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.

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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?

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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: 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?

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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.

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I’ve just gotten back from my first yoga class in a couple of weeks. There has been so much going on on my usual yoga days that I’ve hardly had the chance to go.

Wow, I’d missed it. I was starting to get stiff again, and I was also missing that stress relief.

Yoga is my spiritual practice. The time when I can let go and not worry about petty distinctions like whether or not an atheist can be described as “spiritual” or whether the numinous can ever be described in theistic terms. All metaphorically, of course.

The Numinous. I love that word. It’s the sensation that I get when I contemplate that I’m a bunch of protein and fat and muscle and matter–but with thoughts, feelings, and consciousness. And a conscience, for that matter. It’s all so humbling and empowering at the same time it just blows my mind. An all-natural spiritual wonder.

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