Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The Philosopher and the Wolf

I have just finished reading The Philosopher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death and Happiness by Philosophy Professor Mark Rowlands. I bought the book in the Borders closing down sale because it looked interesting and I wasn't disappointed.
Rowlands lived with a wolf for 11 years (in Alabama, Ireland, London and the South of France). The experience influenced him both as a person and as a philosopher and is recorded in this book. Rowlands compares and contrasts the behaviour of human animals (apes) with that of wolves - and we don't come out of it as attractive animals (scheming, deceptive, malicious, merciless). No wonder many people prefer their dogs to other people! And no wonder too that the early yogis, philosophers and enquirers into truth from all traditions took themselves off into the woods or mountains away from the influence of society and so called civilisation.
If you are interested in philosophy or if you are someone who prefers to run with the wolves than walk with the apes and wonders why then read this book. I heartily recommend it.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Nothing about the bandhas

Words are very useful as a means of communication - providing the person hearing the words has the same understanding of them as the person speaking them. If they don't then allsorts of misunderstandings occur and we can get ourselves into big trouble. Most of us don't realise this - that the word is not the thing - and, because of our misguided belief in the supremacy of the word, believe our interpretations of what we have heard or read. Even when our understanding of the words is correct they are always inadequate to describe a thing. There is always something more - "to see infinity in a grain of sand". So negation, saying what something is not, is actually more useful than trying to describe something because it allows us to get closer to the truth.
Take for instance the bandhas. Jalandhara (throat), uddiyana (abdomen) and mula (root) bandhas (locks) are often taught as deliberate contraction of different parts of the body. I can't tell you what the bandhas are or how to do them. But I can tell you that pulling in the tummy and 'sucking' it up isn't uddiyana bandha; squeezing the pelvic floor muscles isn't mula bandha and ramming the throat to the chest and scrunching up the shoulders in not jalandhara bandha. The bandhas are not about deliberate contraction or tension. They are locks and just as there is no force or tension involved turning the lock on a door there is no effort in 'activating' the bandhas. Effort is needed when trying to force through a lock but even then the lock doesn't expend any effort in resisting. Neither can I tell you how these ideas originally arose, maybe this was how students recreated what they saw in their teacher and it got propagated or perhaps such instructions arose as as a crude attempt to give an idea of what the bandhas feel like but was taken as the thing and propogated by students whose studies took them no further (rather like stopping the study of physics aged 14 and, being ignorant of one's ignorance, passing on what one knows and it being mistaken by others for the full story).
I'm not saying that everyone mistakes these gross actions for the bandhas. Of course there are people who have got a more accurate understanding as to what the bandhas are (and I am grateful for finding one who said "no, that's not it") but remember they who know don't tell and those who tell don't know (I guess because of the inadequacy of words). Ultimately you have to understand for yourself. And keep on understanding - infinity in a grain of sand remember.
You don't 'do' the bandhas or even 'find' them. Rather the bandhas come through you. They arise spontaneously when the correct conditions are present in the body. When they do arise, you will recognise them in a eureka moment. And you will realise then why words cannot describe them. But it won't happen while you are pushing or pulling or deliberately contracting. And it won't happen if you are trying to do the bandhas. Simply create freedom in your posture and let the bandhas take care of themselves.
And that's all I have to say about the bandhas.

Search facility on Yoga with Anne

It is now possible to search the Yoga with Anne Website using Google Custom Search. You will find the search box to the bottom right of the picture on the home page and in the top right of the sitemap page. There is also a link to 'search Yoga with Anne' at the bottom of every page.
There is a quirk. (Isn't there always?!) For some reason you have to press the 'go back one page' button twice to go back to the previous page from the results page.(The first click takes you to the top of the page but that's something that you'd only notice if you had scrolled down.)
Another 'feature' is that it searches Google's indexed pages which means that it's not 'real time' but hopefully that won't be too much of a problem.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Announcing the Beginners+ Course

I will be running a 6 week Beginners+ Yoga Course at Poole Yogashala starting on 4th March 2010. This course is a follow up to the Introduction to Yoga course and is open to students who have attended that course or who have worked with me in the past. 
The next Introduction to Yoga Course, which is suitable for complete beginners and those returning to the practice of yoga after a break, will begin on 15th April 2010.

Get rid of that new mat smell

To get rid of that awful 'new mat' smell wipe your mat over with a mixture of apple cider vinegar and water (a useful tip from the winter edition of Yoga+). Apparently this is not 100% effective with rubber mats but if it helps to get rid of even some of the headache inducing fumes it has to be worth it. I find that leaving the mat unfurled in an airey garage or outbuilding or best of all, in fine weather, outside on the line also helps to get rid of the smell.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Nice cactus! Don't let the obvious blind you to the important

There is a TV ad. out at the moment based on the 'spot the difference' game. A couple sit in their lounge and the contents of the room change. In the final shot our attention is immediately drawn to a large inflatable dinosaur dominating the room while the voice-over says "nice cactus" refering to a small cactus which has appeared, unnoticed, on the coffee table. This advertisment highlights how we overlook the important in favour of the obvious. We do it all the time. An example from our yogasana would be noticing the hand of the lower arm touching the ankle and the verticality of the upper arm but not seeing the rotation of the spine while watching a demonstration of trikonasana. Then, mistaking the obvious for the important, when we practice trikonasana we displace the torso and bend the leg in an attempt to reach the ankle and yank the upper arm behind us to get it vertical while barely twisting at all.
This trait of focusing on the obvious makes it almost impossible to understand yoga just by reading a book or from watching a DVD - we fail to notice the important. For this reason it is helpful to work with a teacher who has understood what is important in a posture; to work with someone who can direct our attention away from the obvious to the important. But first of all we have to realise there is a difference between the two.

There is a whiff of Spring in the air...

Today is Imbolc and there is a whiff of Spring in the air. Have a look at the website for some practice suggestions for your yoga at Imbolc