The following blog is about practice and the importance of showing up.
I have told this story so many times in yoga teacher training programs, workshops and certainly in a class. Every time someone is late for my class, it reminds me.
I started yoga in an attempt to make friends. I had just moved from Japan to Canada and knew no one. I wanted to fit in. My very new friend talked about going to a yoga class and so I followed her. Eventually, I started going on my own. I really was there for savasana. I was constantly broke and exhausted from working full time and having school full time in order to pay off my already astronomical college tuition fee at an international student rate, which was double the amount Canadian citizens paid at the time. So I was always late for yoga classes. Not just 5 min but about 20min. It’s not something I am proud of and now when I retell this story, people who knew this teacher all say “I can’t believe he let you in the class.”
Perhaps he should have talked to me. Perhaps he should have given me that talk, the “yoga etiquette” talk. But I was too young and absorbed in my own little ego, I am not sure if I would have continued on.
So I just showed up week after week. I can’t remember what he taught about postures or philosophy but I do remember that savasana. It was the peace I had never felt before and sometimes I quietly cried through it. I was not sad. I just suddenly started to “feel” everything.
Many years have passed since then and I have no idea where this teacher is now or what he does. But I am forever thankful for I would not be the same had he not let me come to his classes.
So now, my wish for any yoga students is that they simply show up. “Yoga etiquette” does exist and you can learn them anytime but first, I’d like everyone to forget all that and just show up because it’s the only thing that really matters.
Our friend Helena ran a ´Self Hypnosis´ class recently.
After the practice she answered questions about the suitability of the practice for different desired outcomes and environments. An obvious question from one of us was about whether the practice could be utilized in the water for as a tool for freediving training, the answer was “Yes”. Self hypnosis, Helena told us, is not about being put to sleep like the popular image of ´Classical Hypnosis´. Classical Hypnosis only works on some people and the stage hypnotist has a number of assessments to find who in the audience can be influenced. Self hypnosis can be achieved by anyone and the trance state can be induced whenever convenient, and the person is completely awake for the duration. This style is called Modern Hypnosis or Ericksonian Hypnosis after Milton Erickson.
Helena is a GP and has used these techniques to help patients. She explained that in daily life we generate beta-waves (β-waves) that are very fast and notice a lot of the data around us but don’t retain it. In the trance state on which she focuses we generate alpha-waves (α-waves). These are slower and remember everything. Things done while in an alpha state are better remembered. Another form used by practitioners is the deeper trance of theta waves (θ-waves). For treating a trauma that it is not beneficial to remember the practitioner can help the patient into this deep trance. The practitioner can speak to the patient and discover a cause of trauma or a solution to a problem. Once out of the trance the patient will not remember the episode, hence not reinforcing the problem, and the solution can begin to work.
We are interested in being awake and accessing valuable resources J
Here’s the procedure:
1) Ask for a resource. (You have to really want it) And give a time frame (i.e. 2mins)
2) Pick a visual point 45° above normal line of sight.
3) Relax! (legs, back, neck and jaw and tongue)
4) Looking softly in your 45° direction acknowledge what you can see, near and far, say to yourself 5 things. Things from your direct vision and from your peripheral. Then say 5 things you can hear; loud, soft, bodily and external. Then say 5 things you can feel; temperature, discomfort, clothing, breadth.
*While you say these things your voice must be of a lower register and slower than normal*
5) Starting with 5 sights, 5 sounds, 5 sensations Then, 4 sights, 4 sounds, 4 sensations Then, 3 sights, 3 sounds, 3 sensations Then, 2 sights, 2 sounds, 2 sensations Then, 1 sight, 1 sound, 1 sensation.
By the end you will allow your eyes to close and allow the trance state to function. If the eyes close before the end of the cycle all well and good, then continue using whatever slight colours or spots of light as reference.
If the complete round of sights, sounds, sensations isn’t enough go through the cycle again. With experience the practitioner can succumb to the trance earlier, perhaps even before the first line of sights, sounds, sensations!
After the practice Helena showed us some deepening techniques. If, for example, you were guiding a friend through it you could count slowly down from 10 to 1 (counting up has the effect of awakening or energising). If you wanted to deepen your own trance you could observe your palm from a medium distance. As you very slowly bring the palm towards the face continue to focus softly on the lines, contours, colours, shadows, taking everything in. When the palm reaches the face and touches softly you can allow yourself into the trance.
Please let us know how you get on with this training, one of possible many supplementary tools for freediving training.
“Drishthi”is one of those terms you hear a lot if you go to any yoga classes. Even if you went to a meditation class, you’d often hear this term. It is roughly translated as focus point. In a yoga asana (posture) class, you may hear a phrase “Set your Drishthi” and it is understood to mean “focus your gaze on one single point.” Now imagine, if you had a gaze point on one single point and nothing else, your eyes will get tired first then everything else around that one point will be blur. This is an ineffective way of using concentration (or Dharana). Imagine you are driving a scooter and you had your focus point on one single point. You will soon crash into a ditch pretty easily even though you were “focused.” The yogic focus point, Drishthi teaches us that in order to effectively use our concentration, we must do so with softness (or Sukha). As we focus on one point, we still invite other things in your vision to enter so that you are taking in necessary information as you settle your mind on a single point. Similar to when you are making decisions or taking actions towards your goals. You’d want to focus on your target and at the same time, you keep all options at the back of your mind because we cannot see everything that is going on. We need to keep our mind open to all things that may be helpful to what we are trying to achieve. So this week in our yoga teacher training workshop, we’ll emphasise Drishthi as a balance of steadiness(sthira) in gaze and softness of focus (sukha). This is especially important in balancing poses and vinyasa.
A very fun workshop with deep tissue yoga massage and myofascial release with the lovely Barbara from yogavibe. We’ll use asana and props to effect some deep release and give guidance for ongoing self treatment. The focus will be on upper body and especially chest opening for increased vital capacity. This is something for freedivers and anyone interested in deep opening of the thoracic area. Maximum 10 students. Get in touch for more info 082237087300
‘When the doors of perception are cleansed man shall see things as they truly are, infinite’ William Blake
Why learn Vipassanna ?
In the past month 2 more of our freediving instructors have challenged themselves with the practice of Vipassana. There are different approaches to vipassana, both of them enrolled for the SN Goenka course, a particularly full on and difficult introduction.
Both of our instructors are pretty adventurous people; but what follows it is an explanation of why a ‘normal’ person might subject himself to a vipassana course.
Lets start with looking at two Buddhist practices, Mindfulness and Vipassana. Aside from Tantric Buddhism, elements of both are a part of most streams of buddhism, yet they are not religous rite or ritual.
Being in the now; mindfulness is concentrated awareness of the moment to moment.
It is a process of constant redirection of the attention, bringing awareness repeatedly back to the present moment.
We become aware of what we are thinking, feeling or doing or become aware of how mind perceives and experiences the world around us.
It is cultivation of the silent witness, acknowledgement of the present moment without judgement, letting go as the present moment changes. Mindfulness can be practiced anywhere, anytime. Indeed it should be practised as much as possible. It requires little formal instruction but takes a lifetime to master.
Through mindfulness we become less of a slave to unconscious processes and patterns of behaviour. It can positively affect everything from motor skills to deep seated psychological issues. It is also the beginning of single pointed concentration, which is necessary for the development of insight meditation (Vipassana).
Normally practice starts with single pointed focus on the breath in the nostrils or the rise and fall of the belly, (depending on tradition). This single pointed mindfulness practice is the gateway to Vipassana.
Being in the now, deeper and deeper.
Vipassana is considered by many Buddhists to be the single most important teaching of the Historical Buddha, his other teachings essentially just support for this one practice.
This is the practice that explores at the experiential level, ‘impermanence’, ‘suffering’ and ‘non-self’, three main concepts of Buddhism. It is a technique that provides insight into the true nature of reality, freedom from suffering and according to Buddhist teaching liberation from the cycle of rebirth.
Vipassana is deep mindfulness practice, such an intense entering into the present moment that over time our perception deepens and becomes more subtle and the present moment expands into something infinite.
This is NOT something that should be strived for, it is something that happens with the correct practice under guidance over time, naturally.
It is not a transcendental meditation practice, the experience is always firmly rooted in the body and the present moment. With time the body is so deeply felt that you become aware of the body as energy in flux, subtler and grosser forms of energy in flux. This energetic sheath is responsive to thought and emotions and likewise influences the thoughts and emotions.
Vipassana is direct experience of the mind/body connection as an energetic field and how the mind/body interacts with the present moment.
This experience of the mind/body as an energetic field is NOT something to seek or push for it will happen by itself with time and correct practice.
Karma in the body(samkara)
During practice the meditator may experience how most of our behaviour is unconscious, simply a response to the subtler currents of the mind/body.
In this way you realise that it is less important what is happening outside you than the patterns of energy within, which influence your response to external events.
Warm feelings when you see something that reminds you of something good from your past, etc.Patterns might be of fear, anger, craving, desire etc. These patterns have been laid down by previous interactions of behaviour and events.
This is the insight, the body and ultimately all reality as constant flux and flow (impermanence) and that our mental/physical/emotional behaviour influences the flux which then influence future behaviour.
But our everyday personality doesn’t recognise this impermanence and leads to much misguided thought and action. Craving leading to more craving, fear to further fear etc. (suffering).
By accessing deeper levels of awareness below the everyday personality(non-self)
we develop more independence from the subterranean currents of the mind/body.
With correct practice we lessen our attachment to the everyday self, leading to a lighter and more intense living of life.
Why the need to learn Vipassana in silence?
We don’t observe silence for the idea of ‘holiness’ or ‘tradition’
silence is the necessary starting point for the practice of vipassana.
With Vipassana we are going deeper than the everyday limited personality and below the language based part of the brain. We experience the body and broader reality in a deeper and more subtle way, our perception changes becoming more unified and less bound by the rational mind’s limitations.
Language based thought is based on separation and distinction. It applies values, good, bad and it defines the everyday self ‘I don’t like rap music, etc”
While we speak we continue to stay on the surface of the mind, caught up in the thought games that the personality uses to define itself.
Meditation is a challenge for the everyday mind, which is like an animal that has free run of the house and resists losing any of it’s freedom.
The mind can resist the practice of single pointed concentration and can come up with many distractions. If we are in deep practice but then start to converse, then the everyday mind can leap back to re-establish itself strongly, making subsequent practice shallower for some time.
There is nothing wrong with the ‘ego’ or the ‘everyday self’, they are necessary functions for survival and thriving in a social world. The only issue is they make accessing deeper aspects of the human experience very difficult, at least at the beginning.
All of the rules on a vipassana course are designed to minimize opportunities for the everyday mind to distract and define itself. There is no talking or interaction with others, reading, music, dancing or body adornment. There is nothing wrong with these natural human activities, just not while learning deep meditation.
Vipassana is a very intense purification of the mind and absolutely not something to enter into lightly, a silent retreat might sound relaxing but in reality for many people it is the hardest things they ever do.
(Interestingly enough as soon as they finish they forget how hard it was at times. I have experienced this repeatedly.)
The most important rule…
If start you must finish or it can leave you feeling pretty messy for some time. Don’t leave midway, talk to an assistant teacher about your difficulties and stick it out.
I recommend all people of stable mental health and certain level of willpower to try it, especially freedivers and yogis. Actually this is one of the main goals of yoga, to develop insight. On a more mundane level it can also transform your experience of freediving.
I normally recommend doing the 10 day Goenka course as an intro because the explanation is excellent and in 10 days you can go very deep.But it is also one of the more austere approaches with sitting meditation 10 hours a day, very much focused on purification of the mind. Other approaches are less intense, therefore maybe less traumatic but also taking more time to get deep. Most other traditions use walking meditation between sits.Goenkas approach involves considerable pain in the legs through so much sitting. That said the pain is a very useful tool for learning impermanence.
Here’s a few words for the lovely and very dedicated Sarah Winick, the organiser of the local Bali courses.
Just on a side note, so perhaps others aren’t discouraged when thinking about sitting for 10 hours each day, every individual is subject to their own unique experience, here’s a public webpage that may assist some with their questions.
FYI for your readers: We hold 10-Day Vipassana meditation courses, as taught by SN Goenka in Bali, please note our next course with availability (October is currently wait listed) is November 5th-16th, 2014 interested applicants may review the website as listed in your blog, and register online directly through our Indonesian site www.java.dhamma.org
Feel free to join the Bali Vipassana FB group to meet other practicing Old Students on island, and to stay up to date with all of our happenings, there will be five 10-Day Goenka courses held in Bangli (near Kintamani) in 2015, the dates will be available soon.
Check http://www.dhamma.org/ for international Goenka style courses.
Check http://www.hdamm.de/buddha/mdtctr12.htm for a guide to Thai monasteries, though some of the info may be out of date it’s a good place to start researching traditional Thai Vipassanna.
Disclaimer…. this blog is personal opinion. I’m not a meditation master, just someone has been trying to learn and practice it on and off(with more off than on) for 20 years.