Chapter 18 – Freedom and Renunciation
Yoga Teacher – Erich Schiffmann
I’m happy to say that I completed the task that I set out to complete. 18 days in a row of yoga (at a studio, not at home) with each day corresponding to a different chapter of The Bhagavad Gita.
It’s been a really amazing experience and one that I’d recommend to anyone. In fact, I’d go so far as to recommend this immersion for yoga teachers and their students. I’ve never done a teacher training but I suspect there’s a lot any fledgling yogi can get from this. There is an amazing amount of insight that you will get into an asana practice through the eyes of the Gita and I’m sure not too many people have done it before. The combination of that much yoga, reading and writing really awakened a lot of stuff going on inside of me and not all of it “good.” I initially thought the experience would bring me closer to bliss, it did that in a way but it also showed me so much of the work that I have to do. All of it “grist for the mill.” Someone once told me “you don’t deal with your problems by not dealing with your problems.” This couldn’t be more true. Most relevant to me was that so much the Gita, especially the early chapters, deal with Karma Yoga. The stuff we do and why we do it shapes our realities. I’ve become very aware of even the small actions and why they matter.
The most amazing part of my experience was without question the letters of support and admiration that I received from my friends. Some even joined me in solidarity and some expressed that because of my “no matter what” dedication that they too found a renewed dedication to their practice. I’m not quick to accept any sort of admission that I helped someone else but in this case, I feel great about it and really proud.
Los Angeles happens to be one of the most profound wells of yogic knowledge in America. There are expert asana teachers who will without question transform your practice if you dedicate yourself. There are teachers who are mystics and bhaktas who can open your heart and touch your soul. There are places you can go to sing kirtan practically any night of the week and above all there is a community that will support your path no matter what it is. Personally, I want to give my pranams to Govind Das, Saul David Raye, Mark Whitwell, Erich Schiffman, Micheline Berry, Annie Carpenter and all of the other teachers who I have ever taken a class with, not all of which I can name here. Thank you for keeping the light on.
In case you wondering the translation of the Gita that I used for this experiment was Eknath Easwaran’s. I found this translation to be the most direct and accessible for this purpose. It’s very easy to understand and uses language that is appropriate for any fledging urban yogi. There are other good translations as well and I know some people get very passionate about this to the point of even calling Easwaran’s “not authorized.” I was so happy that no one choose to use my blog as gateway to debate the splitting of sanskrit hairs by saying such and such version is the only right one. With that said “As it Is” by Srila Prabhupad is an excellent manual for a spiritual life and I highly recommend it. Additionally, Ram Dass’s 12 hours worth of lectures from Naropa University in 1974 called “Love. Service. Devotion” is an endless well of wisdom, humor and insight into the mysteries of the Bhagavad Gita. You can purchase it on iTunes or SoundsTrue as an audio book and trust me that your life will never be the same.
Do I feel like I am a better yogi now after 18 days? Sure. Whatever that means. I’m not even comfortable calling myself a “yogi.” I’m just one person who loves these teachings and am just eager to pursue it to the best of my ability. I do believe that I have some cognitive ability that allows me to share my insights with people in a fresh way so I will embrace that part of dharma as well. So maybe I’ll do another writing/yoga project next? The Yoga Sutras perhaps?
I do know that for me personally writing about these teachings and their experience in the real world is a way of opening doors that I wouldn’t have otherwise opened. So I’ll keep doing that.
Above all, I’ve become aware of my practice and the need to embrace everyone else’s practice too. All love. Thanks for reading!
Chapter 16 – Two Paths
Chapter 17 – The Power of Faith
Yoga Teacher Day 16 – Amy Loftus
Yoga Teacher Day 17 – Tiffany Russo
The irony slash bullshit meter went off a little bit in todays yoga class. There’s a little bit of a disconnect in writing about the Bhagavad Gita after practicing yoga at Equinox. Equinox is an elitist over priced gym for affluent upwardly mobile mostly white people that basically is “maya”, no offense or anything but there’s a little bit of silliness in all of this. Look, I’m getting a lot out of this and based off the letters I’m getting other people are too. That’s great. But next time I think I have to take a project like this with a little more levity if I’m going to stay surrounded in these kind of environments. In the same breath, however, I don’t think that this blog would be more credible if I was doing yoga in Mysore or anything, I’m just stating the obvious irony and humor of this situation. Anyway, I digress.
My ol’ pal Rachel read my blog the other day and she called me and said “seems kinda cool but I didn’t understand any of it.” That amazed me. I actually know a thing or two about a niche topic that is completely foreign to people who don’t engage in these practices. How did that happen? A wise person once told me that “discipline is finding what you love to do and then doing it.” I’m content that my passion for the yogic way of life has made it’s way to people who are not of this ilk. This issue is why I’ve only recently started writing about my spirituality and my journey. Because I’ve led such a varied life I’ve always been a little concious about possibly turning people off who from other facets of my life (or previous lives) who will chalk me up as being “weird.” A certain self conscious and self deprecating demeanor is finally dissipating.
The 18 day thing is starting to wind down and while I feel physically amazing many of my challenges are still front and center. Studying the Gita with such an intense focus will really make you take a look at your life – the good, bad and the ugly. Yes, I feel very blessed that so much grace has been bestowed upon me but at the same time I see clearly the issues that I have to work on.
Chapter 16 is great because it deals with the humanity we’re all going to face at some point. It sheds light on even the dark side of the human condition that no one is immune from. It’s as if Krishna knows that Arjuna is going to have some darkness come up so he needs to remind Arjuna to stay steadfast and true on the path, for this is what might happen if you don’t.
Verse 4 “Other qualities, Arjuna, make a person more and more inhuman; hypocrisy, arrogance, conceit, anger, cruelty, ignorance. (5) The divine qualities leads to bondage. But no not grieve, Arjuna; you were born with divine attributes.”
The latter part of Verse 5 is one of the great subtle suggestions on a tangent topic that I like to think about. Is everyone born divine or are some born with so many samaskaras that they can not escape “evil” behavior? For instance, is even the most shocking serial killer born divine and full of bliss? Did they merely learn how to be evil through the influence of society? Fun to think about. I personally think that everyone has the ability to be divine in this lifetime and that for some it’s just tougher to access than for others. Krishna says “some have divine tendencies, others demonic.”
Simply put Krishna is reminding Arjuna to stay humble at every turn and to not let the vast temptations of wealth and desire cloud his judgement. This is explored more in Chapter 17’s topic of “The Power of Faith” but Arjuna twists it a little and asks about people who are faithful but not necessarily on this path. This is very helpful because it creates enough malleability for all of us to coexist. Krishna states that “Our faith conforms to our nature, Arjuna. Human nature is made of faith…those who are sattvic workshop the forms of God.”
Even in my cozy polished yoga studio surroundings I can still learn to see that other people have the ability to be loving, kind and sattvic despite the wrapper. We all have to be somewhere doing something and it just so happens that some people lead different incarnations than others. No one is better than the other. That’s the joy of the variety of the world. All love. Hari om.
Chapter 15 – The Supreme Self
Yoga Teacher – Govind Das
Before today’s class someone asked me what am I going to do at Day 19. Since I’m on day Day 15, I can’t say that I am 100% sure what I’m going to do at Day 19. But I suspect that I’ll just keep going. The personal little trick this experiment played on me was to jump start my asana practice and to use the blog as a way to hold me accountable. Sure it’s fun to write and to share with others but this has helped me to see where the blockages are in my practice and how best to work through them.
I’ve said many times and I’ll say it again – the only way to get through your obstacles in your practice is to simply show up and do the practice anyway. Even if you really don’t feel like it just show up and practice with sincerity. That’s it. That’s all that’s required. Honestly, I don’t think God cares if you’re struggling or if your own stuff is getting in your way. That’s your own shit. Just show up anyway. It’s through the repetition that we notice the patterns actually start to change. If we are sporadic and not dedicated one way or another it shows. This is why finding what works for us is truly essential. Starting with a little dogma is good to get you going but then take that and find your own flavor.
In today’s class Govind Das reminded us of the meaning of savasana. I hadn’t heard a teacher talk about it in sometime and when you stop to really consider it’s origins it’s pretty far out. Savasana means “corpse pose.” In an exaggerated sense it gives us pause and reminds us of our impermanent nature that is line with all universal laws. Our bodies will die someday. Everyone we know, someday will die. So the application of this pose settles us into that peace by putting our bodies close to the earth. Now in a more day to day application the pose symbolizes death in the sense of dying after we perform our practice only to renew again even stronger. You perform a strong practice for 80 minutes, you sweat, breathe, maybe dance and then all of that tapas work is done and you just fall into the earth like a pile of ash. Then you are reborn having worked out your karmas. Over and over again – we do our practice or live our life, then we die and get to do it all over again and again and again.
It’s taking savasana to the extreme but it is important to note where savasana occurs in the sequence of hatha yoga.
Chapter 15 is an esoteric chapter in that there are many paradoxes. At one point it supports a merging with Brahaman and the notion that we are all one and in another breath it states that Krishna and the atman are indeed separate, even after death.
Krishna says in Verse 7 “An eternal part of me enters into the world, assuming the powers of action and perception and a mind made of prakriti. When the divine Self enters and leaves a body it takes these along as the wind carries a scent from place to place.”
Do we really have any idea where are going next? Why not operate under the notion that our souls are eternal, full of knowledge and full of bliss? What’s the downside exactly? Additionally, do you feel like you’ve incarnated at the very moment in these times for a reason? I say yes because it helps to shed light on your dharma. I feel like I’m here at this time for a reason and it’s my duty to strip away the things that are getting in the way of realizing that reason. That is the nature of the Supreme Self in life.
At any moment I can enter into savasana, literally or figuratively. That deep surrender after we’ve put forth effort helps us to hold the mirror to ourselves. Only we can decide if we’re making progress or not. That’s the bit of self actualization and self realization that the divine gives. We are granted grace but will we use it? I look back on all my misgivings and all my mistakes and wonder how I didn’t accept the grace I was given. These are the paradoxes of life, practice, yoga, God and the material world.
Now…who to practice with on Day 16…hmmmmm
Chapter 14 – The Forces of Evolution
Yoga Teacher – Saul David Raye
Once again, I’m behind with the blogging portion of this immersion by one day. Day 14 was yesterday, Sunday the 30th. And it couldn’t have been a better day.
It started off with quite a challenge. I was fiercely determined to make maha teacher Saul David Raye’s last official class at Exhale early so I could get a good spot. On my way, down my normal route along Washington Blvd, I tried to make my normal right turn on Abbot Kinney to get to Exhale. I was met with parking regulators blocking off the whole street northbound for the LA Triathlon. This was the case for all northbound traffic that was trying to cross Venice Blvd. You literally could not cross Venice Blvd anywhere except on Fairfax Ave or by going around and taking the freeway. I started to get a little upset that I was going to miss this special yoga class as there was no way for me to get to Exhale on time, at all. My choice, it seemed, was to simply give up and go home. Then it suddenly occurred to me to take on the role of an “Amazing Race” contestant and come up with a solution! I had a flash of wisdom; GET A BIKE AND RIDE!
So I did!
I parked my car at the end of Washington Blvd, paid way too much for parking, rented a bike on the Venice boardwalk and rode myself up to Exhale. And much to my delight I made in time to class with time to spare. I arrived a little freaked out and flustered and had to ask my friend Alyssa if I could lock my rented bike up with hers. It all worked out.
This isn’t a story of how clever I am (or is it?…lol) but it is a tale of how there are many solutions to a single problem. Missing Sauls class this particular day was not an option for me. Lots of my friends were meeting me there and it was very much needed so we could really show our gratitude for all the years of amazing teachings that Saul has given us.
This story is somewhat appropriate for Chapter 14 of the Gita because it deals with the many aspects of “the field” and the operation of actions as they take place inside of the three gunas.
Chapter 14 of the Gita dives a little deeper into “the field” (prakriti) that was explored in the previous chapter. It is explored here with it’s relationship to the three gunas – sattva, rajas and tamas. All of our actions and thoughts reside in one of these three modes of energy. Many of the ancient Indian traditions strive towards a satvic life which is the highest of the three and maintains it’s balance in purity and light. Rajas, to me, is the most complicated because when taken too far it comes out in the form of anger, greed and hatred however, it is also needed because passion maintains a healthy place when needed for the healthy ego to flourish. I had an old 12 step friend who used to categorize some defects as “assets running amok.” This is one of them. In it’s natural state it’s healthy and vital but taken too far things fall out of balance.
Krishna states in Verse 11 “When sattva predominates, the light of wisdom shines through every gate of the body. When rajas predominates, a person runs about pursuing selfish and greedy ends.”
To me this is the balance between the healthy and necessary ego and the ego that is attached to false identification or maya. I’ve mentioned this too many times in these posts but understanding this subtle balance is very important when engaging in yoga. What is the intention of the practice?
Some of my friends were complaining to me that my posts have nothing to do with me or the yoga I’m doing and is just me riffing on the Gita. I disagree but I thought that I’d balance this post a little with a personal story. Love love.