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.