Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Reflections on my experiences as a BICer from 2007 to 2011

            When I began considering the final Capstone memoir and what I felt was important to write about, I was overcome with an overwhelming sense of uncertainty, and for the first time I was completely stalled – I had not even the slightest vision of what direction my story would go. What could I possibly include that would be significant enough to be even slightly interesting to hold a college professor’s attention for fifteen to twenty pages? I struggled with questions of these sorts for about a day, returning from time to time hoping that a fresh, creative idea would eventually come from it. After much frustration, I finally sat down and began to write. I read the expectations of the paper, and began reflective brainstorming. Eventually, I had written nearly a two-page account of why I decided to attend Baylor and what factors influenced that decision. This is the first time, in all of my four years of college, that I have sat down and examined my life, and it is certainly the first time I have put it down on paper. It is sort of ironic – the emphasis on critical and complex analysis and the rigorous curriculum that trained me to affectively achieve such high levels of understanding is the exact reason I was blind sighted when I was unable to offer a straightforward account of my academic career.

            This is when I realized the real purpose of my paper, or at least what I understand as its purpose: the real objective of the Capstone paper is to provide a point from which I can begin to examine myself and to reflect upon my own life. It is a means of “wrapping it up,” a way to recount my college experience as a whole and how truly unique my college experiences were because of the BIC.
            After coming to this conclusion, I realized that I just have to write. Some parts of my story may seem irrelevant, but I hope that the themes will become more evident by the end of the memoir. Overall, I want to stress the themes of transition and decision making that are unique to my story and play an influential role in how I changed over just a short period of time. Most importantly I want to stress that my awareness of  “the examined life” and the importance of self-reflection has finally taken form after four years.


College years are some of the most important developmental years of a young person’s life (for those who are blessed with the opportunity to attend college and take it seriously, of course). College is not only a means of intellectual development, it is filled with years and experiences that shape and influence the rest of our lives. It is often the first time away from home, a time when we are left to make our own decisions, to learn from our mistakes, and to search for the person we truly are, or the person we want to be. College is where you make friends for life and the decisions and connections we make can determine the paths that we will follow.
            My transition from high school to college was unique in many different ways. My ability to make a smooth transition to living on my own is in large part due to the fact that I am an only child, raised in a single-mother household, where my mother was constantly working to support us. From the time I began school and throughout my life, my mother taught me to be independent and self-sufficient. The sense of responsibility and independence remained important values even after my mother remarried and my stepfather, Chris, became a part of the family.
            My sense of self-determination was most often a positive quality, but occasionally it created trouble. I was stubborn, argumentative, and often restless. Throughout high school I my stepdad and I were always at odds with each other and we constantly battled with the stepfather/daughter relationship. But my parents never really had to worry about me as a teenager – I was a good student and never got into trouble. I was always determined to make my own money and held a job from the time I was fourteen (the legal working age in North Carolina). Apart from the occasional “terrible teens” episodes, I was self-sufficient and motivated, engaged in many extracurricular activities such as cheerleading, student government, National Honors Society, and I was very politically engaged, founding political clubs on campus and working on campaigns.
            There was, however, one very significant person upon whom I was dependent, especially throughout middle and high school – my grandfather, who I called Papa. After my grandmother, who I called Amma and with whom I was extremely close, died of breast cancer in 2000 (when I was just about twelve years old), Papa and I developed an extremely close relationship that resembles one that I cherish as a father/daughter relationship. Papa and I never developed much of a personal relationship when Amma was alive. I spent most of my time with her and Papa was always working at the restaurant from sunrise to sundown. When Amma died, our family was torn to pieces. She was young and truly an angel on earth. She was the bond that held Papa, my mother, and my uncle together. With so many clashing personalities in one household, the only time tensions were lifted was when Amma’s presence was felt. But in a sense, Amma’s death created wholeness between my mother, uncle, Papa, and me, that filled in the holes and gaps in our relationship.
            Papa and I found a unique sense of comfort and support in each other’s presence in particular. While we lost of one of the most important people in our lives, we developed a new understanding that transcended that of grandfather/granddaughter, we were best friends. We supported each other through the hardest times, building a mutually dependent relationship. I talked to Papa about everything, I went to see him every day, and he provided support and guidance throughout my high school years. I can say that Papa was the sole person upon whom I relied and in whom I trusted everything.
            By my junior year in high school, my restlessness became more pressing, and I used my college choices to fulfill my longing for a change. The summer of 2006 was my first step toward making the first monumental transition of my life. My father worked in the oil and gas industry and was living in Texas at the time. After many years of a broken relationship, I felt the need to be closer to my father so that we could grow closer. So after visiting Baylor, I fell in love with everything about it, and my mind was made up that Texas was where I wanted to be.
            After four years of answering the question, “What brought you all the way to Waco, Texas from Cary, North Carolina?” I have realized the underlying source of my decision to go out of state for college. The real reason I left home and moved so far away lies in that restlessness and stubbornness that characterized my behavior all throughout my life. I wanted to experience a totally new environment, meet completely new people, be successful by my own standards, and achieve success on my own. Although I may have not realized such motives when I made the decision to go to Baylor, I realize now that I was selfish and ungrateful, not realizing that there really is no way to get through such a pivotal point in life and make such a transition successfully without the help and support of others. My mother, stepfather, Papa, and other family members provided a foundation without which I would be nothing.
            After four years at Baylor, this is the first, and most humbling realization with which I have had to come to terms. My experiences as a student at Baylor and an undergraduate have shaped who I am and how I see myself in the future. As I began my Capstone memoir, I realized that this is my opportunity to reflect on all of my experiences at Baylor and what I have achieved, what I have learned, and what I am taking away as most important and influential as I leave this environment. The memories upon which I have been reflecting illustrate some recurring themes and ideas that characterize my life at Baylor: transitions, experience and exposure, holistic and encompassing attitudes/approaches, self-examination, expectations, decisions. These themes/terms generally describe my journey from my freshman year to the last weeks of my senior year. We are constantly growing as we gain experience and knowledge, but from your first year of college to your last are like nothing else you will experience – my intention is not to offer a novel of my four years in college. This is my story of the people, challenges, and experiences during college that have shaped me into who I am and that have created the foundation upon which I will build in the future.

Transitions, Expectations, Attitudes, and Decisions

            When I arrived at Baylor in August 2007, I was excited and anxious to begin a new chapter of my life. Unfortunately, such confidence and high expectations of my ability to be left on my own so abruptly did not prepare me for the shock of overwhelming isolation and loneliness I experienced almost immediately after we said our goodbyes and my parents left me in my dorm room. Not even fifteen minutes after my parents left to go back to North Caroline, I was a sobbing mess. I already missed my friends and family, I was alone, and I was overcome with the realities of moving half way across the country to a seemingly foreign country. I had no connection to Texas, I did not know a single soul within 500 miles of this totally new environment, and my roommate did not even show up to move in until the Sunday before classes were to begin. I was on my own to be situated in my new home at Brooks College, to learn my way around campus, to prepare for classes to begin within just a few short days, and while at the same time to meet other freshmen and try to make friends. Such realities hit me like a ton of bricks, and I was totally blind sighted by the blow of solitude. Instead of feeling free and independent, I felt abandoned with no direction and no one to turn to for guidance.
            It was not long until I was able to compose myself (after taking a long nap) and rebuild my confidence. In the back of my head I knew that there was no time for feeling sorry for myself and that I had been through worse. I had made the decision to embark on this journey so I needed to suck it up and keep moving forward. Looking back, I am actually impressed with my ability to regain my composure on my own – this is perhaps one of the first experiences I had at Baylor in which I was forced to find strength and determination. Throughout my first semester I was extremely homesick and struggled with one of the first major decisions I had to make as an undergraduate – whether or not to transfer back home or to remain at Baylor.
            My decision to remain at Baylor and to continue into my second semester was largely based on the opportunities I saw in my academic career, particularly within the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core (the BIC). Many first year BICers struggle with the rigorous first and second year curriculum, and some of my colleagues dropped out of the program. This was not my perspective. I was a pre-law International Business and Economics major – with the intent of going to law school that had been a part of my plan since I was four years old. The BIC was probably the most influential factor that motivated me to remain at Baylor and receive the education that I anticipated. I wanted to take every opportunity to develop the skills and knowledge that could help me succeed in law school. After making up my mind, I had committed myself entirely to my academic career, marking a peculiar period of transition in my life – I was devoted to standing firm in my place at Baylor while at the same time embarking on a three year journey that I did not realize was about to lead me into adulthood.
            My freshman year concluded successfully – I made good grades, found my place with a group of friends, and I had a boyfriend (a relationship that ended up amounting to only about a month). I was ready to go home and spend the summer with my friends and family. But the summer of 2008 proved to be one of the most life-altering points in my college career – after struggling with some family issues, I was forced to withdraw from Baylor and move back home indefinitely. The details as to why I had to move home are not as important as how much this experience affected me mentally, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. I was in summer school; I had become close with a number of people and had a regular group of best friends. I finally truly felt like Baylor was where I needed to be. I never expected that within two days I would be at home, trying to enroll in classes at North Carolina State University and looking for a place to live in Raleigh. The Fall semester of 2008 proved to be one of the lowest points of my life. I ended up dropping my courses at N.C. State because I simply was not able to fully engage with an online course, especially a course in accounting. I was working two jobs, neither of which were fulfilling. I was simply existing, living day to day, and feeling unaccomplished and empty. The only part of my life that provided any sense of peace was my boyfriend, whom I started dating over the summer. We began dating during the summer when I was home, and then we broke up when I left Baylor. The relationship became serious and we decided to begin planning our wedding once I had been accepted to a university in North Carolina.
            This period of my life appeared only a brief transition period during which I would have to simply readjust and pick my life back up in North Carolina. I was expecting a marriage proposal in the near future and the prospect of being accepted to any North Carolina university of my choice was bright and optimistic. I should have been over the dramatic withdrawal from Baylor, finding comfort instead in the new life and future plans that I (and everyone else) anticipated. But I was fighting a deep, internal battle with myself. Internally I was unrecognizable and empty. I was deeply disconnected spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually. When I realized that I had lost my sense of confidence and determination, I made the decision that I had to go back to Baylor. My health and my future depended on it. After some last minute planning and decision-making, I was re-enrolled in classes at Baylor by the first week of the Spring 2009 semester. Jonathan and I were still together, and I had a diamond promise ring on my hand to remind me that I just had to get through the next three years and we would be together again forever.
            That year was perhaps the most transformative, turbulent, life-altering year of my life – academically, mentally, physically, and emotionally. During my time off of school, I gained a totally new appreciation for college as a privilege and I constantly longed for academic engagement. But upon returning after an entire semester completely isolated from a classroom (and apparently not being able to register my business class failure at N.C. State, that I am not suited for business) I failed practically all of my business classes miserably. So, I immediately changed my major – which was also a huge decision with which I struggled. I had to admit failure and pursue the traditional course of study for pre-law students: political science. But some practical voice of reason left a nagging question about choosing a traditional history and/or political science degree – what if I decided not to go to law school? (At the time this was an outrageous question, because there has never been any other option for me but to go to law school) How far would a bachelor’s degree in political science get me before I realized I really could do nothing but go to graduate school? So I decided on a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies.
My decision to change my major to International Studies (IST is the abbreviation used by contemporary scholars that discuss the discipline) proved to be one of the best decisions I made in college. Of course, I eventually decided to postpone law school for a year or so to really think about such a commitment. For many reasons, including financial factors, I reached the conclusion to explore other opportunities and ensure that law school is what I really want to pursue. Although I know that my decision is the best option for where I am in my life, I really struggled with myself and my ultimate decision to put aside my dreams – most importantly I was changing my plans that have been in place literally since the time I was four years old.
I struggled with considerations of delaying law school for the last year and a half, so I pursued the first three years of college with the strong intent of pursuing a career in law. Perhaps this is why I really appreciated the nature of the curriculum that characterizes International Studies. But the significance of my decision to pursue a degree in International Studies rather than one in Political Science became evident throughout my time at Baylor.

The BIC Experience

            I am very hesitant to take on the task of articulating the BIC experience, and I am especially hesitant to put it on paper. This hesitance is based upon four years of continuously being at odds with the BIC – most of the tension (and every BICer will tell you that this is a very real tension felt by all) was due to the rigorous curriculum that challenges tradition. Sometimes I just wanted to make flashcards, memorize definitions, and take a test. Instead I spent late nights in the library struggling to learn the information and then create some sort of outline that will hopefully provide some information so that I can write at least one of the four essays after I have attempted at the fifty multiple choice questions that came first. I have and every other BICer has experienced this stress, so we curse the BIC and ask ourselves why we stuck with it and that is when the tension is temporarily broken (at least until the next exam). These are the moments many BICers remember when describing the “BIC experience;” long, long, nights, pages upon pages of reading assigned every night, and writing papers that “normal” Baylor students could not even imagine having to write, and The New York Times. Of course, these are just a few of the many experiences of a BICer, but I have the feeling that these are some of the big ones that without which a BIC Capstone memoir would be incomplete.
There are some clear changes in method in Capstone. Capstone explores how yoga has been the means of exploration of Truth, a physical dimension that has not been explored in lower-level BIC courses. Through ancient texts and contemporary memoirs, Capstone interestingly supplements the BIC’s characteristic use of primary texts with contemporary memoirs. The use of social sites like the Blogs maintained by individual students creates a new sense of community that is encouraged throughout a BICer’s career.
            Of course, there is the intellectual aspect of my development throughout my BIC years. I have developed essential critical thinking and reasoning skills as well as skills in writing and persuasion. Overall, the BIC certainly contributed to my development as an engaged, cultured, and open-minded young scholar. These experiences are not necessarily what I want to emphasize in my Capstone memoir, but they are important aspects of my BIC experience that are evident in all of my academic pursuits and, therefore, cannot go without mentioning. The experiences that have reached deeper and have influenced who I am today deserve the most reflection.

Who I am Today and Where I am Going

            Self-reflection has been a fundamental aspect of the principles encouraged throughout our academic careers in the BIC. Looking inward and knowing myself on a deep level has never been very evident in my activities because I was so preoccupied with grades, assignments, and everything else that comes with balancing a life in college. Everything about Capstone embodies the principles of BIC that become a part of every BIC student’s identity.
            Capstone has made me realize how widely misunderstood the practice and philosophy of yoga is today. However, there are many aspects of yoga to which BICers can relate. To put it in the most basic way, yoga philosophy and practice is all about the pursuit of Truth – an unexplainable sense of knowing the Divine on the deepest spiritual level. Practitioners of yoga understand this basic principle and communicate it in their own unique way. This search for Truth with a capital “T” is an important concept for BICers because for the last four years we have just been trying to understand that journey through the works of some of the most influential intellectuals of all time. capstone
The final Capstone course on Yoga and Philosophy puts the academic and scholarly concerns away for a while. The true essence of the BIC and its ability to impact my life as a student and beyond has culminated in one final BIC course, drawing my college life to a close with a profound sense of achievement and ability to move into the next chapter of my life.
            It has surely been a challenge to write a memoir. But through my work on this project, I have realized so much about myself, not only in how I have developed throughout college, but who I am today. Most importantly, I have come to realize that I have a bright future ahead of me in whatever I may pursue and I am well prepared to make that journey.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Memoire 2: Waking

            Waking is a very intense, yet powerful testimony to the benefits of yoga practice and philosophy, which is more obvious to a student such as myself because of the focus of our BIC course. His integration of the idea of silence and healing stories with his journey toward the practice of yoga makes his narrative personal and insightful. The introduction prepares the reader for what is to come by introducing the reader to a totally different way of considering the connection between physical and spiritual bodies and the consciousness. The introduction to the book seems to convey extremely ambiguous ideas and concepts, but when the novel is read from beginning to end, every thought is connected and the themes of his story become clear and complete.
            The traumatic experience of the car crash and the physical pain Matthew endures following the accident are, of course, extremely intense parts of his story – he describes the experience as a “traumatic rupture between his mind and body.” But the physical experiences he recounts reflect something much deeper and impact his entire life in many different ways in addition to the fleeting moments of intense pain. There are a few instances where the overall themes of his story [as well as ideas influenced by the philosophy and practice of yoga] are introduced in the beginning chapters. As he is taken off of the respirator, he is aware of his breath and gains an appreciation for breathing on one’s own. Control of one’s breath is an important practice for meditation, and it is one that made the biggest impression on me at the beginning of my practice. Control is also reflected when he describes his body cast as it creates boundaries for his broken body. The halo cast is the second measure taken to stabilize Matthew’s health and his account of the event is clearly important, as it is referred to throughout his life. The halo cast experience is his first encounter with the concept of separation. Not only can he feel the physical pain of having screws drilled into his skull, but he feels his mind and his “landing into profound silence.” These first important events guide the rest of his story and offer an important observation: they are a description of the dependence we have – even if we don’t realize it until something dramatic happens to alter our views such as becoming paralyzed – on the connection with the mind and body.
            The theme of connection is clear throughout the story. Matthew’s surviving family is also deeply affected by the accident and throughout their lives, they experience dreams/visions that he explains as “this longing for a connection deeper than random” that “defines the human condition.” Although the meaning of dreams and visions is unknown and inexplicable, the instances recalled seem to make some connection to the accident and are used to give his family some sense of meaning/control. Connectedness and continuity are closely related, particularly in regard to memory. The phantom feelings seem paradoxical – his body wants to remember his limbs and the mind-body relationship that still exists, but the relationship is forgotten. After his second surgery his body remembers the traumatic events leading up to and after the accident and reflects that memory through physical movements and restlessness.
            As Matthew begins physical therapy and the process of physical healing, the reader can see instances that relate directly to yoga. Perhaps his experiences have prepared him for overcoming some of the initial obstacles of yoga practice because he begins his instruction with relative ease and confidence. The wheelchair is one of the first instances where he felt his cumbersome [new] body and the unnatural feeling of first encountering his disability. This is also an experience of many beginning yoga students. He is also uncomfortable with the aggressiveness that is encouraged during physical therapy, and he seeks a more balanced, smooth, tranquil emphasis – major characteristics of Iyengar yoga that help alignment and precision. He has to try to sit up gracefully, and move slowly and steadily.
            The loss of his childhood and the pursuit of a “normal” life to make up for such losses reflect a sense of grief that he struggles with his entire life. He feels as if he has lost his childhood and he and his family must grieve the loss of people and ability. His teenage years offer the opportunity to regain what he lost and live a “normal” teenage life, the life he would have had. He is constantly haunted with thoughts about what his life would have been like, which is his motivation to do his best. He lives a relatively normal dating life and eventually attends college at the University of Minnesota, but achieving all of these things and living what many would call a “normal” life was unfulfilling and deceiving – there really is no way to justify that he lives a normal life when all that has happened to him and his family cannot be erased. He begins to experience more divisive feelings regarding accomplishments and feels “heavy” – definitely burdens that reflect a steady progression to the healing effects of yoga practice and philosophy. He develops a negative attitude and negative outlook on life, but he realizes that “paradoxically, this difficult period also marked the beginning of my efforts to heal the dislocation between my mind and body.”
            This is the point where he changes his major to philosophy because he felt that he had something to offer and he needed a way to explore his feelings. This was most interesting to me considering the class for which I am writing this reflection, yoga and philosophy. It seems that the change to philosophy was another move that prompted his interest in yoga and the desire to reconnect with his body through the mind. After beginning graduate school, he recounts two events that were extremely important to his realization of his need for yoga. After leaving graduate school and the death of his stray cat, he decides to pursue yoga – it is so interesting how throughout his life he has reached some extraordinarily profound conclusions and throughout the story has expressed such deep thoughts, but these two simple events are what made him realize that he needed yoga. It seems that his whole life he has been preparing subconsciously for the practice and philosophy of yoga.
            His physical experiences with his first practices in yoga allow the reader to realize some things that would never be known without his account. Something as simple as “taking his legs wide” really demonstrates the less obvious consequences of being paralyzed – he had not spread his legs that wide in years and he probably had never felt such openness experienced through yoga (such as when you open your chest and make your hands feel like trees). The third part of his book conveys some powerful and resonant ideas that I feel are important to point out:

“Consciousness does not abandon us. It is only denied.”
“Healing is not instantaneous. It is earned.”
The mind and body is conscious.

These are just a few ideas that I took note of while reading – they reflect the deeper realizations that came to him through the practice of yoga. He is being forced to confront his lower body, which he has been ignoring. It takes diligence and consistent focus and practice without judgment. Once he understands these concepts of practice, he makes an interesting observation about his experiences with the medical world and its limitations: “We don’t know how a potentially deepened relationship between mind and body should affect how we administer medical treatment.”
            Matthew’s story is moving, and begins powerfully and ends powerfully. He writes with such personality and appreciation – he speaks with a voice of a young boy, yet at the same time with the reflective voice of a wise man. One might initially encounter this book with the initial impression that it is just another story about a traumatic experience, some sort of miracle story. But the most important themes of the book are seen in the philosophy of yoga, something that may not be realized by someone who has not studied the philosophy of yoga and its teachings. He experiences energetic feelings, connectedness, consciousness, mind and body relationship building, emphasis on alignment and precision, the release of trapped energy.
Perhaps the most important effect of Matthew’s story for me is realized when he talks about how good life must be in a normal body. But then (speaking about a girl) he thinks to himself, “what does she know, she has no idea.” Many who read this narrative may feel a sensation characterized by gratefulness and appreciation for what a paraplegic doesn’t have – the ability to control one’s body, and everything else that accompanies such a luxury. But I was moved in a different way – his reflections are expressed in a way that makes me think about his experiences differently from other trauma stories. They created a deep, self-reflective sense of motivation and inspiration rather than appreciation.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The End of The Gita

I know I have been absent from class for the past few meetings, and this is because I hurt my back and have been taking insane amounts of pain pills and what not to try to make it feel better. I attempted to do some relaxing poses at home on my own while away, but my back simply could not handle even the slightest bit of activity. I was in a car accident about a year ago and my back hasn’t been the same since. So I apologize for not being there.

As far as the rest of the Gita goes, I thought the last chapters were much more difficult to understand, even with the help of the introductions at the beginning of each chapter. Not only were there a lot of terms to follow, but the concepts that accompanied the terms were quite confusing as well. This is one of the difficulties I had with Krishna, because his technicality and precision in explaining the Way is not necessarily what I consider to be in the realm of the divine. Not that it is not acceptable to think of it in the way the Gita portrays it, I think it is an interesting way to consider our own faith and values, as well as the philosophy behind life in general. The ambiguity of the idea of awareness, the concept of the “field,” and Krishna’s explanation of the relationship between thoughts and actions are very much important ideas that have endured throughout the history of philosophy – so I thought it was interesting to consider an alternative exploration of such complex ideas that takes into consideration the physical, virtuous, and contemplative aspects of how one can perfect his/herself. Despite the difficulties in grasping many of the concepts throughout the book, I think The Bhagavad Gita would be an interesting read for maybe a cultures class or social world – the lessons/concepts explored throughout the conversation are interesting points to consider.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Interesting Selection of Readings

Chapters seven through twelve really show the personal emphasis of the practice of yoga and how individualistic the ultimate goal really is, rather than an individual’s relationship to others around him – and throughout the reading I found myself comparing the themes of the Gita to other religious values and practices, even those other than Christianity. There are a few points that really stood out to me as they related to other religions I have come across throughout my studies. Chapter eight describes the moment of death and Krishna warns that if one does not maintain his meditative state that he will experience total chaos at the moment of death. I think that draws an interesting connection with many contemporary reactions to threatening situations – many often look to a higher power when they are confronted with a dangerous situation. Krishna also describes the reasons that people worship him (or a higher power) – for example, people worship him if they are suffering. But Krishna says “unwavering in devotion the man or woman of wisdom surpasses all the others.” So through a deep understanding of oneself while searching with complete devotion to a higher power is the ultimate goal. I think this is really interesting because Christian Scripture often teaches the way by illustrating the way others interact within the community. Community is not an important means by which one can reach the ultimate goal.

Chapter eleven reminded me that the Gita is a conversational narrative and Arjuna is a crucial component to the effectiveness of the instruction. The other chapters are much more “religious” or “theological” in nature and the cosmic vision sort of illustrates what one can expect as a result of the consistent devotion to practice described. The cosmic vision reminded me of a book I read in an anthropology class called The Autobiography of a Winnebago. Much of the book talks about Winnebago religious practices, one of which is performed using peyote. Just as the cosmic vision described in chapter eleven shows what it is like when one sees the intense vision of God, peyote was (and perhaps still is) used to reach a euphoric state of mind where one supposedly sees the ultimate creator, or basically the cosmic vision. I am still curious to know, however, whether or not the cosmic vision described in chapter eleven is the same for everyone.

Monday, October 31, 2011


Today, a friend of mine commented on beginning a workout routine of some sort, and I mentioned yoga - and how much trouble I had with it at first. I recalled chapter six in The Bhagavad Gita and the focus on persistent meditation. I realized that I still think of yoga as an exercise tool rather than a way to cultivate spirituality and self-control. I think that once I can practice without fighting myself and my determination to do the poses correctly, I will eventually find the ability to control my mind and my body at the same time. Krishna says at the end of chapter six that conquering the mind through regular practice and detachment is attainable. But what really stood out to me is the assertion that although we may not be able to achieve such control immediately, those who maintain their faith and good intentions will not be punished for wandering.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Reflections on Self-Awareness & Action

Arjuna is struggling with the same inner conflicts that almost everyone is faced with – to find himself and to do it in the right way. He is struggling to find internal balance and peace, which is being challenged by the conflicts that divide his family. He is being faced with the reality that he must fight his own family in order to uphold his name as a warrior, but as a man of wisdom and virtue. Krishna is his guide throughout this process and Arjuna, while using Krishna’s direction, will have to fight the external enemy in the name of justice, while also reaching the ultimate end of finding inner peace.

To me, the most revealing themes throughout the first six sections of the Bhagavad Gita are the virtues of duty and awareness of the self that will ultimately be reflected in one’s physical work and apparent to the rest of the world. This observation is important in my eyes because I have never really been faced with the type of immediately obvious struggle with family with which Arjuna is faced. On a deeper level, I have been trying to examine my own ability to cultivate the virtues explained in each chapter – and taking a yoga class and reading the sutras have been great supplements to my ability to really focus on how to search within myself.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Reflections on Yoga from the Inside Out

I understand that I am late posting my reflection, and I want to apologize for the delay - it has been a crazy past week and I wanted to make sure that I was able to sincerely reflect on the book because I feel that it is a powerful illustration of all aspects of hatha yoga.
I would like to begin my reflection by saying that this book could not have been introduced to my life at a more perfect time. For the past few weeks, I have struggling with weight gain, which has of course affected my own image of my body. Although it has only accumulated to about 6 or 7 lbs, I am used to a certain external body image projection and an internal perception of my body – I understand that I am not fat by any means, but just as the Christina Sell expresses throughout the book, it is the Sleeping World and the American cultural pressures that create a certain expectation, as well as an internal expectation of what we should look like. The book is a very personal narrative and testimony to the powerful influence of hatha yoga and its philosophy – but more surprisingly, it is also a comprehensible guide, a manual almost, that teaches the philosophy at a deep level which can be reflected from the inside out.
The ways in which I am able to identify with the struggles that Sell encounters throughout her life surprise me, and in a way her stories help me properly communicate to myself how I feel. Her experiences with perfectionism and criticism are narrated in a way that I never would be able to put into words – and sometimes someone else can just simply say it more effectively, particularly effectively enough that you come to realize some things about yourself. Bringing attention to how often I keep my problems and emotions to myself and build a wall around my heart, I am able to begin the process of self-reflection. The parts of the book where her story really shows how she uses yoga and the spiritual aspects of the philosophy is a really helpful tool with which I can begin to encounter these issues of mine and follow a guide with which I can identify.
Throughout the book, Sell offers useful methods to aid this pursuit of spiritual union and self-reflection. Chapter two is one of the most insightful sections into the Sleeping World and the idea of beauty. To begin to wake from the Sleeping World, we should assess why we want to, in the particular instance, lose weight in the first place – “Each person must, through a rigorous process of self-observation, come to his or her own determination of motives, intention and behavior in regard to these dynamics” (page 29). This is not only applicable to asking one why we want to lose weight, but why we are such slaves to the demands of the Sleeping World, when there is clearly nothing good that can really come out of it. I realized something about myself after reading this section – according to the height/age/gender standards, I am considered severely underweight and often health teachers, doctors, etc. confront me about my weight. Many advise me to gain a few lbs and I have always thought, absolutely not, I will never gain weight because I do not starve myself and I am happy with who I am. And then I gained a few lbs this semester and have been terrified of gaining more. I continued to read and Sell conveyed a very powerful message: “Beauty is a function of psychological health, dignity, and nobility. When a person knows fundamentally who they are, that is extremely attractive.”
My reflections thus far may not seem to have much to do with hatha yoga, but I truly believe that the first few chapters of the book illustrate the very beginning stages of being able to practice yoga from the inside out. The philosophy behind hatha yoga is really explained in a detailed, yet personalized way to make it more easily understandable to the average reader, particularly to someone that is experiencing internal struggles of his or her own. The actual philosophy of hatha yoga is put into perspective by relating it to personalized life stories and experiences, not just as they are experienced by Sell, but by her family, students, and friends. Her guru and various teachers’ insights are also very interesting explanations of the virtues to be cultivated through practicing hatha yoga. The personalized approach is really instrumental for placing the student in the context of 21st century American culture and the Sleeping World.
John Friend’s insights were a great illustration of guidance and advice, and I found his interpretations to be very straightforward, yet motivational and inspiring. Until about halfway through the narrative, I had been somewhat critical of the book as I had a very high expectation of applicable advice as to how I can practice certain things to help myself grow spiritually through physical practice. As I have not yet experienced that truly deep meditative state while practicing yoga, I was really excited about this book and hopeful for some guidance. The process can only begin, however, when one’s mind is right and is able to view the body “as a temple.” As cliché as that sounds, it is absolutely true and I realized that there are no physical actions that I can perform properly until my mind is right and I respect my body and its range of abilities. One of the most valuable reflections to be taken and utilized from the book describes the body: “Instead of a battlefield, the body becomes a vehicle for greater awareness, for spiritual practice, self-expression and celebration. The body actually becomes our salvation, our means of true authenticity and spiritual transformation” (page 48).
The values and principles behind the Way and the Work are very flexible and universally applicable within all faiths, which is an important topic for such a spiritual reflection to address. She is constantly referring to the higher Divine power in a way that can be understood from a variety of different views. One section in particular describes fighting the devil and using hatha yoga as a way to help us see the good in ourselves and overcome our darkness with good, instead of our frequent tendency to overcome darkness with more darkness and evil. This is not only a significant suggestion in progressing toward a more positive view of the body, as I described previously, but such advice is so powerful when taken in relation to Christianity and fighting “every day darkness” of the ugly realities of 21st century American culture. If one is struggling with the philosophy of yoga as compatible with Christianity, reading this book should illuminate the ability to find harmony between the two – this is not only shown through Sell’s interpretation of spirituality and the Divine, but also through some of her students’ reflections, as many of them refer to a connection with God as their ultimate Divine end. The support and connections made within the spiritual community are not unlike the Christian community, and this idea is also reflected in Sell’s explanation of the importance of community.
I mentioned previously my high expectations for the book as a valuable tool to aid my physical practice, or the Work, in order to observe my own Self. It is not until the spiritual and internal topics are addressed and realized that one can truly practice with full intention. Sell addresses the fact that one often practices yoga in a way that is inattentive, and reflecting on my practice thus far, I see the many ways in which I am doing and thinking the exact thoughts described at the beginning of the fourth chapter. When setting up my mat and waiting for Dr. Schultz, I observe my feet and the desperate need for a pedicure, even trying to hide my feet from view; I dwell on my semester-long illnesses and the work I need to be catching up on as a result of feeling so sick all the time; I often dismiss the final relaxation pose and the advantages of closing my practice with a moment of complete rest. As she points out, “Over time, a deeper relationship with the body and the self emerges because of the attention that has been paid to the integration of the body, mind and spirit” (page 52). It takes a certain amount of experience gained over time to appreciate your practice, to reach the level of being able to “practice with intention.”
Her insight into attentiveness helped me connect other aspects of hatha yoga philosophy we learn in class. One aspect of the teachings in the sutras that has consistently stood out to me throughout the semester is the idea of self-observation. Sell puts all of the teachings of the sutras into perspective and communicates their meanings and significance throughout the book, but one of the most helpful explanations that she offers relates to self-observation. In a single quote, the sutras are summed up, explained, and really put into perspective, which is important particularly because the sutras are so easily read superficially and often within a specific context: “Self-observation is about bringing an honesty and depth of clarity to manifestations, motivations and behaviors. It means to see objectively from an observer’s point of view without justifying, rationalizing, projecting, implying or excusing anything, and obviously without any feelings of pride, vanity, guilt or shame as a result of what we observe in ourselves” (page 51-52).
As a very critical person, the idea of observing oneself without judgment is not a concept that I am able to immediately embrace. I came to some realizations about myself while reading the book, particularly as I read chapter four: I must remind myself when practicing that my body has limits, and I must pay attention to such limits without criticism, and embrace my pursuit of finding myself at the deepest level. Chapter four is one of the most useful sections in describing the ways in which I can pay attention before, during, and after practice in order to be attentive and to do yoga from the inside out. Had I read chapter four as an introduction to my yoga journey, I would probably have progressed much further as a student, and probably much sooner. However, I understand that being such a perfectionist and a critical person, I may not have come to such a realization without practicing yoga without any prior insight into the idea of self-observation – so the task that lies ahead of me is to accept things the way they are, pay attention to my body’s limits and alignment, to the battles I am constantly fighting with my body, and the emotions that I am battling to keep in: “The perspective of yoga as a pathway ‘in’ can permeate our journey and confront our perfectionist strivings that steer us away from life just as it is” (page 62). As Sell puts it in another way on page 68, “alignment can be philosophical, emotional, physical, and/or intentional.”
I was very pleased to be able to relate with someone battling the pursuit of perfection, particularly someone who has found effective means of rejecting perfection in pursuit of making peace with the body, inside and out, and accepting the vulnerability that accompanies opening the heart and mind to emotions. The idea of self-acceptance and being able to accept everything as it is a powerful message and tool that is not only applicable to yoga, but to life in general: “Sometimes if we are having difficulty accepting an aspect of reality the best we can do is accept ourselves in our non-acceptance” (page 98).
Yoga from the Inside Out is such an appropriate title, and one cannot really appreciate the deeper meaning and the components of understanding the meaning until after reading the book. In fact, in a way, I regret not reading it earlier in the semester before beginning my practice in hatha yoga – I feel as if I would have more fully understood the philosophy as it applies to practice. I would have begun as a more attentive learner, and my 19-hour semester would probably have begun much more peacefully and stress-free. But as I begin to make a major transition from college life to the post-grad world in December, I feel that the lessons I have taken away from this book are still applicable to my practice in yoga for the remainder of the semester, and will remain valuable in the career world.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Universality of the Eight Limbs of Yoga

I always try to approach the Sutras with a clear, open mind – but by the end of my readings I have so many thoughts and reflections going through my head that it is so hard to organize my thoughts. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it makes it difficult for me to narrow my thoughts for assigned reflection prompts. One observation that I have consistently returned to while reading and considering the Sutras is their universal nature – they are applicable across cultures and throughout time. No matter who you are or where you are in this world, the Sutras communicate some of the most general and clear-cut principles, and in my opinion, principles that the rest of our world could really benefit from pursuing. Taking them together, I really appreciate the eight limbs of yoga for the simple fact that they are easily summarized and brought together, leaving every individual up to his/her own to consider them for themselves.

I am particularly intrigued by the concept and practice of pranayama (breath control). Paying attention to one’s breath is not easily done constantly, but when we take the time to pay attention to how we are breathing, especially during different situations, it opens the mind to questions about more of our behaviors and abilities. Furthermore, I think learning to control something as natural and constant as breathing would reveal an ability to control other behaviors, especially those that may be more impulsive. Self-control and self-evaluation are strengths that we could all use, and I think perfecting the ability to observe and control one’s breath is one way of gaining such strengths.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sick Week

I know I have been "MIA" lately, so I apologize for my absence (from the blog world as well as class). For the past week I have been confined to my bed with a terrible sinus/respiratory infection. However, I have not forgotten about my yoga practices. In fact, I found yoga to be quite helpful while I was sick in bed. although it was terribly difficult to breath out of my nose, I found that paying attention to my breathing as I inhaled and exhaled really helped me relax and take my mind off of how horrible I felt - I also used some modified poses (I say modified because I adjusted them to work as I was laying in bed) to help relax and meditate while trying to fall asleep.

Although I did not necessarily feel well enough to practice backward bends, I did catch up on some reading, and I began Yoga from the Inside Out. I'm really enjoying hearing another student's point of view from the very first class - I also think it has been very interesting to hear about some body image struggles that every young person goes through and how easily I related to them. I'm really looking forward to hearing more about how yoga helped someone else physically as well as spiritually.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Benefits of the Philosophy Behind Yoga

Before taking this course, I have always considered yoga in terms of exercise and physical fitness rather than as a philosophy - so when I considered yoga's relation to Christianity and other religions, I was sort of shocked to hear that yoga is actually a questionable topic with regards to religion, particularly Christianity. I consider myself to be rather objective and open-minded in general, especially when it comes to my religious beliefs - so I wouldn't immediately consider religion and yoga as challengers. Personally, I think that the philosophy of yoga could really benefit our society as a whole, and reading and considering the sutras from multiple perspectives has helped me come to this conclusion. When I say "multiple perspectives," I am referring to reading the sutras from a literal perspective and then deeply reflecting on their meanings as they apply to different situations. I think that the messages in all of them are not only useful while practicing yoga - they are a useful tool for reflecting on one's own habits, behaviors, attitudes, and abilities.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Stress Management

The last week has definitely been the most enjoyable for me in terms of my experiences in the practice of yoga. I have noticed that I am much more relaxed and refreshed after class, which makes it a lot easier to find the energy to study. Also, last week I was assigned a "Behavior Enhancement Project" for my Health Education class - the purpose is to identify an aspect of my lifestyle that needs improvement and to work toward developing long-term behaviors in order to accomplish certain goals. Despite my initial insecurities about yoga, I am surprised at how many times during the week I turn to yoga practice and/or philosophy in situations that may not immediately involve either. The behavior that I have chosen to focus on is stress management, which of course precipitates from many different areas of life, in my case particularly the ability to relax and get a good night's rest. The first method that came to mind for helping me with the project was... yoga! I have already seen a great improvement in my ability to re-energize after class, so I hope that using yoga as a relaxing and energizing technique will not only aid in successfully completing my project, but also in developing lasting habits.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


I have very little experience with yoga in general, although I do have a very basic understanding of what yoga is as a philosophy. I attended one yoga class in high school and to be completely honest, I did not find it to be a preferable way of exercising. Personally, I feel most comfortable and work most efficiently under intense pressure and at a fast pace. To relax my body and my mind completely is a skill I have yet to learn.

I decided to take this course because it worked into my schedule well and the other course offered sounded less interesting - but after the first day of class, I truly am excited for what I will gain from the topics and exercises covered in class. While I do hope to become physically stronger and more relaxed, I am most interested in the spiritual/philosophical benefits from practicing yoga. I expect the memoirs to be especially useful because of how unique one's experience is with yoga, particularly as it is often practiced as a therapeutic tool in response to some life-altering occurrence.