Wednesday, April 29, 2009


No practice today, which is very unusual.

I used to post to the blog whenever I practiced, because it was an event. But now not practicing merits a post. I guess you could say it's a non-event, or even an unevent.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Death Nourishes Life

In the rain forest, the black cadavers of the deceased feed the bodies of the green young, who compete with one another for food and light.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Still Water

Our sutra reflection assignment this month is in three parts. To answer the middle part first, I have to say that at the moment "persevering practice," or at least consistent practice (since I have no idea how long I'll persevere), is no trouble at all. I look forward eagerly to practicing every day, and enjoy it as much as anything else I might happen to do and more than most of what I do. Plus you can't argue with results, and the results of daily practice, which include dramatic and positive changes in health, appearance, and overall vitality, have been nothing short of amazing. So I don't have any trouble following a practice which is consistent, persistent, and dedicated.

As for the question of whether persevering practice or non-attachment could be the biggest help in my life, I don't know. But I suspect consistent and dedicated practice will help me more in the longest run.

If, as Sri Patanjali teaches, the reality of "the inner being establishes itself" only when the mind is completely focused, and if this total focus can only come once ordinary mental activity has ceased, then the experience of reality requires the cessation of thought, or "mental activities." Furthermore, Patanjali taught that this total focus that a person needs to achieve before he or she can experience unfiltered reality requires non-attachment, defined as "having no desire" for any thing, no desire to be any place, no desire to experience any particular outcome, because one's mind is stilled, has rendered itself capable of mirror-like reflection, and is at last aware of "the spiritual principle" (Sutra 1.16)*

In all seriousness, and not being facetious, I have to say that non-attachment sounds like a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. In fact, it sounds like a necessary place to visit, and frequently, for anyone who wants to enjoy even a minimal degree of mental peace and equilibrium. The problem with mental peace is it's not suitable for dealing with a world gone wrong. That requires attachment to outcomes, attachment to a vision of how things could be different, and a certain amount of righteous indignation. I don't want to be sitting blissed out in the U.S. when my mind becomes aware that a white phosphorus bomb fell on a group of little kids in Afghanistan and burned them to death. I want to feel emotions appropriate to that knowledge, and I need to be attached to certain outcomes to be able to mentally process this kind of knowledge appropriately.

Maybe an awareness of the spiritual principle could help me deal more effectively with the knowledge that it we don't do what's necessary to stop the processes causing the warming of the earth's atmosphere and oceans, the physical principles required to support human and animal life on earth will collapse. But I don't know enough to know how that could be.

It's a paradox, but my sincerest feeling on this topic is that non-attachment and passionate attachment are both necessary to a balanced life in the modern world, a world whose capacity for evil, destruction, and dysfunction, according to the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung, "puts everything that has ever agonized mankind in the deepest shade."

I don't mean to make light of Patanjali's very ancient and profound teaching, and in some ways I believe the truth of it is self-evident. A moving and active mind, like a disturbed body of water will never reflect the real world it exists in with anything approaching perfect accuracy; crystalline reflection requires absolute stillness, and absolute stillness requires cessation of desire. However, much of what Patanjali is talking about has to do with perfection -- perfect apprehension proceeding from the perfect stillness of the perfectly focused mind, and I don't know whether we're supposed to approach this concept as an unattainable ideal of perfection, or something we should aspire to.

I do know that a daily yoga practice makes me feel more emotionally positive and vital, but I don't know what part of the practice -- mental preparation with prayer, asana, savasana, pranayama, or the little bit of chanting I do at the end -- is responsible for that, or whether all of them together are responsible.

So I guess I have say, after all this long-winded digression, that of the two concepts dealt with in Sutra 1.12, non-attachment is more problematic to me than consistent practice.

All quoted paraphrases of material drawn from the sutras is from Bernard Bouanchaud's "The Essence of Yoga."

The quote from Jung is from "The Undiscovered Self," Bollingen Edition, p. 54.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Relentless Moss

I haven't had a chance to practice today so I made doubly sure to take a walk. The half-mile trail up to the village store via Ludlow Falls is perfect for me, considering my age, my condition, my growing egotism about being in shape, and as an opportunity to show off, if I ever find a lady to show off for.

I had the fleeting realization that maybe I should take my camera when I set out on this walk an hour or so ago. I neglected to follow up on that brain fart, but the great pictures I saw on the trail today aren't going anywhere, and I'll get them another day.

Mostly these unexposed shots will be of death and decay, and the rebirth and new growth that comes out of it. When trees or any other plants die in the rain forest, they begin to rot before they fall, and once they're toppled -- onto the ground, or into the creek, or piled up among the other corpses at the bottom of a ravine -- they're halfway to becoming dirt already. Seedlings take root on the dead bodies of these soggy, disintegrating cadavers, and the ubiquitous, relentless moss, putting its soft fuzz on every available decaying surface, breaks down the old, departed trees and hurries the process along by which they're turned back into dirt.

All of life follows the example of the trees in the Olympic type of rain forest, even our own. We come out of the earth and ultimately belong to the earth, for we're of this intelligent and beautiful earth. And the earth is partly composed of the dead bodies of those who came before us. Our lives are partly made of out and nourished by their former lives, and even their thoughts are a constituent of the compost which feeds and invigorates us.

I'll get some lovely pictures of these things tomorrow or the next day.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009


After getting agitated early in the morning, it was great to dissolve the mind into a full yoga practice and leave the noise and nonsense behind.

The source of this a.m. discomfort was the political right wing, in the person this time of Richard B. Cheney, a.k.a Vlad the Impaler, refusing to let go of their ridiculous and blasphemous contention that torture was "a success." I say "blasphemous" assuming that the foundation of this country involved at least some spiritual (but not religious) principles. But then, I suppose we should thank such people for providing a working definition of moral bankruptcy.

It took some concentration, but I managed to quell the noise in my brain about halfway through the movement (asana) part of the practice, then moved on to a 22-breath, tranquil and disciplined breathing practice (pranayama). That part now includes working to quiet the trembling and shaking of the right hand and arm due to Parkinson's, and rather than considering this a distraction, I've come to regard it as an integral part of the practice.

So with mind and body enhanced, I'm ready to finish getting ready to face the day, and to go on to make something of it. I plan to clean house, write a paper, and sort through a little bit more of the enormous cache of material my mother left behind when she died, determining a final dispensation for some little bit of it.


"Nearly Hit," oil on canvas, by Paul Klee

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Parkinson's Disease

In my case, the disorder is manifested mostly in the right arm and hand. The left arm and hand are a little bit involved occasionally, and sometimes my teeth chatter slightly. So it feels like it's originating around the sides of the neck and tops of the shoulders. But the true origin of it is in the brain, of course, with its insufficient production of dopamine.

I'm finding I can keep it mostly under control during pranayama if I really concentrate on relaxing that right shoulder and arm. Of course, that takes away some of the attention that under normal circumstances would be focused on the breath, but in my case the splitting of attention in this way is both right and proper. IMHO. I'll have to consult the authorities on this.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Updated Routine

In an attempt to deal with low back problems and kyphosis, I've made a few changes in the asana routine. Most of these postures still include staying for one breath longer during each repetition, up to four breaths.

1. Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
2. Warrior I (Virabhadrasana)
3. Trikonasana
4. Standing forward bend (Uttanasana/Padahastasana)
5. Downward dog from Table top (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
6. Bridge (Dvipada Pitham)
7. Heels-to-ceiling (Urdhva Prasrta Padasana)
8. Shoulder stand (Sarvangasana)
9. Cobra (Bhujangasana)
10. Boat (Navasana)
11. Knees-to-chest (Apanasana)
12. Seated forward bend (Pascimatanasana)
13. Seated spinal twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
14. Cakravakasana/Vajrasana

15. Savasana

16. Pranayama


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Patanjali and the Chants

Sometimes I think Patanjali's Yoga Sutras are the stairway to heaven. We have to do the hard work of climbing, but he provides the staircase.

Not much to report right now. I did my full, regular practice both yesterday and today. Morning, before breakfast, works best.

I've been studying quite a bit. I'm also trying to learn some chanting, from my "Chants of India" CD (Ravi Shankar and George Harrison) and a copy of the Taittiriya Upanishad, but I'm having a lot of trouble with the pronunciation of some of the words. There are sounds in Sanskrit we don't have in the European languages; they're both hard to reproduce and even harder to hear accurately.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Busy Busy Busy

No time for home practice today. I'm on my way to thrift store with a load of stuff (I never buy, only donate, and they're always glad to see me coming), then the grocery, then off to catch the boat for Seattle where I hope to observe one yoga class and participate in another. So if it all works out, I'll get a practice in.

The class I'm hoping to take is "Yoga for relaxation." Sounds great. I'll write up a full report right here.

it's cloudy/gloomy/drizzly here, and very cool. It's kind of beautiful in its own way, though. I guess it kind of grows on a person.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Big Head

Excellent asana practices both yesterday and today. Same sequence as that outlined below ("Gratitude").

The whole practice, including preparation, pranayama, and decompression takes about an hour.

I've become much more successful at keeping my mind focussed on my breathing during pranayama, what with counting by the sound of the clock, contracting stomach muscles from top to bottom, and all the other stuff there is to concentrate on. It's not exactly what you'd call empty mind, but today I noticed during the last part of pranayama that my head was starting to feel real big.


Friday, April 10, 2009


Forewent daily yoga today, after a fairly thorough adaptation workout in class last night. But I did hike up to the falls for a breath test, and passed it.

After some up and down terrain, there's a fairly steep climb up to the falls proper, involving two flights of stairs totaling about 60 steps. I kept moving and the breath came quickly. At the top I checked my pulse and got a reading of about 84. Not bad.

Last night in class during one of the lecture segments, I checked my pulse and it read just a tick above one beat per second while at rest. Also not bad.

Man, if I'd known getting well was going to feel this good, I'd have done it a lot sooner.

Thursday, April 09, 2009


Experienced more success at keeping attention focused on the breath today than I have before.

For the first time, I was very much aware of the limitations imposed by emphysema, and could feel the remnant of unexpelled air in the lungs.

The only major distraction was the trembling in the right hand and arm due to Parkinson's. It's worse some days than others, and today is a bad one. Plus, it's gradually getting worse. I may travel to California in the spring to seek treatment from the master.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Bhimpalasi (in Alacho Tala)

A near-perfect practice today, except for pain in the right shoulder blade, probably due to the lingering effects of the injury.

I can get my right arm up on leftward-trending triangle pose now, but still can't get it over the head.

Pranayama has settled into an established pattern: three count inhale, three count retention, eight count exhale, with only the briefest suspension -- not even one beat. It's fourteen beats altogether, which reminds me of Ravi Shankar's Raga Bhimpalasi, played in alacho tala, a 14-beat cycle.

So it's 14 beats, 28 breaths, elapsed time about 14 minutes. Altogether a symmetrical ritual exercise.


Saturday, April 04, 2009

Weather Report

It's a chilly 30 degrees here in Port Orchard where I'm cat sitting at the moment, but the sun is shining, and it's supposed to warm up to almost 60 degrees later today. Then tomorrow, they're saying it'll actually be over 60! Perish the thought.

Skipped practicing yesterday, as we had a very deep, two-hour practice in class on Thursday night which culminated with that variation of kurmasana known as the "turtle" pose. I'd never done it before, but surprised myself. Even with the sore shoulder I was able to get into this pretzel of a position by grasping a sock between my hands, using it as a short strap.

So yesterday I just worked on the shoulder, doing numerous repetitions of the physical therapy exercises. It was sore enough to interfere with sleeping last night, but feels much better this morning. Slowly, slowly...

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


Today I'm in Port Orchard, cat sitting with the apple of my sister's eye, Samantha. It's a cold, dark, wet day that started with snow, but fortunately none stuck, as it's gotten too warm.

It's a good day altogether to feel a little gratitude, for what is and what isn't.

I'm most grateful today for the ability to breathe and the ability to move. I'm glad to be here and not somewhere else, and I'm looking forward to class in Seattle tomorrow.

Here's the updated asana list, for reference purposes.

1. Tadasana.* Stay in "up" position one breath longer each time, up to four breaths. That means inhale up, exhale, then inhale again, exhale down; then inhale up, exhale, stay up one-and-a-half cycles, exhale down, and so forth.

2. Parsvottanasana.*

3. Trikonasana, four times each side. Modified with arm down when stretched to the left, due to shoulder injury. Lateral bend stretching the right side four times to compensate.

4. (a) Uttanasana with (b) chest lift. Four times for (a) and (b)

5. Down Dog** from table top. Since we're exhaling up rather than inhaling up, the four repetitions will be slightly longer than nos. 1 and 2. For example, exhale up, full breath cycle, inhale down.

6. Dvipada Pitham.*

7. Urdhva Prasrta Padasana.*

8. Shoulder Stand. Raise on inhale; stay for 16 breaths, then exhale knees to chest and inhale down.

9. Bhujangasana.* Modify for shoulder.

10. Salabhasana.*

11. Apanasana.**

12. Pascimatanasana, parts (a) and (b) (like no. 4).

13. Ardha Matsyendrasana; eight breaths each side.

14. Cakravakasana/Vajrasna. Eight times.

15. Savasana.

Pranayama follows.