Friday, October 23, 2009

196/294 - Is Prana Amoral?

Tuesday Off
Wednesday 8:15 pm with Rohit

Before class, Rohit said that the 6:30 class had been a decent size -- 24 -- and that it was all women. I've had a few classes that were all women except for me, and it's never bothered me. It hasn't even bothered me in classes where Lenette has used the generic "ladies." Even if I did think about it, how often do women have to live with the generic "guys" to talk about men and women together.

Anyway, the late class was only 12 and we had 5 guys, which is the closest I've ever gotten to a class with half men. Did it make a difference? Not that I noticed.

I've been thinking recently about sticking points in class. There are some predictable points in class where I lose focus, or energy, or otherwise fall short of what I should be able to do. Falling out of the balancing poses. Sitting out a set of either Triangle or Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee. Losing it in one or both sets of Locust. Coming out of Rabbit early and wiped out. For me, these are the most common sticking points.

On the one hand, I know that judgment is bad, and that I shouldn't beat myself up over these moments. And for the most part, I don't. But I can't help but wonder when not beating myself up veers into being too easy on myself. I'm not sure exactly what to do about this, but I think I may have to start concentrating on one of these sticking points at a time, and just bring a bit more focus to it for a few classes in a row and see if anything changes.

There's another oddity that amuses me. For me, Locust is always the hardest pose. It's the only one that actually brings up a bit of fear. And yet, I think if you asked my teachers, they would probably unanimously say that the third part of Locust is my best pose. I'm not sure what to make of this. If I could identify an easiest pose, I wonder if it would also be one my teachers thought of as my worst? Happily, I can't think of an easy pose.

The day 271 brings up some thorny, but ultimately not very practical, questions of philosophy. It starts with a quote from Mother Theresa. She compares us to light bulbs. Her idea is that we are the wires, and god is the current. If we let the current flow through us, we can light up the world.

Gates has a slightly different take on this. He talks about prana, the root of pranayama. It means "life force." Gates says that there is enormous potential in prana, but that it is neither good nor bad. It simply is. Gates thinks that people minimize the prana available to them because they are afraid of what they might do with it. I take this to mean that people shut themselves off from prana out of a fear of the evil they might do. He goes on to say that's why surrender to God is so important -- because it allows us to open ourselves up to the potential of prana.

I wonder if Gates has this right. It sounds to me like he has the priorities wrong. Surely, if surrender to God is important, its not for some instrumental reason. If there is a priority to these things, I would have thought that it worked the other way around -- that opening yourself up to prana is worthwhile because it ultimately makes it easier to surrender to God.

In some ways I think this whole discussion is utterly impractical. And it bears a strong resemblance to the Euthyphro, a dialogue where Socrates tortures some poor student with arguments about whether the something is good because the Gods approve it, or whether the Gods approve of it because its good.

But a similar, and interesting, question arises from this meditation. Could someone use the techniques of yoga -- pranayama and asana and mediation and such -- and powerfully put them to bad purposes? Here, Gates seems to suggest that its possible to put prana to evil uses. From everything I've read so far, I would have thought otherwise. What I've admired so much about yoga so far is that just doing it tends to make people better, both in body and mind. This makes me wonder whether I've misread this meditation. It does seem to go against quite a bit of what Gates seems to have said consistently throughout the book.


Bosco said...

How could the "life force" not be a good thing? I mean, a really good thing? Without it there is nothing - or at least no conscious beings capable of appreciating it.

I completely don't get this meditation.

bikramyogachick said...

Duffy~ I noticed some triggers, or sticking points as well in my practice, and not wanting to fall victim to bad habits, forced myself to push through at those points. It's good that you can identify them.

thedancingj said...

As far as I'm concerned, the introduction of the word "god" (without setting definitions or ground rules) confuses the whole discussion. What IS god, if not prana?

And prana is not the FORCE! There is no "dark side of the force" that I'M aware of! Hah.

I actually really like Mother Theresa's imagery, with the light.

Duffy Pratt said...

Suppose you start with the idea that good and bad, or good and evil, are fundamentally human concepts. That they are the results of judgment. From this starting point, it makes some sense to say that prana sits outside of them. It is beyond judgment.

I'm not saying this is right, just that its how I can make sense of this meditation. Thus, prana is neither good nor bad. But it still seems to me that gaining better access to prana would always seem to be a wonderful thing -- better than good.

Dancingj, when I was in China we visited a zoo/habitat where they have a breeding program for tigers. After one nice show, sort of like a circus, we all went to another area where another "show" took place. A water buffalo was set loose in about a one acre enclosure, and then a male tiger was let into the same area. The tiger charged the water buffalo twice, downed it, and dragged it to a corner while suffocating it.

After this happened, the keepers came into the enclosure in a covered golf cart, making tons of noise to scare the tiger off. They took the dead water buffalo away to butcher it for all the tigers food for the day. They do this twice a day. They have discovered that the males will breed much more easily if they get to make live kills. And they need the meat anyway.

Some people, including my wife, were horrified when they realized that what they were seeing was real. I've got great pictures of it. Is this good, bad, or just an exercise of prana, neither good or bad? Of course, it really sucks to be the water buffalo.

Duffy Pratt said...


Identifying them is relatively easy. Doing something about them, not so easy.