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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

    Meditation and yoga soon available on prescription?

    Tuesday, January 5. 2010

    The Mental Health Foundation, a UK charity, has released a report today calling for people who suffer from recurrent depression to be offered meditation techniques and yoga to help them out of the cycle of what psychiatrists call "learned helplessness." The "Be Mindful" report points to evidence that emptying the mind is more likely to help people to recover from depression rather than pills. The mental health charity has thus launched a campaign to make mindfulness courses based on meditation and yoga available widely on the NHS.

    One of the UK’s leading mindfulness experts, Mark Williams, Professor of Clinical Psychology and Director of the Mindfulness Centre at the University of Oxford, said: "We're beginning to discover that meditation practices can have extremely powerful effects on our health. We now have a very good treatment for recurrent depression which urgently needs to be rolled out to all patients that need it."

    Order the full report here.

    Read the official press release.

    Or visit the Be Mindful website live from the Tuesday 5 January.

    About the Mental Health Foundation: The Mental Health Foundation uses research and practical projects to help people survive, recover from and prevent mental health problems. The charity works to influence policy, including government at the highest levels.

    I seem to be a verb

    Sunday, April 19. 2009

    Published in the early 70s, "I seem to be a verb" is a book co-written by Buckminster Fuller (author), Quentin Fiore (graphic designer), and Jerome Agel (producer). It is an excellent illustration of a technologically-oriented yet eclectic point of view of how advances in technology can better serve our world and humankind. It is also an excellent metaphor for what it is like to be human.

    As a great mental and physical exercise, the pages of the book are divided in half, with the lower half printed upside down. One can either read (normally) from the beginning to the end or flip the book over (upside down) and continue reading the other way, and then, at any time, flip it over again and so continue reading almost indefinitely.

    Unfortunately, the book is out of print today but as with all publications written by "non-conforming misfits" — these were Bucky's words btw after he got expelled from Harvard! — "I seem to be a verb" is an exceptional book that makes it worthwhile to browse the dusty shelves of an antiquarian bookstore. Its underlying message is just as valuable today as it was the day it was written. It teaches us not only how to do more with less but also how to "unclutter" our minds.

    So, if meditating in Lotus posture on the question "who am I" has not brought the desired results in your yoga practice, it may be due to the fact that you have not read this book yet ... and flipping it over, upside down, a few times. At least that is what I thought when I first read the most quoted passage from this book. It goes like this:
    I live on Earth at present, and I don't know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing, a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process, an integral function of the universe.
    Well, according to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary a verb "expresses an act, occurrence, or mode of being" and "typically has rather full descriptive meaning and characterizing quality."

    Here we go: I am an action. An occurrence. A state of existence. But for my restless mind and my restless body, being "a verb" is not enough. I must also give myself and others a name. And I must also name my actions and other people's actions. If I can name a person or a thing I can relate to them, and others can relate to me. I create a connection, a relationship. I can then find myself easily. This is my universe, this is my reality, this is who I am. But this is rarely enough, and I keep looking, still...

    Ancient yogic scripture teaches us that our reality is an illusion. The universe as we experience it is all names and forms based on qualities and their differences that human beings assign to them. This is how each of us creates their own universe, their own reality. And we then try to relate to each other through our own and the other's self-created realities. This makes things in the world happen as they happen. They appear and disappear again. However, they happen not because I make them happen. Its because I am that they happen. My mind projects a structure within which my body acts and reacts. I identify with these actions and therefore relate to them — and falsely believe that this is who I am. It is in the nature of my mind to create a world for its own fulfilment. The world as I experience it is there because I am. I am creating the world. I am an evolutionary process. I am! And am is derived from being — a verb! So yes, I seem to be a verb!

    In order to understand the subtlety and richness of the above quote from Bucky one has to read however between the lines. For me, the most important part is not the word "verb" or the statement "I seem to be a verb." The most important part is the meaning of the word "to seem." Merriam-Webster defines this as "to give the impression of being." So according to Bucky, the outward aspect of our being (our integral function) merely "appears to exist."

    And herein lies not only the greatness of this quote but also the inescapable pain of being human: we stand right between our finiteness and our potential for infinity. In order to let go of our finiteness and find the answer to the question "who am I" (that is, our potential for infinity!) one has to first find everything that one is NOT: I am NOT a category. I am NOT a thing. I am NOT a noun. I am NOT a verb either, etc. … to eventually arrive at what is beyond, beyond BEING and NOT BEING. Then, when all names and forms have been given up, the real SELF is found. It is there where we find the answer to our question — and it is unreachable by words.
    The power of the word is always ready to veil the profound nature of the Self because no mental representation can free itself from language.
    (Daniel Odier, Spandakarika, Stanza 47)
    For sure, Bucky was a great thinker!

    On the Way and at Home

    Tuesday, April 7. 2009

    Tao Lung (1203-1268) was a Chinese monk and Chan adept. In 1246, at the age of 33, he travelled to Japan to guide and teach Zen disciples for more than three decades. He is usually known by his Japanese posthumous name of Daikaku.

    The following saying, attributed to Daikaku, is an excerpt from Zen and the Ways by Trevor Leggett and serves to illustrate the heart of Zen practice:

    (For Tom: may you receive 10.000-fold what you have given.)
    "Whether you are going or staying or sitting or lying down,
    The whole world is your own self.
    You must find out
    Whether the mountains, rivers, grass, and forests
    Exist in your own mind or exist outside it.
    Analyse the ten thousand things,
    Dissect them minutely,
    And when you take this to the limit
    You will come to the limitless.
    When you search into it you come to the end of search.
    Where thinking goes no further and distinctions vanish.
    When you smash the citadel of doubt,
    then the Buddha is simply yourself."

    Sit Still and Wait for Lift-off

    Monday, November 10. 2008

    Why sitting meditation is absolutely useless to understand the true nature of reality and the human mind—a thought-provoking perspective on the potential of sitting meditation as a catalyst for personal transformation.

    Before continuing, I suggest you first read the Zen story Whipping the Cart or the Ox. The following will make more sense, if you have read the Zen story.

    Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism known for its emphasis on mindful acceptance of the present moment and its belief that enlightenment can be attained through direct intuitive insight. Zen emphasizes intensive periods of meditation. Although any meditation posture (including walking) can be applied, the core of the practice is seated meditation. Practitioners usually assume the Lotus or half-Lotus position. The posture recalls the position in which Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment. The meditation itself focuses on the elements of mindfulness and concentration, which are part of the Noble Eightfold Path. The Noble Eightfold Path is said to be the way that leads to the achievement of self-awakening and enlightenment. It is used as an instrument of discovery to gradually generate insights unveiling the ultimate truth of all phenomena.

    Zen teaches that all people possess the Buddha nature inherently—it's because of their ignorance that they do not perceive it. Therefore, Zen practitioners are urged to find within themselves the answer to any question raised within because the answer is believed to be found where the question originates. This practice is called self-liberation. The best way to achieve this is through meditation on a Koan, a riddle or fable that defies conventional logic or explanation.

    Meditation on a particular Koan can involve sitting for long periods of time. It can therefore be hard for beginners to get used to the classical sitting posture that requires to sit motionless, or at least, make physical movement undesirable. Which raises the question: Why is the practitioner required to sit? Why is sitting so important to gain clarity of perception and to understand the true nature of the mind? One does not gain great wisdom through the very fact that one is sitting. Buddha did not attain enlightenment because he was sitting! Or did he?

    Don't take my word for it but the truth is—and the Zen story about whipping the cart or the ox illustrates it—sitting in meditation serves no particular purpose. Sitting is done for the sake of sitting. There is no benefit or usefulness. The only reason one sits is because one loves to sit.

    At this point, those experienced in meditation might argue that they sit to make sure they are not so comfortable that they fall asleep. That might be so but still, the question remains: Is the very fact that one is sitting in meditation conductive to understanding the true nature of reality and the human mind?

    Some yogis and yoginis teach that sitting, especially sitting motionless, is important because it is a method for exploring physical sensations and invite a deeper release of tensions that obstruct energy pathways and clarity of perception. Indeed, I myself am quite familiar with this type of physical exploration (see below) but how do I stop obstructive physical sensations to interfere with my concentration?

    Some hard-core traditionalists are adamant that sitting upright and crossing the legs in Lotus posture is essential. They say it reduces "poisonous" thoughts and feelings of desirous attachment while it allows all vital energy to rise upwards through the spine to the highest energy centre, the seat of wisdom and insight. Hmm…

    I must admit that throughout my own spiritual journey I struggled meditating motionless in sitting posture. Forty five minutes of pins and needles in my right foot required a lot of patience and composure! Besides, if it was not my right foot, then it was the cushion I was sitting on. It started itching. Or it was a clingy fly that wouldn't stop buzzing around my head. Or I had to go to the loo… I couldn't wait for the moment meditation came to an end, stretch my legs and lower back, and feel some sense of freedom and control over my body again. The very fact that I was so uncomfortable and impatient interfered with my ability to calm my thoughts and find that peaceful centre within. How many decades of sitting are useful to dissolve all obstacles and realize the true nature of the human mind?

    Ultimately, for me, the rewards of a dedicated meditation practice with a numb foot and an itching bottom were tremendous! The break-through came one Sunday morning whilst enjoying breakfast in bed and getting totally absorbed reading a book, the title of which is totally irrelevant for the purpose of this blog post, although I am sure, some wondering spiritual seekers out there might disagree with me. And whilst drinking my tea and munching my fruit salad, it came to me: Do not confuse the means of the practice with its goal—for indeed, I had whipped the cart instead of the ox!

    Meditation for the purpose of cultivating insight and clarity of thought is not dependent on being skilful in any particular physical posture. It concerns first of all the mind, not the body. It is a practice of introspection to gain clarity of thought, perception, reason and knowledge. The initial aim is to reach the most settled state within, where one transcends all mental activity to experience the simplest form of awareness. This state of intrinsic awareness is said to be the stepping stone for personal transformation. Sitting still in meditation is therefore just one of the many possible tools on the path to reach that state but it is not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is the realization of the true nature of the self, reality, and all phenomena. And this realization can happen slowly and in stages or suddenly and rapidly—even when one is not sitting, even when one is not meditating. It happens when one catches a glimpse of or experiences the simplest form of intrinsic awareness without grasping or becoming attached to it. It's a sort of letting-go of everything. And like the Zen story about whipping the cart or the ox illustrates, it happens when causes and conditions harmonize.

    Therefore, do not become attached to any particular way of sitting in meditation. Do not become attached to any particular method of meditation either. In fact, do not become attached to anything! There is no right and no wrong way to follow your path. Explore what works best for you. If you want to meditate, then meditate. If you want to sit in meditation, then sit in meditation. If you want to sit motionless, then sit motionless. If your foot hurts, move it. If you want to scratch your bottom, scratch your bottom. If you want to walk, walk.

    To become attached to any posture, any method—any particular action or non-action—is to fail to comprehend the essential principle, and that is to understand that the true nature of reality and the true nature of the human mind comes as a breakthrough in everyday logical thought.

    And even if sitting still in meditation might make it easier for some practitioners to maintain their concentration—after all, the physical movements that otherwise could disturb one's practice will forcibly be reduced to a minimum when sitting still—the fact that one sits still is however not essential for the goal.

    We imagine that one day, when we catch a glimpse of the true nature of reality and are astounded by the personal transformation that it creates, there will be something like ecstatic bliss, intense moments and direct encounters with the divine. But we forget that divine grace doesn't come from the outside. Nothing comes from the outside... in fact, divine grace doesn't even exist… another long topic, the details of which, for now, are not of interest.

    Understand that everything derives from the mind, and from the mind alone, that's all you need to realize the true nature of reality and all phenomenon. Then, personal transformation can happen in the most banal of daily experiences: looking up into the sky, listening to music, waiting in a traffic jam, putting your feet in warm sand, drinking a glass of water, smelling a flower, reading, walking. One day your mind and body naturally begin to work together and in harmony.

    Therefore, meditate, meditate, meditate … sitting, walking, swimming, cycling, whatever ... simply meditate ... without becoming attached to or abandon any particular part of it. It is wonderful, essential, and completely useless to understand the true nature of reality and the mind. Why? Because understanding the divine comes in the most unexpected and mundane of situations and everyday experiences, and not when sitting still on your cushion. But meditate you must.

    Meditation cultivates inner silence. Inner silence can't be captured by the mind – it can only be experienced. That's why yogis say "stillness in action" is the trick!

    But as I said, don't take my word for it.

    See whether it is like that or not, and understand the matter for yourself. :-)

    Whipping the Cart or the Ox

    Monday, November 10. 2008

    A Zen Master noticed a young man meditating every afternoon. Since the man seemed to possess Zen wisdom, the Master asked him kindly, "My friend, what are you doing here?"

    The young man obviously did not like being disturbed and reluctantly answered, "I sit in meditation."

    "Why are you sitting in meditation?" asked the Master again.

    Quite perturbed, he nevertheless replied, "To become a Buddha!"

    The Master continued to pursue his questioning in a kind manner, "How can you become a Buddha by sitting in meditation?"

    This time, the man ignored the question to show his disdain for the talkative old monk. Since the Master could not attract the young man's attention by talking, he found a brick and began to rub it on the floor while sitting next to the young man. In the days that followed, whenever the man came to meditate, the Master would return to his task of rubbing the brick. Finally, the young man could no longer suppress his curiosity and inquired, "What are you doing here every day, if I may ask?"

    "Polishing the brick." the Master declared.

    "Why?" he queried.

    "To make it into a mirror," replied the Master.

    "How can you turn the brick into a mirror?" the young man asked.

    And the Master replied, "If the brick can't become a mirror by being polished, how can you become a Buddha by sitting in meditation?"

    The young man was astounded by the response. This simple question completely rid him of his arrogance. He immediately stood up and prostrated himself respectfully before the Master, imploring, "What should I do?"

    In reply, the Master asked him gently, "Let's say you're driving a cart. If it doesn't go forward, should you whip the cart or the ox?"

    Upon hearing this, the young man prostrated again and then knelt down, saying, "Master, how can I be free from all bondage and attain enlightenment?"

    "Your study of the doctrines of the Buddha is like sowing seeds, while my explaining to you the essence of the Dharma (meaning: the teaching of the Buddha; the path; the true nature of reality) is like sprinkling sweet dew on those seeds. When causes and conditions harmonize, you'll be awakened to the path."

    After hearing this, the young man became enlightened.

    Later, he became a famous Zen Master of all time, Ma-tsu Tao-i.

    Further reading: Why sitting meditation is absolutely useless to understand the true nature of reality and the human mind—a thought-provoking perspective on the potential of sitting meditation as a catalyst for personal transformation.
    (Page 1 of 1, totaling 5 entries)


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