Yoga of Action

Monday, September 27, 2010

Since moving to a new city and struggling to find a job for the last couple months, I think I've been acting a little crabby. Not having a job and running low on money is admittedly stressful. But not an excuse. For anything really.
This morning as I was showering and thinking about my behavior, I realized that the real trouble behind my crankiness is that I haven't been acting yogically (technical term) despite my stress.
It's easy for those of us "on a path" to be a bit high and mighty about our way of life. We can feel like we've figured it out, like we have a goal in mind and we're working toward it. I can say to myself: despite picking on members of my household all month and whining about my inability to do anything because of my financial situation, I still practiced asana and meditated every day.
What a joke!
What good does it do me to continually improve my trikonasana if I'm being a jerk all day long? And what good does it do me to consider myself a yogi if I'm not continually putting my work into action?
The yoga of action or Karma yoga is one of two yogic paths exemplified in the Bhagavad Gita. While my situation is vastly different from that of Arjuna, one of two main characters, who is being asked to fight against his friends and family in war, the principle is the same--you have to act, to put your skills acquired through practice into action. Always. Lord Krishna says to Arjuna:

This is philosophy's wisdom;
now hear the wisdom of yoga.
Armed with this understanding,
you will shatter your karmic bonds.

On this path no effort is wasted,
no gain is ever reversed;
even a little of this practice
will shelter you from great sorrow. (2.39-2.40)

But then, perhaps more importantly, Krishna goes on to say:

Action is far inferior 
to the yoga of insight, Arjuna.
Pitiful are those who, acting,
are attached to their action's fruits.

The wise man lets go of all
results, whether good or bad,
and is focused on the action alone.
Yoga is skill in actions.  (2.49-2.50)

The point? In my own interpretation, the point is that if you act rightly and justly (yogically) at all times, you will not need to be attached to the outcome. You will know that you did your part and all that comes next is what it is. 
So continue your daily asana practice, continue to meditate, continue to go to class and chant Om, but keep in mind that yoga is more than that. Yoga in action is kind, humble, calm and just. It is doing what you know to be right, even when everything else feels wrong.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Given our humanness, we are prone to making judgments on things. Well, everything actually.

Good vs. bad, hot vs. cold, right vs. wrong, etc.

These judgment calls are almost always based on past experience--our past actions/feelings/understandings are naturally going to shape the way we view the world today, and thus, the way we feel about everything.

But these dichotomies of right and wrong are made up in the mind. Things are not one way or another, they just are. And no matter how you view anything, there is always going to be someone who views it exactly the opposite as you. For example, Nebraska summers--brutally hot, right? so easy to complain about because of the discomfort they cause. However, talk to a Nebraska farmer and he/she will tell you the necessity of the heat to grow corn. For them, the heat is a good thing.

Through a yoga practice, we can start to cultivate the awareness of things just simply as they are. Try spending an hour without judging anything. It's nearly impossible. And the nature of our labeling is often a misunderstanding of the true essence of that thing. In the 1978 translation by Sri Swami Satchinananda, Verse 1.8 of the Yoga Sutras states

Misconception occurs when knowledge of something is not based upon its true form.

How do we start to change? Part of the practice of fully understanding something is often a matter of a shift in perspective--a regularly occurring theme of this blog! For instance, moderate suffering can be a reminder of the things we have to be grateful for. Another example, if a new teacher shows up to teach your yoga class you may be dismayed because of your attachment to your teacher, or you could consider that you may learn a new pose or hear something cued in a way that resonates with you.
In other words, get the full story. And try to keep in mind that no matter how you label anything, there is always another way. And that way isn't necessarily wrong. It just is.

Fear of Yoga

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

It is fairly common to run up against students who are afraid of the big Y yoga. That is, the yoga which encompasses several tools designed to advance toward Self-Realization. For example: chanting (Mantra yoga), meditation (Laya yoga) or praying (Bhakti yoga) can and should be part of a well-rounded yoga practice. But this freaks a lot of students out. To them, chanting Om is something New-Age or against their religion.
The practice of yoga is an ancient science. The idea is to clear away all the muck and grime that we accumulate by being humans and get acquainted with our true nature. The Indian yogis, those who obtained enlightenment, did so through devotion to god. And to that matter, one doesn't even have to believe in god to be on the yoga path! There's a path for athiests (Jnana yoga) which focuses on knowledge and intellectuality.
The Hatha path, which is the practice of asana as done in a yoga class, is considered the most difficult and forceful of all of the options. I am currently on page 147 of "Autobiography of a Yogi" by Paramahansa Yogananda and he has yet to do a single yoga pose. His path to the Self was one of meditation and devotion to god.
So the next time your yoga teacher invites you to chant Om with the class, consider it! You can use it as an opportunity to ponder why you are in a yoga class at all. If you were simply interested in working out, wouldn't you just go to the gym and run on the treadmill? In my opinion, there is a reason that we're drawn to the practice of yoga and it is part of our path to figure it out.
And if you experience fear as a result, try to open your heart to the antidote to fear, which is love.

Sirsasana I & II

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sirsasana I & II from Gabrielle Hopp on Vimeo.

Yay! I got a video up and running!
Logan says I'm talking like a Game-show Host, but I'm posting it anyway!
This is a 25 minute sequence up to headstand with my sister Shannon assisting.
Hope you enjoy!


Monday, September 6, 2010

Yoga is not about poses. It is not about breathing.
Yoga is about consciousness.
I read this in the Yoga Journal about a month ago and it has really stuck with me.

The Raja path of yoga or "King's Yoga" outlines eight steps toward Self-realization, the fourth of which is asana.
Of course, most people who have delved into the philosophical aspects of yoga realize that the asana portion of the 8-Limbed Path or the "practice of poses" is a mere eighth of the work to be done on the way to enlightenment. And depending on who you talk to, the poses were designed mainly to prepare the body for long periods of meditation, or to give 13-year-old boys a way to release some energy while studying to become yogis.

Unfortunately, for many modern Westerners, it's easy to get caught up in the physical practice--a lot of people think that becoming flexible is the goal of yoga. Now to be clear, I don't think there is anything wrong with asana practice or with using it as the stepping-stone toward a more well-rounded practice. It is a fairly accessible format for the modern-day yogi and has allowed me to begin inching my way along the 8-limbed-path.

In fact, there are ways to use the asana practice in order to advance oneself toward expanded consciousness. The practice on the mat is the first place a lot of us begin to feel aware for the first time. It can be a huge wake-up call for a lot of people. Just gaining body awareness, something many modern people lack, can be a necessary step. After the body awareness comes the breath awareness, which can initially enable you to feel more present in the moment.

This moment-to-moment presence, which can take years to cultivate, is the main goal of your work on the mat--not to put your leg behind your head or to hold handstand for ten minutes. While the body does become toned and supple as a result of years of practice, it should be considered a by-product (albeit a nice one) of the fourth step (asana) on the way to the eighth step (samadhi or self-realization).
I can greatly appreciate the modern-day application of asana because it brought me to the path of yoga. But after awhile, we have to make that next step. We have to accept that the ancient science of yoga aims at a much bigger goal than standing on our head. And that goal, of course, is Self-Realization.

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