Maybe it’s just me, but growing up in the early 70’s and being witness to the dawn of the information age has made me keenly aware of just how much the world has changed as a direct result of the access we have to technology. I still remember my father writing long and complicated directions when I ventured out on my first road trip using a folded, paper map. Today I shudder to think of driving across town without Google telling me exactly what to do. As a child whenever I read books there was a dictionary near by, and our shelves were lined with the most recent edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. That was as close to a universal source of information as the average person had access to back then. When I was bored I would leaf through the pages and marvel at all of the strange and exotic peoples, plants, and animals scattered throughout the world. Perhaps one day I came across an entry on yoga. I doubt it, but if I did, it would likely have been brief: a few short paragraphs on the major divisions and perhaps a photo or line drawing of a yogi in meditation. Nothing more. But today if you search the subject of yoga on the internet you could sift through information for the rest of your life, and I think that might actually be a problem. Information does not equal understanding, and there may very well be too high a… [Continue Reading]
For every complex problem there is an easy answer. And it is wrong. – H. L. Mencken Imagine for a moment that you have been given a very important task. You have been asked to develop a maintenance program for the most amazing vehicle ever created. Your goal is simple, empower all future owners with the means to keep it in tip-top shape. One of the most impressive aspects of this vehicle’s design is the ability to conform to the demands made on it. What you ask of it, it will adapt to provide. But fail to ask and the vehicle’s performance begins to decay. There are inherent limitations. Mobility is confined to certain directions at key centers or joints. However if you move the vehicle consistently through its full range of motion it sustains optimal function. This vehicle is of course the human body, and this process of neglect and subsequent decay is known as aging. And, as unbelievable as it is, the most popular maintenance program to date is running, which at first glance would appear to be an easy solution to the problem of maintaining optimal human health, but it is also wrong. Running can be reduced to a simple, repetitive movement pattern that promises cardiovascular conditioning at the expense of range of motion and joint health. Running was not intentionally designed as an intelligent response to maintaining optimal human health, it was accidentally assigned this role. Originally it was simply a means of moving from one… [Continue Reading]
To this day, I distinctly remember the night before my first yoga class. Standing in the tiny kitchen of my college apartment in Iowa City, right in front of the refrigerator, door wide open, I was deciding which sugary treat to shove into my mouth before going to bed. Excited about trying Bikram yoga the next day, I thought I would attempt a few stretches to see what I could do. As I bent over to touch my toes, I felt my spine round and the dull pain of inflexibility shoot up the backs of my legs and into my lower back. I was surprised to see that my fingertips only reached mid-shin. Not so good. Ugh. And that was the humble beginning to my yoga practice. I wasn’t a classically trained dancer. I didn’t practice gymnastics. I was, to be honest, as ill-prepared for movement as anyone I have ever worked with since. Even the most basic of postures challenged my body. Push-ups were impossible with my scrawny, little arms, and I thought my inner thighs were going to rip in half when I bent forward to Widespread Forward Bend. Since then things have changed. I’ve been practicing yoga for over eight years, and now, almost daily, someone asks me if I have a dance background. It happened again just this morning, a new student asked James if I was a former ballerina. Honestly, every time I hear this I just want to burst out laughing. Anyone who knew… [Continue Reading]
The pinnacle of mankind’s arrogance as I see it is buried in the very idea that a higher primate such as man, each of us just one of billions of our species, nestled sweetly on a planet, one of uncountable billions of planets in a dizzying array of galaxies, has within him or herself the capacity to contemplate ultimate reality as it is. And yet this is the goal of the practice of yoga. I’m going to say it, I think it’s a load of crap. I’ve encountered some very high beings in my lifetime, but to be honest I have never met (or even heard of) anyone who I thought really knew what the hell is going on. Not a priest, not a scientist, none of the yoga “gurus” I have studied with, not the Dalia Lama, and not the mythical saints and sages of the lineage of yoga. We are ignorant of the true nature of ultimate reality not because we aren’t willing to do the work, but because neither the software (our current cultural conditioning) nor the hardware (our physiological make-up, which has remained largely unchanged for the past 100,000 years) has been built to do the work. Where has it been written that a naked ape just a few thousand years into human history should be capable of such a feat anyway? But the myth permeates eastern spiritual traditions: Samadhi, Nirvana, and Satori are states of consciousness that have often been translated as Enlightenment by western… [Continue Reading]
When observed in isolation a single grain of sand can’t possibly exhibit the beauty of a wind swept sand dune. This is an example of an emergent structure that arises only when countless particles of sand gather together and form something greater. Likewise a single molecule of water doesn’t contain the quality of wetness, a single snowflake doesn’t require a shovel, and practicing yoga once in awhile will not reveal the potential of the discipline to profoundly alter the course of your life. An emergent property is a quality which a collection or complex system has, but which the individual members lack. And the spiritual qualities innate in the practice of yoga are of an emergent nature. A single practice doesn’t reveal much. But gathered in succession, day after day, over the course of a lifetime, something unexpected arises. Kindness emerges and anger fades. Contentment becomes a way of life and the mindless ambition for things to be other than they are disappears. Life becomes simple, once again.