in praise of Life and each other, and the divine gift of ourselves and our togetherness.

We make hemp-crete and hemp batteries. We grow good food, real food. We bring organic-based salvation to the world. We help heal through organic food, love, medicine. We play with the children, drum with the adults, sing with the angels.

Maybe we split the time between Colorado and our organic yoga farm in Ecuador. And Ladakh…or Bhutan. We smile at each other, laugh and kiss a lot. We hug children betwen us.

We help people find space (and peace) within their bodies…and minds, hearts, and souls. We join our kindred spirits in caretaking of and caregiving to the world.

We explore the world. We balance our inner and indoor work with outdoor adventures.

We arise, ascend to the new selves and world we help create. We immerse in the healing actions of love and working for a good cause. We not only reduce our carbon footprints, we become a positive factor in the environment, giving back more than we take away.

We live…fully, and with love. We bind each others’ wounds, accept each others’ idiosyncracies, be present for each other and the world. We listen and feel…share and act. We rub almond oil and love into each others’ skin. We feed each other grapes and artichokes.

We bring ourselves fully to each task and moment before us. We chat and laugh as we work together. We feel the grounding and humanizing effect of working with, in, and around nature.

We sing to Gaia, Durga, and each other. We joyfully surf the wave of life. We model love and compassion to our children. We model hard work and service, craftsmanship and motivation.

People come to the farm for respite from the modern world. We welcome them with love and community. They work and play with us, sharing the joyful work of the farm, and of the inner journey. We practice yoga and meditation together, and when they leave, they feel like a new person.

In addition to our working farm and factories, we provide opportunities for responsible, fun, helpful, and meaningful vacations. These are not mindless, hedonistic revels on a beach with a mai-tai, but chances to step out of their ‘normal’ worlds and live for a while another, more elevating type of life.

If we drive vehicles, we plug them into our house at night, to be re-charged from our solar system. Our cancer-fighting (and delicious) mushrooms eat the chicken poop, and some live with the fruit trees, providing a symbiosis to each other and doubling the harvest for us.

We help people ease their pain and anxiety without pharmaceutical drugs, heal their bodies with the abundance of the Earth, drive their cars without harmful chemical batteries.

…or maybe She does all that. She is the brains and heart of this dream, after all. Maybe I help manifest it by supporting Her in the million small ways…in having the chores done, the kids loved and taught, dinner ready or the picnic basket packed. Maybe I just provide an open ear and heart, a strong yet gentle support.

…or all of it. We don’t need to figure it out just yet…it’s a dream. While drraming is fun, turning them into reality is meaningful, helpful…real.

You may say that I’m a dreamer…and I am. I am also doer, of mundane and heroic feats. With the woman of my dreams by my side, there’s not much I (we) can’t do.

Enough dreaming. Time to pedal out into the glorious day, bringing my love…and dreams…with me, in me.

Jai.

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Gratitude … For Tears

‘What is there that justifies tears and lamentations?’
The Buddha

As I gaze in a sort of rapture at the mandala of a pure white thunderhead rising from behind a pure green pine, gratitude wells within me. My ears ringing to the music of children happily playing and summer birds singing, I more than feel my interconnectedness with everything; I am it.

This is as easy and natural as falling off a log, once one perceives the beauty of the moment. Yet there is another side to this…

As the bitter winter wind pushes against me like a hand, its cold fingers reaching through every layer of clothing and flesh to my core, I push harder on the pedals of my bicycle, filled with…gratitude. Only ten more miles to go.

This gratitude does not come as easily. It takes a moment to perceive the beauty of this moment. It may not be obvious. But in the most pleasant moment lies the seed of an apparently unpleasant moment, and vice-versa. Can I have gratitude for one moment of experience, and not another? Is basing my gratitude on sensory gratification or circumstance even gratitude?

In labeling experiences as good and bad, we make our first error. In seeking one type experience and avoiding the other, we step even further from the path. Sages tell us that grasping at the good and avoiding the bad is a recipe for suffering.

If I am grateful, it is for life. Life is composed of many moments and experiences, some seemingly good and others ostensibly bad. Satori comes at unexpected times; enlightenment (even the momentary kind, especially that kind) comes in the spaces between moments, in the interstices, regardless of the type of moment.

Sometimes this unveiling (or peeling away of layers?) occurs at the most unlikely times. Our hearts open, then our minds and spirits follow. The winter wind that pushes against gives me something to strive with non-violently and non-competetively. It helps me hone my strength and determination. It provides a counterpoint to the eventual warmth and stew I will experience. It provides cooling memories as I pedal through the heat of summer. What’s not to be grateful for?

Yet it doesn’t happen for these reasons, or for any reason. It just happens.

Of course, to most of us, a sense of gratitude implies being grateful to someone, even if that someone is an intangible divine entity. Yet even Buddhists and atheists can be grateful. A sense of deep gratitude does not depend on an object for its existence.

I find my gratitude can be towards the existence of Life…for the ability to perceive. It doesn’t need to have a focal point. Maybe it could be towards the ever-changing nature of life, or…..maybe gratitude, like butterflies and sunsets, does not require a reason for existence.

I am grateful for that. I am grateful for all my experiences, the painful and challenging ones as well, for they have been part of my path as well. Each tear contains a lesson, every drop of blood and every scar paints a stroke in the nebulous collection of colors and light I call ‘me.’

In the presence of gratitude, what is there that justifies tears and lamentations? In the impermanent is-ness of things, the always changing ebb and flow of life, all moments are precious, all contain the seed of enlightenment, all are worthy of gratitude. None are worth the salt of my tears…at least not for long.

I am grateful for that as well.

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Huns in the Holy Places

Barbarians lodge in the Potala. Ignorant oppressors violate the holy spaces of Lhasa.

What better time for the equanimity of a buddha?

Infidels tore down the Gyasa monuments, just as they destroyed Nalanda long ago.

Can they even touch the holy spaces? Is the dharma a thing to be torn apart by fanatics?

While the red star of tyrrany lies over Tibet, can these uncultured usurpers truly stop the dharmachakra from turning, once it has begun?

More powerful than the entire arsenal of the Peoples’ Army is the compassion of the Dalai Lama, the teachings of the Buddha.

What better time to live these teachings than during the sack of an ancient land? Who better to be calm than those in the midst of impermanence and ostensible chaos and destruction?

For peace is found there too…it is needed there more than in an idyllic meadow. The more fanatics try to destroy it, the more relevant the teachings become.

For the Buddha lives not in statues or sutras, but within us all.

“Look within…there will you find the Buddha.”
-Siddartha Guatama

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Will and VolitionN…keys to action

A while back, I lost my will.

Like a cork in the sea, I bobbed aimlessly, a ship without a rudder. I didn’t care; with the loss of will came the loss of desire, of motivation. Or maybe the converse; will and motivation/ desire share a chicken and egg relationship; it is unclear which comes first. Either way, I was becalmed, stranded, a boat without a sail.

Luckily, my volition saved me.  Or more precisely, my understanding of the difference between will and intention saved me.

Will is what makes us want to do things. It is our drive and motivation. When my will to live and act died, my body/mind/spirit began to follow. My once-lauded bloodwork came back bad. My soul shriveled and my physical envelope began to disintegrate.

People with severe depression can relate. They don’t seem to be able to summon the energy or desire to get out of bed. People facing severe loss, pain, or sorrow can relate. Why wake up? It’s just another pain-filled day.

While will may seem to fade or disappear, and even intention may waver, we always have access to volition.

Volition (and thus intention) are independent of will and desire. The knowledge of this saved me. While I may not have wanted to take part in the world, I retained my volition. The ability to control and direct my body remained. I may not want to get up, go outside, and be re-charged by the power of nature, but my body can not refuse a direct command to stand up and walk out there.

So I simply changed the equation. Previously, the ‘logic’ was IF I wanted to do something, THEN I did it. But counting on my desire wasn’t enough. So the equation ignored the factor of desire. Now, IF something needs to be done, I do it. Who cares if I want to or feel like it? I simply send the commands to my body and it responds.

If I had waited to ‘want to’ do something, I would still be waiting, inert and inactive. Willpower (contrary to popular belief) cannot be exercised like a muscle, or whipped forward like a mule. It can’t be convinced or cajoled. We cannot ‘pump ourselves up ‘ to create will. All the cheerleaders and support structures in the world cannot make an unmotivated person send the commands of action from brain to body.

However, as long as I am unparalyzed, I retain control over my body. So I commanded it to do the things I knew would result in increased well-being. I exercised, ate good food, forced myself up to see that motivating sunrise, went dancing and got out in the world, whether I wanted to or not. I sent the commands and my body (the vehicle of consciousness) responded.

Once out in the world, with the actions performed, I reaped the benefits. The endorphins released from these actions blasted through my wall of ennui. Once I had made myself attend to the roots, the fruits followed naturally.

Once I exercised my volition, the things it made my body do resulted in a rebirth (or re-discovery) of my errant will. Once I took control of the one thing I had mastery over (the ability to direct my body), the rest sort of fell into place.

Of course, I had to direct that body to do things I knew to be regenerative. But if I had waited for the desire or motivation, I’d still be waiting. If I had waited for time to heal me, I’d still be huddled by the roadside, waiting helplessly.

As I look back, I guess I had faith as well, one of the things so obviously missing. I knew if I performed the actions, the results would follow. I guess in this sense I had faith…or at least belief that these techniques would work. I had experienced the transformative results myself, and witnessed them in others. So maybe it wasn’t faith or an unfounded belief. Maybe it was simple knowledge of the tools and techniques to increase health and well-being, aknowledge based on fact, not on wishful thinking or unfounded belief.

Maybe faith still remained…the faith in myself that I could send those commands to my body, that I would do the things necessary. Faith that I could endure until the results came. I never liked faith, especially faith in others. As I (and so many suicides) could attest, no God or angels or girlfriend would drop from the sky and save me.

Counting on others to do the one thing only I can do is a fool’s errand. Only I can pull myself up, by the bootstraps. Only I can send the command to arise. Only I can walk my path. If I wait for desire, I may sit by the wayside indefinitely. Previously, desire worked; I had plenty. But once that ran out, all I had left was volition.

One foot in front of the other. Who cares if you are tired or sad or in pain? The path of life lies before us either way. Walk it. Eventually, our steps will take us to a new place. Motivation and desire will ebb and flow as I proceed along the path, but if I remain firm in my intention (made manifest by my volition, the series of signals my nervous system transmits to my muscles) I will continue…living, being present, doing the things that need to be done.

Like a farmer, I cultivate my consciousness. Farmers do not want to wake up early and do the hard work required to grow a crop. But if they do, they will eventually reap the harvest of those actions. They may not even want the crop, but they are glad once they harvest it.

It may seem useless to one caught in the grip of ennui…crops and harvests and results all meaningless, all stupid in the darkness lack of will and motivation can bring. But by simply sending the commands to our organs of action, the work will be done. With increased health and well-being, increased exposure to the magic of the natural world come increased enjoyment, will and desire toward more Good.

Even if they don’t, any situation is improved with better health and well-being.

 

So while I may not want to at times, I chop wood and carry water. I use my volition to send the commands to my body, commands that result in the actions of life. Forget enlightenment; just chop wood and carry water. Forget will and desire and intangible ephemerals like happiness or motivation.

Just do this one thing, now.

If I focus fully on that, all the rest becomes moot and I am engaged in this one second, doing the work needed, sending those commands, using that volition, demonstrating mastery of myself. That is enough…enough for the ever-present NOW.

 

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“We’re at the point in our evolution that we all have to become conscious. This is a time of revolution. There’s no holding back. So I’m about tearing down the monastery walls and seeing the whole world as the monastery, as the practice, as the spiritual temple. What we’re all working on is this very being, this very life. This is the temple. It has no walls.”

-Genpo Roshi

“We’re at the p…

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