Back to Yoga

Over the last couple of weeks I have started going to yoga classes again. It started with work. This year at work has been more stressful than any previous time in my career, even before I graduated college. College was very stressful at times, and then the finals would be over and the pressure would go away. Those days, it would appear, are over — once one stressor goes away, at least one more moves in to take its place. And the tension that I was holding up in my upper back announced itself very loudly a few weeks ago. I was struggling to focus my mind on the next major issue on the system that I support that was being brought to my attention by one of our users when I turned my head and something felt like it just snapped somewhere between my neck and my right shoulder.

It was nothing too serious, at least nothing that some massage and some icing would not resolve. But it was right about then that I decided I needed to get back to the yoga studio. And I have felt much better since.

Meaningful rather than Spiritual

I’ve been reading a book called “The Atheist’s Way: Living Well without Gods” by Eric Maisel. I recommend this book to anyone who has considered him or herself to be a ‘spiritual atheist,’ because I have found a concept in this book that has changed my mind about how atheists should address ideas of ‘spirituality. Continue reading

Where does joy come from?

Once when I was in Sunday School the teacher told us that the difference between happiness and joy was that happiness depends on your circumstances but joy comes from God. I was not the only one in the class to question that analysis. It looked to me as just an example of a word game, namely changing the definition of a word to fit one’s own preconceptions. This also was right about that time that I decided that going to Sunday School was a total waste of my time.

But that does leave the question, what is joy, and where does it come from? Continue reading

Long awaited update…

Haven’t been writing much lately–haven’t had a lot of inspiration or time to write.

I have been working on developing a daily practice. I get up at about 6:40, and go in the spare bedroom and do a couple of sun salutations and a few other poses depending on how I feel. I’ve done that every day since last Sunday. Let’s see if I have the discipline to keep this up.

Yoga and Skepticism

I’ve said in a previous post that there is some tension present in being an atheist and a yogi. I think it’s more to the point to say there is tension between being a skeptic and a yogi. While in general the teachers whose classes I frequent usually stick with pretty non-controversial claims about the benefits of yoga, every now and then I hear things that make me smirk and squirm a little inside. Stuff like this (not exact quotes):

  • We’re going to have a relaxed class today because it’s near the new moon. Our energy levels are lowest during the new moon.
  • Anything about chakras.
  • Anything about Kundalini.
  • Anything about Ayurveda.
  • Claims that any of the above must be real and good because it’s been practiced for 1000’s of years.

I’ve tolerated this stuff for the most part, and have even gone along with it for the sake of experimentation. I have found that, in general, these things have not been core to the classes. The chakra talk I can deal with as being symbolic for different areas and characteristics of the body. No problem. Same with Kundalini. The alternative medicine stuff does set me a bit on edge though. Especially when I read about things like this: http://whatstheharm.net/ayurvedicmedicine.html. Maybe I’ll ask my teacher about that. Were all these people just doing it wrong?

I’m into the holistic aspect of yoga, and this is why it’s been the only exercise program I’ve stuck with regularly going on two years now. I’m not in it “just for the workout,” it’s also about the mental and emotional benefit as well. I’m all for the non-rational–I don’t have to reason everything out and understand how everything works in order to accept it. What I can’t accept is the irrational.  What if some of these things being practiced as part of yoga can actually be harmful?

Dr. Tiller and Satya

It’s getting longer than I like between posts so I think I should write an update.

First of all I was totally saddened and PISSED at the murder of Dr. Tiller. Anyone who has seen my Facebook page knows this well. What upsets me the most is the cavalier and even sometimes gleeful attitude of some pro-lifers. As if they are saying “well, we don’t condone murder, but he had it coming.” In response, I have pledged $10 a month to Planned Parenthood for the next year–probably longer. I am utterly convinced that it was the hateful rhetoric of groups like Operation Rescue that killed him–not just some loner with a gun. It take everything in me to remind myself that most pro-life people are good people concerned with protecting babies, even if they have been badly misinformed about the facts around abortion and filled with the fore-mentioned hateful rhetoric.

And that brings me to my next thought. One of the teachers at Yoga East has been talking about a yama each week, and recently she brought up Satya. This is usually translated as truthfulness. Here is what a quick Google search brought up on the topic.

Satya (Truthfulness)
Satya means “to speak the truth,” yet it is not always desirable to speak the truth on all occasions, for it could harm someone unnecessarily. We have to consider what we say, how we say it, and in what way it could affect others. If speaking the truth has negative consequences for another, then it is better to say nothing. Satya should never come into conflict with our efforts to behave with ahimsa. The Mahabharata, the great Indian epic, says: “Speak the truth which is pleasant. Do not speak unpleasant truths. Do not lie, even if the lies are pleasing to the ear. That is the eternal law, the dharma.” Please note that this does not mean speak lie. Keeping quiet and saying lies are two different things.

(from http://yoga.iloveindia.com/limbs-of-yoga/yama.html)
 

[I should note here that I don’t believe in holy scripture, and do not give special pleading to yoga philosophy. But just sometimes these old writings have some great concepts and this is one of those cases where I think they really got it right.]

I couldn’t help but think of Satya in the context of the debate over abortion and the murder of Dr. Tiller. I’ll give the Operation Rescue folks the benefit of the doubt, in that they really think they are speaking the truth when they call abortion murder and Dr. Tiller a murderer. I used to be on their side in the issue, too.  Abortion is a hard issue to deal with and is not something than anyone considers a good thing. Necessary sometimes, but not good. I cannot believe that they are really speaking the truth. Words that inspire people to murder and violence are not truth. Words that smear and vilify women who have found themselves confronting this horrible and painful decision do not express truth. Words that call a doctor who saves women’s lives a murderer are not truth.

Truth, whether it is pleasant or unpleasast, bring light and understanding to the subject at hand, not rage and violence. When the “truth” we speak creates more heat than light, we should reconsider our words and our attitudes.

Plow Pose (Halasana)

Lately in my home practice I’ve been concentrating on Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana) and Plow Pose (Halasana). I’ve been starting off in Shoulderstand and lowering my feet to a chair for Plow, but today I lowered my feet all the way to the floor. Still need to work on coming out of the Plow with control, but this is a milestone for me.

Yoga for Kids

I had not been to yoga class for about a week and a half, so I decided to go tonight after work. I didn’t check the schedule before I went like I usually do.

The only class that I was in time for was called “Yoga for Kids.” Humm … I’m not exactly a kid anymore. The teacher was more than happy to have an adult in the class though, and I’d come wanting to do some yoga. So tonight, I was a kid. Continue reading

What Meditation Means to Me

When I meditate, this is what I do. I listen.

That’s probably too obscure, so I’ll explain what I mean. Think about a situation when you are listening to another person talk.  If you don’t stop talking yourself, and stop thinking about what you want to say next, you can’t really be listening to what they are saying. When I first started meditating a few years ago, I noticed how noisy my mind was. When I stopped to observe what was going on in my head, I found it was like a never-ending cacophony. One thought after another, without end. No wonder I was so distracted so much of the time.

Now I am a firm believer in reason, and I was concerned about the idea that it is ever good to stop thinking, even for a little while. Stop thinking? That is how you get drawn in to irrationality and woo-woo. Never check your brain at the door!

But meditation is not “checking your mind at the door.” Stopping thinking is more like stopping talking for a while so that you can hear what is going on around you. So you can really listen. And I find that when I have stopped the incessent internal conversation, and really listened to what is going on, both inside and outside myself, I am prepared to be even more rational than ever.  

With all the noise in my life, I really do enjoy the silence.