Today is Saturday and our day of rest from asana practice. One thing that I really love about the Ashtanga method is that it is recommended to take at least one day off per week and to not practice on the new or full moon. Sometimes people can get obsessed with the asana practice and perhaps if this rule was not in place some people would hammer out an intense practice every single day. Personally that would not be an issue for me. The fact that there is a prescribed 6 day a week practice schedule is something that takes a lot of time to really cultivate and maintain. I also think that no practice on moon days, the new and full moon, is the best invention since sliced bread. I adhere to the Saturday off idea mainly because that is what I learned from Guruji and Tim, but it is good to note that you can make that day any day you choose. Yet still the 6 days, “you do!”
When Tamara and I went to Mysore we asked the assistance of someone to help us find a room to rent while we were there. The gentle Indian man said “I can’t help you tomorrow because it is moon day, yet the following day I can.” In this case he was not an “asana” practitioner (I don’t think) but he took moon days off from work anyhow. This blew our mind. We had never come across this concept before. When we were practicing Bikram yoga never once was this notion mentioned, nor was there any talk of breathing either but that is an entirely different story. I have to admit that right away I thought that moon days were a brilliant concept regardless that it was a foreign idea. Now as a 6 day a week practitioner (as best I can as a family man), I think moon days are incredible. Now every two weeks, you get a day to rest your body as well as the Saturday. I think that the element of the fixed day off one day per week, combined with the extra two moon days off on alternating intervals, creates a variation of change within a consistent structure.
If you don’t adhere to this rule you probably are thinking, “Todd is getting a little out there.” I promise though that if you try this it will seem like the most remarkable concept ever created. That is little background story of why then, today we took the morning off to rest. We had Teacher Training session today from 1 PM to 6 PM yet Tim still honored this tradition by giving us a five hour tour of the third chapter of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. It was remarkable as those of you who have met Tim can imagine. In his First and Second Series Teacher Trainings he covers the first and second chapters of the Yoga Sutras. So this was the first time I have had the privilege of having him go sutra by sutra and take the time to allow us to share our thoughts about what they could potentially mean. Reading the Yoga Sutras can be a lifetime of study because they are challenging to decipher. The Sanskrit language allows multiple translations for every word so that over the years many translators have given different meanings for each sutra. There is usually a fairly common thread amongst most meanings, non the less, they can be quite confusing to contemplate at first glance. That is what it is so interesting to have someone who has been contemplating this over for some thirty years to give their take on their meaning. Since meeting Tim and having been inspired to try this myself. I have enjoyed this process even though sometimes it just seems so perplexing. The cool thing is that the theory informs the practice and the practice informs the theory. How I viewed the Yoga Sutras and their interpretations has changed radically over the years. As I learn a new concept from them I try to apply it to my yoga and meditation practice. As my yoga and meditation practice evolves my understanding of the meaning behind the words also transforms.
We covered a lot today yet there was one that I particularly enjoyed. Sutra III.27 states Bhuvana jnanam surye samyamat. It can be translated as: By samyama on the Sun comes knowledge of the entire universe. The word samyama means the “catch-all” process of concentration, meditation and absorption (dharana, dhyana and samadhi). Tim stated, “The sun is the eye of the world. If we become one with the eye of the world we can see all things.” I really liked this view point. The concept of the sun being the eye of the world reminds me of the idea that stars are just the holes to heaven (Jack Johnson fans will catch that one). To keep this practical I feel this sutra is beneficial because it encourages us to open our minds to greater possibility. There is the potential that we can learn from the Yoga Sutras and experience for ourselves the liberation that the great sages have been trying to verbalize and describe for eons.
Mystery versus Mastery
A couple of really great questions were asked during the training today. One of them was, “Is it possible to master a yoga pose?” The question arises because we are striving to achieve a certain form with our bodies that is often measured against someone else’s ability. There are certain criteria points that are looked for to ascertain if one is able to progress to the next stage or posture in the Ashtanga sequences.
Take for example the pose Eka Pada Bakasana. This is one of the most challenging of the arm balance poses in the 3rd series to enter into “correctly.” You balance on your hands while resting one knee in the same side armpit and simultaneously lift the opposite leg high above behind creating a counterbalance effect that requires significant strength but more importantly alert proprioceptive awareness. What makes it really challenging is the entry into the pose is from a tripod headstand. So one element of the question regarding this pose is how high does that back leg knee to go in order to be considered a “complete pose?” The evolution of the question turned to “Is it possible to create a perfect pose?”
Tim’s response was, “Perfectionism is a curse.” He also said, “Mastery is a pretty highfalutin thing!” Plenty of giggles were heard after that comment. He continued by stating, “I think it is more about mystery, not mastery.” This was the perfect statement for me to hear today. I really love this. The definition of mystery is something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain. As opposed to mastery which is control or superiority over someone or something. Naturally mastery might seem more appealing because it implies that we are in control and the nature of the mind is to desire permanence in all of our endeavors. Whereas mystery leaves the door open for interpretation which encourages self inquiry to determine ones own experience of what perfect is. This potentially could be a crux in the development of our own yoga practice. I believe that it is positive to have an ideal to strive for initially to encourage us to move beyond our own habit patterns. In the end though it is necessary for us to really probe mystery and or even to surrender to it.
Another question that I enjoyed was, “Is there a connection between physical posture alignment and ‘getting our head straight?’” Tim’s response to this was, “I hope so!” There was laughter all around to that one. He also said, “Typically the personality of the person comes through in the way that they practice.” This might seem obvious but I still found it quite profound. This is where having a teacher can be so beneficial because if the teacher can see this and offer “adjustments” to help transform the practitioners imbalance, one can truly “realign” both physically and mentally.
Tim had mentioned a book by Chogyam Trungpa called “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism.” In it he mentioned how the author describes that there is this phenomenon when we begin to achieve spiritual wisdom that we feel quite enlightened and liberated. Yet because our old habits run deep we then start to build our own samskaras, or “habit patterns,” into our practice and then often become deceived that we have truly evolved. What once seemed like freedom actually becomes a cage. So what is the answer then? Tim’s reply was, “Don’t be a perfectionist!” This is definitely something to think about.