Wednesday, August 27, 2014

BKS Iyengar and Socrates: Some reflections on the Austin Yoga Memorial Practice

“Morality begins there where you have to attend to keep the body in a stable and sound wellbeing so that the inner mind, the inner consciousness, the inner intelligence, the inner self moves freely by detaching itself from the attachment of the body so it moves towards the attachment of the soul. This is my message to you all, and may God bless you."  (BKS Iyengar on the occasion of his 95th birthday celebration as  reported by Seattle Iyengar  Yoga on Facebook)

“It really has been shown to us that, if we are ever to have pure knowledge, we must escape from the body and observe things in themselves with the soul by itself. It seems likely that we shall, only then, when we are dead, attain that which we desire of which we claim to be lovers, namely, wisdom” ( Socrates  on the occasion of  his  death  as reported in Plato’s Phaedo, 66d).

Yesterday, I mentioned that I was beginning to think about an article comparing the life and death of BKS Iyengar to the life and death of Socrates.  The comparison is interesting in and of itself but I also see the comparison as a mechanism for looking at various aspects of the philosophy that informs the respective “worldviews” of each thinker.

Jeff and I were talking about these comparisons  after dinner last night.  We  had just gotten back from the nation wide  memorial practice in honor of  BKS Iyengar.  I have not been particularly overcome with sadness.   Randy  suggested that this was so  because I was just there and had seen him.   I think he’s right, but as we were walking up to  Austin yoga  yesterday, I saw everyone gathered outside, waiting for the class inside to finish,  and I did feel tears well up a bit.  It definitely gave his passing more  reality.  It was the reason we had all gathered here.  Peggy led us through a quiet peaceful practice and some of  us who had been to Pune  shared some memories of meeting  BKS Iyengar. 

So the  death of  BKS and the death of  Socrates were on my mind  as we  ate our dinner salads.    Jeff  asked if  I was going to write about the comparison on the blog or if  I saw it as a scholarly article.   I answered,  “both.”   Here’s  blog installment of the comparison for  today.  

The relationship between the soul and the body is one of many dimensions I’ll explore.  Typically, Socrates and Plato are regarded as philosophers who are rather disdainful of the body, particularly of its use as a vehicle for understanding truth. While there are a few readings of the dialogues that seek to offer more body positive readings of the dialogues, the underlying sense that the soul, that which is pure, permanent, is trapped in the impure, impermanent body.  For Plato, as for Patanjali yogis and yoginis, the aim of philosophical pursuit is overcoming avidya which involves

anitya asuci duhkha anatmasu nitya suci sukha atma khyatih avidya

Mistaking the transient for the permanent, the impure for the pure, pain for pleasure, and that which is not the self for the self: all this is called lack of spiritual knowledge, avidya. (i)
Ignorance is the notion that takes the self, which is joyful, pure and eternal, to be the nonself, which is painful, unclean, and temporary. (B)

Differently put, it seems that philosophy requires an “overcoming” of the body and does not see embodiment as particularly helpful in its own overcoming.

On the face of it,  asana practice offers philosophy a more “helpful” way of looking at the body that we might use as a means for exploration of truth.   In the same birthday speech, Iyengar remarks,

“Body is the support of the self. Body is the prop of the self. So if the prop is not there, you and I cannot communicate at all, or commune with each other. So body being the support of the self, it is the duty of each and every one.”

Iyengar also exhorts his students,  “to use your consciousness, use your intelligence as a thorn, and see that these two inner vehicles of the soul make the fibers the cells in the body to feel the existence -- to link intellectually, consciously, conscientiously in the cells of the body.”

He goes onto say that when we do this “ we are one with God and one with the soul, and one with the body. “

In so far as we regard the body as part of nature,  Iyengar seems to have in mind some of the following sutras,

prakasa kriya sthiti silam bhutendriyatmakam bhogapavargartham drsyam

Nature, its three qualities, sattva, rajas and tamas, and its evolutes, the elements, mind, senses of perception and organs of action, exist eternally to serve the seer, for enjoyment or emancipation. (I)
That which is knowable has the nature of illumination, activity, and inertia (Sattva, rajas, and tamas]. It consists of the senses and the elements, and exists for the purpose of [providing] either liberation or experience [to purusa]. (B)

tadarthah eva drsyasya atma

Nature and intelligence exist solely to serve the seer’s true purpose, emancipation. (I)
The essential nature of that which is seen is exclusively for the sake of the seer. (B)

I plan to bring this view of the body into conversation with the Platonic dialogues and see if there are ways that Plato’s ongoing depiction of bodies in conversation with each other and his ongoing medical references, and his interest in gymnastics might be resources for seeing the body soul relationship as one that has more philosophical synergy than he is generally given credit for believing in.

Even though Iyengar has a more positive view of the body, his overall understanding of the relationship between body and soul is grounded in Patanjali’s philosophy and as the sutras at the end of Pada one suggest, the aim ultimately is the light of spiritual knowledge  and not the knowledge of embodiment.

ṛtaṁ-bharā tatra prajñā

When consciousness dwells in wisdom, a truth-bearing state of direct spiritual perception dawns. (I)
In that state, there is truth bearing wisdom. (B)
śrutānumāna-prajñābhyām anya-viṣayā viśeṣārthatvāt

This truth-bearing knowledge and wisdom is distinct from and beyond the knowledge gleaned from books, testimony, or inference. (I)
It [seedless samadhi] has a different focus from that of inference and sacred scripture, because it has the particularity of things as its object. (B)
tajjaḥ saṁskāro 'nyasaṁskārapratibandhī

A new life begins with this truth-bearing light. Previous impressions are left behind and new ones are prevented. (I)
The samskaras born out of that [truth-bearing wisdom] obstruct other samskaras [from emerging]. (B)
tasyāpi nirodhe sarva-nirodhān nirbījaḥ samādhiḥ

When that new light of wisdom is also relinquished, seedless samadhi dawns. (I)
Upon the cessation of even those [truth-bearing samskaras], nirbija-samadhi, seedless meditative absorption, ensues. (B).

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

More on BKS Iyengar as a Socrates for our time (and a sequence and sutra study)

I'm definitely going to write an article on the death of   BKS Iyengar and the death of Socrates.  The parallels with respect to both their life and their death are quite striking.  Here's a moving account of  BKS' passing by my Pune friend, Jory Serota.

Lori Theis,  a yoga friend of mine, posted this quote from Geeta Iyengar  on her Facebook feed today,

“He had told us a few days ago that ‘you can treat my body, but my soul is happy and fine. I have done all the work that I was supposed to do’. He will be alive though his teachings, the entire family as well as his students feel the same. His Sadhana, we will continue till the end. I’m glad that we will have his spiritual knowledge with us always.” Geeta Iyengar

Here are some of  Socrates' last words as he faces his death, surrounded by the students who loved him best,

"A man should be of good cheer about his own soul, if during life he has ignored the pleasures of the body and its ornamentations as of no concern to him and doing him more harm than good, but has seriously concerned himself with the pleasures of learning, and adorned his soul not with alien but with its own ornaments, namely moderation, righteousness, courage, freedom and truth, and in that state awaits his journey after death"  (Plato's Phaedo 114e).    

I'm struck by how yogic  Socrates' description of the philosophical life is in terms of the virtues he lists and in terms of his emphasis on the soul as the aim of philosophical practice.  It resonates a great deal with Prashant's emphasis on yog as a path of  learning as well.  Though Prashant talked a lot this summer about the value of knowing our embodiment, ultimately that knowledge is aimed at seeing beyond  its pleasures  as  Socrates  articulates here.

One  striking  dissimilarity with respect to their passing is that it does seem that those closest to BKS Iyengar  understand his teaching and practice  and that  through them, it  will survive his passing in  a way that  Socrates' closest students  (Plato excepted) do not.

Compare Geeta's  commitment to upholding his sadhana and spiritual knowledge  with this exchange between Socrates and his oldest friend, Crito.

"We shall be eager to follow your advice, said Crito, but how shall we bury you?"

"In any way you like, said Socrates, if you can catch me and I do not escape you. And laughing quietly, looking at us, he said,  'I do not  convince Crito that I am this Socrates  talking to you here and ordering all I say, but he thinks that I am the thing which he will soon be looking at as a corpse and so he asks how he shall bury me'"  (115d).

The person recounting this conversation is  Phaedo, not Plato himself. (As Plato tells the story, he was not even there for the death). Instead, Plato writes the account of Socrates' death from Phaedo's perspective. Phaedo reports the conversation to a group of Pythagoreans many days after the death of Socrates.   Obviously,  they did not have Facebook and blogs and news articles  back in those days. I find it  fascinating that Plato writes this dialogue as an account that Phaedo passes on to another group of philosophers.  It suggests to me that Plato  sees the recounting of the story of the passing of  Socrates as an important part of  continuing  Socrates' philosophical sadhana.  Viewed in this way,  so are accounts like Jory's and the accounts of so many others who were present at the death. 

Fascinating.  Stay tuned for more.

In related news, here's what  I plan to teach today at the Castle

Shoulder work
LOY virasana  Cycle
Headless  sirsasana prep  -eka pada   all do,  then set up chairs for those not doing  sirsasana 
Sirsasana at wall Leean  teaching  (six minutes)
Chair  Dwi  Pada   with  blanket roll   and  then  arms in  Urdhva  Baddhanghuliasana
Sarvangasana  Dropping  over to the floor
Setu Bandha
Seated Ujjyai  5, 6

And here are the sutras for today.  I particularly like  1.47  in light  of  what Socrates and Iyengar  express about the soul. 

sūkṣma-vaṣayatvaṁ cāliṅga-paryavasānam

The subtlest level of nature (prakrti) is consciousness. When consciousness dissolves in nature, it loses all marks and becomes pure. (I)
The subtle nature of things extends all the way up to prakriti.  (B)
tā eva sa-bījaḥ samādhiḥ

The states of samadhi described in the previous sutras are dependent upon a support or seed, and are termed sabija. (I)
These above-mentioned samapatti states are [known as] samadhi meditative absorption ‘with seed.’ (B)
nirvicāra-vaiśāradye’ dhyātma prasādaḥ

From proficiency in nirvicara samapatti comes purity. Sattva or luminosity flows undisturbed, kindling the spiritual light of the self. (I)
Upon attaining the clarity of nirvicara-samadhi, there is lucidity of the inner self.  (B)

Monday, August 25, 2014

It's Pranayama week!

Post-Pune, I decided to recommit to teaching  pranayama in my weekly classes.   So the last week of the month,  I'll   follow the great examples of  Gulnaz and Rajlaxmi and teach dynamic classes aimed at opening the chest and calming the mind for  pranayama.    I do want to  continue offering special workshops and  perhaps find a time each week to have  a pranayama only class,  but in addition to that,  I want to make sure I'm teaching pranayama in my weekly classes. 

Pranayama week is not about lying around on bolsters, expect dynamic intelligent work at creating space for the breath and receptivity of the mind.

Here's  the  sequence for  this morning,  subbing for  Gillian with the rope wall.

Calf  Mashing
Rope AMS
Static Rope   on elbow
Static Rope  arms straight lift  wrists.
Rope bhujangasana   (Bolster-
Rope  1  with motion
Rope Sirsasana
Chair sarvangasana Vertical bolster
Setu Bandha
Supine  Ujjayi
Seated Ujjayi

Sutra study for  today deals with the levels of mental absorption and contemplation that can be experienced through words and memory  and those  that  have been purged of memory and deal with only the nature of the mind itself.  I have little direct experience with these states, but today as I was sitting after pranayama, I did feel a level of absorption that I was unaware of being in until I came out of it.

Upon reflection (upon using my memory)  it did seem that I was  existing without words in those moments. 

tatra śabdārtha-jñāna-vikalpaiḥ saṅkīrṇā savitarkā-samāpattiḥ

At this stage, called savitarka samapatti, the word, meaning and content are blended, and become special knowledge. (I)
In this stage, savitarka-samapattih “samadhi absorption with physical awareness,’ is intermixed with notions of word, meaning, and idea. (B)
smṛti-pariśuddhau svarūpa-śūnyevārtha-mātra-nirbhāsā nirvitarkā

In nirvitarka samapatti, the difference between memory and intellectual illumination is disclosed; memory is cleansed and consciousness shines without reflection. (I)
Nirvitarka [samapatti] ‘absorption without conceptualization,’ occurs when memory has been purged and the mind is empty, as it were, of its own [reflective] nature. Now only the object [of meditation] shines forth [in its own right].  (B)
etayaiva savicārā nivicārā ca sūkṣma-viṣayā vyākhyātā

The contemplation of subtle aspects is similarly explained as deliberate (savicara samapatti) or non-deliberate (nirvicara samapatti). (I)
The states of samadhi with ‘subtle awareness’ and without ‘subtle awareness,’ whose objects of focus  are the subtle nature of things, are explained in the same manner. (B)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sunday morning Sutra Study.

Today's  sutras  deal with  the  state of  mental absorption where the mind becomes free from the vrttis.   1.42 is particularly interesting in light of  our Iyengar Immersion where we discussed the interview with Prashant and Devon picked up on what Prashant said  about  the role of yoga and sound  in the asana class she led.  I think everyone  felt  a different quality of mind in the asana practice.     One of my favorite Prashant  classes this summer also  dealt with these sutras.  here's the link to the post I wrote this summer  about Prashant and the knower, knowing, and known.

kṣīṇa-vṛtter abhijātasyeva maṇer grahītṛ-grahaṇa-grāhyeṣu tat-stha-tad-añjanatā samāpattiḥ

The yogi realizes that the knower, the instrument of knowing and the known are one, himself, the seer. Like a pure transparent jewel, he reflects an unsullied purity. (I)

Samapatti, complete absorption of the mind when it is free from its vrttis, occurs when the mind becomes just like a transparent jewel, taking the form of whatever object is placed before it, whether the object be the knower, the instrument of knowledge, or the object of knowledge. (B)
tatra śabdārtha-jñāna-vikalpaiḥ saṅkīrṇā savitarkā-samāpattiḥ

At this stage, called savitarka samapatti, the word, meaning and content are blended, and become special knowledge. (I)
In this stage, savitarka-samapattih “samadhi absorption with physical awareness,’ is intermixed with notions of word, meaning, and idea. (B)

I think we  hit upon a really good integration of philosophical theme and asana class  yesterday.  

In other news,   Jeff and I went out to Breed and Co  to spend some of our remaining wedding money.  We spent some of it on lawn stuff and  these giant anti mosquito sticks that I'm eager to try out.   We ate at the Blue Dahlia cafe.  I did not quite feel like I was in the hills of Tuscany as their webpage suggested, but they did have a nice patio with an efficient misting system.  Its been a while since we've had a more or less free weekend and we had a good time.  We  went over to mom and dad's and made super nachos for  dinner, came home and watched most of the extended version of the fellowship of the Ring.  It has been a good long while since  I've watched the first of the LOR and I've never seen the extended version. It is quite  good and brings out more  of the book that the movie originally left out.  I was also really struck by just how much Harry Potter  draws  on  LOR. 

Anyway,  off to walk Milo before it  gets oppressively hot.   More later.  

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Sutras, Sabbatical, and some thoughts on Soup Kitchen

paramāṇu-parama-mahattvānto ‘sya vaśīkāraḥ

Mastery of contemplation brings the power to extend from the finest particle to the greatest. (I)
The yogi’s mastery extends from the smallest particle of matter to the ultimate totality of matter. (B)

Yesterday was a  busy day. No chance to blog.  More yoga than philosophy  but I did get a bit of academic writing  done. Right now  I’m trying to read at least an article a day and write some notes about it.    I wrote some notes about that Jon Stewart book and read a Dorothea Frede article about the forms. 

In the yoga world, I had a great time teaching my  Level 2-3 class.  Wow it was really fun to be back in that class.  We worked with inversions and backbends.  Lots of good shoulder work and it was fascinating to see how much opening was visible on the bodies of the students.  What a great group of students.  Advanced Practice was also quite nice. I led us through a Raj Laxmi  forward bend sequence and I’m glad I did because I recalled some lovely details that I had not yet been integrating into my practice.  

 We had a fun time at teacher training, answering last minute questions about assessment and I practiced demonstrating  Eka Pada Sirsasana and trying to put more space and pauses in my instructions  so  things did not sound like a cloud of words.   Say the instruction, pause, do the action, repeat. 

Then we had Philosophy Soup Kitchen. The turn out was a bit disappointing, but it was a great conversation  based on this interview with Prashant. 

 The low turnout and my minor disappointment  with that  was actually quite illustrative of  one of the major points Prashant makes about the article, that  the mindset of consumerism is ruining yoga.   I felt somehow  more disappointed that more people weren’t there precisely because we charged money for it.  At the same time, I could  focus on the present and remain committed to the more yogic principle of  teaching  to who shows up and  that’s what’s important.     

It also reminded me of  both Arun and Iyengar  saying that  they are grateful for whomever  shows  up  and  of  Arun saying that  upeksa is the most important quality for a teacher to develop. 

maitrī karuṇā-muditopekṣāṇāṁ sukha-duḥkha-puṇyāpuṇya-viṣayāṇāṁ bhāvanātaś citta-prasādanam

Through cultivation of friendliness, compassion, joy, and indifference to pleasure and pain, virtue and vice respectively, the consciousness becomes favorably disposed, serene and benevolent. (I)
By cultivating an attitude of friendship toward those who are happy, compassion toward those in distress, joy toward those who are virtuous, and equanimity toward those who are nonvirtuous, lucidity arises in the mind (B).

Anyway,  here’s what I talked about at  Soup Kitchen.

I asked and  answered some questions about the trip.

 First  time in Pune 2007 limited experience with Prashant.

Second time in Pune 2014 the experience was largely about Prashant.

What I liked about Prashant’s classes. All of these qualities, I thought were quite apparent in the article.

Philosophy at the forefront
Use of words to make the mind think differently.
Intense asana  but  the aim was  not the asana itself.

Parts of the interview  I think are particularly interesting.

1.     His own humility
2.     Description of family relationship
3.     Change in life due to accident
4.     Past life karma
5.     Music like asana
6.     Sound and the absence of hearing
7.     Meditation on what is profound
8.     Consumer mindset
9.     Western difficulty with  yoga

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sabbatical Leave Day Two, the Sequence for tomorrow, and the "or" Sutras

 My  main sabbatical  accomplishment today was  reading  a bit of Jon Stewart's, the Unityof Content and Form in Philosophical Writing.   He writes about how the acceptable form of  philosophical  writing has become increasingly narrow and that is a loss to the practice of  philosophy itself.  I'm finding that  blog writing  for myself  opens up the space of  philosophical writing a great deal.  While it is not the type of writing  that  "counts" academically,  in terms of making me feel  connected to an audience  interested in  deep philosophical  ideas,  there's little better, outside the classroom itself.

There were a few matters at  Baylor that required my attention, grading comps, organizing travel,  and dealing with  a couple things that slipped through the cracks this summer,   but  slowly I'm  retreating.

In other news, I walked Milo, had two great  practice sessions,  went to Pilates and got my hair  cut and colored.   Another  highlight,  I read the Jon Stewart book in the hammock this morning.  There was a great breeze that  kept the bugs away and made the  soon to be unbearable heat,  quite bearable,  pleasant  even.  

Tomorrow,  my friday  class starts  back.  I'm going to have another go  at  what I taught  Monday for  Peggy's  class. 

AMVira   work with  different  uses of the arms. 
Stages of  Virasana
Static  rope  on  elbows and  then with arms straight back
Rope with motion
AMS with blanket roll and head behind roll
PM  prep
Sirsasana  prep  with the  Eka Pada  work learned in Pune. 
Parivritta Eka Pada
Chair Dwi Pada  Intro II, Junior  1  Junior 2 
UD from  two bolsters 
Dropping  over

Today's  sutras  are  the "or sutras"

pracchardana-vidhāraṇābhyām vā prāṇasya

Or by maintaining the pensive state felt at the time of soft and steady exhalation and during passive retention after exhalation. (I)
Or [stability of mind is gained] by exhaling and retaining the breath. (B)
viṣayavatī vā pravṛttir utpannā manasaḥ sthiti-nibandhanī

Or, by contemplating an object that helps to maintain steadiness of mind and consciousness. (I)
Or else, focus on a sense object arises, and this causes steadiness of the mind. (B)
viṣokā vā jyotiṣmatī

Or, inner stability is gained by contemplating a luminous, sorrowless, effulgent light. (I)
Or [steadiness of mind is gained when] the mind is pain free and luminous (B).
vīta-rāga-viṣayaṁ vā cittam

Or, by contemplating on enlightened sages who are free from desires and attachments, calm and tranquil, or by contemplating divine objects. (I)
Or [the mind become steady when it has ] one who is free from desire as its object. (B)

Or, by recollecting and contemplating the experience of dream-filled or dreamless sleep during a watchful, waking state. (I)
Or [the mind can become steady when it has] the knowledge attained from dreams and sleep as its support (B)
yathābhimata-dhyānād vā

Or, by meditating on any desired object conducive to steadiness of consciousness. (I)
Or [steadiness of the mind is attained] from meditation upon anything of one’s inclination. (B)