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Yoga Beyond Fitness Blog


About Karin

Yoga teacher, practicing yoga since 1997, teaching since 2003, writer/translator, global soul, world traveller (and sometimes beyond), passionate about eastern philosophy and western psychology, especially its application in mind-body practices such as yoga and somatic movement therapy, deeply in love with life, knows that our greatest teacher lies within, also sometimes a total mess - it's part of the package!

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    Recent Entries

    Naked Yoga - Naked Bliss

    Tuesday, August 16. 2011

    Naked yoga is a practice that is said to have originated with the Naga Sadhus, a secret sect of yogis in India. The full history of the sect's formation is not clear but its origins are said to date back centuries.

    In the West, nearly every yoga practitioner has heard of naked yoga (the Western version), also sometimes called nude yoga, and not carrying with us any insecurities, fears, pretence or self-consciousness as we step onto our yoga mat.

    And so, to be able to join in on the conversation I decided to try the 'Western' version – naked yoga in a private group, a mixed group.

    What's that like you ask?

    Geez, it's mortifying! Until you start to sweat and lose your grip, that is…

    I'll spare you the details of what it felt like walking naked (with only my mat under my arm) to my designated spot before the start of the class. I tried to look serious (and cool!) but that big grin on my face surely gave it away. A dishevelled Sadhu look-alike yogi was staring at me (and not only with his third eye!). I rolled out my mat and swiftly sat down. We were outdoors on a rocky 'plateau' overlooking the Mediterranean. Quick check of my surroundings and fellow yoga practitioners: majority female attendance – phew! All toned arms and flat abs. Advanced practitioners evidently. All staring at each other, silently inspecting each other's bodies. (I've never seen so many unusual tattoos in so many unusual places before!)

    Dishevelled yogi turned out to be our yoga instructor. Class started. 10 minutes silent sitting ("however you normally sit") followed by pranayama ("however you normally breathe"). Cool! So far so good. I was (still) sitting. All going well. We then moved on to asana practice. I had to stand up. And this is where things got a bit out of control for me.

    20 minutes into an advanced dynamic yoga practice my hands and feet started to slide out from under me as each and every asana followed by a vinyasa got more and more challenging – or shall I say, slippery. I was so self-conscious about my body. I was perspiring like coming out of a sauna. The early morning air felt hot although it wasn't. My ujjayi felt laboured as I muscled through the series of postures. The posture sequence was not difficult for me – I have been practicing it for years – yet, every part of my body seemed to somehow bolt, shake, or slide from where I thought it was or should be. I didn't recognize myself. I was getting more and more annoyed and frustrated with myself. Navigating in surprisingly unfamiliar territory, my concentration started to wane, everything became blurred, and all I could think about was to get dressed and go home.

    Unexpectedly, Paul Simon's lyrics came to mind: "…slip slidin' away … the nearer your destination the more you're slip sliding away…"

    What on earth (sorry: mat) was I doing here?

    It didn't take long to realize that I was not only losing my grip on myself but also on my perception of reality. Then came a moment of painful inner silence. Then that big grin (again!). I couldn't help laughing. And from there, no recovery. Before my mind realized what was happening I welcomed insanity in naked downward-facing dog!

    Shedding your clothes in front of your man is one thing, but shedding them in front of a bunch of smiling yogis (yes, grinning comes with the practice!) who twist their naked bodies into bizarre pretzel shapes is quite another. There's something disturbingly unique and beautiful about it. If you are not familiar with this style of yoga practice, naked yoga can be a quite an intense and challenging yet immensely rewarding learning experience.

    First, it's about challenging yourself and expanding your limits. Without doubt, you'll learn something new about your inner self (your 'conditioned' self) and its expression in your behaviour, like for example mental or physical obstructions that may point to a necessary inner or outer realignment in order to restore balance and well-being to get you back on track or keep you from falling – or slippin' (on your mat).

    Second, it gets you out of your familiar yoga practice environment by inviting you to surrender habitual ways of moving on your mat – and habitual ways of 'being' and reacting (or acting!). You'll learn to let go of what you think you know about a posture or how you think you should practice it, and are encouraged to explore alternative options. If your hand slides down your sweaty lower leg, perhaps you should explore if moving it a few inches higher up onto your sweaty knee is more comfortable. If it feels right to you, let go of the expectation of others. And with 'others' I not only mean your bullying ego that tries to push you way beyond your edge but I also mean the svelte, bendy woman on the yoga mat next to you who makes everything look so easy and effortless, which of course it isn't. Find your edge and stay there. Discover your inner guru and just BE. Make the practice 'your own'.

    And third, it encourages you to contemplate the right balance between stability (sthira) and ease (sukha) on a physically level as well as a mental level.

    The latter you might think is one of the keys of yoga anyway but still, it becomes even more palpable and observable when you're moving in unfamiliar territory … naked … having to renounce not only your attachment to objects, emotions, and desires (not to mention ambition, pride, and fear) but also your aversion to discomfort and habitual pain-avoiding behaviour ("I want to go home"). And much more.

    These conditioned reflexes, reactions and beliefs become non-negotiable all of a sudden. You either have to face them and let go of them, or continue to ignore and stay trapped inside them. If you accept and manage to let go of them, the path becomes easy. If you ignore them, you tumble and fall – or, using the yoga analogy, you slide off your sweaty lower leg, plop down onto your mat, and have to start at the beginning. Repeat cycle.

    All these challenges are meant to help break the attachment and identification they have with you. All areas of your being are affected: physical (the way you move and feel or sense), mental (the way you think and react), and emotional (the way your imprinted condition creates spontaneous and seemingly uncontrollable inner states).

    Naked yoga is a powerful reminder of the crux of the challenge every serious yoga practitioner, and especially yoga teachers, will need to face one day, namely that just practicing or teaching yoga doesn't mean one is a yogi. A true yogi is one who has shed not only his outer layers (symbolically I mean) but also all inner coverings, his attachment to and identification with all aspects of human conditioning and division, and who embraces and resides in his real, infinite, divine nature.

    Sadhus believe that all answers can be found within ourselves, in our divine nature. For them, it's just a matter of facing the obstacles and unobstructing the path. They certainly have taken up the challenge by creating indispensable catalysts to reach the ultimate goal of yoga:

    yogash chitta vritti nirodhah
    yoga is the mastery of the activities of the mind-field
    (Patanjali, Yoga Sutra 1.2)

    The body is their instrument. The mind their ultimate object to train upon.

    Now it's your turn to grin. Did you ever try naked yoga? It's a slippery slope. It's challenging. But it's got grip.

    The Big Q - A Pocket Guide to the Afterlife

    Sunday, January 17. 2010

    This might be a weird subject to research but yesterday, whilst surfing on the web for information on how many people, if any, can actually see their own body in their dreams as opposed to otherwise sensing that it is there somewhere in their dream, I stumbled upon a forum where people discussed unexplained mysteries. A guy was asking: "This really is the BIG QUESTION for a lot of people: Is this body all I am? When my body dies, will that be the end of me? Does consciousness survive the death of the body (or brain)? In other words: is there an afterlife?"

    And then the whole discussion went on to a gigantic side trip as to whether near-death experiences (NDEs) or out-of-body experiences (OBEs) were real experiences or not, and whether they could be scientifically proven to exist or not − as if scientifically proving or not proving their existence (or non-existence) would endorse their existence (or non-existence) to anyone who had actually experienced (or not experienced) them.

    Doubt will always be there for those who seek it, no matter what science tries to explain or actually proves.

    I doubt, therefore I think. I think therefore I am. ~René Descartes

    Anyway, to come back to the "unexplained mystery forum", what struck me most was that from the beginning the initial question asked was not addressed at all − and yet it was the most significant pointer towards finding the ultimate answer (and that was the reason why I got stuck on that site, even though I could not find the information on dreams I was looking for – too bad!). Anyway, at no point, neither at the beginning nor at the end of this forum discussion, did it occur to the questioner (or participants for that matter) to address the reasoning behind the very first question: "Is this body all I am?"

    Asking this question, does this not imply that the questioner must, in the first place, already have some kind of incontrovertible knowledge or even proof that he really ONLY is his body? What makes him think or believe that he is ONLY his body? And this point is very important to understand in order to explain where the questioner and many of us too – seeking answers to life's most chilling questions – so fundamentally err.

    In order to answer the question as to whether an afterlife exists or not, the questioner first needs to look at the seemingly "incontrovertible knowledge" he has already acquired about his body being the only "I" there IS, meaning being the only thing he identifies with. For when the question about the afterlife arises in us, we have already been misled into believing that we are ONLY the body. Otherwise, why ask the question about the afterlife?

    The question about the afterlife only arises because of fear that there is nothing left after the body dies and the "I" is gone. Once the "I" in the body has gone what then? And this is where our reasoning and questioning skills with regard to our deeply-held beliefs about life − and especially the "I" - go so badly off the rails. Why? Because the question "Is this body all I am?" can be answered simply and with confidence by enquiring into its source, its origin. Who is the "I" that says that you are only your body? Who is the "I" who so desperately seeks permanency after death? Where is this "I" situated? Is it really situated in your body?

    Enquire… use your senses... use your body... look… hear… feel… smell… taste… take your time and then tell me when (and where!) you have found your "I" – your SELF. In your body? Or elsewhere? Or both? Or everywhere? Or not at all? Why am I suggesting this? For when you have found your "I" you will know the truth about yourself (no, let me rephrase that: you will know the truth about your SELF!) and you will also know without doubt (!) if there’s an afterlife or not.

    p.s.: I did not find the information on dreams yesterday, so if anyone out there finds a link to a good site on that subject, thanks for letting me know.

    Did you dream about your SELF last night? And if yes, did you really see that SELF in your body?

    Undoing Unreality

    Friday, January 15. 2010

    Definition of unreality on the web: the state of being insubstantial or imaginary; not existing objectively or in fact.

    Mark Twain once said, "It's not what you don't know that hurts you. It's what you do know that ain't so." Lack of knowledge, ignorance, or even plain stupidity might not hurt us and are not a big deal. The question however that arises out of the concept of "what we know ain’t so" is: How can we know what is real and what is unreal? How can we know that "that what hurts us" is unreal? If life as we perceive it is an illusion (and many ancient scriptures tell us so) is there really very little we can do about our seemingly inevitable slide toward unreality ... and suffering? Can we undo unreality and transform our suffering?

    I do not pretend to have the best answer or the only answer to stop human suffering – after all, all roads lead to Rome! – but I suggest that we start by enquiring first into the root cause of suffering. For me, the root cause of human suffering is the fact that so many of us learned WHAT to think instead of HOW to think.

    We all have a certain set of beliefs or rules formed in our minds through our upbringing, education and past experiences that influence our whole being and shape our attitudes. Everything in our life today is the outcome of our thoughts, at conscious or subconscious levels. We are what we THINK we are. And we THINK, when we sense something, it is real.

    It never occurs to us that, when we sense something, it can never perfectly be the thing we are THINKING of. We believe our thoughts about our senses are real, and the things we sense must therefore also be real. We are not used to working with our thoughts - we have become our thoughts!

    And I see this as the primary cause of human suffering.

    How can we undo "becoming our thoughts", learn HOW to think, and thus transform suffering?

    To learn HOW to think necessitates the formation inside of us of something that has the capacity to think – as opposed to using intelligence I mean, or simply reacting to events, or to just be told what to think and enjoying the ride. We need a mechanism – let’s call it "the unlearning process" for the sake of simplicity – to help us to unlearn all that which unnecessarily hurts us and replace it with new knowledge that will benefit us with its presence.

    To learn HOW to think starts with enquiry. Enquiry is a process of unlearning. When we start our honest, open, focused, and generous enquiry into what is actually happening around us, it will inevitably bring us to an understanding of what is real and what is unreal. This is Yoga – sensitive, honest, open, focused, and generous enquiry into what is actually happening, in the mind and in the body. If we examine everything within us and around us sensitively, honestly, and openly, we will come to the conclusion that everything that exists is contained within two groups: conventional reality and ultimate reality.

    Everything that is actually happening, every phenomena and every object that we see and observe around us, is judged by us as a changeable phenomena or object. It can go from good to bad, and then back again from bad to good, depending on various causes and conditions we are exposed to. Some are better or worse, tall or short, beautiful or ugly. They are so only by comparison, not by way of their own nature. Therefore, their apparent value is relative. And there is a discrepancy between the way things appear to us and how they actually are. These phenomena – in terms of how they appear to us and how they are affected by conditions – are our "conventional reality". What one person thinks is beautiful, can be ugly for another. What one person thinks is painful, can be enjoyable for another. What one person thinks is a hat, another thinks is a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. Remember The Little Prince? Antoine Saint-Exupéry illustrated the existence of conventional reality perfectly in his Drawing Number One: a boa constrictor digesting an elephant which grown-ups mistakenly took for the picture of a hat! ... But then again grown-ups always need to have things explained ... (If you haven't read The Little Prince, I think it's a MUST for all spiritual seakers!)

    But let’s enquire further...

    What if the same phenomena also have an inner mode of being? A mode of being that allows for the changes brought about by our changing conditions? If you are not satisfied with mere appearances and start to enquire sensitively, honestly, and openly into whether objects and phenomena inherently exist as they seem to do, you will ultimate come to discover an absence of their inherent existence.

    It is not that phenomena do not exist. They certainly do exist. We know from direct experience that people and things cause pleasure and pain. The question here is not "do they exist?" The question is "how do they come into existence?" The answer is that they come into existence depending on various causes and conditions, including a consciousness in each of us that conceptualizes them. They do however not exist in their own right. This emptiness of inherent existence goes beyond appearances. This is what the scriptures call "the ultimate reality."

    This kind of reasoning is supported by science. Physicists today keep discovering smaller and smaller components of matter, yet they still cannot explain the true nature of the most basic components and their ultimate reality. The more they look into how components of matter exist, the more they find that they do not exist that way. This is similar to honest and open self-enquiry. The more we look into HOW we think phenomena exist, the more we find that phenomena do not exist that way.

    Therefore, it is not that we come to understand that the object does not exist, rather we find that its inherent existence is unfounded. Analysis does not contradict the mere existence of the object. Phenomena do exist but not in the way we think they do.

    Let us return to our main question: can we undo unreality and transform our suffering?

    Undoing unreality means sensitive, honest, open, focused, and generous enquiry into the existence of all phenomena and that which is actually happening. It leads to the inevitable letting go of our mistaken belief that all phenomena inherently exist as they appear to our senses. Most of us still believe in the inherent existence of our sense of "I". With honest and sensitive enquiry however we come to realize that, in conventional reality, our sense of "I" is only designated in dependence upon the continuum of mind and body. It is not permanent. It changes. And it is not as independent as we would like it to be. When we understand this difference, we also understand the difference between what and HOW to think. We will know the value of the existence of our sense of "I" that changes from moment to moment. It is only when we inflate our sense of "I", forget our sense of unity and co-dependence, and overstress other phenomena to mean something inherently existent (that is, different from what they really are!) that we get drawn into problems, and thus suffering.

    Think about it. Enquire.
    How is the mind controlled? Show me the mind and then you will know what to do. ~Sri Ramana Maharshi
    (Page 1 of 1, totaling 3 entries)


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