Restarting Yoga

I'm trying to start my yoga practice back up again. To aid me in that, I've been rereading my old yoga posts. In particular, the part in The Little Dance Your Body Does about dynamic balance struck me. Now that I'm in school again, balance is more important than ever, and multiple readings over the past year and for the next year keep telling me it's going to continue to be important. Which serve merely as reminders, because of course it's going to continue to be important. It's something I'm having trouble with, too. Trying to balance school and my spiritual life and my crafts and my writing and... everything. It's hard. Hard to have the time and the spoons to deal with everything, hard to even have enough attention span for everything. Hard to get enough sleep. I'm enjoying school but that makes balance harder, not easier. It's hard to find the time to do yoga. I'm so tired in the morning and at night, which is when I try to do little 5-10 minute routines along with my morning and evening rituals. I'm not good at mornings, and have trouble getting out of bed at all, much less getting up another 5-10 minutes earlier so I have time for this. At night, I've already taken my sleep pill before I go up the stairs (or else it doesn't have time to kick in, and I end up lying in bed with my brain weasels in the hamster wheels), and it's starting to kick in, and I'm exhausted from my day, which makes it just as hard in the evening. It's hard to just get in my ritual many days. But I need to make the time, to carve it out from my day however I can. One of the reasons I need to start doing yoga again is that I'm starting to get the first inklings of pain in my back and hips again, which suggests my tendinopathy is coming back. Yoga helped me rid of it last time, without me having to go to physical therapy. I'd really like to avoid it getting any worse this time. So. Here I go....

Power in poses

I had, somewhere along the way during the time I wasn’t actively practicing anything, no witchcraft, no religion, also fallen out of the habit of grounding and centering in the Wiccan style. Which was damn silly of me, as that’s useful. I started making it a twice-daily habit again and adding it to ritual in August, as part of my practice with Hekate. I restarted the rest of my daily practices after the dark of the moon. Today, for the first time, it finally occurred to me to try grounding and centering before doing my morning yoga, which is part of my Dionysian practice. To draw, not only breath, but energy through the poses. Wow. That was amazing. I almost went into trance in tree pose. I feel absurd and foolish for not ever doing it before. It makes me more eager to try the work with ancient poses as trance induction Aridela Pantherina has talked about. Tree pose is still very difficult for me to hold for long, but if it was that powerful, what will these other poses be like? I’ve been meaning to try this anyway, but this excites me even more....

Yoga and Charkha

Asana -- yoga poses -- are intended to be a preparation for meditation. I had been just doing simple, mind-clearing breathing meditation after my yoga video, but today I thought I'd get out the charkha and do a little spinning. I haven't had it out in at least a couple of weeks, and haven't used it regularly in over a month, but after doing yoga, I had fewer problems than I normally do after a long break, got less frustrated at the problems I did have, and got more out of it as meditation. None of which is even slightly surprising, of course. It's a technique that's thousands of years old, and I used it in exactly the way it's intended to be used, and got exactly the results I was supposed to get. I've been meaning to try doing trance work following yoga, to see if it makes induction easier, and now I want to even more. The only problem I can see is that I'm always so hungry after yoga, I'm worried that my stomach would distract me. I might take up a piece of fruit or something very simple to eat....

The Little Dance Your Body Does

I’m still working on getting a regular rhythm down for yoga, but I am getting in at least one full session with the video a week, and am trying to integrate the 20-minute warmup from the video more often. It’s not only less time to set aside, but I can do it and go straight to bed, where the full hour and a quarter (which includes both centering and meditation) gives me a burst of energy and must be done a couple of hours before I go to bed, and I have to have a fairly solid meal afterwards, too. I have a hard time breaking myself away from whatever I’m doing, partly because depression lends itself to inertia and partly because the things I’m usually doing have few natural stopping points. But yoga feels really really good to me. Megan, the teacher on the video, talks about “the little dance your body does” to stay in a pose that requires balance. The small twitches, sways, and corrections necessary to hold those poses, like table balance and tree pose. Over time, my core muscles and others will strengthen from that, but the balance is always dynamic and always includes some motion, even if it’s not necessarily visible to anyone watching. Or not as visible as it is with a beginner. That little dance, that dynamic tension and balance, that push and pull, is meaningful to me symbolically as well as physically. Last week, I spent a day on the Deuces in my lateral tarot study, and that balance and tension is a part of those cards. It’s also a part of keeping one’s life in balance — a balance I’ve never been very good at, and it’s all the more meaningful to me for that. In high school, the students who had been previously tracked into “gifted” classes suddenly just had seminars ever couple of months. The teacher who gave them was the wife of the man who had taught history in junior high to many of us, and she knew who we were and had heard many stories about us. Her first seminar, she tried to teach us juggling, as a metaphor for how difficult it might be for us to keep everything going now. It was one of those “foolproof” methods that supposedly anyone could learn, and it all started with learning to drop the ball — or, since this was Florida, a piece of citrus fruit; with my little hands, a lemon — in just the right way. And I couldn’t do it. I could not get over the basic must not drop things impulse in order to let that damn lemon fall out of my hand. And so I could not learn to juggle. The teacher just could not get over it. I was the only person she had ever met who could not learn to drop a piece of fruit competently. The next day, by chance, she visited her husband’s class, and my brother was in it. She told him, “Your sister is the only person I have ever met who could not learn to juggle. At all.” And he just went, “Yep, that’s my sister.” I laughed that night when he told me, too. But that’s an accurate extension of the metaphor. I am not good at juggling many things in my life, not good at finding a good balance, although I work at it. I tend to throw myself into one thing to the exclusion of others. Either I work full time and more, and that’s nearly all I do, or I’m very social, and that’s nearly all I do, or I’m home and depressed and barely go out or see anyone, or whatever. Running the restaurant, which consumed everything and left an enormous hole in me when it closed, was only the most extreme example of this. It’s not good for me, but it’s what I tend to do. I struggle against it as much as I can, but it’s very tiring for me. That’s not all the “little dance” means to me. According to Euripides and other sources, the first Maenads, the first women who followed Dionysos and performed the ecstatic Bacchic rites, came out of India with him, where he had been exiled for a time (and where he eventually went back, and conquered some people, and built a bridge, and other things). When he came back to Magna Graeca, the area over which the Greek culture extended, through not only Greece but also Turkey and a number of places between and around, they were the ones who taught the mysteries and the sacred dances to the Hellenic women who came to...

Thesis and Antithesis of Yoga

Have written all of this about the Eight Limbs of Yoga, I kept researching and trying to understand, trying to contextualize, trying to integrate. I borrowed more books from the library, kept reading that recent translation of the Yoga Sutra. I finally found myself ranting more than I read, whether in my head or out loud to my wife. I talked about some of my disagreements with the philosophy behind yoga during my research pieces. Really, all of them proceed from two basic things, which are, alas, two of the most basic ideas found in this philosophy: 1) Divine monism. All gods are one. There's a very, very theoretical level in which I sort of agree with this, as I've mentioned, but that really it's much more that I understand all gods to be a part of the universe, just as everything else is, and that the very first basic of the universe (Chaos, Space, Matter, Time, etc) are all, themselves, divine. I am, in a sense, both pantheistic and animistic, but there's a level at both ends (and more at the top end) where it simply because impossible for me to relate to them as deities or spirits, to worship or communicate with them in any meaningful fashion. In any practical sense, I am a hard polytheist: I experience, worship and believe in the gods as discrete entities with their own personalities, consciousnesses, and agencies. 2) Spirit/body dualism. The realm of the spirit and the realm of matter are almost completely separate, except in that our spirits are stuck to our bodies during life, and the way to become more in tune with one's spirit and with the divine is to withdraw from (some kinds of) interaction with the world. This gives rise to the asceticism that I cannot relate to. I mean, I can't deny that people achieve great things through these methods, and have throughout time, but it's not a path that works for me. There's also, if I'm understanding what I'm reading correctly, the basic concept that what I'm referring to as spirit is in fact consciousness, awareness. An idea which I completely reject. Spirit is life, not consciousness, and it is inherent in human physicality, not tenuously connected to it. These two ideas, taken together, turn out to be the core of the Advaita Vedanta philosophy. So, basically, it's Advaita to which I object, and more and more I think my issues with it are irreconcilable. This left me flailing a bit, until my wife, having patiently listened to my ranty rants, said, "You know, that sounds more like Tantra than Yoga. Have you looked into that?" (Both of my wife's parents were linguists and scholars of Sanskrit, and while studying in India had converted to Hinduism. She never practiced it herself, but she's picked up a few things.) So, like you do for basic outlines, I looked up Tantra on Wikipedia. I knew just enough to know that Tantra =/= the Kama Sutra, that most of it isn't sexual at all, and that Westerners are generally talking out their asses when they say anything about it. Oh, and that it has been really grossly appropriated by Western occultists and bad things done to it. I went into it with trepidation, not about Tantra, but about me researching Tantra and finding good sources. And I found some good (as far as I can tell) basic information, but continue to be at a total loss for where to go from here. Tantra Yoga is certainly a thing that exists, in India, and which uses the asana and pranayama in pursuit of goals that are much more like my own, backed by a philosophy that is much more like my own. Much of the real practice of Tantra Yoga is obscured in the US and Europe by orientalism and attempts at syncretism by western occultists going back to the late nineteenth century, though. I'll look around, as I have the time. I've just started a new job, though, and it's eating a lot of my time and energy. And unfortunately, the only person I have even tenuous connection to who might be able to help me find good translations of whatever Sanskrit or Hindi texts exist is my father in law, whom my wife has had no contact with in many year, and who, for all she knows, may not even be alive anymore. In the meantime, my brother has sent me not only the fat yoga video he promised, Mega Yoga by Megan Garcia, which has a women with a variety of body shapes doing poses, plus breathing exercises, he got me a pass for drop-in classes at the yoga studio I like. I'm very looking forward to trying out the video today, and starting to...

Researching Yoga, Part the Third

Part the First Part the Second Again, the piece I keep referencing and am getting most of my information from is this one. I left off with Pratyahara, the fifth limb. The sixth is Dharana, "immovable concentration of the mind," concentrating and cultivating inner perceptual awareness. To learn to focus your mind fully on just one thing at a time, in order to stop the mind from wandering. This works for me. I'm not sure I have the same purpose for it, which Doran explains by quoting, "B.K.S. Iyengar states that the objective is to achieve the mental state where the mind, intellect, and ego are "all restrained and all these faculties are offered to the Lord for His use and in His service. Here there is no feeling of 'I' and 'mine'."" I'm not at all sure that this is required to offer the self in service to the Divine, but certainly I consider complete focus to be a useful skill, and can strive to cultivate it. Dhyana is the seventh limb, which is devotion and meditation on the divine. Doran says, "It is perfect contemplation. It involves concentration upon a point of focus with the intention of knowing the truth about it." And also, "During dhyana, the consciousness is further unified by combining clear insights into distinctions between objects and between the subtle layers of perception." Certainly meditation on the divine, on my specific gods and sometimes on other gods I work with, is a part of my practice. I don't have perfect concentration, of course, but if I achieve it, certainly I will use it in my contemplation of the gods, and will hopefully find insight and truth. The eighth and final limb is Samadhi, which is union with the divine. Doran tells us, "In the state of samadhi the body and senses are at rest, as if asleep, yet the faculty of mind and reason are alert, as if awake; one goes beyond consciousness. During samadhi, we realize what it is to be an identity without differences, and how a liberated soul can enjoy pure awareness of this pure identity. The conscious mind drops back into that unconscious oblivion from which it first emerged." Hm. Union with the divine, particularly with my individual gods, is certainly something I seek, but my concept of gods is very different, and so my understanding of what it means to achieve union with them is, necessarily, also different. I fit most hard polytheists' definition of polytheist -- I understand the gods as distinct and unique individuals with their own existences and awarenesses -- but also count myself a pantheist. The Universe itself is divine, and all the gods, like all the other things that exist, are a part of that. In the beginning, there was Chaos, and out of Chaos arose Uranos and Gaia, the Heavens and the Earth, Space and Matter. Chaos, Space and Matter are all deities here. The physical entity that is the universe is divine in nature. But I'm not seeking union with the universe. I'm part of it, and I know it, and that's good enough for me. Instead, I seek ecstatic union with my gods, with Dionysos and Hekate. To be possessed by them, inspired by them, literally moved by them. It's a different sort of union from that proposed by the yogis, and indeed is a different type of union with each of them. Nor is it some final goal, but something I can occasionally achieve fleeting moments of, through the rituals of the maenad or of witchcraft's evocation. They have their own necessary preparations, and reaching them for the first time took me years of work and study, but those paths did not match up with those described by the eight limbs of yoga, although in many ways they parallel one another. In conclusion, Doran says, "These eight steps of yoga indicate a logical pathway that leads to the attainment of physical, ethical, emotional, and psycho-spiritual health. Yoga does not seek to change the individual; rather, it allows the natural state of total health and integration in each of us to become a reality." And once again, here is something foreign to me. You see, I don't find "health," as a concept, to be particularly useful. What is health, exactly? Simply the absence of disease and physical pain? Then can those who have chronic illnesses, pain, or certain disabilities never be healthy? An idea I see again and again in writings about yoga is that yoga can "heal" whatever's wrong with you. But as I mentioned last time, I have at least one problem that cannot be healed, namely bipolar disorder. Pretty sure my anxiety and attention deficit disorders are not going to go away either, although all three of...

Woozy Notes

Cotton spinning continues to go reasonably well, although I definitely have better and worse days. I can now do the long draw magic trick about one time in three. One other time in three is because I don't see the slub until too late and my arms aren't long enough to make the trick work. On a good day, I finish with more seeds than waste, and on a bad day, as much waste or more than seeds. Yoga research, obviously, continues. Other current projects include the devotional hanging for Hermes and a mask in variegated purples, which may or may not become an altar piece. Maybe Silenos. We shall see. This morning, I accidentally took an extra mood leveling pill, and am dizzy and vague. I'm also still sick, with all-day, all-over body aches. Ugh. Hey, if I wrote a cookbook, would any of you buy it?...

Researching Yoga, Part the Second

I left off with the Eight Limbs of Yoga after the second, Niyama. The third Limb is Asana, the poses that most of us think of as being Yoga. This, of course, is what I'm mostly interested in. Doran, who I referenced in my previous entry, says, "The challenge of poses offers the practitioner the opportunity to explore and control all aspects of their emotions, concentration, intent, faith, and unity between the physical and the ethereal body. Indeed, using asanas to challenge and open the physical body acts as a binding agent to bring one in harmony with all the unseen elements of their being, the forces that shape our lives through our responses to the physical world. Asana then becomes a way of exploring our mental attitudes and strengthening our will as we learn to release and move into the state of grace that comes from creating balance between our material world and spiritual experience." Very well, then, I will need to understand the poses in that light. They are not solely physical, but are a physical way of creating a discipline that encompasses all of the pieces that make up me: mind, body, emotions, will, and spirit. This really ought to have been obvious, and yet it was something I was missing about the asana on a very basic level. I'm sure I must have heard it before, but if it was couched in the New-Agey-White-Lighty sort of language I so often hear from USians talking about yoga, I would simply have ignored it. Regardless, as you can see from my first mention of studying yoga, I really was thinking of it as a purely physical discipline. I am learning better. The fourth limb is Pranayama, or breath control. I've done some breath work in the past, for various purposes and with varying effects, and have generally found it to be a pretty good practice for me, if not one I've managed to keep up. Conceptually and theologically, breath is incredibly important to me. In both Latin and Greek, the word for spirit is also a word for breath. I consider breath to define human life, that the soul truly becomes a part of the body with the first breath, and that the bond breaks with the last breath. Thus, the idea that the control and discipline of breath is also a discipline of spirit and a way of attuning the spirit better with mind, body, heart and will, is a very natural one for me. This is the limb I'm currently attempting to make a part of my daily practice, with mixed success. It feels very good to do, but I'm having trouble doing it every day. Also, my chronic sinusisit that leaves my nose slighty yucky more or less constantly makes the alternate-nostril breathing technique a bit tricky. Pratyahara, the fifth limb, means control of the senses, or more literally "to withdraw oneself from that which nourishes the senses." According to Doran: It can then be seen as the practice of non-attachment to sensorial distractions as we constantly return to the path of self realization and achievement of internal peace. It means our senses stop living off the things that stimulate; the senses no longer depend on these stimulants and are not fed by them any more.        In pratyahara we sever this link between mind and senses, and the senses withdraw. When the senses are no longer tied to external sources, the result is restraint or pratyahara. Now that the vital forces are flowing back to the Source within, one can concentrate without being distracted by externals or the temptation to cognize externals. On the face of it, this sounds undesirable to me. While yoga teaches that, "The yogi does not look heaven-ward to find God for he know that He is within" (Holistic Online, BKS Iyengar), I believe that the Divine also exists all around us, in the world as it is. The nymphs, the satyrs, the spirits, and the gods themselves walk the world with us. We may not always be able to see their forms, but with attention, we can see their traces in the world, the footprints they leave, and sense their presence around us. But then Doran says, "Pratyahara occurs almost automatically when we meditate because we are so absorbed in the object of meditation. Precisely because the mind is so focused, the senses follow it; it is not happening the other way around." And that, I have no problem with. That is certainly one of the points of meditation. He also says, "No longer functioning in their usual manner, the senses become extraordinarily sharp." This, too, works for me, since it will enable me to better see the work of the gods in the world. What I do not want...

Researching Yoga

As I mentioned, I'm becoming interested in Yoga as a physical practice again, but want to minimize my cultural appropriation. In addition to the sites already mentioned, I've been reading a lot of articles. I won't list all of them here -- I had a good thirty tabs open at one point, and I've closed most of them -- but the best for me were these: Stop Cultural Appropriation: Yoga is all about Hinduism, albeit without the Hindu In the Church of Oprah… My Practive: Yoga and Cultural Appopriation Culture Shock What I got from all my reading was, basically, a) don't be an asshole, b) do study what Yoga means in its cultural context, and c) do study the entire system, particularly the Eight Limbs of Yoga, even if you do not practice all parts of it. So then I looked up the Eight Limbs. This is the article I'm referencing and quoting from. The Eight Limbs are: Yama, or Universal Morality Niyama, or Personal Observances Asanas, or Body Postures Pranayama, or Breathing Exercises and Control Pratyahara, or Control of the Senses Dharana, or Concentration of the Mind Dhyana, or Meditation on the Divine Samadhi, or Union with the Divine The first two have subsets: Yama 1. Ahimsa, or compassion for all living things 2. Satya, or commitment to truthfulness 3. Asteya, or not stealing 4. Brahmacharya, or sense control 5. Aparigraha, or taking only what is necessary Niyama 1. Sauca, purity or cleanliness 2. Santosa, or contentment 3. Tapas, disciplined use of energy 4. Svadhyaya, self study 5. Isvarapranidhana, to lay all your actions at the feet of God I find that much of this has some parallel within my own practice and life. Of the Yama, Brahmacharya and Aparigraha are a little difficult for me. The article describes the first thus: Brahmacharya is used mostly in the sense of abstinence, particularly in relationship to sexual activity. Brahmacharya suggests that we should form relationships that foster our understanding of the highest truths. Brahmacharya does not necessarily imply celibacy. Rather, it means responsible behavior with respect to our goal of moving toward the truth. Practicing brahmacharya means that we use our sexual energy to regenerate our connection to our spiritual self. It also means that we don’t use this energy in any way that might harm others. Those last two sentences work well for me, but I mean something very different by this. Sex and sexual energy are part of my practice, as a form of ecstasy. (This doesn't necessarily mean engaging in ritual sex or sex magic, simply that I use the act and energy of sex as a way of connecting with Dionysos.) I would not use it to harm anyone, but I certainly do… enjoy things I sincerely doubt traditional Yogic philosophy would not approve of. Aparigraha means to take only what is necessary, and not to take advantage of a situation or act greedy. We should only take what we have earned; if we take more, we are exploiting someone else. The yogi feels that the collection or hoarding of things implies a lack of faith in God and in himself to provide for his future. Aparigraha also implies letting go of our attachments to things and an understanding that impermanence and change are the only constants. I admit, I am very found of stuff. I collect things. Toys, books, art, tools. I have an awful lot of stuff, actually. Some of it I'm very attached to indeed. Some of it I got on a whim, and later give to other people, because why not? I work on being less attached to stuff, not because of moral reasons, but because it makes things easier. But it's never going to be a thing I can really manage to escape, nor do I particularly want to. Further, I disagree that it shows a lack of faith. My gods, at least, demand that we do what we can to help ourselves. There's an aphorism about not praying to Hercules to move your cart when you're stuck in a rut unless you're down there pushing first. We have a responsibility to take care of ourselves as best we can, and yes, that can mean laying things in against hard times, or taking care of ourselves in very material ways that improve our mental and physical health. Yes, when we have the ability, we should make sure that our buying choices are ethical, so as not to exploit people, but in our society, that's simply not possible for many people. WalMart is a terrible, terrible company that exploits its workers and sells mostly sweatshop-made items. Many many people, though, are simply too poor to buy $60 ethically-made shirts when they can buy $15 t-shirts at WalMart and have enough...

Notes Hanging in Midair

I am being published! My UPG on using the divine madness of the maenad to alleviate symptoms of my bipolar disorder will be appearing in Bibliotheca Alexandrina's upcoming anthology Crossing the River, on sacred journeys. It's entitled "I shall set free my hair and wear a fawn skin", and will be published under the name Rebecca Lynn Scott. I hope some of you will pick it up, and let me know what you think. I'll be sure to post when it's actually available for sale. I really must remember that taking even a few days off from spinning on the charkha badly affects how well I do. I've had some very bad sleep cycle problems lately, so I've been skipping it during morning rituals. I was getting quite good, getting a lot done, wasting less, and even starting to be able to do the magic trick of the long draw, evening out slubs just by gently pulling. And then I took four or five days off, and today was awful. Ah, well, it's the nature of the beast, and all I can do is pick it up again and keep going. Like any practice, like during a session of meditation itself. My brother is now a yoga instructor for Broga (yes, that's yoga for bros, or at least men). I've taken a couple of yoga before, and it's one of the few forms of exercise I really enjoy, that really makes my body feel the way fitness people always tell me exercise will make me feel. (The only other that that do that for me are swimming and horseback riding.) The last time, I started to take Yoga for Round Bodies at the Whole Life Yoga Center. Unfortunately, I had some physical problems that prevented me from finishing the class. But it was good. Really good. Now my brother is going to send me some videos that he likes that includes instructors of various body types, including a fat woman, and which stresses doing only what your body can do, and not pushing too hard. Taking up a yoga practice again sounds wonderful. The problem with it is cultural appropriation. Yoga is an Indian practice, spiritual as well as physical, and exists within a specific cultural context. White Westerners who wish to practice it usually either selectively adopt a whole slew of Indian cultural bits, like wearing saris and bindis, eating Indian food extensively, saying "Namaste" in inappropriate contexts, all kinds of things. But they take them out of their original context, and they do it from a position of privilege, never having to experience the discrimination against Indian people that exists in the Western world, and not having to deal with the continued weight of more than a hundred years of colonialism and oppression against them. The other thing we do is utterly divorce yoga from its original context, treating it as a purely physical practice, or perhaps adding a bit of meditation or chakra work, never learning anything about the original context or practices at all. Frankly, I'm not sure what to do so as to minimize cultural appropriation in my practice. I'm mostly interested in the physical aspects, as I have my own spiritual and magical practices, and just want a way to move my body and train my muscles that feels good and increases my consciousness of this part of me. I dunno. It's a question I'll have to study and consider carefully. I want to understand what it is as best I can as an outsider, even as I don't want to adopts all parts of it. I'm reading Decolonizing Yoga (which has videos on yoga for fat people) and South Asian American Perspectives on Yoga in America, and some other things. We shall see. Labyrinths continue to turn up here and there, and I continue to walk mine as part of my morning rituals. Come the new moon, when I will have been doing it for a full lunar cycle, I'll start to do some deeper work. Today I lit the last candle of Forty Days of Ritual for Reproductive Justice. I feel pretty good about it. Every bit of energy and work helps in these things....