Friday, April 10, 2009

71/100 - Devotion, Joy, Reverence

10:30 am with Sherie

Sherie is either new or just visiting.  I don't know if that is decided yet.  I really hope that she is new.  She taught a great class and had tons of energy.  And, as often happens with a new teacher, she showed me a bunch of new things about the practice.

The first thing, which I find amazing with many of the touring Bikram teachers, is that she seemed to know everyone's name.  I know that there is a fairly simple memory trick that Jerry Lucas teaches in his memory book, but I've always been terrible with names.  So I get blown away when a new teacher immediately knows everybody in a class of 30.

And then there were the corrections.  For me, the first came in pranayama, where she prodded me into stretching my elbows a bit more forward on the exhales.  This is a part where I can fairly easy get a bit lazy, and I was delighted to be called out on it.

The little, telling, comments continued.  She paid me a nice compliment in the third part of Awkward, saying my pose was "beautiful".   Then she caught me going too early into one of the Eagle sets and joked that I was just gonna have to stay in the pose longer.  That prompted me to make more of an effort to actually listen and stay with the class.

On it went.  After the first set of Standing Separate Leg Head to Floor, I picked up my water bottle and heard:  "Not between sets, Duffy."  I dropped the bottle, laughing.  And she added that it was obvious I didn't need it.  And she was right, I didn't.  Later I found out that she had studied for a fairly long time with Mary Jarvis, who discourages any drinking in class, and that explained much to me about the approach.  She gave a talk in Savasana about how, when we think we need water, we usually are starved for air.

I haven't gotten so many corrections, little bits of encouragement, and small insights into the poses in a while, and it was very refreshing.  And I wasn't getting special attention, I think pretty much everyone received there share of corrections, encouragement, and just general comments.  (And the corrections extended to the two teachers who were taking the class, who got reminded that while taking class they were students like everyone else.)  Moreover, she seemed to really know her stuff and I think she would make an amazing addition to the studio, if there's any way that Amy could contrive to keep her here.

On day 100, Gates raises another seeming contradiction in yoga.  The last niyama is devotion to God.  But, at the same time the Yoga Sutras seem to say that belief in God is not necessary.  This seems odd to me, but perhaps no odder than the seeming tension between zeal and contentment.  

Gates submits that it doesn't really matter much whether the  of devotion is God, Christ, Allah, nature, science, human potential.  He says that what matters is that we "embody reverence."   I don't have a problem with any of the examples he gives, but even so, I think it could lead to a false conclusion.  At some level, the object of devotion has to matter.   Just think of what happens when people worship at the altar of the almighty dollar.   Similarly, I don't think that terrorists, right wing religious zealots, Hitler youth, or Khmer Rouge were lacking in devotion.  Instead, they were devoted to the wrong things.

The niyamas seem odd in this respect - zeal, contentment, and now devotion all seem particularly vulnerable to perversion.  In service of things which already are good, I have no problem with them at all.  But standing on their own, it seems to me that they could lead just about anywhere, to the worst evil as well as to great good. 

Enough with the criticism.  At the end of the meditation, Gates makes  a wonderful suggestion:  "if there is not a dance for joy in your yoga, you can put one there."   The idea is that by putting devotion and reverence into the yoga practice itself, you can turn the practice into a dance for joy.  I don't know if this is true.  I've gone through periods where the practice seemed a truly joyous experience, and other times where it was anything but.   If this advice can make the "joyous dance" of yoga a more regular thing, its certainly worth trying out.  

And here's one way I can think of to start.  Before the long savasana, several of my teachers tell us to take a moment to acknowledge the work we did in the standing series.  I have never taken this very seriously.  And I think, based on this advice, I will.  I will try to take that moment to give a sincere bow, and to express some gratitude for what I just did.  That's a small start -- but more and more I'm seeing how this practice is a kind of long accumulation of small starts and restarts.


martind35 said...

I just want to know why you were trying to drink btween postures!! :D

Duffy Pratt said...

Most classes, I don't drink at all these days. Especially if the class is in the evening. Sometimes in the morning, I don't get up early enough to get enough water into my body. So I'll drink at party time. Then combine that with being in the very hottest part of the room, and what can I say? I succumbed. LOL

thedancingj said...

Oh! She has a lot of tattoos, right? I know her... :)

Duffy Pratt said...

Yes, both of her arms are fully tattooed from the top of the wrist to where short sleeves would come on the upper arm. She has a moon on the side of one shoulder, and the sun on the other. There's another tattoo on her breastbone, and an ankh on her back.

Usually, that would put me off. And I still don't understand it. But the quality of the work in hers was extraordinary. And then, the force of her personality was strong enough that I didn't find myself transfixed by the tattoos.

crisitunity said...

C.S. Lewis makes the point that any service to good, even if it's in the name of an "evil" God, is actually service to a "good" God. Conversely, any service to evil in the name of, say, the Christian God is actually working the will of Satan. I've always thought this is a great back door for supposed "heathens" - people who do good in service to Allah can still make it into the Christian heaven under this method. Perhaps Gates meant that belief in some particular God is what is not necessary, as long as we believe in something.

Also, I've never found any joy in Bikram practice. Discipline, relief, immersion, other things, but joy has been found only in other types of yoga for me.

Duffy Pratt said...

The more I think about it, the more I think that Gates means that reverence to anything with the spark of divinity in it will do. And since he seems to be some sort of pantheist, that means that anything will do, because divinity is in everything.

I've had fun in regular yoga classes, but for me they were always just exercise classes. I didn't really start to see a different aspect to the practice until I started Bikram. Maybe I'm just drinking the kool-aid, but if so, it tastes good to me.