Saturday, October 5, 2013

riding the b train, applying a hadith to yoga practice

Me and my fucking writer's block.  I'd been working on the blog below for weeks-- chipping away at it, walking away from it, coming back to it, etc.  Then earlier this week senior teacher Guy Donahaye came out with a most insightful blog rendering much of what I was writing moot.  Here's a link:

For those unwilling to read the whole thing, this quotation from the blog is a pretty good encapsulation:  

"While the hatha yogins pursue ecstasy as the medium of their sadhana, the South Indian tradition which flourished with Krishnamacharya, was focused on an internally focused path towards stilling the mind. Asana in this context is viewed as therapy - preparation for sitting and the internal practices."

So the practice outlined in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika is not necessarily the same as the practice taught in the Pattabhi Jois/Krishnamacharya lineage and as you read below, you will see that this revelation was something of a relief to me.  Now without further ado, and with assurances on my honor that any redundancies between Mr. Donahaye's blog and mine were independent and coincidental, the blog I had been working on:

In an effort to ramp up my practice of svadhyaya (the niyama of self-study or study of scriptures) I recently dusted off my copy of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (hereafter referred to as the HYP) and have been reading through it again.  The Bihar publications edition, translated with commentary by Swami Muktibodhananda Saraswati is truly fascinating.  Some have called it dry, but my experience is that it reveals more with each reading.  This time around I've been inspired to tackle one particular aspect of yoga practice head-on.

Now, some of the practices described in the HYP range from outlandish to outright nasty.  While I try not to say never, I do not anticipate ever doing any of the following: smearing myself with burnt cow shit, drinking my own pee, slicing the membrane at the bottom of my tongue, drinking salt water until I vomit, swallowing yards of cloth and then pulling it back out of my mouth, pumping my lower GI tract full of air and farting it all out, prolapsing my rectum and washing it by hand, and perhaps strangest of all, inserting a catheter into my urethra and drawing liquid mercury all the way into my bladder by pumping and contracting my urogenital muscles.  I know, I know.  I'm a pussy.  Where's my dedication?  In all seriousness, though, and to be fair to the author Swatmarama, none of these practices were meant to be done daily.  And at least as far as the sucking mercury up into your bladder thing, the commentary posits that Swatmarama didn't mean the actual deadly poison mercury and that he was being allegorical somehow.

No, it is the slokas concerning brahmacharya which have piqued my curiosity.  I've decided to take another stab at it.  For a brief review, brahmacharya is one of the five yamas, or ethical precepts governing a yoga practitioner's dealing with the world outside of himself.  It means that one does not waste his energy, specifically his sexual energy.  In short and as I understand it, the yogic view of sex is similar to the Roman Catholic view:  one may, or one ought to, actually, have sex with one's spouse for purposes of procreation in accordance with the lunar cycle.  Otherwise, all bets are off.  Keep it to yourself, keep it inside.  For the renunciate practitioner this means the grim prospect of never having an orgasm.  For the householding practitioner, it means no more "self-time," or however you wish to euphemize it.

As it turns out, shocking as this may be, self-time is a pretty ingrained habit for me.  Breaking it has followed a pattern similar to breaking any habit.  The first few days aren't so hard, because you've made a resolution and your will is strong.  After a few weeks, though, the samskara reasserts itself.  It's noon, you've come home from a long morning of teaching and practicing, the dog is walked, same old alarmist shit on the news....  Some temptation is there, as Jayashree or Narasimhan might say.  At the risk of revealing too much, I'll only say so far, so good in regards to the temptation piece, and that there have been vast improvements in other areas that were good already.

Now some of my more skeptical readers may be thinking "Oy gevalt ist mir.  Why deprive yourself of this thing that pretty much all humans, even most mammals, do?  It isn't enough all the sacrifices you make already?  Six days a week, going to bed at 830, schlepping to India, not eating your mother-in-law's delicious roast pork on Noche Buena, etc. etc.?"  Perhaps.  But this is it-- a great many things go into practicing yoga, and not everybody can do all of them.  It's ok.  We all do the best we can, and we wade deeper into the stream at a pace appropriate to each of us as individuals.  There is a hadith from Al-Bhukari that I always loved which goes

Allah says, 'I am as my servant expects Me to be, and I am with him when he remembers me. If he thinks of Me, I think of him. If he mentions Me in company, I mention him in an even better company. When he comes closer to Me by a handspan, I come closer to him an arm's length. If he draws closer to Me by an arm's length, I draw closer by a distance of two outstretched arms nearer to him. If my servant comes to Me walking, I go to him running.

Through the course of my practice of yoga, I have experienced this pretty much exactly.  Each notch up I've taken, each sacrifice I've made, has yielded great dividends in my overall happiness.