YOGA
Being a novice yoga practitioner getting into this posture was a big deal for me. The posture is
called:
Crooked Pose. I learned it from John Sahakian, where I spent a night returning from a
recent Nepal trip. Sometimes one learns poses just for fun and the challenge---doesn't always
have to be serious.
This is a little background info and a bit about what I think of yoga as it is practiced (or not
practiced in the West.)  I am putting together a simple yoga teaching with an aim to help
meditators through yoga. Coming soon!
All photos of poses will be myself. As a novice,
I consider myself only able to demonstrate the basic idea, of a pose.  I suggest that
interested  readers purchase Iyengar's Light On Yoga and Light on Pranayama for
detailed instructions and illustrations on how to do the poses properly. Also,
Asanas (608 Yoga Poses) by Dharmma Mittra will help you see how to do them
properly.
Nevertheless, in coming days I will put my own pics to give you basic ideas and
you can go from there. There will be an emphasis on using yoga as a tool to deepen
knowledge of oneself and that is why I am doing this section. I think yoga as it is presented
in the West; though outwardly appearing right, is completely missing the point (though there
are exceptions.)

For a more advanced study of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, I do not think that any book written in
the last 100 years explains the deeper principles of this work better than
"Yoga Philosophy
of Patanjali" by Swami Hariharananda Aranya.
Hariharananda has an understanding
gained through experiential familiarization with the samadhis described  in the Yoga Sutras
whereas most authors seem only to know it intellectually.
Email Comments
I discovered yoga when I was fifty-five and have been practicing daily for five years now. As a
child I became interested in meditation which evolved into a life long journey.  I was extremely
blessed to have discovered India and Nepal while still in my teens. There I lived during two
extended periods, once for three years and another for ten years and received teachings from
some of the great masters of our times..  H.H. Trulshik Rinpoche was the first lama I offered a
Kata, and I continue to visit him for blessings to this day.. My insatiable thirst for the Dharma
led me to become a fully ordained Buddhist monk under the guidance of the Manchurian
master Hsuan Hua, with whom I lived for  ten years. Much of my life I spent  in full lotus posture
meditating for eight hours a day or more, so much so that my legs below the knee are
permanently bowed. I also took a vow to never lie down, a vow which I kept for ten years. After
years of recluse as a monk I returned to Nepal and raised a family there.

Meditators like myself are often guilty of a kind of spiritual arrogance that looks down upon
yoga as an inferior path. Even though I had many Hindu friends that studied with great yoga
masters and I myself was blessed to meet some of them, I regarded yoga as inferior to
meditation.  I am speaking here of “yoga” in the sense of “asanas,” as it is most often used in
the West and am well aware that “yoga” can mean meditation,morality,virtuous conduct, etc.  
Aside from pranayama, a practice I learned from a disciple of Desikachar, and have maintained
for almost twenty years now, I never felt that yoga would benefit me in the same way as
meditation.  But, with my years advancing, I decided to incorporate a daily routine of asanas
into my practice as a means of physical conditioning.

Because of my own unique background I was able to discover the truly spiritual benefits of
yoga that I think are often overlooked by modern yoga students. I would like to share some I
my insights and discuss the problems I see with yoga as it is taught in the West.
I have always been comfortable in full lotus; but when one day
discovered I could get up on my fingertips I thought it pretty
impressive-----until my 17 year old daughter, Mudra, with no yoga
or meditation background did it first try. She also pocketed
$100---- winning the bet we made. This pose is called "Scale Pose
on finger tips."  It is generally done on palms and called "Scale
Pose."
One of the problems with sitting in meditation is that after some practice you get
pretty comfortable doing it and become attached to this kind of blissfull, effortless
sitting. For me, when I began yoga, my aim was to see if I could take this same
effortless ease into active asanas. I wanted to maintain my inward focus so familiar in
meditation into the asanas. I never ever worried about how well I did the poses;
although I was keen on improvement. To me the great yogi is the one who improves
outwardly and inwardly and has little to do with appreances.This attitude carried me
far and helped me not only gain physical well being, but also increased mindfullness so
that my meditation practice also benefitted.
All the yoga photos are
self-portraits and it is not
always easy to get in the
poses and hold them before the
timer goes off, as illustrated
here----but that is part of
the fun.
Warrior Pose: This is a very common pose and is included in almost any yoga series.
As you hold the pose find the place of ease and feel you are lifted from the heart. See if
you can shut your eyes and turn the light inward.
This squating pose is very good for meditators. The idea is to
hold the position, steady, for as long as you can. Sitting in full
lotus for long periods can slow circulation in lower back and
legs leading to problems later on. This exercise, not a happy
one,  greatly benefits lower back and legs.
My daughter Mudra demonstrating the Paschimatanasana (back stretch Pose) when she was
18 months---no experience necessary! Although many yoga poses beg the question, "what's
the point?"; the natural flexability we all had as children is a logically supportable goal with
many physical and mental benefits. It also opens up shoulders.
Below: SIDE ARM BALANCE  The meditator who practices yoga has much to gain. Yoga asanas are often
not easy and to obtain a meditative focus while in a posture is quiet a bit more challenging than while sitting
comfy cozy on the meditation cushion. If one does learn this skill, and can become meditative while in
challenging
asanas it will be still easier when comfortably seated on a mediation cushion. Moreover, asanas
keep the body healthy, and the mind alert, both a benefit for meditation (the body being healthy is helpful,
but not necessary.) The greatest teachers in my life have always been unfit and plagued with various
illnesses. Most view obsessively looking after the material body as a waste of time; and all view illness as the
result of
karma that must be borne out sooner or later and as such are not afraid of it.
Many people practice yoga with an aim towards perfecting the asanas. If I say that the aim of yoga is to
end the cycle of birth and death, most people would roll their eyes and cast a glance of pity upon me.
Right now I am speaking of “yoga” in its true sense, and not the “asana" sense,  the mistaken way it is
usually used in the West. Although yoga is a path with eight limbs, all of equal importance, it is asana
that most Westerners associate with yoga.  Briefly the eight limbs of yoga are:

1:
Yama ( restraint): which has five aspects: brahmacharya (continence) restraint of the senses,
particularly sexual desire,  
Satya (truth) adherence to truth in word and deed, ahimsa or
(harmlessness), (
asteya)non-stealing, and aparigraha (non-greed) particularly for wealth and material
objects.

2:
Niyamas (observances): which include recitation and study of scriptures, prayer, chanting, mantra
recitation, contentment (not seeking more than ones needs), austerity (mental and physical.)

3:
asanas (postures): poses we assume to align the body, mind, and spirit.

4:
Pranayama  (breath mastery), the regulation of air flowing through the body with the aim of
awakening to prana, the subtle inner breath not associated with air. Thus, through the perfection of
pranayama the practitioner can suspend breath for long periods of time, hours and even days.

5:
Pratyahara is willing the mind away from sense objects. It differs from merely turning the senses
away from  attractions (for example) or restraint,  in that the mere act of inwardly turning the mind is
enough for the senses to follow suit.

6:
Dharana is the focusing the mind on an internal or external object.

7:
Dhyana is the continuous flow of similar mental moments achieved after dharana matures.

8:
Samadhi is absorbed abstraction and arises after Dhyana has matured. This state is often
accompanied by breathlessness for long periods and is indicated by it.

The abstract and seemingly unachievable goal of ending cyclic existence in samsara is not  prominent  
in the mind of the modern Western yoga student, even though the gods and goddesses adorning the
yoga studios they frequent are emblematic of this aim. The lure of asanas is their almost immediate
results. The change in the way one looks and feels is very quickly apparent after beginning a steady
asana practice. This is very appealing to the result driven Western mind set. On the other hand, one
might toil in meditation for years, feeling like a mouse on a treadmill going nowhere. In like manner, one
may practice the first two limbs of yoga for an entire lifetime with seemingly little gained. Is it any wonder
why asana is emphasized in the West?

Yoga studios in America are after all businesses, and as such must earn a profit. Marketing spirituality
to result driven clients is good business. This stands in stark contrast to the East, where a willing
student, in a spirit of renunciation, is welcome free of charge, his only fee being the required discipline.
The financial requirements of ashrams are met by a lay community offering donations as a source of
blessings. But, even if such an opportunity existed in the West it is unlikely that there would be many
takers. The reason is that very few Westerners have adopted the first two yanas; a familiarization of
which would help them realize yoga’s real aim.

The true yogi knows that the various asanas must be combined with the other limbs in order to achieve
the aim of yoga. During the early years of a yoga practice it is the first five limbs that should be the
primary focus. Practicing these will help one to acquire the skill necessary to practice the last three. At
all times, especially with asana, but with all the other limbs as well, it is important to always bear in mind
that the limbs are tools to achieve a goal and are never the goal. The sutra texts point out that even
the high level of Samadhi (often indicated by cessation of breathing) is not to be attached to.
Breathless states are indicative of an inward merging with and vision of reality; but they are not
necessarily so. Therefore, even these seemingly sacred states are not free from the dangers of
attachment which can easily lead to wrong views.

Linguists know that if a word is used incorrectly long enough its new and wrong meaning becomes
correct through usage. This is very upsetting to language purist; as annoying perhaps as nouns
becoming verbs through usage----“he medaled at the Olympics,” for example. Asana is not yoga any
more than the wheel is the car. And yet throughout America and Europe what would more properly be
called asana studios are called yoga studios. This creates more than just a language problem; it helps
to foster a misguided conception of what yoga is.

Yoga is a complete path only when all the necessary elements are present. Even a cursory study of
yoga would reveal that as far as physical indication of yogic achievement is concerned, the various
samadhis are the best indication. Patanjali describes these samadhis in his Yoga Sutras where he
points out the physical signs associated with correct concentration.  These include the complete
cessation of breath, mentioned above, as well as, non-attachment and desirelessness, without which
the aim of yoga is not achieved. Nowhere is it indicated that being adept in asanas is an indication of
yogic achievement. This is a purely western idea. Looking perfect in awe inspiring poses is the aim of
circus performers and other entertainers; but this is not the aim of yoga, or at least it shouldn't be.
Each individual must ask himself whether or not his spiritual practice is reducing attachments or
creating yet another.

The sleek, slim, and beautiful adorn yoga magazines from cover to cover as if this were a sign of
achievement. This fact was the topic of interesting debate one day as I waited for class to start one
evening at the Sacred Movement Studio (now Exhale) in Venice. A young and lovely student of yoga
whom we all knew and liked, and who had just began teaching was on the cover of this month’s “Yoga
Journal.” The consensus was she did not belong there
because she looked beautiful; but she wouldn't’t
be there if she wasn’t. I playfully suggested we start a magazine devoted to the not so beautiful people
who have genuine achievement--------everyone liked the idea; but we decided advertisers wouldn't’t.

In reality the humble contrite bramacharya full of virtue and humility, who may have a struggle to bend
down to tie his shoe lace, will gain more respect amongst yogis than the proud asani. The precipice
spanning, crotch splitting poses so awesome to some, may seem rather ridiculous to the yogi steeped
in realization born of tremendous personal sacrifice and the cultivation of merit and virtue. He may in
fact view such achievements as an obstruction. (in that they are easily attached to.) (In fact, great yogis
often scrutinize their own mind to make sure no attachment to their own samadhi creeps in;  for this is
an even more subtle and dangerous kind of attachment.)

The aim of yoga is to become free of the notion of self as the body, and yet yoga as it is commonly
practiced  often reinforces this false notion. In the West yoga practitioners not only become obsessed
with asana, and looking spectacular, but also diet-----whereas their Indian counterpart is more often a
half starved skeleton. Although the proper aim of asanas is to bring about detachment from the body it
more often embellishes it. Why is this? Even great asana masters hold on to extremely naive and wrong
views. For example, Iyengar, in his latest book
Light on Life claims that negative emotions, such as
anger and greed, reside in various organs, and that by purifying the organs the negative emotions are
gotten rid of as well. Following this line of reason, by purifying the liver one could rid oneself of anger,
etc.. But, the truth is that  it is negative actions that produce negative emotions, lustful thoughts and
deeds, beget the same. It is our karma that has to be purified and this is done by right action. This
points out the central argument between the Hatha yogis (
asanis) and practically everyone else. The
asani  believes that the body is the door to the subtle spiritual body. They believe that one works from
the gross to the subtle. Most Hindus, other than Hatha yogis, and Buddhist believe that it is the mind
that has to be looked into. one's karma worked out and understanding and virtue cultivated. They
believe the subtle can be used now.

Confusion in the West about what true yoga is has arisen in part because many of those who brought
"yoga" to the West were not yogis at all, but
asanis.  An asani can help you gain focus and fitness, but
a
 yogi can skillfully make you aware of the karma holding you back. Virtue, morality, ethics, basic
human values, these subtle building blocks are the foundations of gaining spiritual insight. Only after a
strong foundation is developed through the cultivations of these qualities, can we employ meditation
and asanas to untie the knot of karma. If we ignore the foundation work just mentioned, no matter how
long we may sit in meditation or adept we become performing asanas, we will remain like an ant
crawling around the outside of a watermelon never knowing  of the sweetness of the fruit inside..

Does this mean that everyone on the spiritual path must become an ascetic? Are we glorifying the
archetypal Indian yogi with matted locks and frail frame, without possessions, smiling blissfully from a
mountain peak? Before answering let me say that most yogis whom we picture in such manner had little
to renounce to begin with. Most sadhus and yogis are born of poor rural Indian farming families with
little material assets to renounce. But, not all. There are some who have come from wealthy and middle
class families, as well. Nor do all end up like the disheveled images we sometimes imagine. But they do
share a spirit of renunciation. It is hard work to cultivate core morality, virtue, generosity, humility,
patience,compassion, to make these and other qualities deeply rooted and not merely token displays of
superficiality. One simply has to learn to put others before oneself. This is real hard work, much harder
than becoming a pretzel.

Renunciation is relative to each individual’s attachments. When Christ said that a rich man cannot enter
the Kingdom of Heaven, he did not mean it literally. He meant that a person attached to great wealth
could not enter. So it is really a question of priorities. One must look at one’s own attachments and
there aim the shaft. Not every rich man is attached to his wealth; so wealth is not an obstruction for
everyone. But, Christ meant that if upon examining ones mind one sees attachment to wealth; think
about generosity, charity, philanthropy, to offset the attachment. The same principle applies to all
attachments. We each are held back by a variety of attachments that manifest themselves differently in
everyone. Often, others may not even be aware of them. It is up to us to see where the work must be
done. A great Chan Master once said during a lecture I attended that no fat people could become
enlightened. Many wiggled in their seats!  Some thought it was a stupid and rude remark with no basis
in reality. But, the meaning was clear: you cannot be self-satisfied; one must lose oneself in others and
the best way to do this is abandon all attachments.

Our attachments obstruct our vision of truth. Because they are
our attachments we have trouble seeing
them, especially the very subtle ones. (We are an expert on everyone else's, though!) The advantages
of finding an unselfish and wise teacher cannot be underestimated. A teacher without any selfishness is
truly beneficial. They can help us see the karma obstructing our path and  guide us to overcome them.
But, great teachers are very, very, rare. Until we meet a great teacher, a good deal can be learned
from observing our own mind in the stillness of meditation, engaging in activities beneficial to others,
keeping moral and ethical disciplines, living honestly, harmlessly, free of anger and jealousy, and loving
others unselfishly---and yes, throw an asana in now and then.
Stretching is excellent for meditators who spend long hours in a fixed position cross legged. The natural range of motion we all had as
children is the goal---anything more than that is unnecessary. Long and deep stretches is the key to openning up the body's
meridians and increase the flow of energy, soften the tissue, and thereby increase blood flow and awareness. I find that 5 minutes in
a given stretch allow enough time for the body to ease into a pose without force and gives enough time to feel the pose's benefits. I
thank my dear friend and yoga instructor Denise kaufman for introducing me to the Taoist way of long, deep, stretching.
Above, the bow pose,  is most chalenging for me and I do not do well. Nevertheless,
I highly recommend it. It cured a tenacious sciatica problem that I had for a couple of
years in about one month.
This modified "Half Moon Pose" against a wall is great for
alignment. Hold for two minutes or whatever feels comfortable.
Yoga is great for getting injured as well. Here I demonstrate
excrusiating pain after a failed attempt at the "Scale Pose on
Fingertips"---it took three months for my thumb to heal.
Udiyana Bhanda is very healthy for the inner organs.
Exhale and bring abdomen in and up. Hold as long
as possible. Release gently.
Triangle Pose is excellent for allignment.
All photos self portraits.
Yoga Competition

Yoga competition is being advocated in the West by those who claim that it has its roots in ancient India. The fact is however, that "Yoga Competition" is a
contradiction in terms The true yogis'  adversary is not his fellow spiritual aspirants, but rather the enemies within his own house: greed, lust, anger, jealousy,
covetousness, hatred, pride, arrogance, conceit, in short, all negative emotions and afflictions rooted in desire.  The fact that one can perform a series of awe
inspiring
assanas (postures) is no indication that one's inner demons have been conquered, particularly lust, greed, and anger.

Those who point to India and the competitioon there in support of their own "Yoga Competitions" are simply deceiving unknowledgable common people. I
recently read recently an article about yoga competitions being a part of the ancient Indian festival, the Khumba Mela, which still occurrs to this day, and using
this to advocate a broader worldwide acceptance of yoga competition. I have been to three Khumba Melas, and while there are some "yoga competitions"
there, they are few and far between; and looked down upon by accomplished Masters as misguided displays of pseudo spirituality.

The very idea of a yoga competition is fundamentally flawed by the wrong assumption that the correct performance of a yoga
assana is indicative of
accomplishing yoga's goal, which I stated briefly in the opening paragraph. To assume that one who performs an assana well has achieved yoga's aim, is
tantamount to believing that a child reading from a physics book understands its application . While
assana is a tool in the yogi's toolbox, the tool must be used
to accomplish the job at hand. If it does not accomplish this, then one is as confused as the proverbial fool who mistakes the finger pointing at the moon for the
moon.

Moreover,
assana, is but one of eight limbs of yoga, and by itself cannot be regarded as yoga any more than the leg of a chair without its other parts can be
regarded as a chair (
assana, without its other limbs can no more achieve its function, than the leg of a chair without the seat, back, other legs, etc.)  There is
no wild leap of the imagination that would make it possible for a rational mind to overlook the absurdity of a yoga competition. While the contestants in such a
competition may be awe inspiring to look at as the perform their
assanas, there is no way to see the anger, jealousy, lust, conflicting disturbing emotions and
hatred, etc  that may well be hidden in the awesome spectacle before our eyes. Moreover, it is unlikely that anyone truly free of obstructions rooted in desire,
the freedom from which is of course yoga's aim, would even care to enter such a competition.