I should write more often, but I haven't been able to. This is literally six posts in one, and so I have set them all off with stars, as I've been doing for a while. I wrote these in order, in one big set, with a daycare conference and a yoga practice in the middle. There is a valid emotional "wave" to follow if you read all six in order, but this is LOOOOOONNNNNGGGG if you do it that way. Feel free to pick and choose.
For a while now, I've had this idea of writing an "ashtanga history" in the state, which I billed as a family tree. Who taught whom, who took said teaching where and how? I think that as the scene here increases, this is a key document.
But many of the teachers who I consider to have started the thing are apparently too busy (I'd hope) or too disinclined. I sent out a pack of enthusiastic emails about this document a while ago and have one reply and no history. Perhaps everyone's busy. Or (and I suspect this more and more the longer I get silence) perhaps there isn't a notion of "family tree" beyond what you might call "my generation" of teachers.
I know that the seeds of ashtanga vinyasa in Indianapolis and Bloomington (and those are the two major sites) are Richard Freeman and David Swenson. But the creation in Indy of a bunch of Mysore-style practitioners is, I strongly believe, my doing. This is not an ego claim, it's how I am pretty sure the history works.
By 2006 I was adding in more poses to led ashtanga classes that were "as much Primary as we can do in 90 minutes." Winter 2006, I got Primary series together, Garbha Pindasana and all. When I knew teacher training was coming in April/May 2007, I got obsessed about learning everyone's sequences, so I scanned the Rocket rooms with their webcam (they used to cam all their classes publicly) and was researching everything I could about Mysore-style teachers in the Bay area.
And in classes every time I went (to ashtanga classes anyway) I'd do the whole sequence. As I've said here a bunch of times, even in my first Mysore-style room, I did all of Primary series from day 1.
Then in July 2007 when I started teaching in town, I wanted repetition-til-mastery, because that's how I'd done it and that was my understanding of How One Does It. It took, really, until 2010 for my "do full sequence" to begin catching on in town. But with that turn (when other students began to do fuller sequences because they could) we "took Mysore-style down from the shelf," we stopped talking about it as mastery and started talking about it as method itself, which it is.
And then classes in town began having people moving at different rates and doing their own sequence until they forgot it, so the "led" portion of the class would catch up to people as it went. But with time, large portions of classes began to do Mysore-style within the led context.
So as far as I have seen the history, this idea that you can memorize and "take practice" without the led class (or better WITHIN the led class) is my doing. Unintentionally at first; I never expected it to catch on, didn't care if it did. But that's method, and as people began to ask about it, I began to answer them about it, never noticing that that was itself a way of teaching.
This is yet another difference between ashtanga vinyasa and "vinyasa" or "flow" or the many many variations that practice now calls itself.
In ashtanga vinyasa, you move and you do, according to the sequence. Perhaps you "modify down" in a posture (i.e., Tittibhasana with bent legs, or a wrap around for Marichyasana C or D) or you "modify up" in a transition (i.e., handstands), but you do not have "levels one through four" in a pose, the way that flow classes will offer side angle OR bound side angle OR bird of paradise OR a foot-grab in side plank.
And yet both practices can say, "whatever you're capable of" (although with students who don't know what they're capable of, that's sort of useless instruction).
I hear, all the time, about vinyasa classes, that the TEACHER gets the credit for the great class. "Thanks, Name-of-Teacher, for a great vinyasa class tonight." This is fine, but the ashtangis ideally will relate TO THE PRACTICE ITSELF. Yes, there is an important matter of "having a teacher" and parampara (communication of method) BUT in comparison to vinyasa yoga and flow yoga, the ashtangis real relationship is TO PRACTICE.
So perhaps our senior teachers in the state are, themselves, names who teach the ashtanga. Perhaps this idea that we are all a living, breathing family tree is kind of alien. Not that they do not feel this, but maybe it's more like, "I'm just a person who teaches yoga here." Almost like a fear to claim any role in the communication of the method. And that fits with how intensely I have taken up communicator of method here. I feel like saying, "YOU PEOPLE HELPED ME GET INTO THIS, now HELP ME WRITE THIS HISTORY, DAMMIT." But perhaps that is much, MUCH more about me, than about the history of ashtanga vinyasa in Indiana. Perhaps I overreached.
I am chronically annoyed with sunny yoga nuggets. We all know this. Recently on my Facebook feed, I saw "the darkness in you is so that you can find the light," which is lovely and affirmative and all of that, but it's also completely pointless in terms of the experience which it euphemizes so neatly.
For example, my seventh series practice has involved some serious ego reduction, ego clarification, radical improvement of my ability to comprehend and feel the workings of the ego. Seventh series has definitively been a step toward discriminative knowledge. And yet if you read most of what I posted here in 2009, you will see some extreme agony as that process happened (and don't read anything I put up in 2009, none of it is good for you, OK?).
I suppose I am saying that I believe that the progress toward discriminative knowledge (and I use that term because calling the goal "enlightenment" is both beyond me currently and paradoxical, since the final step toward "attaining" enlightenment is, according at least to Maehle's Sutras, to surrender all desire to attain it, right?) should be guru-student or experiential only or oral tradition or something. Basically I'm wishing that the whole process would be done experientially so that "wisdom" is always and ever embodied, and requires people (even in a Facebook status update) to LIVE IT rather than just posting some affirmative happiness.
Do I sometimes get a bit of insight from affirmative happiness nuggets online? Sure, so it's not a ban I want. I'm just so annoyed by the way in which "yoga people" can be clearly identified as such by the way they are always posting and saying quick little affirmations. It's like Christians who are constantly "thanking God" for everything from short lines at lunch to the fact that they weren't in the car accident they witnessed. THAT's what you use your faith and your practice for? THAT'S IT?
I'm glad that the yoga helps people get through things, but these things, these goals, seem at the same time so petty, so simple and shallow. "I am handling my financial business with greater inner peace because of the yoga." Yeah, ok. On one hand, yes, small daily matters are where all the work is. But on the other hand, how do we trust the writer of that? "Anger reduction." In Austin, Swenson said to someone who complained of anger after practice, that they should compare their anger NOW to their anger THEN, perhaps they're becoming LESS angry by means of expressing it! It's this idea that if you do a triangle pose, somehow you get better contentment. It's the shallowness of thinking that any amount of any kind of yoga, will make your life better, and maybe it DOES, man, but really? CONTINUOUS practice for a LONG TIME. And I guess that people who REALLY obtain wisdom from that long duration practice wouldn't talk about it. As the Zensters say: open mouth, first mistake.
It's a desire for community. In September the Indiana yoga scene (widest definition) is holding a two day conference so everyone can sample the many wonderful things that the scene (state-wide) has on offer. It's modeled a bit on a Yoga Journal conference, with classes and kirtan and a bit of everything, but I can NOT help but feel that it's this same "happy yoga nugget" shallowness in some part, and yes, I know that's overtly cynical of me (suprise). It feels to me like a "teacher market" where you come in and decide, oh I like that, I'll buy a membership. As if "loving what you do" can be bought and sold by means not just of people enjoying the yoga and communicating it, but also by means of being AROUND people who talk the talk. Most cynically, like a sort of Landmark training without the emotional beatings and nutritional deprivation. This classic of Bad Advaita: "Be around love and you will become love" or some stupid nugget to that effect.
I do WORK in my yoga, physically, emotionally, cognitively. I have PAIN in my yoga, real emotional pain, a lot of it sometimes. I LOSE parts of myself in my yoga, and it isn't often (almost never) happy "release and surrender." The ACTUALITY of my yoga is not sunshine and love and bliss. And these facts are WHY I KEEP PRACTICING.
Where is the conference for ME? Where is the yoga honesty FOR ME?
"But that wouldn't sell people on the yoga." I don't GIVE A FUCK. Is it HONEST? For fuck's sake. Getting into the yoga to "become love" is like getting a cat so you can stop feeling the pain of your breakup. And you KNOW you'll just use the cat (at BEST) as a confidant to talk out your "new self" and then you'll make the same fucking mistakes again and wonder why "men/women" are so fucked up.
Be quiet and feel something.
I see that Kino has cancelled roughly the first half of her week-long workshop in Chicago at the end of this month. Family emergency. That sucks. I would not wish family emergency on anyone, ever.
Today is the one-year anniversary of my dad's passing. About two hours from now will be the precise minute (it's a few minutes past 11 am as I type this).
I was feeling well-powerless to either get out to Massachusetts or to find him by phone, as the complicated "are you family? Can you prove it?" bureaucracy almost kept me from any contact with him for the last weeks. A family trip to visit in May turned into a funeral attendance morning. All of the arrangements were run in an almost choreographed way by the funeral home guys, who were all family friends anyway. All of my cousins and family seemed stunned into a sort of weird shallow paralysis. Conversation (as ever at these events) was all story-telling and amusements, but with a notable lack of depth, a clear sort of "hat over heart" coverup, nerves not to touch, maybe not ever even to touch, oneself.
Recently my mom, who remains by herself in the house, has been confusing dreams with reality (her memory has been getting progressively loose since her 50s, and she's in her mid-70s now). A couple weeks ago she called to say that a long-term family friend had asked her to marry him, and this was shockingly weird news. But also great news for many reasons: that guy's well-established in town, has job and money, knows the family really well, could ease the problematic emotional and financial mess that moving out of the house would be (will be), could provide stability as things get emotionally messy with the increasing memory problems.
So as weird as it was, my household was pretty excited that this might be true. And I started wondering if my dad, whose imperative was, at the end, to "take care of his wife," hadn't maybe ARRANGED this, right then before the transition, which maybe he had accepted at that moment, right at the door. A last line thrown from a sinking ship, a plan, a vision of the future and the present, blinders lifted.
One moment of clear vision not buried in euphemisms and Catholic fear, a summary second of cosmic compassion, to take to whatever comes next.
But it was all just a confusion between dream and reality and there's no wedding and no saving grace from the sale of the house and the cutting of the emotional attachments to it and all of the financial confusion that will result from an estate sale of all of the weird knick-knacks mixed with authentic antiques in the house. She made it all up.
I had a practice so tight and sore that it folded me into a crying mess.
Return of the grey foggy unknown, unsure for ever about how or what or if he ever saw anything at the end besides fear, but I practiced that afternoon and I'll practice this afternoon and I'll send good wishes to virtually anyone that I know who ever has any kind of family emergency, ever.
The same perennial tightness obtains, in the outer hips, making lotuses, twists and backends difficult. I'd been thinking that these were "emotional" tightnesses which then "devolved" into annamaya kosha tightnesses (as if the deeper and more subtle koshas manifest as the more gross koshas, the same way that incarnation apparently works). So some days will be "emotional release" days, but other days will be "work into the tight musculature" days.
I had one of each: Tuesday was a release day, but Friday was a "get in there and stretch!" day.
But then in looking up manomaya kosha, I found it defined as "mental body," not emotional body. It's not food-to-energy-to-emotions, it's food-to-energy-to-mental.
So I had to re-check my ideas about how everything worked, and in doing that, I googled "manas buddhi ahamkara" and got a great link written by some random swami that I'd never heard of, which went right from koshas to the Upanishads, and in particular to the Mandukya Upanishad, with its "nineteen ways to apprehend the world," with prana and apana and sense organs and also sense "processes" (like excretion) and it said, further, that one perhaps needed ONLY to understand the Mandukya. So I ordered it from Amazon (I still love Amazon Prime) and while it has yet to arrive, it also comes with the "Karika" of Gaudapada, and I know Gaudapada from Swenson's chants which he gave us regarding Pranayama. Really all I know about Gaudapada is that he's a sage to be respected, but so be it, more information is more information.
So an "annamaya" question (why are my hips tight?) turned into the Mandukya Upanishad. I freaking LOVE that.
Samskaric business. A "Scorpio day" is what I recently referred to on Facebook (without any sense of definition whatsoever) as those days that happen now and again when I just can NOT get sexual activity off my mind, not unless I teach or bend or climb walls. Endorphins or communication can break the obsession, but trying to sit at a desk at work and write or grade or something? No amount of focus can break it.
Why Scorpio? Because the scorpion, astrologically, is the sign of what we politely call the reproductive organs...
(seriously: see how ridiculous that euphemism is? There is nothing FELT about those organs, or the various discourses regarding them, in the West, that is even remotely about reproduction; reproduction is all about biochemistry, about the FELT experience of growing new organs, growing life; in this, it is, in a fashion, CONSUMMATELY undiscursive in its sheer AFFECTIVE WEIGHT, which is probably why so damn much discourse is thrown at and over every part of it, eh? This includes the recent and stupid Time magazine cover about breastfeeding and nurture "scandal," which of course is just that pop culture rag re-popularizing a nurture-style debate that's been going on for at least a couple decades....rant over?)
...and also because I've always (since adolescence) been attracted to Scorpios (November birthdays, largely) and it has ALWAYS been a dramatic failure, like the emotional equivalent of the Hindenburg. Fatal allure; like the world's most beautiful stupidity.
So a "Scorpio Day" (Monday is the day I'm thinking about here, this week anyway) is a day when my samskaric business can't give up its fixation on having this thing, the actual having of which changes nothing, least of all the frustration that claims to be answerable (but never is) through experience. Just like getting involved with a Scorpio: it all looks great and it's all failure and flameouts.
Scorpio days make my hips tight, because I'm channelling all of this obsessive frustration and then trying to resist or indulge it and nothing changes the frustration, and it becomes a way of seeing the world, even of experiencing food. Memory as reality, wishful thinking of the impossible as the only possible. It's insanity, and it makes me feel like I should be locked up. Endorphins or extroversion are the only answers, and Scorpio days have a nasty habit of happening when conditions demand that I spend the day either by myself or just with the child (not that the child doesn't count as company, but I can't "sink" into play with him enough to unfocus and break the Scorpio spell, and the samskaric business pulls POWERFULLY from my relationship frustration to dominate me on those days, also).
These kind of days make me believe, more and more, that sexual desire is just a curse. It has elements of sharing and intimacy and joy in it, sure, but mostly, it's a curse. It's so unbearably complicated to get that experience in the West that I think that for myself and perhaps many other people, trying to get that "fix" of self-realization that the West promises from sexual experience, comes down to a permanent marker of disenchantment, but there is POWERFUL obfuscation about why or how this is disenchanting, and we are constantly invited to re-enchant ourselves (hello mass media culture).
And that's Foucault on sexuality in a nutshell: he says we're compelled to talk and think about it and to sort of put it on a pedestal for our subjectivities, as if it is THE SECRET, that thing which unlocks our innermost selves, AND YET at the same time it's very everyday and not at all sacred, although we TREAT IT discursively as though it's a sacred host or something. We are of two minds and two practices, and we refuse to see the contradictions, much less to ACTUALLY process them.
Recently J said that she doesn't "need" it. As is my habit, I immediately re-read her comment and translated it into what I think she "really" means. I think she means that, to the degree that sexual experience provides intimacy, she is currently full up on intimacy with her relationship with the child. That's totally fine, and makes sense, but her sentence ("I don't need it") is bullshit. I mean, seriously, nobody NEEDS it, it's not like sex is vitamin C and you get scurvy without it (although people do treat it like a life and death situation, myself included, when they have to go without).
So my new idea (which I haven't pitched yet) is that sex is like an olive, or a butterfly. Nobody NEEDS to eat an olive, or see a butterfly, and yet, these things DO HAPPEN IN THE WORLD. Olives are tasty. Every now and then, you have one. Butterflies are pretty and in springtime, they're downright common. But you don't like NEED to see them or else bad stuff happens. They're just pretty and you're like, "Hey, a butterfly, cool," and then you go on with your life.
But this is all psychobabble, because really, the core mechanism hasn't changed at all: she doesn't have the energy to spare for it, because she's overworked and over-devoted to parenting and can't spare any energy to even notice when she's sick. There's no way that she's going to throw me a few minutes of joy with all of that energetic commitment going on, so there's no puzzle there. Duh.
WHAT, exactly, is relaxation?
I just had a yoga practice out by the art school, in the big park with all the nicely shadowy trees. It was horribly difficult with intense body-shaking emotional release which sucked, but which feels better now that some of those episodes are over. Like spontaneously needing to cry when you can't readily let yourself do that. Emotional release in my body is like barfing, and in fact I barf MUCH more easily than I emote sadness. Oh well. Practice makes perfect?
So what is relaxation? Is it lying there in the grass? Is it reading on the couch? Is it really in gross external behavior at all, or is it a subtle state of mind? Can you relax, for example, on a climbing wall? Can you relax while running? Does relaxation have to mean physical EASE or not? Is sex relaxing? Is getting drunk relaxing? WHAT IS IT?
As I've said, I love to just lie down on the floor and chill. But this is only in part about energy and stress seeping out of my sacrum into the floor. It's also a public display of "chilling" which means that my desire to chill can take over the space. Something about this is important to what it means to me, to relax. Taking over a space that is often devoted to work or to passage or to something that isn't relaxation. If I try to relax in bed, I fall asleep before I can do it (well, there is a degree of relaxation that comes with moving into sleep, but I can't, for example, sustain a meditation in bed, I just can't do it).
In the early days of my relationship with J, I had two "teams" if you will: the schoolwork and dissertation (the "bad guys" of stress) and then the climbing, the yoga and all the sex (the "good guys" of relaxation). I notice that I STILL have those categories, but now I consider them part of samskaric business. This is why I was drinking so much in March, to get the "relaxation" in the midst of all those committee meetings and all of that grading. But it didn't work, it just made me drunk a lot. One shouldn't take from this that it was all operation in the "gross" body versus the "subtle" mind or something like that. It's not a battle of gross versus subtle, because sometimes I can sip booze and really get that "on the floor" chill. But in March, I could not. That mode didn't work to get to that goal.
And nowadays, the old-days teams are totally complicated: when I teach a yoga class or a three-hour summer session of my beloved "Dada to Abstract Expressionism" course, I get a nice "in the zone" chilled out feeling. But when I'm trapped in a Scorpio day, any kind of sexual release just falls right back into stress, because a Scorpio day IS stress.
This showed me yet something else about samskaric business: it's not just "I can't have something," it is also all about having that thing at all, it is totally and completely about all relations of myself to that thing, and all ways in which I used to relate to, use, think about, conceive, and believe about that thing. All aspects.
Is lying on the ground with a still-twingy psoas muscle (because that's where most of the emotional release is), relaxation? Sort of. I don't think that emotional catharsis through movement is relaxation in any substantial way. It's relieving, but that's not relaxation. There are big questions about my RELATIONSHIP to the release, to be negotiated, and that's often where that physical/energetic sensation gets caught up in a fishing-line tangle. Physical or energetic release hit the MANOMAYA (mental) kosha and there are different puzzles.
How do you RELAX manomaya kosha?
This is also where orgasm stops being simple "happy relaxation." It's in the conceptualizing. Sure, annamaya kosha experiences a release, a catharsis, and so does pranamaya kosha, but MANOMAYA kosha, it conceptualizes those experiences: THIS is relaxation and THAT is not. This is why teaching becomes very interesting not as a physical task (although it is that; I've broken a sweat just teaching in an academic classroom before) or an energetic task (although it is that; that's what this talk about affect and emotions is all about), but as an intellectual task. What I aim for in part, with my classroom, is for the whole group to hit a Flow State.
Everyone in the zone.
I just discovered something in writing those two paragraphs out--this is one of my favorite parts of writing. Right: the orgasmic energy release DOESN'T DETONATE manomaya kosha, doesn't level it out the way it does pranamaya or annamaya kosha. Sure, I can't think for a few seconds or maybe most of a minute (it varies), but then reality comes back, and it comes back first (because I can't tap the innermost two koshas yet, so they're invisible/untouchable to me, right now anyway) in the Manomaya. This is also where the Samskaric Business comes back first, reasserts the whole incarnation, doesn't let me flow out into endless space but reasserts the tower of the ego, the security, the world seen from the same old view.
And in this way, I leave my Reichian (Wilhelm Reich, that is) tendencies for maybe my Deleuzian/Spinozan tendencies, which are really more about manomaya kosha in a way.
My prior long rambling post was written under the influence of needing to compose conference paper proposals for two different conferences, AND to manage all of my own panel papers and identities for the conference panel I am running in Detroit in October. So I was loaded on academic ideas and just throwing them hither and yon in a big monkey-mind soup. An unsatisfactory post, but accurate to my mental state when I wrote it, which is always something primary in my mind when I write: capture MYSELF in words, like writing-as-photography.
Quickly (hahahahaha, it always amuses me when I think I write that sincerely):
Reich said, among other things, that orgasmic energy was basically THE POWER behind human effort. You can make fascism out of guiding it through certain channels, and you can make world peace (perhaps) by guiding it through other channels. The long detour on "flow" taken by Theweleit in "Male Fantasies" is of a similar kind of thinking.
I was just reading Deleuze's book on Spinoza, two nights ago: "Spinoza: Practical Philosophy." It argues that the moral terms "good and evil" are more accurately ethical terms, "good and bad." So nothing is evil (apparently Spinoza ACTUALLY thought a world in which evil was impossible, the moral term anyway, the moral entity, instead substituting it with "bad," because certain things ARE bad for us--what a rad idea!!). So one has full choice, not and never a submission to a moral imperative. But this isn't amoral relativism (well, to a moralist it is), because ethical choices, which must be made with a body so that we can "know what a body is capable of," have results. One learns from those results and thence makes further ethical choices.
An ethics of bodymind education, using the world (and the bodymind is part of that world, pure immanence, everything existing in the world and nowhere else) as a sort of laboratory for ethical knowledge and perfection of "affect," which is acting and being acted upon.
Sounds to me, quite a bit like asana practice.
That which can be "added to us," which is coherent with us, according to Deleuze/Spinoza, makes happiness. That which is "incoherent" with us, reduces us, makes sadness. One tends toward happiness, which is an increase in the power to act, which means more to comprehend. This is knowledge.
Is that not, for one, EXACTLY what a book like "The Rock Warrior's Way" has to say? And is that not also Castaneda? And is that additionally, not far from how the Sutras talk about discriminative knowledge? One increases one's power, not over others, but personal power, discriminative power, one's LITERAL knowledge, or as Freeman put it, "this body is the piece of the cosmos you have, to understand everything."
Tangentially, Spinoza apparently said, regarding a question about "evil people," that SHOULD IT BE POSSIBLE that someone prefers suicide over his own living room, then that person, in the name of happiness, has an OBLIGATION to commit suicide (should such a "perverse human nature" exist, is Spinoza's language). There are tricky questions there about social power, biochemistry, medicine and such, but Spinoza's ethics are those of joy, and self-knowledge, acquiring ever-greater power to act (which to my mind narrows the choices of action rather than broadening them), are the results for which he argues.
Really, Spinoza will not admit evil. I suppose that we would have to believe that "evil people" are then made by our culture, and that's not hard to see: we are soaked in stupidity, passivity, every sort of reduction of our own power. I'm not in the least afraid or reluctant to smack Western culture in the face.
Increasing power to act reduces anxiety, creates confidence, relaxes confusion. Sets one free, really. That's always been my experience. As I become more certain of my own ability to act and the results which I wish to obtain, I also become more aware of the possibility of gaining them before I even act. This feels like union, like wisdom. I can surrender things that I "want" because I don't really "want" them; I'm looking at YOU, samskaric business. As I become more "powerful" in Spinozistic terms, I become less fascistic, less needful of a sexy acid cult of bodies. More willing and able to give and to be compassionate. Desire becomes something of a curse, the idea that one is incomplete without....
Increasing personal power feels like meditation. It feels like contentment, but not in that American "New Year's" way, where we WISH we were content, or we are content until the next breeze blows over our house of cards. Increasing personal power to act feels like a big room in which I sit. My own ability to act sort of "cordons off" desire, chills it out. "I do not need to need."
But I still like olives ;-D