OBITUARY - MEMORIES OF BKS IYENGAR by Annamaria Sacco
MEMORIES OF BKS IYENGAR
Bks Iyengar has been described with many adjectives over the years. An inspiring teacher, a strict, fierce, demanding teacher. A compassionate human being. An innovator. So, so many words to describe him. What stays with me, is the image of the man who loved children, and the gratitude for the teaching of a true deep listening of the body, and the body as a tool for the deep listening of the mind and the soul, a listening that truly transforms our being and allows each of us to express ourselves, for who we are.
What stays with me is a sweet memory of being in Pune with my family, my daughter then five years old, my son only two. At the Institute we get told we are going to be introduced to him. I get nervous. My daughter hears that Guruji is upstairs. She thinks ‘Oh, this is the man who taught my mummy to stand on her head!’ and before we know it she runs upstairs to see him. I ran after her, to find, to my amusement, that she is at his feet, kicking up in Sirsasana, and he has a huge smile on his face and tries to help her up. He laughs when she asks him out for lunch, and says to her ‘I have got class’.
A dear teacher of mine was at the funeral and wrote to me a few lines I would like to share ‘When Prashantji dropped the pot behind over his shoulders it indicated that now, this is past....we have to go ahead with the future. It is a funeral ritual which tells you that there should be no holding on to what is over.’ Annamaria Sacco
CHILDCARE AND EDUCATION by Chris Gladwell
Childcare and Education by Chris Gladwell
In my view the most important task for our species and our culture is raising the next generation. All other activity and business really supports this aim. One might think this wasn’t the case given the low levels of funding and resource allocated and to the priorities given to this crucial evolutionary role.
We are not just getting our children to be the next generation of corporate lackeys or factory fodder surely?
Are we really only interested in filling them with our views on religion, work, money, life and love or are we going to truly facilitate their learning so they can respond freely and creatively to the future conditions they will face. Future conditions we cannot even begin to apprehend. We don’t know what the future holds so imposing what we feel children need on them is wasting their responsive skills.
So how can we help them?
What can we offer as childcare and education?
The hypothalamic pituitary axis (HPA) is the line of mid-brain and glands through the core of the body that determine the thresholds of response to life circumstances and whether these are perceived as stressful or not are set up in the first six-months of life. The physical and emotional holding of the baby, how it is communicated with, how it is held and the level of loving physical contact it receives all affect how this HPA is set up. The lower thresholds of activity prepare an infant for a life of active stress responses with all the complex relationship issues and disease possibilities that arise with a low threshold of stress response. If a baby is left to cry itself to sleep on a regular basis and receives little touch then it is building a cortisol rich brain with a low threshold HPA. Cortisol rich brains cannot maximise the synaptic connections and communicative capacities between brain regions that a more relaxed baby can. Cortisol rich brains also have less pleasure receptors so experience less pleasure and can be less cognitively adept, less intellectually responsive. My children all get held, they rarely ever, if at all, sit in pushchairs, do not sleep in cots away from their parents and do get cuddled to sleep. They often sleep on their parent’s chests, feeling the heartbeat and the breath and developing a relaxed HPA in the process with a brain that maximises its potential neuronal connections.
This aside for a moment, it may well be that a strong and intelligently applied Yogic practice can eventually reset the HPA, build new pleasure receptors and craft new neurological connections that may have been absent previously. This is the nature of neuroplasticity.
However why do the rehabilitation when prevention is possible?
What would you rather have for your child?
The level of devoted physical, emotional, cognitive and vibrational awareness practices to achieve such a reconditioning of the nervous system is in my experience substantial and such a project takes many years. A person also has to be blessed enough to come across teachings and practices that facilitate such a change and this is not common.
I watch my own children grow and am fascinated by their sparkling intelligence at very early ages. My culture tells me that children are empty brains ready for conditioning, ready to be filled with information.
My parenting tells me that children are wonderfully responsive and creative beings whose bright intelligence fills every single interaction they have. What is more they are so communicative that they create body and sound languages from a really early age that only their really close family will understand. If these communications are missed the child will, with the inattention it receives, shut down its sparkling genius as it is met with blank responses. If a child’s endeavours to communicate are consistently missed or ignored then it will not make the synaptic connections that grow its brain as the relational and communicative genius it really is. It is these key love relationships that teach the child who it is and help it align with it’s original nature.
Parents who are too busy chasing the dollar, unable to see their child’s communicative attempts based on their own insensitivity or too stressed to pay attention effectively, miss these vital developmental opportunities for their children. Parents who hand over their children to carers, even to the most well trained of nursery staff, miss this vital opportunity for their children. Nursery staff cannot pay attention in the way that a parent saturated with dopamine and other neurotransmitters of love can. Nursery staff cannot be expected to tune into each individual child’s micro-developmental language, this is unreasonable, especially if they are looking after many children. In these environments even with the best will in the world, the children slowly shut their synaptic possibilities down from neglect and the absence of the appreciative, responsive gaze of the significant adult. It is of course usually mother or father who are the significant adult who most deeply understand that child.
Why would any parent miss this special time for themselves and their children simply to maximise their profit? What a crying shame for both parents and children.
When a culture understands that all its children are its children, that all its children are its future then maybe this will change.
We understand the stages of child development very well. We have models of education from many sources each of which has their strengths and their weaknesses. Some specialise in creativity and being comfortable in nature, others teach effectively about mathematics but lack exposure to myth and creativity. Some focus on project learning or pattern recognition. Projects offer a range of subject explorations whilst pattern recognition is a key aspect of brain function. Some styles of education focus on agendas that are to be measured by various mechanisms that appear to be more about the measurement systems, rather than about the child’s actual development.
We also do know that a dollar spent in childhood on effective education is worth thousands of dollars spent later on social services, criminal justice and rehabilitation.
So if we are to co-create an enlightened world and an enlightened education then prioritising resources towards childcare and education is crucial. Finding the strengths in each educational approach whilst dropping the weaknesses will offer us a comprehensive and broad approach to the education we can offer our youngsters.
Education that offers creativity, comfort and presence in nature, effective development in maths, science and literacy and pattern recognition can all be brought into an enlightened education. Understanding neurological development and neuroplasticity we would prioritise all the skills that lead to a balanced brain development.
Balanced brain development would include the following invitations to a child to become their potential:
Child driven, project based explorations
Subject – object relations and core identity
Basic life skills, including creating beautiful food and caring for oneself
Numeracy and mathematics
Somatic intelligence and body skills
Understanding and working with their own mind and meditative mind training
Self-directed learning skills
Explorations in human belief
Global citizenship, the rights and responsibilities
Exploring global history
Some educational analysts would add financial intelligence however in an enlightened economy, maximising profit and accumulating wealth will be of minimal consequence. Cultivating, developing and giving ones greatest gifts will be what life is all about..
Flowing into conscious evolution we may well be looking at clear ways to help the next generation be well prepared to meet the changing conditions they will most certainly face. The world will be as it is: what do you feel would facilitate healthy and holistic child centred learning that will prepare our future generations in the best possible way?
WHAT MAKES A GOOD YOGA INSTRUCTOR? by Leeanne Cooper
What Makes a Good Yoga Instructor?
By Leanne Cooper
My journey to becoming a Yoga teacher was not a conventional one, but it has certainly helped me to a chose a journey towards becoming a better person and teacher.
Having worked in the fitness and wellbeing industry for many years, I wanted to try another path as my body felt worn and I couldn't see myself continuing the jumping up and down and shouting for too much longer. After years of procrastination about the decision I finally chose a Yoga course to move towards becoming a Yoga teacher. One of the prerequisites was that I had practised Yoga for minimum of two years but they required no proof of this so I just chose to bend the truth a little, not seeing the harm in such a little white lie and promising myself that I would immerse myself in Yoga thereafter to make up for it. Having read many books on Buddhism and spirituality I felt I had the right approach.
I was devastated when embarking on the intense three month course to find it less than spiritual. This is just my personal experience but I found everything about the course patronising, intimidating and judgemental. I suddenly felt that I had embarked on the wrong journey. Struggling to get into poses, I was left feeling useless and idle. I studied the poses and the tutor in those poses, listening intently to her direction. After years of torturous exercise to my body some parts wouldn't move in the way that I wanted them to. I fully understood what and where certain body parts should be and how they should look but my tight body failed to correct itself.
However, I made a promise to myself that, having paid the huge fee for the course and having experienced bullying in the past, I would not walk away from this. I was also certain that, should I be fortunate enough to pass, I would never allow any student in my class to feel the way I had felt (whether my tutor had intended that or not).
That was a year-and-a-half-ago. After I passed my qualification, I didn't feel that I had the skills to be a Yoga teacher. I didn't feel that I deserved the title and, to be honest, was put off the whole Yoga lifestyle.
Yoga teachers are mostly wonderful people doing it for the right reasons; to spread their love and passion for something so special in order to help others. But, as with everything in life, there are people just out for themselves so, when you decide to listen to someone’s advice in life or in a Yoga class, be discerning about what you chose to believe and what you walk away with. This was the main lesson I took away from my entire Yoga course – to be discerning.
I believe the best teachers are the ones in the background, getting on with their practice and slipping into the shadows. They don’t expect praise for their class or for their being. They just hope that, on some level, someone in that class has taken something away that has helped them to make the changes in their life to give them a better quality and peace of life. That is all.
SAMADHI by Godfridev
SAMADHI BY GODFRIDEV
Samadhi is a technical term that has become a part of the everyday language of yoga practitioners. Samadhi is a technical term that relates to an aspect of consciousness. Just as ‘quark’ is a technical term that relates to an aspect of matter. It’s a technicality that is quite difficult for non-physicists to understand. Its not that easy to understand what a quark is, and how come there can never be one quark by itself. We don’t understand these things because we are not physicists: we don’t have the training. The term samadhi is similarly used without any understanding of what it means. Its treated as if it were a prize for the victor ludorum at the end of the race; as if he who gets furthest fastest gets samadhi. That’s the implicit, and incredibly dangerous, assumption. However, Patanjali makes a very clear statement about what samadhi is. He doesn’t relate it to physical prowess. He doesn’t relate it to mental prowess. He relates it to something everyday. Something so absolutely and utterly everyday that we overlook it.
When we hear that word we think it is pointing to something with which we have no familiarity. Therefore we must try to find it. So we set off on a journey to find it. This word samadhi can be replaced with the word enlightenment, liberation, freedom. People set off looking for something which actually isn’t anywhere but where they already are. And isn’t anything, but what they most deeply are.
Patanjali’s very concise definition of samadhi is “apparent form radiating the singular significance of emptiness”. This is one of the most packed statements ever uttered. A whole book could be written on that. An encyclopaedia would be required to explain all that implies. Apparent form radiating the singular significance of emptiness. Every single word is loaded with understanding of the way things actually are.
That’s all. With understanding of the way things are. Nothing special. This is not like Einstein’s “e=mc2” statement. That is a statement so loaded with obscure and difficult knowledge that we have no access to. That we have no possibility of understanding without a lot of deep and difficult study. But apparent form radiating the singular significance of emptiness points to what we deeply know already. Too deeply to normally notice perhaps. But this knowledge, to which Patanjali refers, is not unknown or unknowable to us. Yoga postures are a fantastic invitation to clarify that knowing, to uncover that knowing. To demonstrate, to prove to ourselves, that we don’t need an interpreter. That we don’t need to rely on any authority other than our own experience. We may need a guide to help us to get there but we don’t need an interpreter to tell us what it
is. Perhaps we do need a little help: but the help that we need is just to point out where the door is. The door is already here. You don’t have to make the door. The door is the body. There is no way you can leave your body and become free. There is no way you can leave your body and enjoy your life.
The body is the doorway through which you can find what Patanjali means when he says apparent form radiating the singular significance of emptiness. What Patanjali means by apparent form is that our experience of the body, or anything at all, is not an accurate expression of the nature of our body, or whatever the ‘thing’ in question may appear to be. That the form of our body, the way that we experience the body, is a function of perception. It is how the body appears to our everyday perception. It appears to be contained by the three dimensions of space. It appears to have depth, breadth and height. It seems to be solid. This is only an appearance. This is actually one of the implications of Einstein’s “e=mc2” statement. Everything is relative. Everything is a function of perspective. Everything is an appearance determined by our perspective. This doesn’t mean that nothing exists. This doesn’t mean that nothing is real. It just means that we create our own reality. We create it through our simulating mechanism, our perceptual apparatus. Which is basically the same for all human beings. So we all share a common reality. One in which objects act on each other over time in space. However this is only a perspective. One in which our most precious object, our very own self is constantly embattled.
Patanjali is inviting us to challenge that perspective. To contextualise our everyday perspective with a deeper one. One that resonates with Einstein’s perspective or Theory of Relativity. According to which: “Time and space are not conditions under which we live, but modes whereby we think”.
Samadhi is apparent form radiating the singular significance of emptiness. This is yoga posture practice. This is what happens when we become intimate with out bodies in sensitive, integrated action. Each part of the body dissolves into its indivisible wholeness. Each part of the body becomes quiet. Because it is happy. In its quietness we don’t feel it. No part of the body needs our help, our attention. We no longer experience the body as a conglomerate of parts. We are taken by its intrinsic indivisibility. We are taken by the indivisibility of its wholeness. This is emptiness. This is becoming intimate with apparent form, with the appearance of solidity, of space time and number.
When we become truly comfortable in a posture this happens. When we become truly comfortable in our body this happens. We don’t actually need yoga postures to experience this. It’s just that we are otherwise usually too distracted to notice. Yoga practice focuses our attention. Deep inside our body. In doing so we encounter the interpretative mechanism of the mind. We notice mind interpreting sensations as physical experiences, actions and objects. We realise that the parts of the body, the form of the body is a simulation in the mind. We realise that what we experience as our body is an appearance. If we go deep into this dynamic, into this simulation, into our experience of the body we end up at emptiness. This is not a deprivation vacuum. It is a formless abundance. An unconditional fullness. This is shunyata, the void of the Buddha. It is not in any way uncomfortable. To experience this emptiness requires that you feel totally safe, totally comfortable, totally relaxed.
Emptiness is what form or appearance implies and signifies. Emptiness is the significance of doing yoga postures. Emptiness is the significance of establishing relationships between your body parts, then clarifying those relationships so that the perceptibly separable parts of the body no longer impinge themselves on awareness as separate. Then non-separateness is happening. Then
non-separateness is experienced rather than separateness. This non-separateness is the overt face of emptiness. Emptiness is indivisibility. The indivisibility of wholeness. That means the finger becomes empty of its separate identity. The wrist becomes empty of its separate identity. The shoulder becomes empty of its separate identity. The lung becomes empty of its separate identity. From the point of view of going deep into your body there is no little finger, wrist, shoulder. There is no lung. That doesn’t mean that one can’t be recognised if somebody’s looking.
It’s a matter of deep, intimate experience. This is what Patanjali means by emptiness. Patanjali is not a nihilist. The Buddha was not a nihilist. Yoga is not nihilism. All yoga practitioners know this emptiness that is a fullness. We all do. It’s the main reason we keep coming back to the mat. It’s what makes our practice so nourishing, so compelling, so welcome. Even when we are tired. Even when we are exhausted and anxious. It is samadhi that calls us. Samadhi is not something esoteric, exotic, exceptional. It is the experience of apparent form radiating the singular significance of emptiness. This can happen when sitting watching the sunset. It can happen when you get absorbed by the wind blowing through your skin and into your cells. It can happen in tadasan, sirsasan, savasan.
Samadhi is the conscious experience of the nonduality of form and emptiness. The non duality of consciousness and its content. The nonduality of the finite and the infinite. This nonduality is not so hard to come by. It happens whenever we are relaxed and attentive enough. It happens all the time. So often that we barely notice it. We are not usually fully conscious of it. Not conscious enough to gather its implications and recognise its signficance. Even if we do notice it we don’t attach any special significance to it. Why should we? It happens all the time. We just have to sit down and watch the sunset.
We don’t have to achieve samadhi. We can’t achieve samadhi. We don’t have to make samadhi happen. We can’t make samadhi happen. Samadhi is what happens when we let go. When we let go completely. When we let go so deeply of our need to do that we let go of our need to know. When we let go of our need to analyse, recognise, identify objects and actions. This doesn’t make the world disappear. It doesn’t make our body disappear. It is only our mind that has come to rest. All the objects and actions that mind recognises to help us make decisions and take actions dissolve into their ground. They melt back into the ground of awareness from which mind, by its nature, plucks them so that we can get on with life.
Sometimes however we don’t need to get on with life. Sometimes we need to let go of all that striving, all our efforts, all our intentions. All of them. Then samadhi can happen. Then samadhi will happen. If we are paying attention. As the objects around, and within, us melt they don’t necessarily disappear. They simply become less solid, less heavy. They become transparent. We see through them. We see the luminosity of their ground. We see the luminosity that is normally obscured by our obsessing with objects, even though they are only revealed by that luminosity. Now that luminosity radiates through the forms we conjure up in and with our minds. That luminosity is awareness, consciousness. Consciousness is emptiness. Consciousness of is form, appearance. Samadhi is where we encounter the light of awareness itself in and as its objects. This is sabija samadhi. Objects revealing the light of awareness by which they themselves are revealed. This does not happen through effort, skill or knowledge. It happens only when we are safe enough, secure enough, relaxed enough to let go. For the body to let go of its ability to take action. For the mind to let go if its ability to interpret, to simulate, to make shapes out of shadows.
When that safety peaks even the light of awareness dissolves, along with all that it reveals. Consciousness settles into its own light. Which is emptiness. Which is darkness. This is nirbijasamadhi. We can’t make samadhi happen. Neither sabija samadhi nor nirbija samadhi. They happen as a function of our attentive relaxation. Of our being present as we relax.
When they happen they nourish us. When they happen we are nourished by the significance of emptiness. The significance of emptiness is that it is the ground, source and nature of every apparent form. Of every perceived object, action, event or situation. Of every though, feeling, decision and action. Emptiness is what we most deeply, most truly are. The singularity of this significance, the significance of emptiness, is that we are each and every one of us emptiness. We are each and every one of us consciousness itself.
This is not so hard to realise. It is not so hard to intellectually understand. Yet intellectual understanding is not enough for the singular significance of emptiness to actually nourish us. We need to experience it for it to be real for us. To realise the singular significance of emptiness we need to be become deeply familiar with samadhi. We need to regularly and deeply let go of all our intentions and actions. We need to relax into the deep, subtle nature of body, mind and awareness.
This we can not do. This can only happen when all our doing, however subtle, comes naturally, spontaneously to an end. All our yoga practice is of little value if it doesn’t bring us to this place. Arriving at this place does not come from the effectiveness of our action. It does not come from how well we straighten or bend an arm or leg. It does not come from what we do. It comes only when we have been brought to the end of our doing.
We can not bring ourselves to the end of doing. That would be more doing. We can not practice nondoing. We can not effectively decide to give up doing. We cannot practice surrender. Surrender happens. When our desire, our need to do stops. This is when samadhi happens. When we have let go. When all our doing has revealed itself to be useless.