The Commandments of Yoga

Last night I started 17 people on a 6-week program of Beginner Yoga.  I love teaching beginners, even though they are very fragile and I have to be careful with them for a few weeks until they get over the heebie-jeebies.

I think long and hard about what I talk to them about, what I tell them.  I usually spend most of the first class just talking to them, but last night I dispensed with the talk and just led them through a basic little practice.

But next week, after I answer their questions, I am going to have to lay down the law.  Give them the rules, the stone tablets with the commandments on them.  And this is what I am going to tell them. More or less.

What I like about yoga, and what makes it unique among all the other exercise modalities I do, and have done, is that you have to begin from an introspective place.

This is one of the fundamental rules of yoga.

No matter what my practice may end up looking like; whether I end up a sweaty, panting heap on my mat, or all blissed out, it has to start out with a moment of reverential quiet and introspection.  You’re not allowed to do yoga by jumping onto the mat and just going for the burn or whatever.  You have to step on the mat and say a prayer.  Not necessarily to god, but to something.  Something bigger than your measly self and your messed up personality and your fat thighs.

So that is Rule #1: You must get quiet within yourself, and notice your breathing, and commit to yourself, and honor your presence on the mat. Only then can you proceed.

The next rule is non-harming. This rule is so that you will not strive, and crank your body to the point where you could hurt yourself. You are not allowed to hurt yourself. This is not to say that you will not feel discomfort in the practice at times, because you definitely will.  But the discomfort is not allowed to grow into sharp pain.  In yoga the “no pain, no gain” rule does NOT apply.

The next rule is that you are not allowed to compete with others.  You are allowed to be inspired by others, especially by their effort and concentration and dedication to their practice, but you are not allowed to envy your neighbor’s backbend. You are also not allowed to bemoan the fact that your body might never be able to do something because of its age or physical limitations.  If you find yourself doing this, you must remember this rule and immediately stop yourself because it’s totally against the rules.

So, if I’m not allowed to hurt myself, or compare myself, what AM I allowed to do?

Good question.

You must notice your breath and how it changes from moment to moment.  This is a very hard thing to do because you’re not used to focusing on your breath; you are used to taking your breath for granted.  So to focus on your breath during this activity is very weird and strange and even boring.

You are also supposed to listen inside, to your thoughts.  And this is uncomfortable too, because most of the time your thoughts involve comparing yourself to others, or they’re about wondering when this is going to be over because it’s hard and you hate hard, or they’re about the fact that you have nothing to make for dinner when you get home.

And then there will come that day when become so frustrated and fed up with the whole enterprise that you will ask yourself: What’s the point of this, anyway? You can tell yourself that you’re doing it because it is going to make you stronger and more flexible in your body.  And that is a fact.  Anyone who has practiced for even a short time will realize this very quickly. But strength and flexibility are not  the point.

Yoga is a big pain in the ass because unlike some other body practices you can’t “dissociate” while doing it.  (That’s probably should be the #1 rule, actually.)  So, unlike at the gym where I can jump on the treadmill and watch an episode of Cake Boss or Oprah while doing my intervals, I can’t do that with yoga.  I can’t multitask.  I can’t pretend I’m not doing what I’m doing.  If my mind wanders in yoga, the teacher, or my internal rule-keeper says, “notice your thoughts and bring your attention back to your breath and the sensations inside your body.”

And this will bring you face-to-face with your game: all the dodging and the pretending and the escaping. And this is the point of yoga.

The point of yoga is: Know Thyself.  Boy. That’s huge.  Most people do not realize how important and what a major turn for the better their lives would take if they could get a little more of THAT!

I think the major cause of most people’s problems is that they have no clue who they are.  No clue.  They don’t know what they want, or what they want to be when they grow up, or how to make themselves truly happy or how to steer themselves away from unhappiness.  And I’m talking about fully grown adults here.  Adults who are even attempting to raise children, when they themselves don’t have a clue who they really are inside.  All they do is run around like robots.  They do what they were taught to do by people who probably didn’t know who they were either, and so we get generation after generation of people propagating the same cluelessness.  (It’s quite the clusterfuck out there, people, if you haven’t noticed.)

So now people go to Zumba, or lift weights, or run on elliptical trainers, or train for marathons so that they can lose weight and look great in a bathing suit or fit into a smaller size or whatever.  And maybe they really do need to lose weight because their health is in jeopardy, so I’m not saying don’t run or lift weights or do Zumba.  Go! Do!  But know that if you are sticking earphones into your ears and running around lost in your fantasies, you are getting stronger legs, but you’re not gaining in self-knowledge. To do that you have to listen to yourself. All the miles on the elliptical won’t do you any good if you are eating a whole sleeve of Fig Newtons because you feel empty inside because you don’t know what you are doing with your life, or what makes you happy.

So, bottom line? The point of yoga?  Know Thyself.  To know who you are in relation to your conditioning.  To know what part of the programs you were taught at home, and at school, and at church fit you, and what parts turned out to be viruses that keep crashing your system.  To find ways to isolate those viruses so they don’t mess up your life anymore.  You may not be able to get rid of them, but you can certainly quarantine them, and most importantly for those people raising children, not pass those buggy programs onto the progeny.

So, to summarize.  Here are the commandments of yoga:

1. Get quiet. Set an intention. Say your prayer.

2. Do not hurt yourself.

3. Do not watch your neighbor or envy her backbend or compare yourself with her.

4. Stay present. Do not dissociate or zone out.

5. Listen inside. Listen to your thoughts.

6. Focus on your breath.

And this will bring you to self-knowledge IF you practice incessantly, with reverence, for a long time.

Still Not Here

A woman (who obviously does some yoga) with he...

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Today I am going to go out and DO something other than sit here and work on my book project so that tomorrow I will have something to blog about.

not me———->

Because this is getting ridiculous.  I pull up this page every day and stare at it and wonder: What the hell is happening to my life that I can’t think of one single thing to write?  Should I talk about…

How I made someone nauseous in my Yoga Workout class on Monday?

How a foot of snow fell from the sky? *yawn*

How I drank a beer after class last night?

That’s scintillating stuff, I know, but blog-worthy?

Today is the 24th, which means I only have 4 days left on this self-imposed torture project, unless I call February brutally short and give myself another week.  Which I think I will have to do.

I started off thinking this project would be my own personal instruction manual. Something like: The Mechanics of Me: Parts and Labor.

But then all I could do was write about yoga.

(Yeah, go figure, right?)

Turns out I have some truly ridiculous yoga stories to tell.  Like the day I came to on a floor at Kripalu, dressed in a full-body human being suit.


Not Being Able to Meditate Blows

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Just peeking my head up out of my hole to say, “Hi” to all 5 of you who check in regularly here and to say that things are going well in the world of book-writing, or compiling, or whatever-the-hell it is I am doing.

Yesterday I actually starting printing out pieces, and when you print something, like on paper, then it’s really REAL.


I don’t know.  Don’t ask me, I’m in a weird place.

Just this morning I wrote this whole riff on 750 words about meditation, except that I don’t like to call it “meditation” because that’s too holy, and what I do when I “meditate” isn’t holy at all.  Maybe it’s a “holy mess,” but there are no candles or statues involved, that’s for sure.  It’s more like being forced to watch a really bad movie; one you’ve seen over and over and it never gets any better, and the main character never learns, and it’s not even funny anymore. It’s just boring and crappy and inane.

And you know what the most hellacious thing about this “watching the Movie of Me” is?  It’s the only sure-fire way to self-knowledge.

And I can’t do it.  Not consistently, and not even for long streaks.

And that blows.

The Day after Groundhog Day

Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase

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I haven’t been blogging very much lately, and it’s not because I’m still chewing on my robbery, no.  I’m totally over that. All the people who wrote me checks, wrote me new ones (god, I love my people so much!) so I was able to make my rent, and life goes on.  The cops?  What can I say?  They’re doing their best.  Like I try to remind myself hourly: “Everybody’s doing the best they can with what they have.”  It’s doubtful I’ll ever see that money again, though.

My new project for February is that I am trying to write a book in 28 days.  The same book I’ve been trying to write for a year, maybe 2 years, maybe more, but which wasn’t getting written, so I have taken myself off the hook of having to do anything with this thing except FINISH IT.  That’s the only goal.  Finish it, send it off to some kind of self-publishing place that will bind it into a thing that looks like a book, and then I can call it DONE and move on. So, February is “Finish the Book” Month.

The other thing I am doing in the next 28 days is Yoganand’s Yoga Workout.  Every day. Sort of like P-90X, except I’m calling it Y-O-Y28X, which you can read as “Why, oh why, Yoganand???”  As in: “Why oh why would you develop such a sequence?? Or something like that.  It’s good though.  It’s going to make me STRONG.  Boo-yah strong.

Today I also completed Day 65 on 750 words.  I have not missed a day since I started on December 1st, though I did have a little moment of panic yesterday when we had an ice event here and the forecasters were saying people could lose power.  OMG, without power my streak on 750 words would be broken!  Noooo!!!  I kept getting up in the night, checking the clock to see if it was still lit.  I even toyed with the idea of setting the alarm for 1 AM, and if we still had power, of posting.  Just in case.  But I didn’t.  But I THOUGHT of it. That’s how nuts I get when I’m streaking.

Totally unrelated to any of this, I have to mention my new IPad. G got me one for my birthday last month and I am in love with it.  No, really.  I don’t think I have ever loved a piece of technology as much as I love this thing.  I used to love my Kindle, but this thing blows the Kindle out of the water.  Today I installed the Huffington Post app and just the thought of it, sitting there, waiting for some time to open up so I can go there and read, gives me chills.  How I manage to get anything done in my day, I don’t know, but the fact that I do should be duly noted and appreciated by all who depend on me. (Hear that, Boomer?)  If any of you reading this have any suggestions for must-have apps, I’m all ears!  So far I have Penultimate, Twitter, Tweetdeck, Pages, Friendly, The NY Times, USAToday, Photoshop Express, Epicurious, Kindle for IPad, AP Mobile, Netflix, Instapaper, The Daily, and Huff Post.

What else do I need?

Okay, off to play with Yoganand!  Boo-yah.